Monday, August 29, 2016

Five Minutes watching: The Night of...

I used to not watch a lot of movies because I didn't have a lot of time. Now I have time, and a lot of television is horrible, and Turner Classic Movies isn't always on point. So, I watch a movie or two, or five, when I'm not writing, or reading, or playing video games, or sleep. You know, I guess I really don't watch a lot of movies. Go figure. 

This is really more of a critique/recap of the the last few episodes than anything else. Spoilers ahead by the ton, so if you haven't watched the series or the finale, ready the first paragraph comeback later after you're done. If you went into this thinking there would be a definitive ending, that we would find out what happened that night, that you're going to be sorely disappointed. I both like and don't like the ending, in that while there was no "earth shattering kaboom," the story doesn't as much end, as peter out into nothing and much like life, just keeps moving.

John Stone. Attorney. photo from HBO

First, to be honest, I didn't realize it was a ninety minute finale until the first half hour was over, which eased my fear that the show was going to end with the setup of the jury returning and the the setup being a fade to black there or an abrupt cut right after the phrase "We the jury find the accused Nasir Orenthal Khan..." Don't laugh, that's a critical darling dramatic ending, and I really didn't want to see it. What I really hoped to see that was that Naz would have been found not guilty in the first twenty minutes or so, and the rest of the episode focus on the aftermath for all the characters; from the mundane wheels of justice rolling on to Freddy figuring out his next move to Naz trying to figure out what happens from here, his relationship with his family or perhaps an examination of the current culture we live in, where verdicts don't matter just public opinion. But what we got was okay. 

I enjoyed a number of things about the series, and seeing the machinations that happen behind the scenes. What particularly rung true for me in this finale was the Prosecutor's decision to keep the case going even after Det. Box turned up new evidence. This was a perfect example of what happens sometimes, in that the prosecutor isn't interested in guilt or innocence, but only who can be reasonably prosecuted. It's an imperfect system, but it's what we have, and I think seeing it onscreen might give a few people pause after living with the nobility that was Law and Order for so long. I'd like to think that most of the time that once you get the guy with the bloody knife leaving the scene, well, then you've got your guy. But you've still got to do your due diligence, which this episode and Chandra's court room tactics showed the police clearly had not done. Which brings us to Chandra.
Poor Chandra. It was fascinating watching Chandra mature, then fall apart as the episodes went on. Pulled from legal obscurity into the courtroom, it looked like she was rising to the task and would end the series a slightly less jaded version of John Stone. So it was shock when she made out with Naz in holding, me screaming loudly at the television "what are you doing!?" And it just went down hill from there. I still can't for the life of me figure out why she decided to put Naz on the stand. That you do not do this is a basic concept of criminal law class, right up there with never ask a question for which you don't already know the answer. And that after she'd made that boneheaded decision, then saw her client was unstable, she KEPT GOING WITH IT, even bringing him the drugs he needed for his fix. This was the part that was beyond belief for me. Maybe she got a little overconfident with the him testifying thing, but for such a relatively naive lawyer to take such risks with her own career is just ....I'm still lost, why exactly I don't know.  

And then, after the disaster that was Naz's testimony, and it was a disaster, Box flipped the apple cart over by using the equivalent of  what is referred to in legal terms as a "noisy exit." By getting up and walking out during Helen's closing statement, loudly and looking disgusted, he may have been communicating with the jury that even he, the detective whom they knew had helmed the case wasn't okay with all this anymore. And it wasn't an accident, because having been on the force as long as he had, Box had to know what he was doing. Subtle beast indeed.  

And then we very neatly find out why John Stone, possessor of such a capable legal mind and wise to ways of the legal jungle relegates himself to the kind of law he practices. Despite his knowledge of what needs to be done, John almost can't do it. Forced to give the closing argument, his previously vanquished eczema returns with a vengeance, brought on by the stress of being responsible for man's life with his words. It was sad to watch in a way, and it explains why he pleads out clients he knows are guilty. It lets him sleep at night. But shrewd mind that he is, he's able to work his circumstance into his closing, sounding like a exhausted warrior at the end of a long battle giving that last rousing speech before he leads those who follow into hell. Which produces the definition of an  ambiguous hung jury. I was pleasantly surprised by Helen's decision not to re-try the case. But then I remembered Helen's uncharacteristically weak close, this after her almost gleeful gutting of the defendant. It was as though both she and Box had lost the heart to finish what they'd started.  

As stark as the case looked, and as disassociated as the characters were, it was nice to see bits of humanity seep these cogs of the system going out on a limb for Naz. I'm sure that's what Chandra thought she was doing (after getting used by her boss for her race), but the real care came from John Stone and oddly, Freddy the prison bully. While John first seemed just interested in Naz as a client, a big payday and perhaps as the case that might change his career trajectory, he later became a shaman of sorts. Freddy I think, actually liked Naz as a person. It was Freddy who gave Naz the shoes for the shower, tried to get him the proper color shirt for trial, the private cell, and forgave him for not snitching. You could tell that even as the big bad, Freddy needed a friend, which is what he was finding in Naz. And then realizing his friend was innocent, made the move that should have gotten  his friend a mistrial save for a persnickety judge. This actual caring made it particularly sad that Freddy couldn't say goodbye to Naz when it was all over. 


Reading the overnights, I was expecting and found the howls of anguish at how Chandra's character was underdeveloped and wasted, which I read in large part to mean that it's a sexist racist misogynistic travesty that the woman of color didn't emerge the triumphant victor. As much as the parts which baffled me - the kiss, the drugs, the putting him on the stand - seem to come out of nowhere, the idea that she was under written, a plot device or part of the background after all the screen time she had is a hell of a stretch. Yes, she was introduced as a PR prop by a grandstanding attorney, but she turned into an able lawyer learning from an veteran lawyer, felt ashamed for her client's parents whom she tried to console, put together a pretty good case and maybe over identified with the client. Then a little heady from her success in exposing the narrow mindedness of the police investigation, got a little too cocky and went a little too far. It may have been ego which did it, we'll never know, because here is the part I didn't like: that we have no idea what comes next for her like we get for all the other principals. That part I'm angry about.  
Was it a good show? Yes, I found it worth the hours invested, and the hours I spent re-watching parts of it. It was well acted, well thought out as to be purposefully muddled, and excellently done from an acting standpoint. I liked it. 

Little Things....
■ There were a lot of little moments that became things later on.  I want to go back to the first episode and see if that new suspects photo was in the frame by the bed like I think it was.

■ I don't think they showed the passage of time right. There should have been about a year between the arrest and the court date, but it looks like he got arrested in October, and the trial was in February the following year - as evidenced by the date stamp on the camera that caught Chandra getting Naz his "stuff."- Seemed a little quick, but this is dramatized for your protection.

■ In trying to figure out why Chandra kissed Nas, and I think that the writers tried to setup a rationale but failed. During the lovable scene where Stone reveals the holy grail of jurors - Young urban females - Chandra admits she's depressed because she broke up with boyfriend, and now feels alone. Stone offers some weak sympathy, but we leave it there. Now, the prep for murder trial leaves little room for socializing, so it's possible that Naz and Chandra's shared loneliness caused a lapse in judgment. I realize I'm grasping at straws here, it's not like Chandra had a complete lack of sense. And if you could think of another way to get Stone into the first chair, let me know. 

■ It may have seemed like a tossed off moment, but I think two things spurred Box to try, even at the eleventh hour to go back to see what he missed. First, it was Chandra putting him on the stand to talk about his history, the procedure he'd disregarded and all the suspects he overlooked, and second, it was the overheard conversation in the bar, about the cop who doesn't care. Box realized he was that cop, that he'd become a bored professional, and it irked him.
■ John, lose the cat. I'm a dog guy.

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