Almost every character in The Night Of, the eight-episode limited crime series that wrapped up on HBO last night, acted like a big idiot at one point or another.
I could present a catalogue of every dumb thing the allegedly smart characters on this show did over the course of its run, but that would make for one long and tedious blog post. And besides, there’s nothing inherently wrong with characters on a TV show acting stupidly. Naz shouldn’t have fled a murder scene with a bloody knife in his jacket pocket, and he definitely shouldn’t have covered himself in prison tattoos during this murder trial. But whatever! He was young and scared and also doing drugs, and young scared people who are on drugs tend to make bad decisions.
Eventually, though, the stupidity of its characters became too much for The Night Of to bear. Somewhere around episode 5—the one in which downtrodden defense attorney John Stone suddenly transforms into Eczema Batman and chases a dangerous criminal through dark alleyways—the mental lapses of the characters started feeling less like natural beats in a story arc, and more like the result of the show’s writers straining to get the plot from point A to point B.
Take the most “Man, what???” scene from last night’s finale, which featured Naz’s defense attorney, the young and competent Chandra Kapoor, pulling a condom full of drugs from her vagina while the two sat in a jail cell that was in full view of a security camera. This was a follow-up to her dumbass decision from the previous episode, which saw her making out with Naz in that very same jail cell, once again in full view of a security camera. Those scenes felt like they had been beamed in from a different, worse show as they unfolded, and they only became more out of place once their narrative purpose was revealed.
It’s clear now that the writers were working backwards, from the climactic scene in which John Stone is called into action at the last minute to deliver closing arguments on behalf of Naz. The show needed a reason for Kapoor to be stripped of her duties and to have Stone thrust into the starring role, and the best solution the writers could apparently come up with was, “Let’s have this really smart attorney from a high-powered law firm make out with her client and be a drug mule.”
Not only was it a nonsensical plot development given the show’s previous portrayal of Kapoor, it flew in the face of everything The Night Of purported to be. I thought we were here for a methodical look at the criminal justice system and a meditation on the far-reaching shockwaves of a brutal crime, and then all of a sudden we’re watching a scene from a Lifetime movie about a young defense attorney who falls in love with her dangerous but soulful client. We’ll call it Miranda’s Right.
(Also, if the security-cam footage of Kapoor and Naz making out was enough to do her in, what exactly was the point of the drugs in the vagina?)
And it wasn’t just Kapoor who was rendered a half-wit for the sake of the show’s storytelling contortions. Remember detective Box, the imperious police veteran who is so by-the-book that he made two beat cops who booked Naz rewrite their arrest reports until every detail was just right? We find out in the finale that Box, the guy we saw poring over phone records and credit card receipts in order to create a full timeline of Naz’s movements on the night of the murder, never bothered to investigate where the victim, Andrea Cornish, was coming from before she got into Naz’s cab.
Turns out she was coming from a cafe just around the corner, where a security camera had captured her getting into a heated argument with her financial advisor/violent boyfriend, who was stealing money from her. It was very convenient for a detective as accomplished and thorough as Box to wait until the season finale to stumble upon such an easily discoverable piece of evidence!
The frustrating thing about all of this is that these badly-constructed plot machinations led to two of the show’s best scenes. Box putting the screws to the real killer at a casino made me wish the whole show had been about Box pressing people, and Stone’s closing argument was convincing and genuinely heart-wrenching, quite a thing to pull off given that Lawyer Delivers Stirring Monologue is one of the most overused tropes in movie and TV history. Scenes like these made the The Night Of worth watching. I just wish the show hadn’t shot itself in the foot in order to bring them to us.