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Everybody’s a Victim: HBO’s The Night Of Season One Finale, “Call of the Wild,” Recap & Review

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Despite some viewers’ disappointment that we never learned whodunnit on HBO’s hit crime drama The Night Of, the finale “Call of the Wild” was a good deal like I expected it to be. I didn’t think the writers would ever reveal who actually killed Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black-D’Elia), and I didn’t think the police or the District Attorney would ever pursue anyone else as her murderer — at least, not as long as they had Naz (Riz Ahmed) in custody. I was glad to see Detective Box take another look at the suspects — finding yet another in the long list of those that Attorney John Stone had already turned up. I was glad, though a bit surprised, that DA Weiss decided not to prosecute Naz again after the hung jury resulted in a mistrial. I suspected that Naz would be found guilty and imprisoned for life; I predicted that he might commit suicide as Petey did in a previous episode. “Call of the Wild” gave us an even more somber finale, one in which everyone is a victim of violent crime as well as of the criminal justice system.

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Detective Box

The lead investigator, Detective Box (Bill Camp), was shredded on the witness stand in last week’s episode, when Chandra questioned his handling of the case and his never looking for other suspects. Since we saw Box not enjoying his retirement party, it wasn’t a surprise that he returned to the investigation and found another suspect. I don’t know if the obvious nature of the other suspect was the result of poor writing on the part of the show’s staff, or the result of bad investigating on Box’s part, but his finding another suspect so incredibly easily — after looking at more surveillance video and phone records — made it a bit implausible that no one in the police department had ever found the guy. Isn’t a look at financial records a given in a murder investigation? Still, Box became a victim because his career was already publicly blighted during the trial. Since he didn’t do his job properly in the first place, he wasn’t a victim for whom I felt sympathy, but he was still somewhat of a victim because everyone would always know that he didn’t go out with a bang but with a really whispery whimper.

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DA Weiss

District Attorney Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) has been concerned with nothing but winning ever since Box first brought the murder suspect to her attention. From the beginning, she was more interested in how she might lose the case than she was in whether justice was being done. It was no shock then that, when Box brought her evidence of another strong suspect  — Andrea’s financial advisor & part-time boyfriend — Weiss said, “We have more on the kid.” She has long shown that she was willing to manipulate witnesses and script their testimony as long as it helped her win.

Did she ever want justice for the murder victim, Andrea? That wasn’t clear. But after the jury came to its split 6/6 decision, making Weiss a victim of the very system she has obviously long manipulated, I didn’t feel much sympathy for her either, though I was surprised that she didn’t wish to try Naz a second time. Even though she asked Box to help her go after the other suspect, she still didn’t win the case against Naz. That’s all she’s cared about since the beginning, so she became a victim of the criminal justice system.

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Naz

Oy, vey, Naz (Riz Ahmed) is such a victim, it’s hard to feel sorry for the guy even with those Bambi-eyes of his. After all, this is a guy who did so many stupid things — not to mention all the criminal things  — that his presumed innocence of Andrea’s murder is the only thing that makes him at all empathetic. Let’s recap some of his dumb acts:

stealing his father’s cab,
taking unknown drugs from a stranger,
taking more drugs from said stranger,
having sex with that complete stranger,
taking the knife from the murder scene,
breaking back into the murder scene after he forgot the keys to the stolen cab,
ignoring street signs that clearly state No Left Turn,
throwing a classmate down the stairs, breaking his arm,
throwing a full Coke can at a classmate, hitting him in the face,
swallowing condom-wrapped drugs,
smuggling said drugs into Rikers,
shaving his head before trial,
getting prison tattoos in places that can’t be hidden,
selling his prescription Adderall to classmates,
leaving a paper trail of his drug-dealing,
lying to his attorney,
lying to his attorney,
lying to his attorney,
helping Freddy kill another inmate…

In fact, Naz has committed so many stupid and criminal acts that I actually ended up not feeling sorry for Naz, though he was clearly a victim of the criminal justice system. Predictably, prison made him more of a criminal. At trial, Naz wasn’t found guilty, but he wasn’t found not guilty, and he’ll pay for that for the rest of his life. He got out of jail, but he will certainly never be free because, as Sam Adams of Slate.com writes, Naz is “saved only by what amounts to a spanner in the works: a deadlocked jury, split 6 to 6, which is like escaping a firing squad because the gun jammed.” And, furthermore, because the firing squad decided not to reload.

Naz returned to his parents’ home, knowing his mother thought him capable of monstrous violence, if not actually guilty of rape and murder. His brother’s evil-eye as they sat at dinner made it clear that Naz is going to have problems with his sibling as well as in his community, who members shunned him. Naz is addicted to crack-cocaine, and his violence is more blatant now, as evidenced by the intimidating look he gave the classmate who testified about Naz’s drug dealing. Naz may have become an unwitting victim of the criminal justice system, but he was a victim of his own poor choices and of his own criminal behavior first.

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Chandra

Chandra, Chandra, Chandra… Did she become a victim of a young and inexperienced professional woman’s poor choices? Or was Amara Karan, the actor portraying Chandra, merely a victim of supremely bad writing? Quite a few reviewers vote for the latter choice, and I’m among them. Because of the ridiculous Chandra-initiated kiss in the penultimate episode, a kiss which didn’t logically follow from anything previously presented in The Night Of or from anything in Chandra’s character, there was never any question that Chandra would become a victim.

But to have her deteriorate to the point where she supplied illicit street-drugs to her client just before his testimony? To have her smuggle the drugs into the holding cell in her bra and in her private parts? To have her remove the drugs from her body cavity under the unforgiving eye of surveillance cameras? That is just bad writing, as Matt Wilstein of TheDailyBeast.com points out.

But it is the sight of Chandra pulling a condom of heroin out from between her legs that is far more disturbing — and far less believable — than the makeout session that scandalized viewers the week before. If The Night Of, so subtle and nuanced in its first several episodes, had a jump the shark moment, this was it. (emphasis mine)

I’m not even going to mention the fact that Chandra would be supremely unlikely to know how or where to purchase illicit drugs, that no street-drug dealer with half a brain would sell drugs to a young woman wearing a business suit and heels, that said drug dealer would he be highly unlikely to hand over illicit drugs to a young woman in a business suit in the open on the street corner, that rich or professional people would usually get their drugs from their similarly rich or professional companions or colleagues, or that Chandra would be an absolute idjit — I mean, IDJIT — to hand over illicit street-drugs in the very same holding cell where she kissed Naz and already got caught on surveillance video and got seriously Busted to the point where she is not able to deliver the Defense’s closing statement, has lost her job (with instructions to clean out her desk as soon as the trial is finished), and will, most likely, be disbarred. I’m not going to discuss those things because they all fall under the category of really bad writing. While those things make Chandra a victim, they make her character more a victim of bad writing than of bad personal choices.

Of the reviewers who thought it was probably necessary for Chandra to make bad decisions so that Stone could deliver the closing argument, many still thought it was bad writing as it was handled. Scott Tobias of The New York Times thought that

[the] one victim of the show’s machinations is Chandra, whose dignity has been martyred for the cause. Until tonight, the show’s biggest misstep was her moment of indiscretion with Naz in the holding pen, which undermined her as a professional by having her succumb to a jailhouse crush. In an otherwise stellar finale, the incident gets further reduced to a mere plot device to bring Stone in front of the jury for closing arguments — something that may need to happen for dramatic reasons but leaves Chandra’s career in ruins. It makes sense for Stone to have his day in court, since he’s not second chair in this series, and his words to the jury are specific to his instinctual faith in Naz and his own poignant shot in the big leagues. But there’s a cost: Andrea was the first victim in “The Night Of,” Chandra is the second. (emphasis mine)

I agree with Laura Bogart of Salon.com, that “almost anything else, even catching a bad flu, would have sidelined Chandra and positioned Stone to prove that he is far better than his subway ads might suggest.” And, as Todd VanDerWerff of Vox.com pointed out,

the last two episodes seemed custom-designed to push Chandra into many bizarre decisions and directions. Why did she want Naz on the stand? It was never clear — and she very nearly got him sent to jail for it… Why would she smuggle in drugs for him? This was also not entirely clear. To be sure, I can come up with answers for both of those questions. But Chandra never made sense as a character in the way that Naz or Stone or Helen or Box did.

Chandra was, in fact, marginalized in the finale. As Laura Bogart writes, once Stone is given the responsibility of delivering the closing argument,

Chandra is more or less iced out of the finale, a development that is so fundamentally dissatisfying because she’s the only character who is so thoughtlessly disregarded. Everyone else gets a complete arc except the aspiring young career woman.

Yes, Chandra became another victim, but Amara Karan’s character was more a victim of bad writing than of any logical behavior on Chandra’s part.

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Attorney John Stone

Stone (John Turturro) was proven right when he insisted that Naz’s testifying would be a really bad idea. As he told fellow-counsel Chandra after the testimony, he thought Naz had a 10% chance of getting off before he testified; after, Stone thought that slim chance had completely evaporated. Despite Stone’s attempt to “cut a deal” by getting a mistrial with the surveillance tape of Chandra kissing Naz in the courthouse holding cell — which, surprisingly, was delivered by Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams), who considered Naz his own private unicorn — the trial not only went on, but it went on with Stone’s having to deliver the closing argument. (Don’t worry: he did just fine, which is what you’d expect when an actor as tremendously talented as John Turturro takes on the part.)

Despite the severe flare-up of Stone’s asthma and eczema, necessitating a visit to the ER, Stone was less of a victim than anyone else in the finale of HBO’s The Night Of. After all, he’s proven himself a frightfully good investigator, and he got a chance to prove himself as an attorney at a murder trial. Even though he returned to his life representing guilty scum who no doubt got his name and number from the subway ads, Stone proved himself a more than competent attorney, and one of the few truly moral characters in the show.

Besides, he got to keep the cat.

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