Based on “Criminal Justice”—a series imported from across the pond, Night Of begins the miniseries with “The Beach” where we follow a Pakistini-American college student Nasir “Naz” Khan who desperately wants to fit in. The tension builds gracefully as we witness Naz meeting a mysterious beauty leading to a drug-fueled fantasy and a shocking demise. Even from the first scene, this miniseries is likely to touch on the complexity of the justice system and racial tension in America.
taiche: 9 out of 10 non-serrated knives
jennism: 10 out of 10 non-serrated knives
In chat, we discuss our perspectives on The Night Of: “The Beach” (Season 1, Episode 1). The transcript below has been lightly edited.
jennism (Jenn Ng): So what did you think of the series premiere episode of Night Of?
taiche (Chris Tai): Tense, well-acted, compelling… and most importantly, I wanted to see more!
jennism: Another potentially interesting series from HBO. Perhaps to take the slot of Game of Thrones
taiche: In some way, the mantle of the “next great drama”, though duly note… this is a mini-series.
jennism: Indeed, it was. It was a seat-gripping start to the series, starting with a college student who gets himself involved at the wrong time and place.
taiche: I would like to think it continues in the tradition of The Sopranos, and of course, THE WIRE! BEST TV SHOW EVER
jennism: We dove deep into each character. Many of the main characters were fully fleshed out in motivations, strengths and weaknesses. And that all in the first episode. It could have fallen into the trap of a procedural on a lesser network
taiche: I agree, the only cipher was the girl, Andrea Cornish
jennism: Who was unnamed until the cops found her id
taiche: One obvious strength over the typical procedural… this won’t be wrapped up after one episode
jennism: Starting at the beginning, just with the first shot, this show could fall into a number of subjects: a discussion on racial tension in the United States, a standard story of a college student trying to figure out who he wants to be, or simply just yet another crime
taiche: In that sense, it harkened back to The Wire… where the entire first season was essentially the setup, the execution, the process, and the resolution of one large case.
taiche: Although speaking of first shot, I want to first talk about the commercials/bumpers/trailers for the show. It was not what I expected. Whenever a clip would play I would go… ohhh new HBO serial killer show. And clearly after the first episode, this show is not that.
jennism: What I do recall is that it showed imagery from the aftermath, not much what was leading to what we know as views was going to happen
taiche: I think they overplayed the dank dreary elements.
jennism: Lately, people have been fascinated with the whole whodunit stories like Serial and The Making of a Murderer
jennism: The audience wants to understand the reason behind the action and the story that led to the murder.
taiche: Indeed, and with the Jinx as well. This show will test whether audiences’ preference for those kind of shows hasn’t faded yet.
jennism: It’s become a nationwide obsession. So much that calls for appeal and petitions have numbered in the thousands. It felt like a show that appeared at the right time and right place for the viewer’s hunger of understanding of motivation
taiche: What I find interesting, and I know there are spoilers abound on the interwebz, is that the show can go in a number of directions from the first episode.
jennism: What’s fascinating is that from the trailers, we get the sense that he did it. I recall that the trailers primarily focus on our “hero”, Nas, sitting in jail
taiche: Are we going to follow the investigation… are we going to get clear answers, is this a mystery worth solving, can we get a satisfactory resolution?
jennism: And we get this sense of dread from the very beginning that racial tensions are high
taiche: And again, that harkens back to The Wire. Seeing it from the cops’ point of view, the criminal’s point of view, the everyday man on the street’s point of view, the legislator’s point of view, the bureaucrat’s point of view, etc.
jennism: Also one thing to note is that much of this first episode was filmed at least 2 years ago
taiche: Yeah, what tipped me off was the conversation two guys were having about the state of the Knicks. Noteworthy in that James Gandolfini was responsible for helping develop the series, and he originally set to star in it.
jennism: Like every article wants to point out, one role was supposed to be James Gandolfini
taiche: He would have played the role of Stone, the defense lawyer ultimately played by John Turturro.
jennism: Here, he is credited as executive producer. Supposedly John Turturro took the role on as a favor for his dear friend.
taiche: Do you think it would have worked better or worse if it had come out two years ago?
jennism: It’s hard to say. We keep saying that the world keeps changing.
taiche: But certain elements stay the same…
jennism: In today’s atmosphere of #blacklivesmatter and increased violence, the series might can only reflect what we’re feeling now
taiche: As you mentioned, race relations, class differences, distrust of authority.
jennism: So I am sure the violence, the police behavior, and and prison life will surface. Those topics are even more apt today with the upcoming election and spinning rhetoric of the politicians. And even more so with the tensions between minorities and Caucasians.
So let’s get to the episode. It starts out with Naz, played by Riz Ahmed, which I recall had a great role on Nightcrawler
taiche: Nightcrawler, very underrated movie.
Yeah, one thing I expect is to see how the incarceration system changes Naz even if it is in a short timespan, because a typical procedural will just show a guy in a jail cell, and skip to his release.
jennism: Naz starts off as a tutor for a sports team and is invited to a party. There’s this tension of where he desperately wants to fit in. I enjoyed the scene where he practices his opening line. That he’s a coach for these guys! A coach!
taiche: More specifically I think a tutor for one of the players. But it opens a door as he is invited to a party that he probably would otherwise never get in.
jennism: It sounded like the player invited Naz only out of guilt
taiche: Yeah, I agree. They do it because it would look bad otherwise. I buy Naz immediately as a somewhat nebbish, naive book-educated student.
jennism: But as we find out in the next scene, he lives at home with his Pakistani family. The lawyer later notes it so
taiche: It helped that the subtitles said they were speaking Urdu.
jennism: Naz’ mother admonishes him for wanting to party. All while it was obvious that his brother and Naz knew about sports as they were discussing players. A sign of American assimilation that the parents hadn’t quite achieved
taiche: Pretty typical disconnect between older generations and new American youth. They are a working class family in Jackson Heights.
jennism: Naz begs a friend to go to the party, but the friend flakes. So Naz decides that there is only way to the party, which is to “borrow” his father’s cab. At that point, we knew that this was not going to go well
taiche: A cab that his father shares with at least two other men.
jennism: Every single moment after that. Driving over the bridge, random strangers in the cab, and stopping at light meant something was going to go wrong. I kept thinking whether it was going to be a car crash, a case of mistaken identity, or an unintended carjacking that goes wrong
taiche: It was tense! What could possibly go wrong, haha.
jennism: Instead, it turns out to be this mysterious girl that demands to get a ride in the cab
taiche: Keep in mind he had already crossed paths with the police trying to get around.
jennism: Totally, he didn’t know how to turn on the “off duty” light which leads to a short scene with passing cops. I have a feeling that scene would return later.
Of course, being female, I wanted to yell, “What are you thinking? Just go to the party! And make sure that you find a legal parking space!”
taiche: Well, being male, I wanted to yell, “She’s hot! Do whatever it takes to please her!”
jennism: It was trouble the moment that she says “Take me to the beach”
taiche: Naturally anything out of place would catch the viewer’s eye.
jennism: At this point, Naz compiles, but the whole time I am wondering what she’s thinking. Does she know that she has the upper hand over him? Is she taking advantage of him? Doesn’t he notice it? But that’s the great thing of how the episode proceeds. We are watching disaster unfold
taiche: I can tell you from first hand experience, we guys are suckers for a pretty face.
jennism: Riz Ahmed does a great performance of getting us sympathetic toward his desire to fit in
taiche: I was sure that she had suicidal tendencies… from her look, mood, and general disinterest.
jennism: They go to a gas station where picks up water for himself and beer for her
taiche: She senses in him a gentle soul? Someone that wouldn’t necessarily take advantage of her. One who is willing to listen and perhaps be a friend. (edited)
jennism: Then a random limo driver seems to be threatening later. It looks like the limo driver will return to the story later. I didn’t think that she would see him like that. She obviously knows that he is twisted around her finger. He will do anything to please her
taiche: There are moments in the cinematography where it’s very clearly highlighting outside viewers. Whether it’s security camera footage, people getting in and out of cabs, random passerbys focused on this couple going about their business.
jennism: What was great was that we felt involved. Yet overcome with a feeling of helplessness.
taiche: I think I mentioned something about plenty of witnesses and eyes to build a timeline.
jennism: Then we somehow end up at her place. Candles and liquor everywhere. “This is your place?” Naz asks incredulously
taiche: And drugs and knives. Recipe for bad news. Her place was interesting. Very ornately decorated.
jennism: Naz, it’s a death sentence here! I kept thinking of how a lesser network would just increase the insanity and decrease the realism
taiche: You didn’t think the knife game was insane?
jennism: It was. Being a good kid, it felt that it was out of Naz’ character, but he was seduced by the girl.
2. Being naz
taiche: Haha. Hormones will do that to you.
jennism: What was interesting was how he did drop the knife on her hand and she didn’t wince
taiche: Yeah, she just laughs it off… clearly the drugs don’t just impair judgement. So they drink, take some drugs, and there may have been some knife action, both before and after sex.
jennism: But that muddles up the evidence even more. Then he wakes up. As the camera follows him up to the bedroom, you sense that he really didn’t know what he was going to see
taiche: At first, I thought he was in a totally different place at first.
jennism: So as a viewer, you have this feeling that he must be innocent. But you keep wondering, how did he end up downstairs?
taiche: The kitchen was cold, metal, illuminated with fluorescent lights.. very different from the rest of the place.
jennism: Ominous perhaps?
taiche: So he comes to, goes upstairs, and talks about it being late and that he has to go. And then the lamp.
jennism: Then he turns on the light, shocked, and he turns off the light, and turns on the light again. Did he do it? Was he drug induced? Hard to say
jennism: And that’s what this whole plot would become
taiche: In some ways, I can hear the naysayers feeling, oh, he should have just called the cops and everything would be fine. In this day and age though, would it?
Like waking up to a nightmare. What do you think you would’ve done?
jennism: That moment spoke to what each of us would have done if we found something. Not everyone has the knowledge of watching cop procedurals and knowing not to leave any evidence. Partly, he’s too young to know better. For most people we know how it’s like. It’s better to deny that anything happened than to face the truth
taiche: Yes, I thought it was realistic, obviously under duress and panic, humans don’t make the most rational decisions.
jennism: But of course, fear leads people to flee and that is exactly what he does. He doesn’t realize the implications of the decisions, leaving the knife AND leaving the keys
taiche: And he does something I’ve done far too often in the past… run out the front door, head to the car, and leave the keys behind.
jennism: Avoidance! And during all of that, a neighbor is peering down watching him run to the cab and then having to break in
taiche: And so he compounds the situation by breaking back in.
jennism: What’s interesting is that the neighbor was watching. How could the neighbor have known? That’s already one theory about what could have happened
taiche: Well, as you know, a popular mindset is the “see something, say something” mentality
jennism: What Riz Ahmed does well is that we are still caught in that moment, sympathizing with his plight
taiche: Wait! Are you saying that the neighbor was in on it?
jennism: I read that it’s a possible theory. Why else would the neighbor be watching in the middle of the night? Then what happens next is that Naz gets into the cab and drives off. There’s this moment where he thinks that he’s going to get away and that he could just really believe that it was just a nightmare
taiche: Well, LOUD SOUNDS? I can’t recall if we see the neighbor until after he realizes the keys are still in the house and has to go back. Yes, too often, we go on the run and just think, “If I get far enough, it will all go away.” And naturally, he gets pulled over by the cops. Nothing good ever happens after 2am.
jennism: So he drives the cab. Apparently in the original version of the show on BBC, the character drives frantically and wrecks the car
In this American version, Naz simply just makes an illegal turn
taiche: Interesting, that would have certainly been more serious from the cops’ point of view.
jennism: Which increases the stakes so much more based on the choices that the officers could make
taiche: But this did add the more tension… like would they find the body in the trunk scenario? (A popular trope of criminals getting pulled over in the middle of a crime.) More of a dangling on the blade of a knife on whether the cops would suspect something was amiss or just move on. Obviously if it was a crash, they’d have to thoroughly inspect everything… with the illegal turn it’s more left up in the air, will he get away or will he get caught??
jennism: What happens next is the kind of tension that The Night Of shows beautifully. Naz is asked to do a DUI test, but just as the cops are about to administer the test, the cops get a call of a nearby burglary
taiche: I was so sure they’d just let him go.
jennism: So as viewers, we already know that it’s the home of the mysterious woman
taiche: They had more pressing matters! So back to the scene of the crime.
jennism: So it’s as if we are imprisoned with him. In the back of the police car. We know what he’s thinking. Everything that the police say, we sense that he’s thinking: do they think that it’s me
taiche: The tension just rises, as the investigation continues, as more details are released, as more cops show up… here is Naz just stuck sitting there.
jennism: Eventually, they say that they need to get the “kid” off the scene
taiche: I don’t blame him for sweating bullets there. And must have been a relief to see them coming to “release” him.
jennism: What was a nice touch was that the first officers on scene mention that they have been working past their shift. There’s a subplot about how they are tired and want to go home. Great details gave this story so much richness. And even great scenes of building tension at the police station as he sits there waiting to be dismissed. The whole time I wanted to tell Naz, “go ask whether you can leave or whether you’re being arrested”.
taiche: Realism. Not a pervasive element in today’s modern American cinematic vision.
jennism: Indeed. What comes next is moments where he could have been blown. Witnesses like the neighbor and a passerby that harassed him earlier
taiche: Now I don’t want to keep rehashing the plot, but eventually we jump to one of the most electric moments of television. The knife scene.
jennism: We all know now that he has a knife in jacket
taiche: At some point, it’s all a little too coincidental, but it’s magnificently pulled off… I almost wanted to alternately break into tears as well as laughter.
jennism: But it was a good payoff for all the tension
taiche: Detective Box’s reaction as the description of the knife is being read off, and then seeing the knife pulled out of Naz’s jacket at that exact same moment… CHILLS.
jennism: It went something like “I am looking for some kind 5 inch knife, deep blade, possibly serrated” and there it is, lifted from his pocket! And then Naz panics
taiche: From there, it gets into a somewhat rote pattern of interrogation scenes.
jennism: In the interrogation room, we keep thinking “Naz, ask for a lawyer!” But is his youth preventing him from knowing what he should do?
taiche: After the fallout from the arrest, we get the usual detective talk, “hey i want the truth, hey i’m here to solve the crime, hey if you did nothing wrong, then there’s no problem answering our questions.” To this day, I believe most people would not expect to ask for a lawyer. Remember what another cop says when Naz asks if he should get a lawyer? It’s all about optics.
jennism: Interesting, I don’t even know when I can ask for a lawyer. Earlier, Naz sees the lawyer played by John Turturro move around the holding cell looking fror clients.
taiche: Naz already talked a bit about things to the police and finally it hits as he’s being fingerprinted. From there on, we get the passionate “I want a lawyer”, and we get to hear from John Turturro firsthand.
jennism: At first, it looks like the lawyer is doing his rounds. Like most British shows, there’s always some kind of skin issue. In this case, eczema which adds a degree of nuance.
taiche: That mostly wraps up the general plotline once Turturro’s lawyer, Stone orders him not to talk to anyone.
jennism: Although at that point, Stone does not realize that Naz has done more than just cut a girl. Stone as a character has to deal with different kinds of people in the world
taiche: He’s got a bit of sleaze to him, and obviously cruises the station for potential moneymaking opportunities aka clients. (edited)
jennism: Perfect way to describe Stone. Cruises. But what that even suggests is the character can bend at will to any client’s defense
taiche: But he’s willing to give it a shot, perhaps just to be a thorn in the side of the police. I wouldn’t call him a good samaritan or hero of the poor by any means. He enjoys sticking it to the police. But has he bitten off more than he can chew? He takes on Naz’s case, thinking it’s a simple domestic assault case. But right before the credits roll, he finds out it is so much more. (edited)
jennism: How do you think that this opener contrasts to shows that fall into this category?
taiche: I can’t wait to see where we go next! And that’s always key in whether a pilot is done well. I don’t feel cheated, I don’t feel manipulated. I genuinely have interest in learning what will happen to these intriguing characters.
jennism: What keeps me going is figuring out what actually happened
taiche: Well, I differ a little. Serialized television has somewhat made me expect to not always be given the answers.
jennism: What’s even better is that the primary characters—Naz, Detective Box, and Lawyer Stone all have well-rounded motivations
taiche: It’s more about the impact of events on people and how they will deal with them. Reminiscent of The Leftovers perhaps.
jennism: Because it’s fictional, what’s nice is that we hope as viewers that we would get better answers than the other whodunit explorations. I still don’t know what really happened in Making of a Murderer and we may never know. There’s an element that we as viewers may find out, but we want Naz to survive
taiche: That is true. We at least have the possibility of getting all the answers we are hoping for.
jennism: What do you think about the element of race brought into The Night Of? In the original series, the character was Caucasian rather than Pakistani
taiche: It makes Naz a bit more of a target… he’s much more foreign (as seen in the scene with the African-American guys) and less easier to trust seemingly. It adds the likelihood of snap judgements from authority.
jennism: Or even outsiders. Like media Will his community rally behind Naz? Will his family?
taiche: Certainly greater chances of sensationalist perceptions from the community, media, and those involved in the case.
jennism: Which overall makes this series quite apt for the current society
taiche: I get the feeling we’ll see the difference in how a minority moves through the criminal justice system as opposed to a more typical caucasian.
jennism: Or even the typical black vs. white dichotomy in the prison system
taiche: So see it there?
jennism: Great beginning to the miniseries. I can’t wait to see more. I can’t believe that most people have not seen it. Granted, the trailer suggests yet another procedural, but it’s more than just that
taiche: I have faith in the people that gave us The Wire that it won’t be “just a procedural”. I give Episode 1 of The Night Of, 9 out of 10 non-serrated knives.
Don’t just See It There, See It NOW.
jennism: SeeETThere: 10 out of 10 non-serrated knives
Now because it’s on HBO Now! Or HBO Go. Or whatever service you may use
taiche: Go Now.
The Night Of: “The Beach” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Based on the BBC series “Criminal Justice,” HBO’s eight-part production “The Night Of” is a story about a complex New York City murder case with cultural and political overtones. A night that begins innocently for Pakistani-American college student Nasir “Naz” Khan turns horrific after he meets a mysterious young woman. In custody and awaiting his formal arraignment, Naz realizes that his survival — or perhaps his demise — rests not with his attorney, John Stone, but with a particular inmate at Rikers Island.
Directors: Steven Zaillian, James Marsh
Writers: Richard Price, Steven Zaillian
Stars: John Turturro, Riz Ahmed