TV finales are a tricky thing to pull off correctly. More often than not, television series come to a close that ends up disappointing a majority of those who had invested time in the show. For every exceptional ending (Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under), there are some major missteps (Dexter, How I Met Your Mother). It was this notion that had me anxious last week, when watching the finale for HBO’s latest mini-series, The Night Of.
The show was centered around one specific crime case in New York city, where a young Pakistani man, played by Riz Ahmed, is accused of murdering a young woman. Nasir Khan took his father’s taxi out to drive to a party, drove the girl home and ended up staying the night with her. When he woke up, she had been brutally stabbed to death.
Violence and gritty realism loomed over every episode of the show’s eight episode run, but the crime itself felt removed from the show’s central message. Murder was the catalyst for the events of the series that followed, but the mystery of who had actually done the killing was the furthest thing from my mind week in and week out.
Detectives, lawyers and witnesses all deliberated about the evidence and likelihood of a suspect on screen, but I felt like the audience was meant to watch in a way that was removed from that core mystery. We were able to see what was happening to Nasir in prison as he awaited his trial, and the horrors of that environment. We followed the lawyers home after their days in court, to realize the crippling mundanity of their lives, like John Tuturro’s character struggling with eczema. We also get a glimpse into the perspectives of the parents who had to deal with their son at the center of a nationally televised murder trial.
While the trial and all the moving parts surrounding it were indeed exciting, I never felt that the show was building to a big twist, or an “Aha!” moment were all the pieces laid out before us came together. I liked waiting a week between each installment, rather than a binge, to have time to process the harsh realities of the show. Every aspect of The Night Of’s world felt incredibly true to life.
During the finale, I came to realize that The Night Of was never about where the case would end. It was a case of the journey being more valuable than the destination. Because of this, I came away from the ending satisfied with the conclusion that was offered and appreciative of the way procedural crime drama was handled in an arduous, drawn-out manner.
The Night Of was a statement on the broken aspects of the American justice system and how no one involved in a crime, from the police, to the lawyers, to the suspect, comes away the same person. It was about real things that happen in the United States every single day, and things that have been happening for years. It was about things that will continue to happen, even when many aren’t paying attention, and for all of this, I feel it is one of the most well-executed essential television programs I’ve watched in a long time.