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The Night Of “The Beach” 


The first episode of The Night Of, titled “The Beach,” clocked in at one hour and eighteen minutes. And it was an achingly long one hour and eighteen minutes. Usually, this is a critical statement; great storytelling is supposed to fly by. But “The Beach” didn’t make anything easy for the audience. It didn’t feel long because of lack of momentum, but rather, it was deeply methodical, paced to suffocate every second with the kind of anxiety no one wants to feel. And it was a brilliant introduction to what is quickly shaping up into a very troubling story.

The Night Of has been relatively shrouded in mystery. Although we knew it was a crime drama about a Pakistani-American college student accused of murdering a woman after a night out, we didn’t know what the perspective would be. Would it be obvious who was guilty or innocent? Would we witness the murder through the eyes of the murdered or the murdered? In “The Beach,” it’s Nasir “Naz” Khan, a seemingly sweet, impressionable college kid from Queens, that we get under the skin of.

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

Naz is such a well-fleshed out character compared to everyone else on the show so far. He feels acutely true-to-life. He’s what real-life nerdy kids are. What real-life brown kids are (I say this as a real-life nerdy brown kid.) He’s a tutor for the basketball team. He doesn’t get a lot of chances to hit up cool downtown parties, not that his parents would approve of him going anyway. His mom touches his chin and calls him “beta” just like mine does to me. But he also has enough chutzpah to not only go to this cool downtown party alone, but to essentially steal his dad’s car so he can get there. He’s even good-looking enough that he doesn’t have to try too hard to get invited home by a pretty girl he doesn’t even know.

But at his core, Naz represents what most of us are raised to believe — if you do what you’re told, you’ll be fine. You won’t get in trouble. You won’t get hurt. And Naz does whatever people tell him to do. And this sense of safety is a lie.

We know from the start every decision he makes the night of, every “yes” he gives, is going to lead to him being accused of murder. The first layer of dread comes from waiting for the something to seem off in the build up prior to a crime. And that’s the moment Naz agrees to drive an odd, sad dream girl (who we now know is Andrea Cornish) to the beach, or something like it. Strike one. Then it was the drugs. Strike two. Finally, the knife game. Strike three. This could never end well.

And when it was all over, we’re the ones terrified of calling our parents, we’re the ones feeling like we’re in too deep with no way out. The next layer of dread comes from waiting for Naz to finally get caught. The tension of the minutes Naz spends in the jail, when there is still a chance he’ll get let go without a even a smudge on his record. But he had to take the knife with him.  And when it’s found, my heart dropped. Even after all of this, he does what everyone tells him to.

These cops are not here to help you. I repeat, these cops are not here to help you. But your lawyer is.

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

In the final act, we finally get introduced to the character that would have been played by James Gandolfini, public defender Jack Stone. John Turturro does an excellent job playing what could have been a caricature, balancing stereotypical New York neurosis with a healthy dose of emotional honesty.

The moment when Jack’s eyes go wide with realization that he decided to represent someone because he misunderstood the meaning of “cut” was a great moment, suggesting Naz isn’t the only one in over his head. His appearance was brief, but I have a feeling we’ll get a lot more out of this character in the following episodes as Naz moves further through the criminal justice process.

We also have no idea if Naz did it or not. It’s entirely possible Naz blacked out and committed murder. It’s possible someone else got into the house while he was asleep in the kitchen. It’s also entirely possible we’re being exposed to an unreliable narrator. It’s unclear how worthwhile it will be to speculate or to dig through clues moving forward in The Night Of.

However, there were a few pieces of the story at the moment that are leading us to believe Naz didn’t kill Andrea, or at least that this isn’t an open and shut case. One, the heavy emphasis on eyewitness Trevor lying about how he was alone when he saw Naz and Andrea together. Two, the breakdown in chain of evidence that was mentioned. And finally, the combination of the alleged murder weapon being left on the table downstairs and the lack of blood on Naz.

The final scene of “The Beach,” Naz’s dad standing silent and barefoot in front of his house, baffled by life, was a beautiful way to close this harrowing episode. We always want to go and save the ones we love, but sometimes the people you love make it impossible.

The Night Of airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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