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Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon: Chandra Shines on HBO’s The Night Of, 107, Review




HBO’s limited mini-series, The Night Of, is an intense and merciless crime drama. Created and written by Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, and based on BBC’s Criminal Justice, it examines the contemporary criminal justice system in America through the case of Nasir “Naz” Kahn (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani-American college student, in the post-9/11 world of New York City. Accused of raping and murdering a rich, white girl, Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black-D’Elia), who got into Naz’s father’s cab after Naz “borrowed” it, without permission, in order to attend a college athletes’ party, Naz has been subjected to the impersonal maws of the justice system, which simply does not care whether or not he is innocent. The police, the detectives, the DA, the Judge, the Medical Examiner don’t care about the evidence unless it fits their preconceived storyline about Naz’s guilt. Meanwhile, interred inside Rikers since his arrest, Naz has steadily been rising in the criminal ranks, under the tutelage of inmate-murderer Freddy Knight (Michael Kenneth Williams). Now entering the Defense phase of the trial, Naz revealed more ugliness to his character in “Ordinary Death,” while his attorney, Chandra (Amara Karan), began to shine.


Chandra at Trial

We already had a glimpse of Chandra’s talent last week, when she gave a concise opening statement, after agonizing over it for hours, as well as when she dismissed DA Weiss (Jeannie Berlin, below) with the statement to the jury, “She likes to be called Mrs. Weiss.” You wouldn’t think a small statement like that would make a difference in your perception of someone, but it did. Instantly, you realized that DA Weiss is misrepresenting herself, for some unknown reason, in a professional world where she already has an impressive title: District Attorney. Chandra’s swipe was powerful and unexpected.


In “Ordinary Death,” Chandra continued to shine as she took the role of lead Defense Attorney in Naz’s trial. Though it was settled earlier in the season that she would handle the trial because Naz’s original attorney John Stone (John Turturro) had no trial experience, she surprised me with her confidence and her handling of the witnesses. Without even knowing that Box (Bill Camp, below) and his fellow detectives discovered another victim that is, according to him, clearly identical to the murder of Andrea Cornish, Chandra shredded Box on the witness stand. She made him seem like an arrogant punk in his mis-handling of the evidence (when he took the asthma inhaler from the crime scene and gave it back to Naz). She made Box seem incompetent because he hadn’t interviewed — or even found — any other suspects. Just before his retirement, in fact, she trounced him so soundly that he couldn’t even enjoy his own party.


Chandra was as effective dismantling Box as DA Weiss was at shedding doubt on one of the Defense’s key witnesses, Dr. Katz revealed evidence about the Five-Finger-Filet (FFF) Knife Game, which Chandra (or the show writers) mistakenly called Mumblety Peg.  Katz revealed that The Victim’s skin cells had been found in a gash in the coffee table, indicating that her wound had come from playing FFF with the suspect, Naz.  Katz also revealed things about the crime scene that the detectives seem to have missed, such as the defective lock on the security door. Katz gave good testimony for the Defense, but Weiss attacked his character in her cross-examination. Chandra did the same thing to Box on her Cross. That’s a Defense Attorney at her professional best.

Though Chandra didn’t see the threatening looks Naz was giving a former classmate who was on the witness stand — testifying that Naz dealt drugs, selling individual Adderall pills from his prescription — Chandra managed to stay cool despite the Reveal of more negative aspects of Naz’s character. After we learned that Naz dealt drugs, though on a small scale, and was attempting to intimidate one of his “customers” on the witness stand, we learned that the violence Naz displayed while in high school was not an isolated incident. Chandra was in the midst of cross-examining Naz’s high school basketball coach — who earlier in the season revealed to Stone that Naz had thrown a classmate down the stairs, breaking his arm, without provocation — when the coach revealed that two students had been assaulted by Naz.

Though Chandra’s voice went quieter, and her body went slightly more rigid, she managed to continue to ask about the Two. It seems that our boy Naz threw a full can of Coke at another student, just as soon as Naz returned from the suspension he earned after assaulting the first boy. Despite Chandra’s attempt to relate these violent assaults to post-9/11 persecution of American Muslims, the only thing viewers — and jurors, presumably — took away from the coach’s testimony was that Naz, once again, has lied about his past. Chandra acted like it was a mere blip on her radar, though it surely rattled her. At the Defense table, Stone was giving Naz wary, almost terrified glances while Chandra managed, somehow, to continue the trial and retain her professional demeanor.


Chandra and Naz’s Mother

Chandra is handling all aspects of the murder trial professionally, including the behavior of Naz’s mother. Safar (Poorna Jagannathan, above) conspicuously walked out of the courtroom while slides of the victim were being shown. Chandra later went to the bathroom and told Mrs. Khan that the jury had to look at the slides, so Mrs. Kahn had to do it, too: for Naz’s sake, Safar couldn’t walk out like that. Safar Khan was having none of that, however. She wouldn’t let Chandra comfort her, she didn’t return to the courtroom, she stopped coming to the trial, and, furthermore, she continued to refuse to talk to Naz when he called her, despite Chandra’s telling Safar that Naz wanted to talk to her.

Though Safar’s leaving the courtroom and no longer attending the trial are going to look bad to the jury, I can’t say I blame her. Naz’s behavior on “the night of,” even if he didn’t kill the girl, has ruined his family’s life. Both parents are working crappy jobs, desperately trying to support the family; they had to pawn their silver, jewelry, and other precious objects to get cash; and both parents were victims of attacks. Naz’s father Salim (Peyman Moaadi) has been continuously confronted with racism, and his cab partners forced him to sell out his third of the cab so that they could buy a new one — without him. When he objected and called them “thieves,” one of them said, “And you are the father of a murderer.”

While looking at pictures of Naz as a baby and a young child, Naz’s mother was threatened with a rock thrown through Naz’s bedroom window. His parents’ lives have been permanently altered for the worse by Naz’s selfish and careless behavior. Safar has reached a point where she may no longer believe that her son is innocent; more important to her, however, is the question, “Did I raise an animal?” She doesn’t want to be responsible herself for Naz’s behavior. Chandra was unable to answer Safar’s question or to convince Naz’s mother to come back to the courtroom, but Chandra showed herself a compassionate professional when she attempted to get Safar back into court, and to answer Naz’s phone calls.


Chandra and The Kiss

The only failure of Chandra Kapoor’s professional character in the episode was the weird moment when she kissed the imprisoned Naz (and let’s just hope the kiss, which was clearly captured on surveillance video, won’t get Chandra debarred). I realize that Chandra doesn’t know that Naz snitched on fellow inmate Victor, who was sexually abusing Petey (Aaron Motey). Chandra doesn’t know that Naz conspired with Freddy to kill Victor, acting as a decoy by asking the guard for a new asthma inhaler while Freddy went to the prison TV area and sliced Victor’s throat. Chandra doesn’t know, as Vikram Murthi of Vulture.com writes, that Naz “may not have murdered Andrea, but he has now murdered someone [i.e., Victor], albeit indirectly.” Nor does Chandra realize, as Vikram continues, that Naz’s “mother may not have raised an animal, but[Naz] has become one.”

Despite Chandra’s professional lapse — which she seemed to regret immediately — and despite the fact that the scene was extremely short, it’s generated lots of discussion, far more discussion than the length of the scene would seem to justify. This may be due to the fact that virtually everyone was stunned by that kiss. Though at least one person on a forum wrote that it was about time the two kissed because “Chandra’s super hot,” that comment had no replies, and other viewers thought the kiss made no sense at all. Most critics and reviewers seemed to agree with Scott Tobias of the New York Times:  (emphasis in quote below is mine.)

“Ordinary Death” makes the show’s first significant misstep by following through on the romantic tension that’s been building between Chandra and Naz. It makes a certain dramatic sense. Naz would have taken the plea deal had Chandra not persuaded him to follow his conscience. Unlike Stone, who doesn’t trust a jury to reach the right decision regardless, Chandra believes an innocent person should assert his innocence. It becomes a contract between them: She trusts in his innocence; he trusts her to rescue him from a life sentence. It could be argued that there’s an intimacy between them that goes beyond a lawyer-client relationship, because there’s so much at stake for both of them. But having them actually kiss, however much Chandra seems to regret it afterward, undermines her as a professional. “The Night Of” goes to great lengths to emphasize the grind-it-out dignity of veterans like Box, Stone, and Helen, but it does a disservice to Chandra by giving her a jailhouse crush.

Jason Concepcion  thought the kiss was “in a subplot that feels like it was teleported in from a different show.” A fantasy or a science fiction show, perhaps, which is certainly not the genre The Night Of  has been aiming for with its scrupulous contemporary realism. Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast just found the kissing scene to be bad writing (emphasis below is mine).

The extent to which Chandra is out of her element becomes evident not in the courtroom, in which she does a brilliant job casting doubts that Naz could be the killer during testimony from the pathologist she and John hired, and then credibility-ruining questioning with Detective Box (Bill Camp). Instead it becomes evident during a meeting with Naz in which the two end up kissing, she so entranced by his new, confident demeanor, assured manner of speaking, and bulked up sexual appeal. In a show that’s been praised for the realism with which it portrays this kind of crime story, it’s a twist that threatens to, as they say, “jump the shark.”

That kiss was more than jumping the shark, more than “a moment of television in which there is a gimmick or unlikely occurrence that is seen as a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.” Beyond the fact that most viewers are already sufficiently interested in The Night Of without any sexual activity beyond the premiere episode’s (mostly implied) interaction between Naz and The Victim, that kiss between Chandra and Naz was completely unnecessary to the storyline. If anything, the kiss alienated many, if not most, viewers. Further, it didn’t evolve from anything in the previous episodes. Though Naz called Chandra late at night at least once, letting us know that he was either extremely lonely or that he might be attracted to Chandra, she has never given any indication of reciprocal feelings. It’s true that she broke up with her boyfriend and was distressed about it, telling fellow attorney Stone about the break-up in a previous episode, but there has never been even the slightest hint that Chandra found Naz even least bit interesting as a person rather than as a client, let alone that she found him sexually attractive.

Unprepared for by earlier episodes, completely out-of-character, and unnecessary to the storyline, the kissing scene was more than “jumping the shark” because it was more than just bad writing. The Chandra-initiated kiss was an insult to professional women. Many reviewers and critics were appalled by Chandra’s blatantly unprofessional act. As a professional woman myself, I was most sincerely offended. Virtually all professional women I have ever worked with or known personally have gone out of their way to be even more professional than their male colleagues, simply because women must be more professional and more successful than males in the same field in order to succeed. Having Chandra kiss Naz, who is not only a prison inmate but her client, who is not only her client but a college boy several years younger than she is, was insulting and offensive to professional women everywhere. It was also ludicrous: are we to believe that a grown woman, already established in a law firm, albeit as a young lawyer, and already experienced in trials, would risk her entire professional career by kissing a boy client?

I wasn’t the only reviewer who found it insulting. Peter Allen Clark of Mashable.com complained that

Everything we have been shown presents [Chandra] as a professional, intelligent, competent woman who would never start making out with Naz in a jail cell. That, one of the very few things that actually happened this week, was insulting to her and to us. I get that Naz reached out more and more, but she never seemed interested in reciprocating. That scene made The Night Of seem like boring, pedestrian TV. (emphasis mine)

Very boring. Very pedestrian. Very jumping the shark, I’d say. It would have made more sense, given Naz’s ability to dissemble, had Naz initiated the kiss: in fact, even though he did not, at least one reviewer postulated that Naz may to use that kiss to betray Chandra and frame his appeal. But it was Chandra who initiated the kiss. Chandra kissed Naz first, though he responded. So we are left with this question: did Chandra kiss Naz because she’s unprofessional, or did the writers simply throw it in because there hasn’t been any sexual activity in The Night Of since episode one?

If the former, we have no idea why Chandra would suddenly become so severely and flagrantly unprofessional.

If the latter, then Shame on you, Writers.

In any event, Chandra, this is for you:

Girl, you’ll be a woman soon.
Soon, you’ll need a man. 

A man, Girlfriend, not a boy.

And certainly not a boy who’s a criminal besides.

Next week is the finale of The Night Of, which is rumored to be about an hour and 45 minutes long. Though we don’t know if we’ll get any resolution to the question of Naz’s guilt or innocence, and I seriously doubt that the show is suddenly going to disintegrate into any Perry Mason moments and have the real murderer confess, the finale is bound to be an intense episode. The finale airs Sunday 28 August at 9p.m. ET on HBO.

Related Posts

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episode 1, “The Beach,” Review and Recap

HBO’s Dark & Powerful Mini-Series:
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Legal & Medical Pariahs:
Naz & Stone are the Victims in HBO’s Limited Mini-Series
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Did Samson Kill Delilah in HBO’s The Night Of ?
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Filed under Actors, Crime Drama, MiniSeries/Limited MiniSeries, Movies/Television, Recap, Review, The Night Of, The Night Of miniseries, True Detective, Videos

Did Samson Kill Delilah in HBO’s The Night Of? Episode 106, Recap & Review


& Biblical Parallels

As soon as I heard the mortician-undertaker in episode 6 of HBO’s The Night Of refer to the book of Judges from the Hebrew Bible, I knew it referred to Samson and Delilah, without even knowing the name of the show’s episode. When Chandra later read passages to Naz’s attorney John Stone, I was surprised that someone as savvy as Stone didn’t already know that story in its entirety. If creator-writers Steven Zaillian and Richard Price were giving that information to us viewers, however, then I’m less surprised: how many people even know the story of Samson and Delilah these days, let alone that it comes from Judges? More interesting to The Night Of, however, is how the story of Samson and Delilah relates to that of Naz, a Pakistani-American college student accused of rape and murder,  and to that of the murder victim, Andrea (Sofia Black-D’Elia).


In Judges 13-16, Samson is favored by God from the moment of his conception. In fact, an angel of God comes to Samson’s mother, who has been barren, and tells her that she should have no wine or other fermented drink because she is to bear a child. As he grows, Samson is blessed by God, though we are never given a specific reason for this, and, further, “the spirit of Lord stirs in Samson.”

Always the bad-boy himself, Samson has a thing for the foreign ladies. He falls for a Philistine woman and wants to marry her, to his parents’ dismay. They ask, “Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” (14:3) But God is controlling the story of Samson in order to show His own might: “[Samson’s] parents did not know that this [love for the Philistine woman] was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel” (14:4).

Eventually, after shows of strength, being betrayed by his wife, and displays of both anger and strength, Samson falls for another foreign woman, Delilah. We can only assume that, since God causes or allows Samson to love his first wife, who is ethnically and religiously “foreign,” God also allows Samson to love Delilah.

In order to be betrayed? So that Samson will lose the “gift” of his strength and, after he is a blind captive, return to God, showing God’s forgiveness and power?

I’m not sure of the reason: God doesn’t explain Himself. But Samson is betrayed: Delilah cuts off his hair, causing him to lose his strength, and he is captured by the Philistines. Imprisoned, Samson prays to God for one last burst of strength to pull down the pillars of the Philistine temple, knowing full well that he himself will die with the enemies of his people and of his God.


I don’t know if The Night Of  intends to take the story that far, but its writers are the ones who named the episode after the Biblical story, and then quoted it in the episode itself, so let’s see what we have.

Is Naz the Samson in The Night Of? Naz (Riz Ahmed, center) doesn’t seem like a strong-man, though his attack on the Rikers inmate who burned him gave us a hint of the depth of Naz’s strength, anger, and violence. Naz doesn’t seem like a man blessed by God either, though because of his ethnicity and religion, he is in a post-9/11 land that is relatively hostile to him, despite his having been born in New York city.


An outsider like Samson, Naz also has secrets, as Stone (John Turturro, above R) and Chandra (Kara Amaran, above L) learned in the previous episode and again last night. Samson’s secret was the key to his strength: his unshorn hair. Naz has already shorn his hair, so that doesn’t seem to be the key to his “strength.” In fact, I’m guessing most viewers don’t think Naz has much strength, unless naïveté and stupidity count as “strength” when you have enough of either one.


In fact, let’s count Naz’s shaving his head before going to trial for rape and murder as one of his more  stupid choices. I’m not even going to go back to episode 1 where Naz stole his dad’s cab to go to a party, picked up a strange girl, took unknown drugs from her, had unprotected sex with her without even knowing her name, woke to find her dead and ran out, broke back in after he found he’d forgotten his keys, then ran out again with the bloody knife in his pocket. From the premiere, we knew Naz was unrealistically naïve and foolish.


But in episode 6, we can add getting prison tatttoos, just before your murder trial, in places you can’t hide (on the knuckles), tattoos that say Sin and Bad, no less, among those incredibly stupid choices that Naz makes. Oh, and let’s not forget Naz’s free-basing with Freddie (Michael Kenneth Williams).


I realize that Naz is in prison, and that he’s asked Freddie for protection, but nothing says Naz has to do drugs and further dull his already-befuddled mind in order to survive. His ability to beat up one inmate and intimidate others has proven that the boy already has most of what it takes to survive the penal system.


But back to the metaphor of Samson and Delilah.

Samson fell hard for the seductress Delilah, and she apparently toyed with his affections in order to learn the secret of his strength so that she could betray him and have his enemies capture him. Delilah asked Samson multiple times what the source of his strength was, and Samson lied to her every time but the last.


Samson’s secret was the source of his strength, and, in The Night Of, Naz has more than enough secrets: his rage, his capacity for violence, and his taking illicit amphetamines which can cause further rage as well as psychotic episodes. But do Naz’s secrets give him strength? I suppose it depends on how you look at it. They seem to be helping him survive in prison, even amongst the baddest of the bad boys.

Did those secrets get him involved with the victim? Naz’s secrets don’t seem to have had anything to do with that, unless the illicit Adderal “persuaded” Naz to steal his father’s cab and to have drug-and-alcohol-fueled sex with a complete stranger.

So, if Naz is the betrayed Samson, then who is Delilah in The Night Of? Is the murdered rich girl Andrea the seductress? As a representative of the type of girl Naz dreamed of, perhaps Andrea unconsciously tempted him much as Delilah tempted Samson. Of course, she’s not the initial reason Naz stole the cab, but she did get his mind off the party he was planning to attend, and she did convince him to take drugs, get him back to her home, and get him to play dangerous games with knives.


In the original biblical story, however, Delilah is the one who betrays Samson, after he is already in love with her, though it is understood that Samson is as much responsible for his own downfall as is the seductress Delilah. After all, had Samson not abandoned his God to be with a foreign woman, he would never have revealed the secret of his strength, been shorn and lost his power, then been blinded by his captives.

(I realize there’s a problem with the story of Samson and Delilah itself, since God is the one that causes or allows Samson to initially be attractive to foreign, Philistine women, so that God can show His own strength and power through Samson, but that’s one of the unresolved mysteries of the Bible stories.)

In any event, though Judges presents Samson in a relatively non-judgmental, mostly sympathetic light, Judges still puts the burden of responsibility for his ultimate capture and suffering solidly on Samson’s own shoulders.

If we are to follow that interpretation of the biblical story, then Naz, as Samson, is the one mostly, if not completely, responsible for his own downfall. Just as Samson got involved with a woman who was not of his ethnicity or religious beliefs, a woman whose loyalty was to the Philistines and to the money they would give her for her betrayal, Naz became involved, if only for part of one night, with a woman who was not of his socio-economic class, his ethnicity, or his religious faith.

Whoa. Are the writers of The Night Of getting moral on us here? Or did their protagonist Naz just make some incredibly stupid and immature choices that night, choices that happened to involve a rich white girl? After all, if Andrea is the Delilah of this story, then she ends up dead, not wealthy after the betrayal of her lover.

As we learned in last night’s episode, Andrea was wealthy from the death of her mother. She was, in fact, wealthy enough to make her stepfather angry after she refused him half of her mother’s estate. As attorney Stone learned last night, Andrea’s stepfather has a history of marrying wealthy, older women. Thus, the stepfather has become a suspect in Andrea’s murder.

So far, Andrea doesn’t seem like much of a Delilah, despite the mortician-undertaker’s referring to Judges, and despite his calling Andrea, whom he met only briefly, a “cat” that plays with men like “yarn.”


So what is all this Samson and Delilah stuff in The Night Of? Are viewers supposed to look at the source of the Biblical story — Judges — more than at the story itself? If so, who are the judges in this limited mini-series that is exploring the criminal justice system, and that finds it most sincerely corrupted?


Is Detective Box (Bill Camp), who never for an instant doubts Naz’s guilt nor seeks any other suspects, a Judge, condemning Naz without a trial?


Is DA Weiss (Jeannie Berlin), who has virtually coerced her witnesses into testifying according to her script, a Judge, also condemning Naz without trial, and, worse, manipulating said trial witnesses’ testimony so that Naz is condemned without sufficient evidence?


Are attorneys Stone and Chandra the Judges? Though they represent Naz, they see his flaws, and they realize that he has secrets and that, worse, he has lied to them: about his personal illicit drug use during the night of the murder, as well as about his violent past when Naz, without provocation, threw a fellow student down a set of steps, breaking the boy’s arm, and got expelled from school so that Naz then had to transfer to another high school.

I’m guessing that we viewers are the Judges in The Night Of. 

Not only are we judging Naz and his victim, we’re judging the criminal justice system itself, from the police officers to the detectives, from the attorneys to the judges, from the penal system to our society itself. We are judging the criminal justice system and finding it corrupt, biased, and inhumane.

Further, we are judging the criminal justice system and finding it terribly and relentlessly horrifying for anyone who happens to get caught up in its maws.

Related Posts

Gripping Crime Drama:
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

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



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