HBO’s The Night Of – Episode 5: The Season of the Witch

This is a recap with spoilers and hopefully this will help you prepare for tonight’s episode.

Borrowing a couple of examples from baseball, the hit HBO TV series The Night Of, which aired its 5th Episode, called The Season of The Witch, last Sunday night, was comparable to, first, an ace pitcher, who held back his most dominant and killer pitches early in the game. Then as the game approached its home stretch, this pitcher unwrapped his best stuff and began to blow batters away.

Or, the batters, meaning Steve Zaillian, the director and co-writer of the series, and his writing partner Richard Price – each came up to the plate and knocked one out of the park, as in a home run.

That said, and I will add that I thought this was the best episode since the first one – however, I’m not claiming that this was an episode without some problems.

From a viewer’s perspective, the Episode basically concentrated on 4 characters who were all involved in doing what they’re supposed to do.

ADA Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) is the prosecutor the case. She examines the video footage of the time when Naz had pulled his cab over, somewhere either within or near the East Village to get his bearings. The video feed discloses that two men had gotten into his cab and Naz had refused service. After all, he wasn’t a licensed taxi driver. He didn’t even know how to turn off the Taxi sign on the roof of the cab.

Weiss: He didn’t want two guys. He wanted a girl. Then when Andrea gets into his taxi, he doesn’t immediately turn her away. This is the A-HA moment for Weiss. She says to her colleagues – There it is. He wanted a woman in the cab. That’s premeditation.

Maybe.

At this point Weiss has no idea if Andrea offered either money, sex, or drugs to Naz in exchange for transporting her to where she wanted to go. We know what happened in the cab. But Weiss doesn’t. Nevertheless, she could easily convince a jury that this was the premeditation.

We next see Weiss when she runs into Detective Box (Bill Camp), who Weiss has heard is turning in his retirement papers. They talk and we learn that Box doesn’t want to open a bar, or get a commercial fishing licence, or some other retirement gig. Weiss says, So what does that leave? Golf?

Weiss also tells Box that she wants him to plot out a timeline/travel line for Naz. She wants to know exactly where Naz went and when after he left his parents apartment in Jackson Heights and eventually ended up on W.87th Street.

Box gets into it and they did a great job of making it watchable. Certainly watching a man look at CCTV footage, then consulting papers documenting his credit card usage, phone logs, cell phone tower logs, ATM logs, and so forth does not inherently make for great TV. But this is the grunt work needed for investigations, and it went by easily.

Getting back to Weiss. When Naz was arrested he had a gash on the palm of his hand. Weiss thinks this ‘event’ will play better for her in the trial, if she can present testimony that the  cut came from the way Naz handled the knife (while he was stabbing Andrea) instead of cutting his hand when he punched in a panel of the glass in the door of the 87th Street building to retrieve his jacket.

So Weiss visits the coroner. Obviously they have a lengthy professional history and are on a first name basis.  Weiss enters and the ME is drawing fluids from a corpse. An actual corpse. She asks if they can discuss the probability of a knife wielding hand slipping down to the blade area because the blade thrust hit bone.

Now the scene includes Weiss coaching the ME about what to say and how to say it as well as more views of a male penis – the inert dead man’s penis – than you normally care to see on your tv. Many have objected to it. But the main takeaway is that both the ADA and the ME are doing their jobs, and the sight of a nude dead body on a table in the morgue has no more impact on them as when a yellow cab passes us on the street when we are not looking for one.

Whether Price and Zaillian are saying that the jobs of the ADA and the ME have dehumanized each of them as they continue to do their work; so much so that they can barely distinguish between a corpse on a table in the morgue from an empty table in the morgue.

Of course this is up for interpretation by each of us.

Next let’s have a look at John Stone (John Turturro).

We are almost given more information about him than we either need or want to know. In this episode, his extreme case of eczema is present front and center. When he meets Chandra, who is waiting for him at his apartment building’s entrance, she is about to hire him to work with her on Naz’s case. But first come the negotiations. Stone and Chandra negotiate his fee while he is unwrapping his Saran wrapped feet.  To Stone, this is part of the day for him, just as we wash our hands.

Once they agree on a figure ($30K), Stone gets cracking. First he wants another tete-a-tete with his prostitute friend. This of course is a no go, and we get the scene where (in Stone’s very words) the man lays back on the bed and says, gee, this has never happened to me before.

This is a side effect of his medication – a loss of libido.  Which is confirmed by his doctor who agrees to write a scrip for Viagra for Stone. Then Stone is embarrassed by his chatty (and catty) pharmacist named Saul (played by Fisher Stevens) who announces a little too loudly that he’s out of Viagra, and so are most of the pharmacies in the area.

So Stone has to buy the drug from a dealer (who is played by none other than Richard Price, the show’s co-author.

So now Stone has the magic pills and he’s eager to put them to use. However he’s not so sure he’s doing the right thing at this particular time. He stands in front the mirror in the men’s toilet, questioning himself inwardly. But the little head always rules the big head, so he hustles off to the hotel bar,where his play-for-pay honey works. Stone outmaneuvers some guy who is chatting up the girl, and then, he gets outmaneuvered by another of her previous clients. So Stone leaves. He’s got the urge and he’s got the wood at the ready – but he’s alone.

Meanwhile. back at Rikers, Naz is summoned by a corrections officer. He wants to see you, says the guard. The inference (coming from this particular guard) is clear as ‘he’ means Freddy. Naz arrives at the shower room to find Freddy and a couple of his cohorts waiting for him. On the ground, obviously beaten and bloody is the guy who doused Naz with the homemade napalm cocktail.

Freddy says This is the guy that burned you – go ahead and take a few shots at him. 

Now the guy is already down on the shower room floor, beaten, bloody, and naked. Naz gives him a half-hearted kick to the side. Not the least bit punishing or effective. The guy looks at Naz and starts to abuse him.

Is that all you got, you faggot?

This unleashed the fury or anger within Naz who immediately starts to kick and pummel the guy unmercifully. Freddy’s guys have to pull Naz away. Later we will learn that  the prisoner that Freddy’s goons roughed up and who Naz nearly killed, is in the ICU.

Freddy says to the now awake Naz –

You got secrets in you, some anger, I like that.

This was indeed a revelation for those of us in the audience who wanted to know and feel that Naz was innocent of the murder of Andrea. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now we have to consider that Naz was capable of extreme violence, and that concept is somewhat scary.

We liked him better as a young college kid off to a party.

But there’s more to this transformation. Naz is going to shave his head, and with some space in his cell, he will exercise for the purpose of bulking up.

As if to say – look tough, be tough.

But wait there’s more. The tox report on Nasir Khan shows that his system contained ‘speed’, or more accurately Adderall. Stone is not pleased with this news.

So Naz and Chandra go to Rikers to visit and discuss the Adderall with Naz. However Naz is on an assignment for Freddy. Freddy’s protection doesn’t come cheaply. Naz will be passed some eightballs, otherwise known as a quarter announce of coke, or crystals. The man passing him the eightballs will be one of Freddy’s crew, and he will be getting them from a woman visiting him. She will have concealed the eightballs within her body.

Naz is job is to swallow them and them pass them through his system. He tries to swallow the four eightballs basically while sitting with Chandra and Stone his lawyers – or said another way in plain sight in the Visitors Room. He is able to swallow them, but this noted by Stone who would say – I know you got to do what you got to do to survive here – but if you get caught (smuggling drugs) – you’ll never get out of prison.

Back at the office of ADA Helen Weiss, she is interviewing Trevor. Now if you recall, Trevor was one of the two black men who crossed paths with Andrea and Naz, on W.87th, way back in Episode One. Trevor is not responding well to Weiss’s questions. Specifically, when she asks him why he was on that street, and where he was going, Trevor gets all upset.

What difference does it make? If I was white, would you be asking me questions like that?

Weiss is smart enough to know that under questioning in the trial, Trevor’s reactions would likely not go over well for the prosecution. Instead of being seen as a reliable witness, the jurors might conclude that Trevor was both volatile and not so credible. So Weiss thanked him and then crossed him off her list.

Now Stone knew, from Naz, that there had been two black men on the night in question. But Trevor had not said anything about the other man to either Box, or Weiss.

Stone thinks he may have something. He is able to track down Trevor to some all-night laundromat.

He lays it out for Trevor. You said you were alone. You weren’t alone. That’s perjury. 5 years and a $10,000 fine. You’re going to need a lawyer. Now who were you with?

Trevor takes some convincing, but finally he gives up the name. Duane Reade. Same as the ubiquitous NYC drug store chain.

Stone is a bit skeptical. But Stone is smart. He calls in a favor and gets the info. This Reade fellow has a ‘sheet’ as long as a baseball bat. Multiple arrests. Agg Assault, felony assault, robbery, and more – all with a knife.

Stone is able to get enough to know that this Reade hangs out at a certain bodega. He decides to confront this Reade.

About here is when the story asks us to really suspend disbelief. Stone finds the bodega and Reade who is playing cards with a couple of guys. Stone introduces himself as Trevor’s lawyer. The two other guys leave.  So it is just Stone and Reade.

Just after Stone’s first question leaves his lips, Reade decides to book out. This is what is usually called in police jargon as pursuing the suspect on foot. Now Stone chasing Reade into a series of alleys, and passageways beneath the tenements seems quite unrealistic to me.

I mean Stone doesn’t appear to have any heft to him, and he’s chasing a convicted, and likely knife-carrying man through the underbelly of the Bronx. Soon Stone is in the cellar of a building. It is effectively atmospheric and threatening. Stone is alone, has no weapon, and is on unfamiliar turf. And that’s how the episode ends.

Is Duane Reade the actual killer, who is now on the run? Or should we now consider that maybe there’s more to Naz than we previously knew or thought.

Other facts that have come to light. Stone found Andrea’s drug supplier. She owed him money, and in turn, this street peddler owed his suppliers money. Might this be a motive as well as another suspect?

Stone and Chandra have hired a forensic investigator. And we now learn that the gate under the stairs on W. 87th does not close securely. The interior door also has issues. This forensics guy, who is very sharp, is also is taking photos of everything.

Stone and Chandra sit patiently as this investigator pokes around the W.87th Street building. We learn that someone entering the building and heading up the main staircase inside, to get to the bedrooms upstairs, would NOT be able to see into the kitchen (which is where Naz had passed out).

Finally some blood was discovered outside the back door of the building. Was this Naz’s blood, Andrea’s, or even Reade’s. Or is it possibly just squirrel blood?

The series has only 3 more episodes, and the pace has certainly quickened. We are beginning to have some doubts about Naz being innocent. The NYC criminal justice system is not looking good. What more will happen between Freddy and Naz, and there are now 3 suspects besides Naz:

The drug peddler who Andrea dealt with and owed money to. Andrea’s step-father, and of course, the now missing Duane Reade.

Will Box and Weiss still think the case is solid?

Finally, the cab owned by Naz’s father and his two partners is still whereabouts unknown. The two other guys are threatening to have Naz charged with auto theft, which certainly won’t help him defend himself on the murder charge.

For the record – Stone has gotten the cat out of the shelter only hours before the cat would be euthanized. As Stone said – This is not a reprieve, it is just a stay. Stone has attempted to give the cat away thee times, and none of the efforts succeeded.

So the cat is now at Stone’s apartment.

 

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