Thoughts On The Night Of Finale

Stone and Naz
Stone and Naz

I watched the series finale of “The Night Of” prepared to be disappointed.

If you’re not familiar with this HBO series, you might as well just stop here. Not only is this post written with someone who has already watched the miniseries in mind, but it’s also packed wth spoilers too. Caveat emptor.

“The Night Of” was billed as a look at the criminal justice system from a suspect’s point of view, and for much of the beginning, that’s what it was. But somewhere around episodes six and seven, it seemed to take a turn for the worse. It started to feel both rushed and as if a new writer took over, one that was more interested in Hollywood and TV tropes than the gritty feel of the series’ beginning.

Flawed heroine or gullible young lady?
Flawed Heroine or gullible young lady?

Naz started acting like he was comfortable in prison. Too comfortable for me, and it was starting to look like we were heading for a cliched story about prison turning a good boy bad. While that would not be an unexpected ending, it seemed trite for how the “The Night Of” started out.

But it was Chandra’s (skillfully portrayed by Amara Karan) character arc that was killing the show for me. She started out as an underappreciated young lawyer in a huge firm. Allison Crowe, brilliantly played by Glenne Headly, literally picks her out of a room full of lawyers to assist on the case because of her race. But she forges a connection with Naz’s mother (portrayed equally well by Poorna Jagannathan) and then tells Naz, going against Crowe’s wishes, to turn down the plea deal Crowe negotiated for him.

I read Chandra’s disobedience as standing up for what she believes. Jack Stone, the lawyer Crowe pushed off the case, asks Chandra if she worked her way through law school so she could be used as a prop because of her race. She responds by going against Crowe’s wishes regarding the deal.

Chandra ends up leading on the case and puts on a strong defense for Naz. We still see her stumble a few times, but considering the lemons she had, she made a good pitcher of lemonade.

And then it seems all for naught. We see Chandra kissing Naz in a holding cell. We see her act as his drug mule. A woman that overcame being her firm’s token Muslim succumbed to a TV crime show cliche. I was ready to give up.

But I was going to finish the series, if for no other reasons than seeing John Turturro as Jack Stone and Michael Kenneth Williams as Freddy. I’m glad I stayed with it, too.

stoneJack Stone is a fascinating character. Turturro brings a vulnerability to him that’s hard to describe. The role was originally intended for James Gandolfini and in a few early scenes, especially when he approaches Naz at the police precinct, I could easily see Gandolfini in the role. But Stone is a character that Turturro brought to life and owned by the time the miniseries was halfway through, with the help of a script that gave him so many wonderful opportunities to act.

My favorite scenes were when Jack Stone was alone: treating his skin problems, feeding Andrea’s cat, tailing Andrea’s sleazy stepfather. Turturro created a fully realized character in these scenes. He is one of the greatest actors alive today.

IMDB tells me that Freddy, played by Michael Kenneth Williams, was only in three episodes. If this is accurate, it explains why I was left wanting more. In the same way that Williams used reserved confidence and subtle body language to make Omar a compelling character in “The Wire,” Freddy dominated the few scenes he appeared in and left me wanting to know more about him. Williams can tear up the scenery without raising his voice. I found his murder of Petey especially chilling.

Freddy
Freddy

That’s not to say Freddy and Omar are the same characters. When I saw the trailers for The Night Of I was concerned that we were going to see “Omar in prison,” but we didn’t. Omar was an outsider that was “street smart” enough to play the system to his advantage. Freddy is an integral part of the system and was better spoken and more educated.

When Chandra started to look like she was falling in love with poor Naz (that’s how it looked to me) I was bracing myself for one of two “Hollywood” endings: “wrongly convicted guy goes to jail” or “wrongly indicted guy is exonerated.”

The fact Andrea’s stepfather who, by the way, we learn has a history of violence and seducing wealthy cougars, was being served up as a last minute suspect didn’t help. It looked like the show that had started out as something different was going to end up looking like a crime procedural written by Dick Wolf.

It was evident to me by the midpoint that Naz’s innocent was beside the point and that having a big reveal where that proves his innocence or guilt would only ruin the story.

The opening episode was one of the best things I’ve seen in television or movies in a long time. The story required a series of coincidences to work, but together they wove a believable narrative that left you sure Naz was innocent.

Or did it?

In the finale, when Naz said he wasn’t sure either, it was a very satisfying moment. What made it even more satisfying was wondering if his experience in prison had made him less sure.

Putting Naz on the stand was the completion of Chandra’s fall. But her decision to do that over Jack’s strong objection redeemed her in my eyes. She wasn’t simply a gullible woman that fell in love with poor Naz, she was an idealist and a bit of an optimist. It was clear to her that Naz was innocent, and his innocence would be obvious to the jury too, once they heard from him.

That didn’t work out. And things didn’t work out for Chandra either.

Jack’s closing argument was the next big payoff for me. He saved the day by being himself, and that is was what was needed. The scenes with his preparation and the closing itself were also masterfully done. Here again, Turturro inhabited Jack Stone and showed a fully realized character.

The hung jury and the prosecution’s decision to drop the case against Naz were, at the end of the day, the only ending that worked. We still don’t know if he did it, and we don’t even have a questionable verdict to fall back on. Perfect.

It was Freddy that arranged for Stone to receive the video showing Chandra kissing Naz. That video may be lead to the hung jury since it set up Stone’s closing statement. Naz was as good as convicted after the prosecutor eviscerated him on the stand. Did Freddy know that? How could he have?

In their final scene together Freddy told Naz he enjoyed “having” him because he has the  “smelled of innocence” on him. While that means Freddy believes that Naz didn’t kill Andrea, it doesn’t mean he wants him set free. Discrediting defense counsel doesn’t always mean freedom for the defendant. It may just have easily resulted in a mistrial and lead to Naz being in prison longer. Was that his goal instead? What do you think?

Naz comes home with a rift between him and his family and a drug problem. It’s not hard to imagine that he will end up back in jail and that Freddy may get his wish. But would he still want Naz then? Would he still smell innocent?

We also have a story that could make a sequel. Detective Box, another fascinating character, seems to have found the actual killer. Box’s investigation contributed to the series finale seeming crowded and rushed as if they had enough material for nine or ten episodes, but HBO wanted to keep it short for some reason. But I enjoyed seeing more of Box.

Could there be a sequel in the future? I’m not sure how I feel about that. How about you?

Happy Monday, August 29, 2016 Edition

It’s Monday! Tired? Sad to be back at work? Having a hard time picking up where you left off from last week, or maybe from before a vacation you just finished? No matter how bad your Monday is, I bet you’re not as confused as this guy.

Do you know what he’s trying to do?  He’s trying to do this.

Pretty impressive, eh? Foxes are amazing little creatures. This would be a great place to mention what they sound like and insert another video, but I’m going to pass and just wish you a good week.

Voter Intimidation Then and Now

Voter intimidation via a sign showing the polls are closed.According to Donald Trump, if he loses the Presidential election it will be because of a rigged election.

The New York Times has called these statements hedging. Most credible polls show Clinton with leads that indicate a shellacking in November. Claiming that the fix is in seems like a very Trumpian thing to do.

On the other hand, this looks like the beginnings of something much darker: voter intimidation.  Consider what Trump said in Pennsylvania.

“We’re hiring a lot of people. … We’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times,”

Trump has expanded on this rhetoric. In classic Trump fashion, five times has become fifteen times.  He’s also asking for volunteers to sign up online to become “election observers.” If supporters of one candidate parked at polling places to “make sure no one cheats” isn’t voter intimidation, what is?

The United States has a history of voter suppression and intimidation, and one of the drivers for Trump’s message seems to be recent rulings against some states’ efforts to deny voting rights to the poor and minorities.

But yet again, Trump’s ideas bear a resemblance to the Third Reich too.

Hitler became Chancellor in January of 1933, not by winning an election, but by appointment. In March, Germany held its last contested election until after the war, and the NSDAP (Nazis) seized power with legislation that effectively gave Hitler full dictatorial power.

In November 1932 the NSDAP drew 33% of the vote, a drop from 37% from elections held five months earlier. While the NSDAP were gaining the highest percentages, they faced significant resistance from the other parties and the turmoil repeatedly lead to the dissolution of parliament, and new elections.

Despite reducing the number of seats the NSDAP held in the new government, the November election resulted in them seizing power. After a great dealing of political maneuvering, Hitler was finally able, with explicit consent (acquiesence?)  from Reich President Hindenburg, to take over as chancellor.

This appointment immediately led to widespread violence and intimidation by the NSDAP, even before Hitler called for a new election. Voter suppression was violent and rampant during the new election in March 1933. The Nazis faired much better in the March election but still failed to gain a majority. But as we know, this didn’t slow them down for long.

The NSDAP had a paramilitary arm, the Sturmabteilung (SA, the “brown shirts”) in the 1920s, well before they took power. The infamous Schutzstaffel (SS) was originally a part of the SA before it established itself as a separate organization. Both the SA and SS were instrumental in the violence surrounding the elections in 1933.

Trump lacks such an organization, and it’s doubtful he’ll ever have one. He isn’t willing to put in the effort to build a presidential campaign, let alone a movement like the NSDAP. Throwing a sign-up form and stirring the voter intimidation pot seems to be the limits of his capabilities.

But remember the anti-government militants that occupied Malheur Refuge? Ruby Ridge? Oklahoma City? The change offered by Trump’s candidacy, not to mention his racism, has attracted armed militants and white supremacists.

There was at least one situation where Trump retweeted a status from white supremacists. He famously pretended not to know who David Duke was, and then there was the Jewish Star controversy.

Does it seem reasonable that these groups might answer Trump’s call to “monitor” voting? Will just the possibility that they might keep some voters home?

What’s important here is not just whether or not Trump succeeds, but who he attracts and what they do after the election.

It looks more and more like Trump will lose in November. But will that be the end of the violence and hatred he is stirring up? Not by a long shot.

Image Credit: Democracy Chronicles. CC License.

Stabs In the Back and Big Lies

Stab-in-the-back PostcardBy the end of September 1918, the Germans were beaten.  Earlier that year Chief-of-Staff Erich Ludendorff commanded the “Kaiserschlacht”  offensive that briefly seemed to turn the tide, but the Germans lacked the resources to support the effort. Ludendorff himself told the Kaiser and Germany’s Chancellor to ask for a ceasefire on September 29th.

But the myth that Germany’s civilian leaders betrayed their military started to spread before the Treaty of Versailles was completed.  It said that the army had won but was forced to surrender by Jews, or Bolsheviks, or Socialists. This story later became known as the Dolchstoßlegende, the “stab-in-the-back myth,” after Ludendorff said that the civilian government in Germany “stabbed him in the back”. Despite the fact that he had admitted defeat, and later recommended accepting the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles.

This myth is no small thing. It’s not “spiders eggs in Bubble-Yum” or “Paul is dead”. Even “FDR knew Pearl Harbor was coming” is trivial compared to this one. It was a central belief of the Nazi Party, and I’m sure you noticed the part about Jews being behind it. Ludendorff himself, who obviously knew it was false, went on to support Hitler.

The myth is strong enough that still around today. I’m not going to link to the sites, but a search yields a few “truther” sites that blame it for just about everything bad that’s happened since 1918. Which of course means that, you guessed it, the Jews are responsible. Think about it: if you believe this myth you can draw a straight line from the end of World War I to 9/11. Or, if you believe 9/11 was a conspiracy than this myth is a no-brainer. (Literally.) I’m sure there are more than a few people that hang out at Trump rallies that are very familiar with the Dolchstoßlegende.

There is, of course, absolutely no historical basis for it. I’m not going to bother debunking it any further. It’s just bullshit.

The stab-in-the-back myth is hardly the first big lie, and it’s certainly not the last. Today we have Muslims celebrating 9/11 in Jersey City, Benghazi, Obama the Muslim, and the murder of Vince Foster, to just name a few. There’s even a modern variation of the stab-in-the-back myth for Vietnam.

My book deals directly with the stab-in-the-back myth. The antagonists are right wingers that will eventually become prominent members of the Nazi Party. They believe the myth, or at least contribute heavily to spreading it. Even though I based the characters on real people, I’ve struggled a bit with bringing them to life. It’s tough to write someone who believes these things without making them seem like a cartoon character.

But today’s current events remind me that sometimes cartoon characters come to life. I can usually pick up some inspiration by checking the day’s current events.

Sigh.

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