HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 4: “The Art of War”
Directed by James Marsh
Written by Richard Price
* For a review of the previous episode, “A Dark Crate” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Season of the Witch” – click here
Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed) is finding that things are getting pretty rough at Rikers Island. The burning of his bunk makes clear, there are worse things to come. Like a declaration of intent.
At home, John Stone (John Turturro) is getting his ankles covered with Crisco, wrapped up in Saran. Headed to the jailhouse, as usual. Representing killers. Yet you can see there’s a sense of loss, something missing in him. There’s something clear and different about the people he usually represents and the young Muslim man in jail for murder/rape.
And at their home, Salim and Safar Khan (Peyman Moaadi & Poorna Jagannathan) have the media just about crashing down their door.
Their son Naz is having the worst time, obviously. He’s discovered that there are completely different rules for surviving on the inside than the outside. You’ve got to look but “not look” someone in the eyes. You have to constantly be on your guard and pumping up your masculinity. If not, you’re “fair game.”
Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) runs into Stone, as the latter is out trying to get a beat on what may or may not have happened at Andrea Cornish’s (Sofia Black D’Elia) house. Of course Box dismisses the sly lawyer. But Stone winds up seeing Don Taylor (Paul Sparks), stepfather to the deceased, lose his cool with another man at the girl’s funeral. So, he snaps a little video.
What I like is that it looks as if we’re starting to head towards a kind of redemption song for Jacky, I think. He’s now got further doubts about Naz’s guilt. He wants to know the truth, maybe for the first time. Instead of gunning for a big pay day. Morality’s tricky like that. It can make even some of the worst types change their minds. John isn’t terrible, though he is shady. Let’s hope that changes.
There are other troubles for the Khan family. Salim and Safar are finding their other son, Hasan (Syam Lafi), is discriminated against at school because of what’s going on. This is where the writing of Richard Price excels. Because he gets into the repercussions, the far-reaching consequences of when someone is in jail for murder and their family is left behind in the wake. Great depth to the story they’re telling.
Stone runs across a rehab facility linked to a picture from Andrea’s phone. He winds up talking to a guy named Edgar (Max Casella) willing to cough up information for a price. I guess if there’s any way John hopes to get ahead, cash is king.
Naz is getting schooled in jail by Calvin Hart (Ashley Thomas) on how to live by the code of the criminal behind bars. At the same time, I wonder what’s going to happen with Freddy Knight (Michael K. Williams); he keeps a watchful eye over the young Muslim. What exactly is Freddy’s interesting there? I feel like he’s a good guy, while the others – the vultures – soar around Nasir.
On the side, John brings what he got from Edgar to Chandra (Amara Karan), employee to Alison Crowe (Glenne Headly) now handling the Khan case. I suppose Stone isn’t changing too much. Not yet. He’s charging $500 for the information; a markup on what he paid Edgar.
Heading out on a prison transport, Naz gets a new, different coloured jumpsuit to put on. Courtesy of Freddy. Now, that’s interesting. Any meaning to that? I’m better there is, absolutely.
At the courthouse, the Khans are all but terrorised heading inside, as Box heads in relatively left alone, and John eats a hot dog in obscurity. Alison is busy readying Naz for his first appearance – she gives similar advice to that of Calvin, in that he should make eye contact, but not full-on. Intriguing little point that parallels nicely. Moreover, Alison says she’s glad they didn’t put him in an orange jumpsuit. Looks like ole Freddy’s a guardian angel after all, or so it seems. Better than that Alison proves herself worthy of taking on such a tough case. She drops “9/11 profiling” and “media pressure” and dances all over the place. Still, it doesn’t do anything for bail. So in Rikers he stays.
We also see the Khans struggling, as if they’re being suppressed, even by Alison. Salim wants to address people at the press conference, but it isn’t even entertained.
Back in Rikers, someone cuts Naz walking through a corridor, blindly slicing his arm. A little later he goes to see Freddy. The former boxer and the young man chat. Naz wants to know: “Why me?” This prompts a story from Freddy, about his pride, his accomplishments. He is very proud of having graduated high school, keeping his diploma on in a frame right there in his cell. They go on to talk about books – Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon, Jack London and his novel The Call of the Wild. Most of all, they bond. It isn’t every single day an educated, real person walks through the gates of prison – like a “care package” for Freddy’s own brain. He wants to help Naz survive his stay.
I can only wonder what this will bring between Nasir and Calvin, who isn’t exactly impressed with Freddy and his high profile prison status. Not to mention Calvin is quite a vicious cat in his own right.
There’s also trouble around the city. People are lashing out at anybody, Sikh, Muslim, and using anti-Arab slurs. This is pressuring D.A. Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) to try and get the Khan case settled quick. Yikes.
In the Rikers gym, Freddy brings a decent sized guy in to box with him. This is actually a way for Freddy to size the man up about a possible cellphone business being run without his permission. All ending in a good, hard beating at the hands of the former boxer. Further serves as a bit of a lesson to Naz, seeing what happens to people who cross the man himself.
Poor Stone is out searching for an end to his skin pain. A doctor prescribes him a heavy dose of testosterone to fix his issues. The guy’s stuck in an epidermal hell.
At the same time, D.A. Weiss is trying to suss out a deal with Alison. They throw different charges about, terms, sentences, as if a young man’s life is not on the line. Alison starts bringing the deals to Naz. He isn’t looking to plead out. He knows he’s innocent. Also, he wonders why Chandra isn’t around. Maybe he’s slowly understanding that Alison isn’t all she appears either. Let’s face it – lawyers have records, they don’t like to lose. But when Naz gets back to his bunk he finds a note from Freddy: TAKE THE DEAL. Nobody’s exactly thrilled. The Khans don’t like to hear that their boy will plead guilty just to get a reduced sentence. That will forever tarnish him, and them, too.
At the courthouse, Chandra goes in to talk with Naz. She explains things about how pleas work, deals, so on. He appreciates being talked to “like a person.” However, this woman is the only one talking truth to him. She advises that if he believes in his innocence, the deal is not worth taking. And this is setting up the fight we’re ready to see, Naz does not feel right letting things go this way. Stone even thinks he should take the deal, mostly out of a lost sense of youth, I think. Everybody, except the parents and secretly Chandra, wants the deal.
But when the chips come down, Naz can almost remember the night in question. Just not quite. He won’t make up murdering Andrea. He can’t. Simply because it isn’t true. When Alison confronts her client, he tells her to quit. She does.
Now Chandra is the main attorney. No more pro-bono work for the firm. Quite a change.
Once Naz gets back to jail, Calvin eventually tosses a nasty mix of water and other things onto his arm, burning him up. Yeah, we know where the snakes are lurking. And you can be sure that Naz will start calling in Freddy favours at this point. Only thing that’s for sure: Rikers is about to get fucking intense.
“Say the words to me, Nasir,” Freddy asks. And with that, he does say them. What comes next is sure to be rough.
What a spectacular episode. All around. There’s a lot going on and I’m interested to see how Price juggles all the various plots and stories happening. Great mix of emotions happening. Next is “The Season of the Witch” – hoping for more wild stuff. Willing to bet we can count on that.