The Night Of Explores the American Justice System Inside and Out
America's justice system and more exposed.
What is it like to be caught up in America's justice system?
HBO's The Night Of is a limited series limited series that explores the American justice system, prison life, racism, religion, and class.
Originally set to be produced as a starring vehicle for the late James Gandolfini, the show was recast after his death, with John Turturro taking the role of attorney John Stone. Riz Ahmed portrays Nasir "Naz" Khan. Others in the cast include Michael Kenneth Williams, Bill Camp, Jeannie Berlin, Glenne Headly and Sofia Black-D'Elia.
A young man out for an evening's fun with friends finds himself the main suspect in a murder that he can't remember. When, Naz, a Pakistani-American, borrows his father's taxi to go to a party, he finds himself in unfamiliar territory. As he tries to figure out where he is, several people try to get into the cab.
He rebuffs them all until a beautiful young woman (Black-D'Elia) gets in, and he decides to take the fare. He ends up having a wild night of sex and drugs with her, but wakes to find her stabbed to death, and he has no recollection of what happened. Picked up on a traffic violation as he tries to return home, he ends up being the prime suspect in the young woman's murder after police search him and find a knife that matches the murder weapon.
The viewer follows Naz as he is put through the system, from the police station to the infamous Rikers Island prison to the courtroom. John Turturro plays Naz's lawyer, John Stone, who repeatedly tells Naz to stop telling him "the truth" and keep quiet. Truth is not necessarily helpful in a case like this.
When Naz is transferred to Rikers, Stone finds that Naz's parents cannot afford his fee, and attorney Alison Crowe (Headly) offers to take the case pro bono, hoping to cash in on the publicity the case is bound to generate. However, after she urges Naz to take a plea bargain, he chooses to plead innocent instead, and her assistant Chandra (Amara Karan) takes over and enlists Stone's help again.
Along with all of these legal machinations, Naz is learning how to navigate life inside the prison system. He is befriended by Freddy (Williams), a prisoner with special privileges, and finds himself drawn into the violence and intrigues of prison life.
The series explores the case from several angles, following the detectives as they interview witnesses and examine evidence, and the lawyers as they strategize how to work the case.
Although Naz is first seen as a naïve young man, we learn through the investigation that he has some violence and drug use in his past. We also learn that Andrea, the wealthy young woman who was murdered, had a number of potentially violent men in her life, widening the suspect pool.
Naz's parents are also deeply affected by their son's incarceration. Because the taxi that is their livelihood is being kept as evidence, the family is forced to take a number of menial jobs just to keep afloat, leading to tension in their relationship with their son.
Once the case goes to court, jurors are faced with contradictory evidence from expert witnesses, a parade of potential alternative suspects, and a poor showing on the stand from Naz himself. In the end, the jury is deadlocked, and the district attorney drops the charges against Naz.
However, the damage has been done. Naz returns home to tense relationships with his family and friends, and with a drug habit acquired in prison.
The Night Of is a harrowing journey with no clear winners. The writers and cast do nothing to soften or mitigate the relentless tension of the story, showing a dark reality that pervades the justice system in America.
The series garnered a great deal of critical acclaim. Sonia Saraiya of Variety said, "The series' tone and pacing is precise and deadly, filming parking tickets and cell phone logs with the same haunting mystery that it lends to the George Washington Bridge at night or an unexpected skitter down a dark alleyway. It is difficult not to be swept up in the world The Night Of creates."
Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson said, "…The Night Of's story is complicated and frightening and satisfying, a fascinating and multilayered depiction of the mechanics of, well, law and order."
The series has already won several awards, and to those we are proud to add the Television Academy Honors.