Warning: This post contains spoilers.
Last night marked the season finale of HBO’s limited series The Night Of, a groundbreaking show that follows the trial of a Pakistani American man accused of murdering a young woman. The show has been a real panic attack inducing exploration of truth and doubt, scrutinizing how the prosecution and defense keep and discard details in a story to construct their own version of the truth. The finale ends with a hung jury, the prosecution declining to proceed, and Nasir Khan’s (Riz Ahmed) freedom.
But what should have been the happiest moment of the show was vastly unfulfilling. We still don’t know who killed Andrea. Unlike John Turturro’s hapless and discerning Jack Stone or Bill Camp’s haggard and disinterested (but then later discerning) detective Dennis Box, many of the characters were revealed to actually be thinly written. But really, the resolution to this story was largely unsatisfying because it didn’t matter what the verdict was—Naz is now a criminal because the justice system failed him.
After months of disregarding reasonable doubt, District Attorney Helen Weiss decides not to continue with the trial after learning of a more fitting suspect. Naz is given back his freedom, but he still doesn’t know if he did it.
Does it matter? Sure, yay, Naz is free, but for him and the rest of the show’s brown characters the damage has been done. The Muslim community (and peripheral brown communities like Sikhs) are still reeling from the trial. Safar, who questioned her son's innocence, may never mend that relationship. Chandra Kapoor’s fledgling law career is over after she, a young and ambitious lawyer, inexplicably kissed Khan in what seemed like a last ditch effort by the writers to get Turturro to give a powerful closing argument. Not to mention her brief stint as a drug mule.
Meanwhile, the white people carry on as usual. Stone has returned to being a bottom feeder subway ad lawyer with a heart of gold. Weiss and Box endeavor to go after who they now suspect is the actual killer. Even the ding dang cat got a happy ending!
Objectively, the idea of finding someone blocks from a murder scene with what appears to be the murder weapon in his possession seems like an open and shut case, but Naz’ humanity is ripped from him the second he's taken in. No other suspects are considered, and instead of looking into whether or not Naz actually committed the murder, Weiss is much more concerned with how damningly her medical examiner buddy can deliver the testimony she needs (regardless of the truth) and how well she can banter with a charismatic pathologist who knows her game all too well. Given that Naz was never deemed not guilty and was able to walk free because the jury simply couldn’t decide what to do with him, he will never escape the suspicion others will place on him until perhaps someone else is convicted.
While at Rikers, Naz was forced into the social game of loyalty and brutality that is prison. Luckily for him, he's under the tutelage and protection of Freddy (expertly played by Michael K. Williams). It didn’t matter what Naz’ truth was—the other inmates had made up their mind about him, and he had to accept that in order to stay alive. By the end of the series, he's carved out his spot in prison, comfortable in the tense and bleak atmosphere.
When a hardened Naz swaggers out of prison, he is a changed man. There is little to smile about. He played a key role in the death of another inmate, smuggled drugs, and is now addicted to those drugs. As he sits at the dinner table with his family, eating a home-cooked meal with his tattooed hands, an uneasy doubt hangs in the air. His family is relieved he's home, but the Naz they once knew is no longer there. Perhaps the system did the right thing allowing him to walk, but Naz, the college nerd who just wanted to have a fun night out, will never see justice.