HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 5: “The Season of the Witch”
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Teleplay by Richard Price & Zaillian
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Art of War” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Samson and Delilah” – click here
John Stone (John Turturro) just wants his feet to get better. To the point of getting a UV light and shades, letting them bake under the rays for a while. At the very same time he’s juggling all the other aspects of his life. He talks to a class that includes his son, although nobody is able to really grasp his place in the legal world. His son is proud of him, to a certain degree, not happy with the treatment the class gives his father. Nice to see the family life of Stone. Gives us a dichotomy from which to work concerning his character, his ambitions, and so on.
Up in Rikers Island, Freddy Knight (Michael K. Williams) is taking care of Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed), getting him into a proper cell and looking out for his well-being. What exactly is the price, though?
We get to see more of a character I enjoy plenty, Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan). She goes to see Stone about possibly helping. She’s got to not only haggle with him, but also witness his foot ritual. He manages to get an extra $10K out of her to take part. Meanwhile, D.A. Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) has her troops in getting their case together. Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is there along with a team of lawyers. They try to suss out what the defence may use against them. Back and forth we’re privy to each side attempting to pick apart the whole murder, the night in question, everything possible.
I love Chandra because the writing allows for this racial perspective; one which obviously includes Naz and his race, his religion. This opens up a lot of interesting things.
There are problems with the Khan family on the outside. Salim (Peyman Moaadi) is being pressured by his partners Tariq and Yusuf (Mohammad Bakri & Nabil Elouahabi) to press charges against his own son. All in order to recoup the cost of the taxi they’re now missing because of the trial. This is putting poor Salim in an awful place.
In jail, Naz is keeping himself fit, doing push-ups in his cell. He’s called out by guard Tino (Lord Jamar) to go meet Freddy in the showers. They’ve got Calvin Hart (Ashley Thomas) at their mercy for what he did to the young Muslim. When Naz is goaded, he eventually kicks the shit out of Calvin already lying bleeding on the floor. Already the prison system is changing Nasir, if only slightly. I mean, we’d all probably do the same thing given the situation, what that man tried to do to him. Still, the point of Richard Price’s writing is to see how the prison system is a jungle in and of itself, and how exactly it affects those within it.
All the while Dt. Box puts together a timeline for Weiss on the locations of Naz throughout the night of the murder.
What you need to pay attention to most is the filmmaking here. The close-up shots of Box marking off a map of the city cut with the actual instances of Naz moving through the city itself are magnificent. This is why HBO and many of the writers the network attracts are top notch. Because this is a simple sequence, yet it’s beautifully executed and effective.
Stone is changing, too. It isn’t just Nasir. We see that more every episode. He finally goes back to get the cat from Andrea’s place, the one he brought to the pound. He’s allergic, though still insists on saving it: “Better than the gas chamber,” he mumbles to himself. This is more than a basic little quirky plot point. It is the idea that Stone can’t let go; not of the cat, not of Naz. And gradually he’s becoming altruistic rather than totally selfish. Not entirely, just little by little.
And Freddy, he sees something in Naz. The young man sleeps away, and up in the hospital Calvin suffers from his injuries. There’s definitely rage in Naz. Not long after he shaves his head to get that prison look going. Seeing the jail life ahead of Naz is a bit tragic. He’s slowly falling into things, hanging out with Freddy and his crew smoking weed, playing chess, eating Happy Meals from McDonalds.
Weiss is beginning to weed out witnesses. Trevor Williams (J.D. Williams) is so effortlessly shown as childish, both in how he answers questions and the way he’s brought a cookie and some milk in during the interview. I hope we’ll see more of him because we all know there’s a greasiness behind his motives.
At a restaurant, Stone starts investigating a few things himself. He tracks down a guy named Cutty (Joe Egender) who was contacted by Andrea the night of her murder; she got some ecstasy and ketamine off him. Mostly, John pokes around trying to stir something, anything up. Afterwards he’s with Chandra having a look through the crime scene. They have pictures taken everywhere, of every last little thing. In the blood spattered bedroom, Chandra is silently shocked at the mess. They make sure to document each inch of the apartment. The tiniest details can crack a case wide open. When their man Dr. Katz (Chip Zien) comes across a possible clue, it’s all the better. Likewise, Weiss is trying to make her case. But we start seeing how the law and justice aren’t always working for the greater good. With a Medical Examiner, she begins coaxing out the proper story the way she wants it told. Tricky, tricky.
The hubris of being in Freddy’s care is starting to make Naz a little cocky. He’s already feeling the benefit, but perhaps a bit too much. Well, now Naz is figuring out there isn’t exactly no price for protection. He’s got to swallow some drugs, get them in for Freddy from a woman who’ll be hiding them… you know where.
The toxicology report comes back. Everyone’s surprised about amphetamines in Naz’s system that night. Chandra is particularly surprised, not enjoying having been lied to, supposedly. He’s the “good boy” everyone imagined. Simultaneously, Naz is behind bars trying to learn how to swallow drugs using grapes. When John and Chandra go to see their boy, he’s not happy to hear they don’t believe him. Turns out Adderall is what Naz lied to them about; he took it for purposes of studying. The whole time John is asking about Naz’s story, the young Muslim reluctantly swallows the drugs to bring Freddy. John isn’t stupid. He recognises what is going on and cautions his client. Things are getting pretty god damn dangerous right now for poor Nasir. He gets the drugs in, even if he has a bit of trouble passing them.
What John and Chandra do get is the revelation of a second man with Trevor Williams when he ran into Naz and Andrea. So this sends Stone out to talk with the man. He puts a bit of fear into Trevor about perjury, hoping to determine who the second man was that evening. We find a sliver of honesty: the second man’s name is Duane Reid. Further putting John on a search throughout the streets. He comes across Duane in the back of a supermarket, then plants the seeds: “I‘m his lawyer,” John tells him in regards to Trevor. Of course the guy takes off. Now, this arms the lawyer with bit more of an idea about whether Naz might be innocent after all.
Only John is too eager, putting him in harm’s way after Duane runs and he gives chase. Hopefully nothing bad happens. However, just like the stubbornness of John with his feet, the stubborn nature of how investigates his latest case may prove detrimental to his health if he doesn’t slow down.
Just a downright gripping episode. One of my favourites so far in the series. Such great storytelling combined with wonderful filmmaking technique. All around outstanding!
Next episode is “Samson and Delilah” – can’t wait to see how the significance of that title comes into play.