HBO’s New Limited Series – The Night Of – Episode One – The Beach – Recap and Review

HBO premiered the first hour (plus) of its limited series called The Night Of on Sunday night, July 10th. It is an 8 hour 8 episode series, so let’s have a look at it. ****Major Spoilers ahead****

As the show opens we are in a classic college lecture hall. The subject is math, specifically Calculus III, and the Stokes Theorem. Most of us will not be able to make any sense of the what the professor is saying or have any interest in the theorem or equation he’s just written on the blackboard. This runs about 30 seconds.

Cut to the college’s gymnasium, some guys are involved in a pick-up basketball game and others sit on the bench. Our main character is not going to play, he’s just hanging out with friends. Another 30 seconds for this.

His name is Nazir Khan. He’s played by Riz Ahmed. Now Ahmed is an actor you’ve likely seen before.

He was the guy hired by Jake Gillenhaal in the 2014 hit film Nightcrawler (which I reviewed here). Before that I saw (and reviewed) his film The Reluctant Fundamentalist in 2012. And before that he played Jay in the remake of the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The film was called Trishna and it was released in 2011.

Ahmed will soon appear in the new Jason Bourne film opening later this month as well as the upcoming Star Wars film, Rogue One, which opens around Christmas.

So we can say that the dude is getting some very good roles. Here, he’s an American college kid born of Pakistanimmigrants, and soon enough he’s invited to a party that night at 55 Center Street in downtown Manhattan.

Anyhow his Dad picks him up at the college, and then they are off to 74th Street in Jackson Heights, a New York version of Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk neighborhood. Here there is a vibrant and bustling community of Indians and Pakistanis. Nazir’s Mom works at a sari/salwar kameez shop His parents have two sons and he’s the youngest. The father drives a medallion taxi cab.

When his mother asks what his plans are for the night, he tells her that he’s going to a party in downtown. His mother disapproves.

Later, after his friend is unable to get a hold of a car, and his parents have retired to their bedroom. he grabs the keys to the taxi and heads out of Jackson Heights, Queens, New York for lower Manhattan.

Nazir doesn’t know much about driving a car, much less a taxi. If you are driving from Jackson Heights, Queens to downtown Manhattan you don’t take the Queens Midtown Tunnel (and pay a toll). Instead you take the Brooklyn Bridge and pay no toll. Plus when you get off the bridge, you are right there at Center street.

He doesn’t turn his taxi light off or to Off-Duty. So he’s plagued by people hailing him or getting into his cab. This also means he has no idea how to lock the taxi’s back doors.

Now these are not major flaws in the story, but they do set up Nazir as naive, and inexperienced, as well as seriously lacking in street smarts.

Nazir doesn’t know it yet – but when this young woman, Andrea Cornish (played by Sofia Black-D’Elia) gets into his cab, his whole life is going to change for ever.

She’s an attractive woman, and she doesn’t want to hear that he’s not on duty. Finally he relents and says where do you want to go? She says, the beach. He says, well this is Manhattan, how about the river. Okay she says. And they end up sitting on an old wooden landing, on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River just south of the George Washington Bridge.

Soon this woman offers him a pill. He refuses but then ultimately takes it. Really? I may have been willing to share a joint with a stranger back in the day – but a pill. No way.

Finally she’s ready to go home which turns out to be an elegant brownstone at 144 West 87th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Nazir parks in front of water hydrant. Another mistake.

As the couple makes their way up the stairs to the brownstone entrance, a couple of black men walk by muttering something. Naz, instead of ignoring the remark stops and says, What did you say. One of the black men addresses Nazir and calls him Mustapha.  The woman says – give it a rest. And that’s that except for a long lingering look by the other black man.

Anyway, Nazir and Andrea go imto the house. She pours tequila shots, Then brings out some blow. Andrea likes knives and plays this game of stabbing with your own hand and the blade misses your fingers and lands in between them She goes first,

the Nazir follows. When she asks Nazir to stab at her hand, he refuses, the acquiesces. He almost avoids her finger but she is cut.

Now her blood is on him. Soon they’re upstairs and making love in the bedroom. She’s going to put some scratches on Nazir’s back. Fade out.

Nazir awakens and finds that he is down stairs in the kitchen and he had either passed out or fallen asleep.  Bound to happen right? Pills, shots of tequila, blow and then sex. He goes upstairs to get his clothes and to say that he has to go. He has to get home to return the cab.

When Andrea doesn’t respond, Nazir turns on the light. Andrea has been stabbed to death.  She has multiple stab wounds. There’s blood everywhere.

Nazir panics and rushes out. With out his jacket and without his car keys. He rushes back, but the building has an auto lock feature, so he has to break the glass pane in the door to get inside. He’s in and out the building in under a minute. He sees the knife and takes it with him.

His panic suggests that he didn’t kill the girl. But his panic is so extreme that he makes every possible mistake. He’s seen running from the house, he’a seen getting into the cab. There must finger prints galore, and possibly semen to be collected from the dead girl.

There was the witness from across the street, the two black men in the street, and then later a motorcycle guy who may have seen the knife sitting atop the car’s instrument panel in full view.

Nazir rushes back to the cab and peels out from the curb narrowly avoiding an accident. There may have a ticket on the windshield for the illegal parking in front of the fire hydrant. At Broadway he makes a left and heads south. At West 65th, where Broadway, Columbus Avenue and West 65th Street intersect he makes an illegal left turn.

Shortly after he’s pulled over for making that turn. He refuses to take the breathalyzer test which he is allowed to do. but that requires that he be arrested.

The patrol officers get a squawk on their car radio about the break in on West 87th (where Nazir was), so they put him in the back seat of their patrol car and head up to West 87th. They are first on the scene.

They call for back up. The night dispatcher sends another squad car to the scene. Soon a call is made for the CSI Truck, an ambulance, and the Medical Examiner. One detective contacts another detective who is  one Dennis Box, a  homicide detective.

Nazir is still in the squad car. A decision is made to drive Nazir to the station house in a different squad  car. Once underway, Nazir asks the patrolman, Is she dead?  Which of course is the worst possible question to have asked.

At the station house, Nazir is asked to have a seat and wait. At this point, no one (of the police) has any idea that Nazir had been in the house, slept with the girl, and all the rest. Twice Nazir attempts to nonchalantly get up and walk out. Both times he faces incoming traffic. First it is the police with the witness from across the street. Then Detective Box.

Bill Camp as Detective Box

Bill Camp as Detective Box

Poor Nazir he thinks he didn’t do it (kill the girl) but it looks bad. Finally the police decide to pat him down, which of course means they will find the knife which is still in his jacket pocket – and will have the victim’s blood on it.

Nazir tries to make a run for it and of course is immediately tackled and brought down. Detective Box takes Nazir into a room and begins questioning him. Nazir has not be charged with anything but Box does not Mirandize him.

He is asked to strip so his clothes can go to forensics. He agrees to an oral swab for DNA collection as well as a penile swab.

About this time, a night-time lockup lawyer, one John ‘Jack’ Stone (John Turturro) is seen coming into the station house for a different client. It is about six AM in the morning.  Eventually Stone sits down to talk with Nazir. Now Nazir has his lawyer, and Jack Stone has a new client.

Stone tells Nazir – under no circumstance do you talk to anyone. If they ask you anything say, Speak to my lawyer.

This was the first episode and it was called The Beach. And it was terrific. It is dark, and gloomy, and in a sense desperate. We can think that Nazir is innocent, but in all honesty – we don’t know for sure. This episode ran for about 80 minutes, and in the coming weeks we are likely to make our way through the New York City Criminal Justice system with stops at the precinct house, the Tombs, the courtrooms, the prison on Rykers Island, the DA’s office, Jack Stone’s office, and so forth.

We will watch as Nazir seems to going through a funnel that gets narrower and then even more narrow.  Is he innocent or is he guilty. Will he even survive waiting for his trial in Rykers. And what of his family? They can ill afford even Stone’s meager defense fee. The cab? Impounded by the police, so Nazir’s family has no source of income.

As I watched Nazir sitting in the  holding pen in the precinct house in the later part of episode one – I was reminded of what Red (Morgan Freeman) said early on in The Shawshank Redemption:

… and when they put you in that cell… and those bars slam home… that’s when you know it’s for real. A whole life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it.

I’m really looking forward to continuing this series. I think it is going to be excellent.

Check out the trailer:


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