This The Night Of review contains spoilers.
The Night Of’s “Subtle Beast” episode is a further descent into the dark recesses of pre-justice. The night shift can’t get off work. The day shift isn’t much fresher and the witnesses and families are treated just as shabbily as the suspects. The episode moves from the callous confines of the MCC to the bus to Riker’s Island and everyone from the prisoners to the driver is jaded.
“The truth can go to hell. It doesn’t help you. If you can’t get that through your head right now you can forget about the rest of your life,” lawyer John Stone (John Turturro) tells his murder suspect client, Naz (Riz Ahmed) from the very start. He lays out the game of law and lays one rule on his client’s head: don’t say anything to anyone about anything.
He is serious about this too. If Naz was smart, he would answer every “how you doing” with “ask my lawyer.” Except maybe lunch, because Naz is in the jungle and there is a very subtle beast sniffing blood.
Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is the subtle beast, and we see his bestiality in full frontal mode. Sitting next to the prisoner, cooing words of understanding, getting into the kid’s head with a lot more ease than Naz broke back into the apartment on West 87th Street. This beast plays with its food until it is begging to unravel. Confession is good for the soul, of course. It is also much easier for the prosecution.
“You’re just a job,” Box tells Naz about his lawyer, the sleazy ambulance chasing mouthpiece. Stone got this plumb gig because he was in the right place at the right time.
The audience is led to believe that the kid might even get a fair shake from Box, whose very name sends shudders of body memories through the vaunted halls of justice. In the haunted balls of justice, everyone gets licked. Even Naz’s family is shuttled around from precinct to precinct because it’s better for the cops to keep their prison isolated for as long as they can. That way the urge to purge their guilt grows while the cameras roll.
But the detective can feel in his gut that no matter how much of a slam dunk this case might seem, the prime suspect at the center doesn’t quite fit the role of killer. The cop knows it only takes one homicide to make someone a killer but the kid doesn’t seem to have a heart of darkness.
Director Steven Zaillian takes noir very seriously. The first episode of The Night Of was shot very dark, because it was shot on the night of. Well, this is the following day and while I personally loved Brando in The Night of the Following Day, this is the following day. Open a curtain or something, at least banking hours. I mean, they put Mickey, the dead girl’s step father, in a dimly lit room, with a spooky overhead light to look over photos of a mutilated corpse. Cops can be cruel, but they don’t usually get all creepy about it.
As a matter of fact, because they’re cops, they’d have that horrible overhead light on or something so they could examine the face of the guy they’re showing a picture of a dead girl to. Everybody’s a suspect in a murder case. Even one that’s been declared open and shut.
And what about her old man? He is a mix of contradictions. He cares. He doesn’t care. Maybe he was the doer and pinned it on the random Pakistani kid. It’s not like they’d send him to Guantanamo, right?
But a murder case is something to be peeled, like the skin on attorney John Stone’s feet. Really? No socks on the subway? People from Minnesota are going to change cars. That is some effective makeup, as good as the knife wounds on the dead girl’s body. I was afraid Torturro, method actor that he is, actually had the skin of someone with eczema grafted on his feet.
The kid learns fast during the proceedings. Naz goes from wanting to come clean to wanting to muddy up the details from his own parents. The episode ends with Naz’s transfer to the prison population. As Jim Caroll wrote in Basketball Diaries, “you don’t get clean at Riker’s.
“Subtle Beast” was written by Richard Price and directed by Steven Zaillian.