This The Night Of review contains spoilers.
The Night Of episode 5, “The Season of the Witch” opens with the burnt feet guy giving a lecture on how to be a big lawyer but he’s actually teaching class as a cautionary tale. The kids don’t buy him because they don’t buy the big questions. Everything is personal to them, and nothing is personal in the law. The young woman student’s outrage is a little forced. Someone in everyone’s family gets killed sometime in its history. And there’s a killer hanging from a branch of every family tree. Defense lawyers defend. Even Hitler, they’d have to defend, or a suspected murderer with a vaguely terroristic sounding name. What John Stone (John Torturro) is doing is noble. You’d think he could at least put on a pair of shoes, but that time has passed.
The time for plea bargains is also past due and the prosecution is scrambling for a clue as to how Naz’s (Riz Ahmed) defense is going to move forward. The kid’s not crazy. There were no rights violations. What do you do when you have nothing? Drugs. If Andrea Cornish drugged Naz, he’s not responsible. That’s a flipside to most headlines. So the race is on to score the dope on the dope.
The young lawyer Chandra (Amara Karan) is getting as much of an education as Naz. She can hold her own in negotiations, but she’s in the dark about why anyone would snort a powder that could knock out a horse. Before ketamine kicks in, it kicks up, right into the most intimate pleasure centers. Chandra’s never done drugs and doesn’t understand the concept of a high, but the innocent legal expert is willing to learn anything.
Chandra and Naz parallel each other. They are both enrolled in a course of further education that wasn’t on the curriculum. Neither of them can keep their concerns hidden behind inscrutable eyes. Naz had to be taught how to look and not look at a person before he earned his hard look in the TV common room. It’s interesting that he says the same thing to the guy complaining about his view as he did to the guys who laughed under their breath at him on the Upper West Side.
Chandra looks like she doesn’t miss a thing. The audience sees every surprise on her face because her eyes have no guile. She is interested and she is interesting. It was a nice little moment when Stone made sure she was all right seeing the murder scene. You can even see that she appreciates both his concern and how quickly he drops it when she says not to worry.
Chandra is beginning to appreciate what was dumped on her and is shedding her innocence as easily as Naz sheers his hair. The audience knows that neither the Sinbad nor the Aladdin look play well to a jury long before Stone advises his client he’s a dumb shit. But you gotta do what you gotta do to survive, even if you know you can’t keep it down.
“I know you gotta do it but if you get caught the case is over and you’re never getting out of here,” Stone warns Naz. The way Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams) explains getting used to muling eight balls is very sexual, like a porn director or a pimp teaching an ingénue how not to gag while giving head. It’s hard to swallow, especially with all the visual distractions, but Naz is getting hard in stir. All he needed was a little kick to get him started.
But Naz isn’t content with just a kick. The college student sheered more than his hair. He shaved points off his victim card. Didn’t know Naz had it in him. Freddy’s honor guard has to pull Naz off Calvin Hart (Ashley Thomas) before he kills him too. Did I say too? Of course, Naz is innocent. He’s got such an innocent face. Look at him, sleeping like a baby, mere hours after putting his former BFF in ICU. At least he knows not to bag on a brother.
Richard Price makes his cameo in this episode, making a Viagra delivery and a wise crack about calling Ripley’s, which is right on 42nd Street, if he gets a hard on that lasts more than four hours. Stone is given the choice between raw cracking skin or a hard dick and figures he could play both sides against a creamy middle. But business trumps pleasure for a working girl and Stone only gets big blue balls from the little blue pills. The whole sequence is probably an unnecessary dalliance in an eight episode series, but we don’t really want to see him holding his own. We don’t care if he does it, we just don’t want to see it. Chandra might. She’s very observant and learning all the time. She is able to sit almost comfortably while the man who reminds her of her father bears his soles, so what’s it cost us to give a little time to character development?
The cab drivers want Naz’s father to press charges. After all, their sons didn’t do anything wrong and Naz is pretty much already gone to them. Sure, Naz seems like a good kid. But he really did steal their livelihood. They never got asked. Naz’s dad never got asked. And as the dread tox screens come in we find he’s as much a bad boy as any high strung student. What college kid doesn’t do Aderall? Stone wants to know before he and the prosecutor take down the “good boy” sticky note from Naz’s profile.
Naz’s profile has risen in stir, though. He’s got a new clique. He’s got a new walk, talk and look. And he’s got a new crib, right next to Freddy’s cell. New York real estate is all about who you know. Whether it’s on the Upper West Side or Cellblock Four at Riker’s, real estate agents and other middlemen have nothing on insider information.
Stone has taken a considerable lead in the investigation. Detective Box (Bill Camp) maps out the route and stands at all the crossroads and the audience gets a recap of all the clues that were telegraphed in episode one. He is plodding along, methodically and by the book. But Stone is kicking ass, taking names and leaving his card. It is interesting how different people react to being given a card from a nearly famous lawyer with a subway poster. To some, he’s a recognizable figure with a memorable catch-phrase, like Saul Goodman on Better Call Saul without color. Stone’s services are free until his clients are free. Well, not quite free, but very reasonable. The witness Stone ambushes in the laundromat is almost begrudgingly impressed. The bodega cashier front refuses to take Stone’s card. He tosses it to the floor rather than have it smudge his rep.
The cat gets a stay of execution. It’s not a pardon because Stone might take the cat back to the shelter, though you get the feeling he’d take it out again before the end of the 10-day waiting period for unclaimed pets. Stone gives up his bedroom for the abandoned cat. I mean he gives it up, he didn’t buy a litter box and he’s going to be finding left memories of the gratitude all over that room. Still, it’s better than the gas chamber.
The tension is coming from the most peripheral places on The Night Of. The acting and sets strive to be so realistic that anything remotely fake stands out. The students in the opening scene are a little too naïve studenty, complaining to a lawyer about great-grandparents and Hitler. The teacher was realistic, she couldn’t give a shit and kind of enjoyed Stone’s waddling in the derision of tomorrow’s best hope. Tonight, he just wants to get out of a back alley without having to put a pipe in the skull of his best defense.
“The Season of the Witch” was written by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, and directed by Zaillian.