(Spoiler alert: This post discusses the particulars of a big scene in Sunday’s finale of “The Night Of.”)
Everything came to a head Sunday in the finale of the HBO limited series “The Night Of,” with the murder trial of Nasir “Naz” Khan finally reaching its conclusion.
Lawyer Jack Stone, played by John Turturro, attempted a desperate gambit midway through the episode, using security footage of Chandra Kapoor kissing Naz to claim an ethics breach and try to force a mistrial. It didn’t work, though, and instead Stone himself — wracked with a horrible bout of eczema that left his entire body looking red and splotchy — ended up having to give the defense’s closing argument.
Turturro delivered his statement in Emmy-quality fashion, but the speech isn’t notable just for Turturro’s impeccable performance.
No, Stone’s closing argument is one in which the social commentary “The Night Of” has been making throughout its eight-episode run comes all the way up to the forefront. The speech is Stone saying straight up what “The Night Of” is about — not a murder mystery, but an indictment of a justice system that is not built on the presumption of innocence as it’s supposed to be but on the presumption of guilt instead.
We’ve transcribed the text of the speech — this episode was co-written by series creators Richard Price and Steve Zaillian. You can read it below.
“I’m gonna be honest with you. This isn’t what I normally do. I mean, obviously someone who looks like this doesn’t make his living doing public speaking. I’m sorry you even have to look at this.
“What I normally do is plea my clients out because 95 percent of the time they did what they were charged with. They sold that dope, they solicited that guy, they stole that iPhone. It’s clear to me just looking at them. So I tell them, ‘Don’t be stupid, take the deal.’
“The first time I saw Naz, he was sitting alone in a holding cell at the 21st Precinct. He’d just been arrested. I walked past him out of the station and then stopped. I turned around and went back. Why? Because I didn’t see what I see in my other clients. And I still don’t after all this time.
“What I see is what happens when you put a kid in Rikers and say, ‘Okay, now survive that while we try you for something you didn’t do.’ And that’s how you survive Rikers. [Pointing at Naz, with his shaved head and fresh neck tattoo.]
“Oh, there were crimes committed that night, no doubt. Crime one: Stood up by a friend with a car, a young man takes his father’s cab without permission to go to a party in Manhattan. Crime two: A young woman buys some powerful illegal drugs. Crime three: On the banks of the Hudson River, under the George Washington Bridge, she gives him one of those illegal drugs, MDMA. Crime four: Later at her house, she gives him another illegal drug, ketamine, which with the Ecstasy and enough tequila to topple a saguaro cactus knocks him out like the horses vets give ketamine to. Crime five: Upon discovering the body, instead of reporting it he runs. Crime six: He takes an illegal left turn. Crime seven: He resists arrest.
“Those are the crimes committed by these two young people that night, and the only ones we have proof of. What we don’t have proof of is who committed the crime he’s been charged with. The prosecution has presented what it says is proof, but at the end of the day, it’s circumstance and speculation.
“The rush to judgment against Nasir Khan began at the 21st Precinct at 4:45 a.m. the night of and ended 10 seconds later when he was tackled to the floor. The police investigated no one else. Not the stepfather who had a tempestuous relationship with the victim, even though the percentage of killers who know their victims is five times greater than that of strangers, and even though among the fraction of strangers who do commit murder. There were two individuals the couple had confrontations with that night. One with a history of battery, the other with multiple convictions for aggravated assault, every time using a knife from the victim’s own home.
“The night Naz was arrested he lost a lot. He lost his freedom to return home to his family, to his school, to his night job that helps pay for that school. But what he didn’t lose, and what none of us can lose, were his Constitutional rights to an attorney, to a fair and impartial trial by you, his peers, and to the presumption of his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We hear that term a lot. But what does it really mean, huh? What’s its definition? It doesn’t have one. It’s what we think, and as much as what we think, what we feel. And what we feel and what you feel will determine what happens to the rest of this young man’s life.