(Spoilers for the finale of the HBO limited series “The Night Of” are below. You have been warned.)
“We’ve got more on the kid,” prosecutor Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) told the recently retired Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) when he presented a pile of evidence suggesting someone other than Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) killed Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black-D’Elia).
She hesitated before she said it, though, and she continued to hesitate as the finale of “The Night Of” went on. Her biggest hangup came near the end of her closing statement, as she faced the jury, murder weapon in hand, explaining why they should convict Naz — because Detective Box very conspicuously walked out of the courtroom, in what felt like a sign of protest. The seed of the thought that Naz didn’t do it had taken root.
When the jury became deadlocked during its deliberations and was unable to make a decision, Weiss declared that the state would not continue to prosecute Naz.
It’s a weird, incomplete sort of victory for Naz, because he hasn’t been acquitted. He has not, in the eyes of the law, been proven innocent and he could at some point down the line be charged for Andrea’s murder again because double jeopardy rules don’t apply when charges are dismissed under these circumstances. There’s no closure — he’s free, but not clear.
We still don’t have any of the answers we’re looking for with regards to what exactly happened the night of Andrea’s murder. You might be tempted to believe, like Detective Box clearly does, that Andrea’s financial advisor Ray Halle is the real perpetrator. In finale, the bow on the whole case is tied when Weiss and Box meet and Weiss says it’s time to go after Halle. They’ve got some semblance of a motive, and he does have a history of violence, and they can place him near the scene when the murder took place. And, as a bonus, Halle comes off as a huge jerk.
But honestly Weiss was right the first time — they had more on Naz than they do on Halle. And the evidence against Halle isn’t any less circumstantial than what they had against Nasir. They can place him in the area but not in the house at the right moment.
The truth is that we still don’t know that Naz is innocent. Naz himself has never really known. He said as much in the first episode, and again when Weiss grilled him on the stand in the finale. The only thing Naz knows is that he doesn’t know.
But, hey, at least investigators are going after somebody else now. But it’s still only one somebody else.
The finale opened by having four people that viewers have considered suspects take the stand at Naz’s trial: Trevor, Duane Reade, Andrea’s stepdad Don Taylor and the Hearse driver. And what we established in these scenes is that none of them can really be accounted for that night. But none of them are about to get the Helen Weiss treatment — she and Box are zeroing in on Halle the same way they zeroed in on Naz.
What did they learn from all this? Very little, it would seem.
They may have spared Naz a lifetime in prison, but, as I wrote previously, the damage has long since been done. He goes home and it’s incredibly awkward because he knows his family doubted his innocence. He remains a pariah in the community where he grew up in Queens, piercing stares following him everywhere he goes. He’ll be eternally living with self-doubt, neither innocent nor guilty even in his own mind.
Oh, and now he’s a guy who sits by the river alone smoking heroin, a habit he picked up during those months he was held without bail in Rikers.
Meanwhile, Chandra Kapoor’s law career is ruined thanks to Jack Stone’s failed attempt at forcing a mistrial, and Stone himself is back to trawling holding cells in the middle of the night for $250 a client. Naz’s parents have to sell their house, and the “for sale” sign out front has been tagged with a swastika. And, lest we forget, Andrea Cornish is dead.
Nothing is better than it was before everything went down, and many things are much worse.
There is no happy ending to be found here, and that’s OK. No, not just OK — it’s as it should be. “The Night Of” is a story about a broken system that chews everyone up and spits them out. Hell, the British show “The Night Of” is based on is even called, unsubtly, “Criminal Justice.” You’re not supposed to feel good about what you’ve seen here.
For Naz, sure, it could have turned out worse. But that doesn’t mean he won.