Richard Price and Steven Zairian began HBO’s The Night Of by making it seem like a pure whodunnit in the vein of The Killing or just about every Law & Order episode, and it’s been to their credit that the show has mostly avoided the worst instincts of its red herring-laden predecessors. That being said, the detours Price and Zaillian have taken in order to not confront the issue of who killed Andrea (Jack’s eczema, Naz’s Rikers experience, the revolving door of lawyers representing him, etc.) have failed to be compelling in their own right, leaving the show feeling dramatically inert. These detours have been interspersed with hints towards possible explanations of the murder, none of which have quite gotten enough attention to confirm or deny whether they’re actually relevant or mere window dressing. “Samson and Delilah” doubles down on Price and Zaillian’s worst instincts, throwing out more suggestions regarding Andrea’s killer while also keeping the pacing sluggish by continuing to spend more time with auxiliary subplots than they warrant.
And the one subplot that doubles as a possible clue has been perhaps the weakest of all: Naz’s journey from ostensibly clear-eyed and full-hearted college student to hardened prison don. From the beginning, the arc has been plagued by the question of why exactly Freddy takes an interest in Naz, and the subsequent developments have only made the relationship more puzzling. Freddy’s use of him as a drug mule last week offered a possible explanation, but the ex-boxer’s willingness to provide Naz with a cell phone, drugs and camaraderie keep their association from being purely exploitative. As a result, the association between the two remains mysterious, and in a way that seems difficult to resolve in the show’s two remaining episodes.
Of course, Naz’s newfound willingness to beat a man nearly to death, intimidate other prisoners and exploit the Rikers black market also suggests that perhaps he was capable of murdering Andrea after all. At the same, the downward slide has been accompanied by his offensive use of double negatives (these are commonly associated with AAVE, suggesting that his adoption of the speech pattern indicates his decline) and the lingering question of whether or not any of this makes sense within his characterization, even with the revelation that Naz left his first high school after throwing a fellow student down a flight of stairs. Accordingly, it’s hard to know what his recently revealed propensity for violence means about whether or not he could kill a young woman he met the same night.
But fear not, for Price has other suspects for the crime, even beyond last week’s hint towards the racist Trevor and his suspicious pal Duane. In my review of the pilot, I critiqued the show’s too-dogmatic adherence to Chekov’s gun, a practice Price continues by bringing back the admittedly creepy hearse driver and showing that he’s a raging misogynist to boot. He’s yet another possible murderer, yes, but Price leaves him behind for too long to have his return mean much. Andrea’s stepfather has at least been a recurring presence over the past few weeks, but even he hasn’t gotten enough screen time to make the reveal of his sugar mama-courting tendencies to be particularly scandalous or intriguing.
Aside from the case at The Night Of’s heart, “Samson and Delilah” spends an exorbitant amount of time on the character details that simply aren’t as compelling as Zaillian and Price want them to be. Jack’s cure of his eczema is most notable for putting the show’s least interesting aspect out of its misery. His suddenly paternal relationship with Chandra is almost as gross as the hearse driver’s biblical sexism, and her exaggerated naiveté only makes her affinity with Jack even flatter. The news of her recent breakup comes out of nowhere, feeling more like an extraneous bit of exposition than a compelling character development.
Thus, between Chandra and Jack and Freddy and Naz, The Night Of pushes two strange bedfellow relationships that marvel at their own oddity more than they say much about the characters in them. Between the justification of these bizarre pairings and the resolution of the many (presumed, unless they all killed Andrea together) red herrings suggested over the past few weeks, Zaillian and Price find themselves with quite a bit of ground to cover in the series’ final two episodes.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.