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The Stone Also Rises: HBO’s The Night Of, episode 5, “The Season of the Witch,” Recap & Review




It is certainly no surprise that Naz, the Pakistani-American college student arrested for rape and murder after a night of drink, drugs, and sex with a hot stranger whom he picked up in his father’s “borrowed” cab in Manhattan, is slowly but ever so surely sinking under the oppressive weight of the American penal system.  Inmates don’t learn to be good in prison: they learn to be better criminals. It’s a matter of survival, and who can blame Naz for his increasingly dangerous criminal activities, especially since they will no doubt help him survive? As Naz (Rhiz Ahmed) is steadily deteriorating at Rikers, his attorney, John Stone, magnificently portrayed by John Turturro, is steadily rising. From the bedraggled and rumpled ambulance-chaser who happened to be in the “right place” at the “right time” to catch the big case, Stone has become the best investigator in all of New York city.


Naz Sinks

In “The Season of the Witch,” episode 5 of the 8-part limited HBO mini-series, The Night Of, created and written Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, viewers were given adequate evidence that Naz is morally drowning in Rikers. Naz shaved his head so he’s not quite the pretty boy any longer (though, of course, it’s a really bad move for his impending trial). After an invitation from Freddy and his crew, Naz beat the guy who burned him with baby-oil-and-boiling-water napalm.


Naz flexed his metaphorical muscles by blocking the view of prisoners watching television, then changed the channel on them when one of them told him to get out of the way.

On visitor’s day, at the behest of his protector, Freddy, Naz swalllowed four “eight-balls” smuggled in by another prisoner’s mother. Naz is sinking so quickly that, soon, he may not even come up occasionally for air.


After Stone questioned Naz about taking illegal substances, Naz lied about having amphetamines in his system on the night of the murder; he tried to pretend the tox-screen was mistakenly identifying  his asthma inhaler ingredient as “uppers.” Stone quickly dismissed that, badgering Naz by naming various controlled substances that he suspected Naz of taking. Naz finally admitted using Adderal, a controlled substance, which can cause anger, agitation, and psychotic episodes. Stone (above, R) and his new associate Chandra (Amara Karan, above L) aren’t the only ones crossing Good Boy off Naz’s list: Detective Box (Bill Camp) also crossed it off. Literally.


In addition to using amphetamines illegally and lying about it to the police and to his attorney, Naz has a serious amount of rage under his placid exterior. Even gangsta Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams) was astonished by the violent anger Naz displayed, commenting on it later to Naz.


I still think Naz might be innocent — which doesn’t mean he won’t be convicted — if only because, as Todd VanDerWerff of Vox.com writes, his attorney John Stone still believes Naz to be innocent. Stone is so street-smart that he doesn’t seem likely to mistake guilt for innocence; in any event, Stone would represent Naz even if he were guilty, as Stone made clear to his son’s high school class when questioned about whether he would represent someone he knew to be guilty. Representing someone who “deserves” fair legal representation is quite different from doggedly pursuing evidence of a client’s innocence. Stone seems to be doing the latter. While seriously investigating Naz’s case, Stone has proven that he is more than street-smart: he is the most competent “detective” in the series.


Stone Rises

Of course, Stone doesn’t have to do everything himself to become a good investigator. He clearly has the connections necessary to be a top-notch criminal attorney. At the murder scene, Stone and Chandra watched as Stone’s hired investigator went over the place, noticing that the outer security door didn’t latch, even when locked, and even when repeatedly closed tightly. The investigator also found blood outside in the back courtyard (?), which may be “squirrel blood,” but which also might be the blood of another suspect since Naz left by the front door. Stone may not have the requisite trial experience to warrant the respect of the police, detectives, and prosecuting attorneys, but he has more important connections in the investigative field. Further, Stone is doing what no one else in The Night Of is doing: looking for other suspects who might have killed the girl.


While Box is compiling the timeline of the murder night (above), and while DA Weiss (Jeannie Berlin, below) is getting her witnesses in line, having them practice their “Naz is Guilty” lines, as she did with the coroner after showing him a photo of Naz’s cut hand and asking if it could have happened when Naz’s “hand slipped from the handle to the blade as he was stabbing” the girl,


Stone is not only looking for another suspect, he found a couple.

Remember the two African-American males who were walking down the street in front of Andrea’s home? Remember how one of whom insulted Naz by calling him “Mustafa” and asking if he’d forgotten his “bomb” materials? That’s Trevor. When interrogated by Detective Box, Trevor lied, saying he was alone that night. Viewers know he wasn’t. To make sure viewers didn’t miss the fact that Trevor wasn’t alone, the camera zoomed in on the face of his (silent) partner. After Stone found silent partner Duane in episode 5, the camera zoomed in on his face again, like this,


just in case any viewer forgot that Trevor was, indeed, with another person in front of Andrea’s house when Naz was going up her front steps.


In a laundromat, Stone intimidated Trevor into revealing the identity of his partner that night, something that even DA Weiss was unable to do (though, in fairness, she may not yet realize that he was with another person, though this may be evidence of her lack of investigative skills and her over-reliance on the detectives). So, Stone not only found one viable alternative suspect on paper, Stone found the guy in person, even if the guy started running, leaving Stone in a dangerous-looking abandoned warehouse at the end of the episode. Stone proved that he is, so far, the most competent investigator on the case by finding evidence at the crime scene that police missed, and by finding other viable suspects.

Yes, you read that correctly. Suspects. Stone found Trevor’s silent partner, but Stone also found Andrea’s drug dealer, and coerced him into admitting that Andrea owed him money. Considering the fact that the dealer owes other people money himself, Stone found a motive for the dealer’s violence: if he was attempting to get Andrea to pay her debt, the dealer might have gotten carried away. Another suspect. Stone is really shining as an investigator. He’s using the same heavy-handed, coercive tactics as the police and the detectives, but by assuming that Naz may not be guilty, Stone is finding more suspects.


Stone also got himself a partner in Chandra, who came to him after her boss, Crowe, quit the case. Crowe had arranged a plea deal with DA Weiss, and when Naz muffed it in court, Crowe quit in a tiff. I guess she didn’t want to go to trial, despite telling Naz’s parents that she was more qualified to represent Naz in a criminal trial than Stone would be. Chandra not only asked Stone if she could help him on Naz’s case, she offered to pay him (from the large firm that employs Crowe). Stone didn’t get the $50K he requested, but he got $30K. Since he’s been working pro bono so far, that’s an improvement as well as a testament to the fact that he’s no pushover. Street-smart and savvy as an investigator, Stone has also proven himself to be an adequate financial negotiator.


Stone is also standing up for himself personally: he is beginning to doubt the medical treatment prescribed for his eczema, if only because the steroids are making him unable to perform sexually. After his pharmacist loudly and publicly announced that no pharmacy in the area had any Viagra, Stone bought some on the black market. (It was in vain, since his sexual partner is a prostitute, and she ignored Stone after a paying customer appeared at the bar where Stone had ordered champagne to “celebrate” his return to sexual activity.) Though I find the eczema story the least interesting so far, I suppose its purpose is symbolic, as I said in “Naz and Stone are the Victims,” so who am I to complain about the continuing exploration of Stone’s medical condition, which symbolizes the frustration and hopelessness of Naz’s legal condition? In any event, Stone rose to the occasion, metaphorically and literally, in last night’s episode, taking control of his own health and treatment plan.

Naz is morally sinking into the morass of prison life as well as in the opinion of his attorney. Naz, with his hidden reservoir of rage, his lies, and his illegal prescription drug-use, is no longer a shining star, a perfect young man with nothing to hide. While Naz is falling, his attorney John Stone is steadily rising. From the ethically low but not necessarily immoral “ambulance-chaser” who took on Naz’s “assault” case without realizing that the young man was being charged with rape and murder, to the most competent investigator involved in the murder case,  Stone is beginning to shine, casting all the others involved in the prosecution into shadow, if only because they are all operating under the assumption that Naz is guilty.

Of course, whether or not Naz is innocent, he may end up convicted, and not necessarily because Stone is incompetent as a trial lawyer. At the trial, John Stone may surprise everyone, including himself. Given The Night Of’s negative portrayal of virtually everyone involved in the criminal justice system, however, Stone’s being competent as an attorney at a criminal trial may be completely irrelevant. In The Night Of, the entire criminal justice system is corrupt, so Naz will probably be convicted, and viewers may not ever learn if he is actually innocent. After all, it would be more realistic if viewers did not know whether or not Naz was guilty. It would mirror the real world more accurately.

In any event, Naz’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant to the show’s bigger message: no one involved in the criminal justice system has anything other than self-interest in mind when s/he makes decisions that impact someone else’s life. Viewers are already learning, however, that Stone, who may have only had his own self-interest in mind when he took Naz on as a client, is much more than the Columbo he seems to be. Instead, Stone is the most competent and clever investigator New York has ever seen. The sun may be setting for Naz and his freedom, but The Stone shines ever brighter as he rises.

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HBO’s The Night Of Mini-Series,
episode 1, “The Beach,” Review and Recap

HBO’s Dark & Powerful Mini-Series:
The Night Of, e2-3, Recap & Review

Legal & Medical Pariahs:
Naz & Stone are the Victims in HBO’s Limited Mini-Series
The Night Of, Episode 4, “The Art of War,” Review


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Filed under Actors, Crime Drama, MiniSeries/Limited MiniSeries, Movies/Television, Recap, Review, The Night Of miniseries

Legal & Medical Pariahs: Naz & Stone Are the Victims in HBO’s Limited MiniSeries The Night Of, e4, “The Art of War,” Review




HBO’s critically acclaimed limited mini-series The Night Of  examines the current state of criminal justice in America via a fictional New York murder case. Created by Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, and based on the BBC series Criminal Justice, the miniseries has metaphorically battered the legal system starting with the show’s premiere. From the police to the attorneys, from the prison guards to the judges, the criminal justice system in The Night Of  assumes that everyone accused of committing a crime is most certainly and without exception guilty. In episode 4, “The Art of War,” this metaphorical slash and burn was expanded to indict the medical establishment alongside the legal one. In symbolically parallel stories involving the accused murderer, Naz, and his attorney, Stone, the legal and the medical arenas were mercilessly dissected. Naz is a victim of a legal system that is predisposed to find him guilty because of race, ethnicity, religion, and circumstances, while his attorney Stone, suffering from disfiguring and painful eczema, is a victim of a medical system that appears to have little empathy for anyone’s suffering.  Both Naz and Stone are victims. They are pariahs and outcasts — unwelcome and undesirable.


The Night Of  began its twisted journey with a young Pakistani-American college student-tutor, Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) taking his father’s cab, without permission, to attend a party for members of the basketball team. Though he is a good student and a tutor, Naz is an outsider to these players. He is not an athlete, and, probably worse, he is a good student. One basketball player invites Naz to the party, but another is annoyed by Naz’s inclusion. Naz doesn’t care that he’s not fully welcome: he just wants to meet the type of girls who will be at the party, girls he ordinarily would consider out of his league. Instead of making it to the party, Naz is sidetracked by an enigmatic stranger (Sofia Black-D’Ellia) who gets into the cab and asks to be taken to “the beach.”ep-1-clip-knife-games-2-881115-1_PRO1-300

Naz takes the girl to her home, where a passing African-American who sees the couple calls Naz “Mustafa” and inquires about his “bomb” materials. Though Naz is approximately the same age as the girl, he is not the same race: he is again branded as an outsider. Once inside the girl’s home, after doing some drugs and shots of tequila, Naz has sex with her. When he awakes later, he is in the kitchen, and the girl is dead upstairs. At the crime scene, the police and detectives assume that the “Arab” who was with the dead girl is guilty by race, religion, and circumstances. Before he is charged, Naz has become a pariah.

Enter John Stone (John Turturro), an “ambulance-chasing” attorney who takes Naz’s case simply because Stone was “in the right place, at the right time.” More importantly, Stone probably takes the case he is an underdog himself. He seems to specialize in representing underdogs and undesirables: he is shown helping transvestite/transgendered prostitute Paul-ine, so it’s no surprise that Stone appoints himself Naz’s attorney after he sees the young man completely isolated in a holding cell at the precinct. After Naz’s family hires a more important lawyer because she offered to represent Naz pro bono, Stone continues to investigate the circumstances of Naz’s case. Instead of being an “ambulance chaser” in it for money, Stone seems to be the only one who actually cares about Naz’s welfare. A fellow outsider and pariah, Stone empathizes with Naz in a way that no one else in the judicial system seems to.


Attorney Crowe (Glenne Headly), who lives up to her name as a scavenger and predator, goes to the DA and brokers a plea deal for Naz. Despite Crowe’s statement to Naz’s parents that she would fight for the accused young man because his case reminded her of why she went into law in the first place, and despite Crowe’s denigrating comment that Stone would do nothing but “cut a deal” because he isn’t a trial attorney in a big, exclusive (insiders’) firm like she is, Crowe immediately sold out her client without even attempting to gather any evidence in the case. After negotiating a plea with the District Attorney, Crowe went to Naz and said she would try to get the very deal to which she’d already agreed on his behalf. Naz is nothing but a means for Crowe to further her own career. He is a prop, an actor who needs to “rehearse” his lines in her play.


Crowe misrepresented herself to Naz’s parents, and treated them as annoying inferiors who had to be chastised. Outside the courthouse, when Naz’s father Salim (Peyman Moaadi, below) asked, in a whisper, if he could make a statement to reporters, Crowe coldly scolded him, ordering him never to “interrupt” her again. Like his son Naz, Salim is an outsider to the justice system as well as to the entertainment business: Crowe is a legal insider who wants to be a celebrity, à la Nancy Grace.


Crowe misled Naz’s parents, but she lies to Naz outright. With Naz’s life in the balance, Crowe’s showed herself ruthless and self-absorbed. She was furious with Naz when he didn’t answer the DA’s questions “correctly.” Instead of pleading “guilty,” as insider Crowe had instructed, the outsider Naz went rogue: in court, Naz stated that he did not, in fact, kill the girl. It was obvious that Crowe wasn’t upset because she believed Naz to be guilty and wished to save the state the cost of prosecution. She was concerned with her legal reputation and with the fact that Naz’s response had upset the judge’s expectations.

Naz is an outsider who breaks the insider rules of the plea deal, and he further alienates himself from the justice system when Crowe quits. At every move, whether because of his own action or that of others, Naz becomes more of a pariah. Though Naz metaphorically fights back against the legal system by refusing to admit guilt in the plea deal, he is already in prison without bail. Given that stark reality (and the clear bias against the legal and judicial system that The Night Of is presenting), it is not likely that things are going to turn out well for Naz. He is an outsider, and it looks like outsiders get destroyed in The Night Of.


Imprisoned without bail at Rikers as he awaits trial, Naz is mercilessly reminded that he is a pariah. Everyone gives him advice, but most of it is conflicting and ends up hurting him. From Attorney Crowe to the judge, from the “friendly” inmate who later viciously assaults Naz to the powerful convict, Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams, below), who wants to “protect” the college student, everyone wants something from Naz. None of these insiders has Naz’s best interests in mind as they attempt to manipulate and control Naz. He is an outsider that others want to use, not help.


A pariah in the post-9/11, racial-profiling world, Naz is a victim of a criminal justice system where he is already and forever an outsider simply because he is not a policeman, detective, attorney, prison guard, or judge. Further, once he is an accused criminal, and the worse kind of criminal at that, Naz will remain an outsider, unwelcome and despised by the insiders.

There seems little possibility that Naz will be able to successfully fight the impersonal justice machinery. The police and detectives have, from the beginning, assumed his guilt rather than his innocence “until proven guilty.”  The attorneys do not wish to be “stuck with the truth,” or they care more about their personal reputations than Naz’s fate.  The inmates and guards in the violent and merciless penal system care only for their perquisites, their “names,” their standing in the convict society. In the criminal justice environment, Naz is an undesirable because of his ethnicity as much as because of his alleged crime. He is undesirable unless he can somehow help someone else’s career, be it legal or criminal.

The only person who seems to genuinely empathize with Naz is attorney Stone, who is an outsider himself. With his rumpled, disheveled suit and overcoat, he is given advice on an appropriate tailor and on what kind of proper suit to wear to a trial of this magnitude by District Attorney Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) after their own plea deal falls apart.


He is heckled by police officers as an ambulance chaser. He is ridiculed by chief investigator Detective Box (Bill Camp).

Stone is threatened by the Director of a Rehab House (cameo/guest appearance by Turturro’s cousin Aida Turturro, below) after he is seen taking photos while investigating the murder victim in Naz’s case.


Though Stone is a street-wise attorney who technically should automatically be an insider in the criminal justice system, he remains an unwelcome outsider. To emphasize his pariah-status, The Night Of  writers have  Stone fruitlessly fighting the inhospitable medical establishment, which is set up as a symbolic parallel to the justice system that Naz is fighting.

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Seeking a treatment for his incurable eczema, which stands as a visible symbol of Stone’s “undesirable” status, Stone faces doctors who regularly contradict each other or who dismiss their colleagues’ treatment plans, as well as pharmacists who openly scoff at the prescribed medications. By showing Stone’s following the recommended “medical” treatments — like applying Crisco onto the eczema-affected areas then encasing his feet and lower legs in Saran Wrap —  The Night Of reveals Stone’s desperation to be healed, to be cured. It is also his desperation to fit in, to become an insider rather than to remain an outsider.


The symbolic sub-plot of Stone’s adversarial and confusing “fight” with his eczema as well as with the members of the medical community brilliantly parallels Naz’s “fight” with the criminal justice system. Insiders of both the medical establishment and the legal system consider Stone and Naz to be uncooperative outsiders, guilty of disobeying the “rules,” whether they are supposed to be following scripts for plea deals or told to follow recommended medical treatments. No matter what these two men do, neither system will accept Stone or Naz as one of the privileged insiders. Neither of them will be welcomed to the inner group.

Stone is street-wise, tough, and not easily intimidated: his interactions with the police officers at the precinct where Naz was jailed, with the lead investigator Detective Box, with the judge at the bail hearing, and with the District Attorney during a plea deal all prove that Stone is competent and clever. He knows the personal and professional lives of his “opponents;” he knows how to “attack” them even if they seem to be baiting him in jest. Technically, Stone should have already been accepted since it is clear that he is an insider. For some reason that remains unclear to viewers but which is symbolized by Stone’s incurable and disfiguring eczema, the attorney remains a pariah. He is not accepted. He is not welcome. He is undesirable.

Just as Stone’s disfiguring eczema can be managed but not cured, Naz’s race and ethnicity could be tolerated, but they cannot be changed or completely ignored. His race and ethnicity, combined with his religious beliefs, made Naz an outsider and a pariah before the circumstances of the murder make him appear guilty of a heinous crime. Naz and Stone are pariahs, undesirables, unwelcome outsiders in a criminal justice system and in a medical system that will, no doubt, forever remain closed to them.

If you’ve missed The Night Of, your summer is not nearly as exciting as it could be. No matter how harrowing its presentation of the American justice system, this show is compelling drama, well written and extremely well acted. You can catch up any time on HBOgo or HBOnow. The mini-series airs Sundays at 10p.m. ET on HBO, and the rest of the week on other HBO channels. Viewers who are HBO subscribers can watch the premiere “The Beach” free. Other viewers can see the tease or the official HBO trailer for the miniseries.

Related Posts

Gripping Crime Drama:
HBO’s The Night Of MiniSeries,
episode 1, “The Beach,” Review and Recap

HBO’s Dark & Powerful MiniSeries:
The Night Of, e2-3, Recap & Review


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Filed under Actors, Crime Drama, MiniSeries/Limited MiniSeries, Movies/Television, Recap, Review, The Night Of miniseries