[Warning: This article contains spoilers about the finale of HBO's The Night Of. Read at your own risk!]
"How about a series with a cop who doesn't give a sh--?"
By the end of the episode, we finally know who killed Andrea -- and also have a possible setup for Season 2 -- thanks to the work of a cop who very much does give a sh--, despite appearances to the contrary.
Turns out, the guilty party is not Naz (Riz Ahmed), but rather Andrea's financial advisor, Ray (Paulo Costanzo), who killed her after she caught him stealing from her accounts to pay off his gambling debts. Who saw that one coming? Not me, at all.
It's Box himself who fingers Ray, after noticing on surveillance tapes that Andrea looks over her shoulder like she's being followed moments before getting into Naz's cab. That sends him down a rabbit hole that turns up all kinds of circumstantial evidence, including footage of Andrea and Ray arguing outside a store the night of her murder, bank statements that show $300,000 of withdrawals the month before her murder, cell phone records that place Ray in the vicinity of her apartment, and more surveillance footage that shows Ray driving home at 2 a.m. the night of the murder (using cash rather than his EZ Pass to pay tolls), as well as potentially throwing away a knife outside his house. (That's what that second set of photos showed, right?)
But wait a minute. What about Naz? Well, the series ends with Naz a free man, thanks to a deadlocked jury who can't decide whether he's guilty or innocent. In a serendipitous twist for Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin), this comes after she's already seen the pile of evidence against Ray, so she declines to prosecute Naz further, rather than requesting a retrial.
However, it's far from a happy ending for Naz. He returns to his parents' home in Queens with a full-on drug habit, if not an addiction (as well as an unfortunate neck tattoo), and one of the first things he does is buy drugs from a local dealer to smoke in the very spot by the river where he sat with Andrea hours before she was killed.
It's not a happy ending for Chandra (Amara Karan) either, who gets fired (hi, Alison!) after someone -- we're led to believe it's Freddy (Michael K. Williams) -- arranges for security camera footage of Naz and Chandra making out to be delivered to Stone (John Turturro). He shows it to the judge, hoping to be granted a mistrial, but the judge sees through his play and instead just reports Chandra to the ethics committee, and promotes Stone to first chair at the defense table. What are the chances that Naz and Chandra will connect now that he's out of prison? I'm guessing not very good.
In Naz's old neighborhood, he's viewed with intrigue at best and suspicion at worst by the members of his community, not to mention his own mother. His first night back, he confronts his mother with the fact that even she doubted his innocence at one point. (She denies it, unconvincingly, and we officially have a contender for 2016's "Most Awkward Family Dinner on Television.")
It's Naz's mother, though, who embodies what The Night Of did so fantastically, not to mention entertainingly. I assume most, if not all, viewers questioned Naz's innocence at one or more points throughout the series -- I know I did -- and yet, it somehow wasn't surprising at all when it ended up that he was innocent. With that in mind, if one of the goals of The Night Of was to expose flaws in our criminal justice system, it succeeded mightily. Without the benefit of the 11th hour information we viewers got about Ray, it would have been totally understandable if the jury voted to convict Naz, especially with all the physical evidence against him.
Which brings up another point -- are we sure Ray's guilty? I am, but there's certainly an argument to be made that the "reasonable doubt" that earned Naz his freedom is still at play when it comes to Ray. If nothing else, Duane Reade, the hearse driver and Andrea's stepfather Don all proved on the witness stand that they're not to be messed with, even if none of them actually killed Andrea. Either way, I'd love to see Box and Weiss team up to take down Ray if The Night Of gets a second season -- assuming, of course, that a second season wouldn't just pick up with a new case entirely. Alternatively/in addition, I'd welcome a Night Of spin-off focused solely on Stone and the cat.
Other thoughts on the episode:
-Stellar performances from both Jeannie Berlin and John Turturro in this episode, in their closing arguments particularly. I loved how we can see Helen wavering as she's delivering the closing argument, realizing that she may be sealing an innocent man's fate and then deciding to press on anyway. And Turturro as Stone, delivering his impassioned closing statement while dealing with the worst bout of eczema he's seen in weeks, is Emmy-worthy.
-Speaking of Stone's eczema, an amusing touch to throw in that the magical powder he procured on Canal Street may cause psychosis and panic attacks.
-The misdirect at the end of the episode, with Stone watching one of those sappy animal shelter commercials and we all assume he's going to pick up the cat, only to discover that the cat is already back in his apartment? Perfect.
-Chandra going as far as to smuggle drugs to Naz in prison in exchange for his testimony felt out of character to me, but made her firing and probable career demolition more palatable.
-I was slightly confused by the video of Naz and Chandra making out getting delivered to Stone. Was it Freddy who was responsible for this? And if so, was it an attempt to get Naz a mistrial, and/or a play to keep Naz in jail longer so that Freddy could keep his friend around? I'd love to hear other viewers' thoughts on this.
-A nice full-circle moment with Naz taking a scared newbie under his and Freddy's collective wing at Rikers, and a subtle way for the show to underscore the fact that there are hundreds of innocent people just like Naz who get processed through the system every day.
What did you think of the Night Of finale?