HBO’s ‘The Night Of’ enthralls with suspenseful subtlety
HBO might be better known for resurrected bastards and fire-breathing dragons these days, but The Night Of proves that the network can still deliver a well-crafted and suspenseful crime series. Those longing for the early days of True Detective (and not that horrendous excuse for a second season) will be delighted with this new Noir-esque crime drama.
Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) is a relatively straight-laced Pakistani-American college kid living in Queens. He’s smart and doesn’t get into trouble, but he also wants to fit in with other people his age who party and let loose. One night, he borrows his dad’s cab to go to a party in the city and encounters a mysterious young woman (Sofia Black-D’Elia) looking for a ride. After rejecting previous passengers (because he isn’t actually a cab driver) he’s too intrigued/attracted to her to turn her down, so he agrees to drive her home. She’s fun and exciting, and just a little bit dangerous, something he finds very appealing, so when she invites him in and starts flirting with him, he’s down for whatever the night might bring. Little does he know, just a few short hours later, he’ll be arrested for murder and spiraling into an increasingly dire situation. The only person who seems to believe him is lawyer Jack Stone (John Turturro), who is at the jail to see a client when he witnesses Naz being brought in and subsequently held for the murder. Stone feels like something’s not right about the whole procedure, and decides on the spot to help Naz navigate his increasingly dangerous predicament.
The classic Film Noir setup has worked since the 1940s for a reason: it’s effective. We see an average guy whose life is suddenly turned upside down after meeting the tempting femme fatale who leads him on the twisted path to ruin. Knowing that the show is about a murder investigation with Naz as the prime suspect, I spent the first twenty minutes wishing Naz would just turn around and go home. The girl is bad news, man! Just go back to your family! But, of course, we know that’s never the case with these stories, and the ever increasing suspense is enough to have you biting your nails as the wall start to close in around him by the end of the first episode. Because we don’t actually see the murder, even we as viewers have some questions about just what the hell happened between Naz and the girl, and that mystery should keep us engrossed for the remaining seven episodes of this eight-part limited series.
When that classic format is updated from the black and white movies of the 1940s to today, things get even more interesting. Naz’s Pakistani heritage is no coincidence, and early on we see him getting harassed by a couple guys on the street. When one of those guys becomes a potential witness, it adds a whole new layer to the proceedings. Is an innocent man getting racially profiled? Or did we miss something back in that bedroom that might mean Naz really did do it? Just the uncertainty of it is enough to keep you enthralled with each scene, and when those concerns are echoed by Tuturro’s streetwise lawyer, we know we’re in for a treacherous ride through the justice system.
Shows like Making a Murderer and American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson prove that we love true crime, but The Night Of gives us a crime mystery in a fictional setting that steps up the suspense and has the potential to fill True Detective‘s shoes.