Well, this didn’t go quite as I expected it to. HBO gives viewers a feature-length (roughly 95 minutes) final episode to ‘The Night Of’ that wraps up the trial and seems to answer the question of who killed Andrea Cornish. But those expecting to really see what happened may walk away from this series disappointed.
Before I start breaking this episode apart, let’s be clear: this was easily the show’s best episode since the original pilot. In fact, the finale pretty much confirmed my theory that this eight-episode series could have laid out its tale in about four episodes. Looking back at what transpired, we got a whole lot of dead ends, red herrings, and theories that didn’t amount to much. Even the real killer didn’t play much of a role in this series’ storyline, nor are we given an explanation about why – if he did indeed kill Andrea – the murder was so vicious.
First things first, here’s how it all went down:
The episode begins pretty much where the last one ended, with Box sitting in a bar after his retirement party contemplating if he did enough to find out if Naz really killed Andrea. He overhears a fellow cop talking about how an accurate TV cop show should showcase a detective who didn’t care about his investigations, and this springs Box into action. He leaves the bar and heads straight back to the police station to recheck the video footage of Andrea getting into Naz’s cab. Replaying it over and over again, he notices that Andrea looks over her shoulder at one point to see if anyone’s following her. This is the spark Box needs to dive back into the case.
In court, Chandra calls all the usual suspects up to the stand. She questions Trevor Williams, Duane Reade, and that creepy hearse driver – none of which Helen chooses to cross examine. When Chandra asks Stone why Helen isn’t questioning anyone, he explains that it’s so the jury will think that none of them are important to the case. Meanwhile, Stone still has his eye on the stepfather as a prime suspect, and pulls him into an alley one night to serve him with a subpoena to testify. On the stand, the stepfather confesses to fighting with Andrea over her mother’s estate (half of which was left to him) and to even filing to claim for the money in Andrea’s trust two days after her murder, but insists he did not kill her. Now out of witnesses to question, Chandra wants to put Naz on the stand. Stone thinks it’s a terrible idea, but she insists on it.
Now comes the part of the finale that almost sinks the entire episode. As you may remember, Chandra made the stupid mistake of kissing Naz. I thought that might result in her getting kicked off the case so Stone could take over. Well that does happen, but not because of the brief romantic interlude. No, in order to convince Naz to testify in court, Chandra agrees to smuggle drugs into prison for him. The event is captured on camera, and it’s Freddie of all people who sends a copy of the video off to Stone, who then uses it to get Naz to agree to let him use the evidence to have Chandra removed as his attorney, which should trigger a mistrial.
When the judge learns of the video, rather than declare a mistrial, he lets Chandra stay on as second chair and assigns Stone to deliver the closing arguments. (This occurs after Naz testifies in court, confessing that he’s not sure if he killed Andrea.) Chandra’s career is pretty much over, as it should be. She gets my vote for one of the dumbest characters we’ve seen on TV in 2016.
Box’s search for more clues leads him to a video of Andrea arguing with a man (whose face he can’t see) outside a restaurant shortly before she got into Naz’s cab. Box gets his hands on the credit cards used at the restaurant that night as well as Andrea’s phone records, and learns that Raymond Halle – her mother’s financial advisor – made a number of calls to Andrea’s cell phone. It turns out that Halle embezzled $300,000 from Andrea’s trust, which resulted in the argument between the two of them the night of the murder. Box takes his evidence to Helen, but she kind of blows it off, thinking that she has a stronger case against Naz. However, when Box walks out of the courtroom during Helen’s closing argument to the jury, she seems to pull back a bit from her fiery accusations against Naz.
Stone has to deliver his closing argument the next day, which causes him so much stress his skin condition flares up again. While practicing what he’s going to say to the jury, his skin starts to itch and he develops blotchy red spots… not just on his feet this time, but all over his body. He tries every remedy he knows, but winds up having to go to the hospital. When he begins his closing argument to the jury the next day, he first apologizes for his appearance (which includes wearing gloves over his hands). Nonetheless, Stone’s closing argument is powerful, and provides John Turturro with the kind of dialogue that has Emmy nomination written all over it. It’s the best scene in the finale.
After a couple days of deliberation, the jury returns to the courtroom where the foreman (is that Roscoe Orman from ‘Sesame Street’?!) tells the judge they’re hopelessly deadlocked: six votes to six votes. The judge reluctantly dismisses the jury and asks Helen if she wants to re-seat another jury for a new trial. After pausing for a moment, Helen surprises everyone by saying that the prosecution does not wish to proceed – meaning that Naz is a free man.
Naz returns to Rikers to pack up his things and get processed for release. On his way out, he stops to say goodbye to Freddie, but he’s not in his cell. He notices Freddie punching on a heavy bag in the gym area, but he never turns around to acknowledge Naz. However, when he’s checking out, Naz is handed a gift that Freddie left for him – his copy of Jack London’s ‘The Call of the Wild’.
As the finale wraps up, Helen meets again with Box, who has taken on a post-retirement job as a security officer at NYU. She tells him that she needs his help going after Raymond Halle. Naz is back home living with his parents, but he’s still hooked on drugs and aware of how people don’t look at him the same way anymore. Finally, Stone seems to be not much different than he was when we first met him way back in the pilot. He’s watching TV when an ASPCA commercial comes on. Stone gets up and puts on his coat to exit the apartment, giving viewers the impression that he’s going back to get the cat again. (He returned it to the animal shelter earlier in this episode.) However, when Stone leaves, we see that the cat is already back in the apartment, moving from left to right across the screen – very much in the same way that another cat did in the final shot of the pilot episode.
So ends ‘The Night Of’, a series that I’ll remember for some solid performances, but one I won’t particularly have fond memories of regarding story. Yes, I realize that this series was always more about the effect of the criminal justice system on an innocent than about who really committed the murder, but it would have been nice if, after investing this much time in the show, the creators could have taken five minutes or so and shown us whether Halle did indeed kill Andrea or if this is just another suspect who’s actually really innocent but will wind up going through the system just like Naz did.
And I still think that cat knows a lot more than he’s letting on….