HBO’s The Night Of ended tonight with a feature-length eighth episode. Although it wasn’t packed with major twists, it certainly was a lot to take in. The entire series has been a master class in filmmaking and performance. While the devil is always in the details, it seems this is a lock for quite a few awards in 2017.
Here’s our postmortem, and be advised there are spoilers.
Did it live up to expectations?
This is an odd show because there’s no easy way to end it. It would be disingenuous to have everyone wind up happy. It would be even worse just to end the show on a gut punch for the sake of it. Steven Zaillian and Richard Price have taken great pains to deliver something rich and complex. The ending they gave us continued that trend. Naz will never be the same again. He’s broken. The world has sharp edges and now he’s become one.
There’s a moment in his final scene with John Stone where the prison veneer wears off for a moment, and he thanks the man who kept him out of jail. It’s a real moment, and we see that boy who made a very bad series of decisions in the first episode. It met and exceeded my expectations because it’s rare that an audience can watch something and not be as concerned about the outcome. What was important is that it kept the emotional pull of the show intact. The outcome was great, but it connected on that deeper level that is so rarely touched by what is essentially a procedural. [Nick Nunziata]
A subversion of expectations
Honestly, it subverted what I expected to be a far more cynical and bleak ending. While the reveal of Andrea’s killer felt a little too left-field, the show became much more than a simple murder mystery. The closure wasn’t just about Naz’s trial. It became more about John’s faith in his profession and our own faith that something good can come out of the chaos of existence. The fact that The Night Of gave us a complicated, contemplative, yet still hopeful ending was not an expectation I was prepared for. That’s when you know you’re experiencing a great story: when you don’t know what’s going to happen. [Drew Dietsch]
Character study or the grey edges of life?
As a character study, as Stone’s closing statements mention, of what happens when an innocent man is put in Rikers and is asked to survive, The Night Of excels. Beneath the trial and race and mystery and courtroom dramas, perhaps this is what the show is truly exploring. Until the finale, that wasn’t what I thought I was watching, but upon reflection, perhaps that’s its real intention. Naz is, as Freddy says, a unicorn. Put a unicorn in a den of predators and what comes out the other end?
The show reveals the greyness of life. While The Night Of doesn’t have a traditionally satisfying end, concluding neatly with a pretty bow the way endless crime dramas do, there’s a dark honesty to this greyness that is appealing. We don’t finish on the gavel ringing out in the courtroom and cheers and hugs and balloons. Instead, we see the complicated continuation of life as it goes on and the way everything has shifted in the meantime. [Colette Smith]
What did they miss?
An appearance from Pauline. [Drew Dietsch]
Tying up loose ends
Considering how much time they were given to deliver the finale, it’s hard to demand more. The character of Box was so compelling and so cool and atypical that it’s impossible not to want more. He was as integral as any character in the show. This episode blew all the others away when it comes to that character and perhaps one more little moment to say goodbye to the character would have helped. Additionally, the subplot about John Stone’s family seemed to exist only to provide something an adversary could threaten Stone about. This show is too smart for that. A little coda to that subplot would have felt right. [Nick Nunziata]
More than just a shrug
Overall, the final moments felt a little anti-climatic. We’ve endured several hours of this trial and this person’s life in and out of prison, and we’re left with a hung jury and a prosecution not wishing to pursue another trial? It feels like we’ve been holding our breath for this whole time only to be granted a shrug as a conclusion. So, as a traditional crime drama, there’s not a lot to latch onto here. An overwhelming ‘meh’ as Naz no longer fits into his old world, and John Stone gets on with business. [Colette Smith]
The show’s legacy
This is an upper tier show. Right up there with the classics. Instantly. And it doesn’t have any real big moments. There’s not a lot of showing off, which makes it probably more rewarding over time but not as easy to pin down. It doesn’t have the wattage or swagger some other classic shows do. Which is why ultimately it’ll be one of those litmus test projects we quiz others on to pinpoint their taste. [Nick Nunziata]
Legacy is difficult to nail down so quickly. Will this go down as one of the great HBO products? Most likely. Their TV movies don’t seem to have the same lasting power as their serialized output, and The Night Of certainly feels like it will have lasting power. If anything, it’s reaffirmed the value of the miniseries… I’m sorry, the “limited series” and how it can be its own effective storytelling tool. And we’ll all be talking about John Stone’s eczema for a long time. [Drew Dietsch]
An uncertain future
Once the credits rolled, it felt as though the episode, and by extension, the entire show, had just washed over me and I was ready to tune into something else. And then I stopped, took a breath, and took stock of what HBO and The Night Of production team had put together. This was shot like no other show, with the eye of a still photographer and a still quietness, even within the rage. The performances were incredible, at times stunningly understated and relishing in the tiny moments, others were grand as they needed to be. Whether it will have the lasting legacy that will transport it into ‘classic’ status, however, is uncertain. It’s as likely to be this year’s hotness only to be forgotten with the next cool thing as it is to be watched and enjoyed in years to come. [Colette Smith]
What could a second series be like?
If there has to be a continuation, there are plenty of ways to go. The obvious route is an anthologized series that borrows some similar structuring and tone much like True Detective attempted to do. In truth, The Night Of felt like a more grounded, legal focused True Detective. Would the theme always be a particular murder and picking apart that one night? Would it always be presented from the accused person’s point of view and would they always be innocent?
Or do we need to follow up with John Stone and his scummy defense practice? Tout him as a grimier, more realistic Saul Goodman? John Turturro certainly crafted one of television’s most memorable characters, and it’d be a gift to see him at it again.
However, I’m apt to stay content with what we have. There’s no need to spoil a good thing by trying to recapture lightning in a bottle twice. The end of The Night Of felt right and difficult in all the correct places. To undermine some of that in service of a forced second series would be disappointing. Again, look at True Detective. How about we let this story and world just end? Not everything needs to keep going on for our base enjoyment. The Night Of did what it set out to do and then it went away. There’s something beautiful about that, especially with such a perfect final shot. Let’s leave this one alone. [Drew Dietsch]
Let sleeping dogs lie
There are a few options for what the creators could do for season two. John Turturro is a must. It will have to be a new major crime, perhaps the defendant enlists Stone due to Naz’s trial. Given that Chandra is now unemployed, and potentially unemployable, perhaps she goes into business with Stone and the duo work together as a weird odd couple type of team.
As for whether a second season is a good idea, however, is debatable. While I would love to see more Turturro magic, sometimes it’s just nice to let sleeping dogs lie. Let’s not do a Homeland and mess around with what was an interesting show with well-rounded, engaging characters, and just let The Night Of be its own thing. Unless there’s some amazing idea in the pipelines – and there’s a lot to live up to here – another season may not be necessary. [Colette Smith]
In creators we trust
The only way to live in this world of entertainment is to trust creators. When great ones surface you cling to them and follow them wherever they take you. Or until they burn you. Steven Zaillian and Prichard Price have earned that blind trust. If a new story in this format gets them excited, it gets me excited. This is why we love this medium. It allows great storytellers to inspire, entertain, and wring emotion from us. If HBO wants to do it and these guys want to put the sweat into it, I am in 100%. [Nick Nunziata]