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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Legal & Medical Pariahs:
Naz & Stone are the Victims in HBO’s Limited Mini-Series
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