The Night Of’s “A Dark Crate” episode opens at Rikers, an island in the East River surrounded by Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx. It is a somber sight and a sobering awakening, especially for new arrivals like Naz (Riz Ahmed) who is waiting for his formal arraignment. Rikers is a holding cell for prisoners in transit and third class mail gets better treatment.
As a freshman, Naz gets his education quickly and not from books like 12 Steps and 12 Traditions either. The guards inform him that they are looking forward to the first chance they’ll get to beat the living shit out of him. They’ll even dress up in riot gear because it breaks up the day to beat down an unruly inmate. His cellmate teaches him to keep his eyes down and his mouth shut if he ever wants to wake from this nightmare.
We first meet Freddy as he enjoys one of the perks of being the BMOC, Big Man on Cellblock, the man with a stack of cellphones. He is handcuffed and dragged from his cell for a little undocumented conjugal visit with one of the female guards. Freddy is played by Michael Kenneth Williams, who made his bones as Atlantic City mob boss Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, so we can imagine him having that much juice. Freddy was a prize-winning boxer and a celebrity convict who is known for his generosity, from paying rent to giving out shoes for shower-assault traction.
What we don’t know is why he’s so interested in little Naz, the prison’s new celebrity detainee. Sure, he’s a nice, polite college kid who says his prayers with conviction and not just for a better menu, but why isn’t he just throwing the kid to the dogs? The kid’s a civilian, no gang associations and no one to stand up for him. And he sure as shit is going to need some kind of bodyguard. Cons got their pride and raping women is nothing to boast about. A big score, sure. Popping a cap in your best friend’s lying ass, of course. But abusing a pretty woman is a crime to the criminals, especially as they are such a rare commodity behind concrete walls.
Lead investigator Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is really pushing the night shift cops to dot all their Ts. The rookie cop Robert Maldonato, fresh out of the academy, threw up a little bit on seeing his first murder victim and as much as it shames him in front of his fellow officers, that shit is gold in court.
We learn the name of the murdered mystery girl, Andrea Cornish, who was stabbed as many times as the years she was alive. This again points to someone who knew her more than Naz, and, again, the specter of the step-father comes up. Naz liked the free-spirited young woman. She was nice to him, even nicer than the attorney who came to his earliest defense.
The precinct crawling lawyer with the stinkfoot foil and Crisco loafers is bargain-basement at any price. But even at his cut rate, Naz’s family will never be able to afford him. This is good for the prosecution because it further splits the defense as the guys who time-share the cab Naz was driving can further compound problems with more legal weight. The irony is that the cops give out the card of the same lawyer who is defending Naz to his father’s cabbie friends. It’s also good for big-time lawyers looking to stroll down memory lane with high profile pro bono cases like Alison Crow (Glenne Headly).
The big firm finds a small fish as bait to lure the desperate family, but John Stone (John Torturro) knows a poster-child for poverty when he sees one. The young associate Chandra, played by Amara Karan, gets what seems like a big opportunity to translate talks with the Khan family, but she’s just another foot propped on the gullet of the small guy. Given how defensive her eyes get, Chandra might just jump ship for a smaller craft if this case backfires on the fancy attorney firm.
The best exchange of the night is between the lead prosecutor and still-defense attorney Stone. They go off-topic trying to decide whether Donnie Osmond got into some kind of trouble. It makes sense, in the Eddie Izzard did-you-hear-what-happened-to-Englebert-Humperdink kind of way. The toothy Mormon must have gotten in some kind of trouble in his career, but we can’t quite put our finger on when. Maybe HBO will be blaming poor Donnie for the scratched-record company series Vinyl.
As the prison night watch looks the other way, The Night Of locks up its secrets in “A Dark Crate.”
“A Dark Crate” was written by Richard Price and directed by Steven Zaillian.