HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Beach”
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Teleplay by Richard Price (The Wire, The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Ransom)
* For a review of the next episode, “Subtle Beast” – click here
As usual, HBO opens us on a nicely produced title sequence, accompanied with music by composer Jeff Russo who many will know from his work on the series Fargo as of late, plus plenty more. Always good to open up on a title sequence that grabs you.
The episode begins with a young man, Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed), as he frequents the various locations at college many do: classrooms, gymnasiums, locker rooms, so on. He’s a real hard worker, studying while everybody around him is mostly disaffected. Then he gets an offer to party with some of the basketball players, clearly not a life he’s used to, but it seems to excite him anyway.
Naz is a Pakistani-American living in Queens, New York. He’s as much connected to his family and their culture as he is to the American world of basketball and night clubs. Or at least he wants to be connected to the latter. Waiting to go out we see Naz practise meeting people, fixing his hair and making sure everything is right.
The night starts out normally. Well, for the most part – Naz has to steal his dad’s cab in order to get to the party. What’s most interesting is the fact he can’t find his way. We see both his inexperience with the city, as well as his general immaturity, not knowing even how to operate the car other than drive it forward. Soon, he ends up with a woman in his cab despite insisting he can’t take any fares. But she talks him into it. Her name is Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black-D’Elia), though we don’t know that, nor does Naz. Not for a while yet.
She’s going far uptown somewhere, looking as if she’d prefer to go anywhere at all. Naz makes a stop when she needs a drink. Outside the gas station, Andrea has a run-in with a hearse driver at whom she inadvertently tosses a cigarette. All these little events pass and Naz wouldn’t once begin to think any of them matter. Why would he?
Off he and Andrea go. They talk; about the cab, about the party. Neither of them get where they were headed originally. Naz stops off near the water where they sit and talk some more. We really get a good insight into Naz’s character as a person in these moments. He seems normal, quiet, laid back and subdued, almost shy even. When Andrea puts a pill in his palm, he refuses. You can tell he’s straight laced. Andrea appears to have a deep seated pain inside her: “I can‘t be alone tonight,” she tells him. And that begins their evening together, as Naz decides then to take the pills, and dive in, head first.
At one point, Naz hears a guy make a comment about him and bombs, as he walks to Andrea’s place. The two men stop when he questions what was said. An eerie look from one of them after they leave speaks volumes. Inside, Naz and Andrea relax, they drink tequila with limes. They still don’t exchange names. They just drink, and talk, and flirt. Most of all we’re privy to Naz stepping outside his comfort zone and following along, as he says he does, listening to everyone but himself. Perhaps a bit too much this time. They play a game with a knife that ultimately ends with Andrea getting stabbed in the hand. Although that almost turns her on. They embrace, taking off their clothes and falling into bed. We can already see how so much of this is going to add up, if anything bad were to happen.
Naz wakes in the early morning, still dark, and finds Andrea dead in her bed. Murdered viciously. Blood everywhere. He rushes out of her place and takes off down the street to his father’s cab. Only no keys, so back in he goes, and the door’s locked. He has to break a window. Christ, this only gets worse and worse with each passing moment. A nearby neighbour sees Naz go inside. He also takes the bloody knife from their previous night’s foolishness. Oh, man. This is shaping up to be nightmarish in scope. And here we are, in the shoes of Naz, knowing his innocence. When he pulls out with the cab he even cuts someone off. So many events that are adding up to fuck him legally. At a red light, a biker looks over and possibly sees the bloody knife on the cab dashboard.
Tragic, and a slice of real life, as well as how something so innocent on his part could become something so nasty. Naz winds up pulled over by two police officers, which gets worse when they smell the booze off him. The downward spiral now begins to twist. When they get a call, the cops take him with them, and before they do Naz leaves a nice little bloody smear on the door. I love the writing here. It is brilliant and takes us to the heart of what can constitute a false accusation like the one for which Naz is headed.
So the cops find Andrea, bloody and dead. The big American legal machine gears up to start ploughing poor Naz, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, though it would’ve done a world of good for him to call the police right away. Still, it’s understandable when someone innocent and naive comes up against a dead, savaged corpse, especially belonging to someone he’s just been with sexually. How would you react? Hopefully you’ll never have to know.
Now we’re watching the process move. Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is called in on the stabbing murder. He’s a bit time worn. He enjoys classical music. Generally, he appears to be the man for this type of case. Andrea’s brownstone apartment is now a spectacle with neighbours out looking around, police tape everywhere, cameras trying to poke their heads in. Naz, still not found to have been in the apartment, is being brought to the station in regards to his run-in with the two officers. “Is she dead?” asks Naz to the uniforms transporting him. Probably not a great question to ask at the moment, as he technically shouldn’t know anything about the scene. Uh oh.
Box and the others process the crime scene in all its horrific messiness. Meanwhile, Naz is at the station. He calls home, but hangs up quickly. A million things racing in his head. He’s just waiting for things to come down on his head. Something that plays well is seeing an unruly prisoner blow through, and Naz recoils. We understand so well he’s not used to this world, whatsoever. It frightens him. You can just feel his innocence oozing, and as the audience we’re right in his perspective; unable to prove anything at all, having to wait for the situation to pop. At the brownstone, Box gets more information from the Medical Examiner about time of death, the weapon, and outside the men that ran into Naz previous in the night, making racist statements, they show up talking. The gravity of all these elements coming into play, all poised to make life hellish for Naz, is again some fascinating writing. Hats off to Richard Price and his teleplay.
With no idea where his son is, Salim Khan (Peyman Moaadi) calls around to find him, obviously getting no answer on his boy’s cell. In the meantime, all the pieces are falling together against Naz, as he sits and waits in the station. One thing that’s been passed over is a breathalyzer, so that could be good or bad for him. Depending. Then Box and the two officers with him put it all in place. They eventually find the bloody knife in Naz’s inside jacket pocket. It’s incredibly poignant, this moment. They find the knife right as Box describes what they’re looking for, like the tragic twist of fate curls right onscreen in front of us. At least Box acts friendly. Until Naz flips out and tries to run, yelling that he didn’t do it. Doesn’t help the black guy from the scene, the one who possibly had a hand in actually killing Andrea, is right there to finger Naz as the suspect.
Now the young man is in the box, ready for interrogation. The cop that brought him down recounts what Naz asked about the girl being dead. Everything’s thickening to the point it could choke you. Box sits in for a talk with Naz, about how he met Andrea and the events which led up to those fatal moments. It’s so awful to hear Naz asked the questions necessary, but that’s all part of the process. He tells Box what he can manage. Nothing he says can convince anybody right now. Nothing he says helps him, in any sense. But how can a man be remorseful, be filled with regret if he didn’t commit the murder? For now the interrogation is over. Thus begin the DNA tests and so on. The legal system is pumped up, ready to roll. Naz has to give over his clothes, revealing scratches on his back. Further than that Box, I believe, sees the very timid, shy nature of the guy. Not that he can see the truth, but there’s a glimmer of understanding somewhere within everything for the detective. Likewise, Naz appreciates the slight kindness he’s shown.
Naz finally decides he wants a lawyer. He locks eyes with Jack Stone (John Turturro), who’s around the station serving a bunch of his low class clients. He looks weary, beaten down, but when he sees Naz, the big doe eyes, and hears the apparent crime which he’s committed, something in Jack lights up, deep inside. One thing we see inside is a break in the chain of evidence, involving the knife and Naz’s clothes. Ahhh, not only are the elements to break down Nazi present, there are those hovering around which Stone, if he’s a good lawyer, will use to their advantage. More instances of solid writing that hopefully will continue as the series does, too.
Jack and Naz meet together. They do a bit of initial talk, re: citizenship and all that good stuff. We see the laid back nature of Jack along with all the lawyer-client introductions. Jack asks about politics, every last thing of which he can think. We start seeing how the American legal system could work against a young Pakistani Muslim such as Naz.
Simultaneously, Box is putting all his bits and pieces together, including the possibly faulty witness Trevor Williams (J.D. Williams) trying to make Naz go down for something he, or his friend, or both of them did. Box begins to wonder if Trevor is credible, seeing as how the guy uses the word “towelhead” and doesn’t exactly have a good view of Muslims.
The pieces are all there, for everyone. It’s just a matter of how and where they’ll fall. As for Naz’s family, his father wants to run to his son, though begins to see the first slippery spot, as his cab isn’t where it ought to be. Just the beginning.
This first episode sets up a ton of amazing stuff. The writing is beyond impressive and it really caught me off-guard, though I’m always sure HBO is going to put out quality work. Patiently awaiting the next episode named “Subtle Beast” and all it promises. Another hit, to my mind. And there’s a heavy load of emotion winding up to let loose on us.