We Need to Talk About 'The Night Of' Finale

Riz Ahmed, Naz, The Night Of
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

This article reveals major spoilers for every episode of the HBO series The Night Of, which concluded its eight-episode run on Sunday.

The question of whether Nasir Khan committed the murder of Andrea Cornish on The Night Of has always been beside the point, because writers Richard Price and Steven Zaillian set up from the first episode that this limited series was no mere procedural or whodunnit. They challenged us to be more interested in the systemic problems surrounding Naz's predicament than in his culpability. The risk with that pursuit, of course, is that viewers want resolution.

Last week, we discussed the things we needed the finale to resolve before we'd be able to place The Night Of with the greats. Our verdict: the show answered every question we had, and did so in a way that was both intensely satisfying yet surprisingly sad. Let's re-examine the questions and present the evidence.

John Turturro, Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Did Naz kill Andrea?

No, he did not. For a few seconds there I thought that the trial judge might be the culprit, when I realized that he was played by Glenn Fleshler, the actor who menaced so effectively on the first season of True Detective. But no, the person who brutally murdered Andrea turned out to be Ray Halle, the CPA played by Paulo Costanzo of Royal Pains and Joey fame, and we know this because Detective Dennis Box spent the first few days of his retirement doing top-tier investigative work.

What happened to the fourth knife?

It's strongly suggested during the trial by Naz's initial lead attorney Chandra Kapoor and in the closing arguments by replacement lead attorney John Stone that the knife was likely taken by Duane Reade if the brute of few words indeed committed the crime, but we here at home know that Duane Reade didn't kill Andrea, thanks to Detective Box's strong detective work post-retirement.

So where's the knife? Well, we seem to be left with two possibilities: Ray Halle used it to kill Andrea and later disposed of it (after confronting Ray at the Atlantic City casino, Box shows the prosecutor photos from security-camera footage hinting that Ray may have dumped some trash from his car on the night of), something that will probably be a hot topic during his impending murder trial. But I've also thought: isn't it possible that the fourth knife from the set in Andrea's kitchen had been missing for years? Knives can break, can't they? They can be disposed of -- intentionally or accidentally -- in other ways not involving murder, right? Like, I'm pretty sure that my dishwasher has swallowed 13 of my steak knives whole over the years and not even a rejuvenated Detective Box would be able to find them.

Bill Camp, Detective Box, The Night Of
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Will Detective Box be redeemed?

Yes! While his shoddy, jaded police work helped land Naz in the slammer and, indirectly, leads to the freed defendent picking up a nasty drug habit, Detective Box returns to duty after hearing two other detectives meta-talking about their wish for a TV series about "a cop who doesn't give a shit." Time is a bit fuzzy on The Night Of, but it seems like he tracks down Ray Halle in just a few days and even had time to fit in a round of golf. If only he'd used those detective chops when it could have really helped Naz! But, yeah, then we wouldn't have a series.

How does Andrea's stepdad fit into all this?

Creepily -- but merely as a red herring. Yes, Don Taylor (the perfectly cast Paul Sparks) is a grifter who bed and wed a wealthy, much older woman so that he wouldn't have to settle for making just $35,000 a year as a personal trainer and living in an apartment in Queens. And, yes, he was set up to receive half of Evelyn Cornish's estate, including the house he shared with Andrea after Evelyn's death -- until Andrea sued to stop her stepdad from inheriting the townhouse worth an estimated $10 million and booted him out.

But Don Taylor didn't kill Andrea. He's just a guy who can be thrown against a wall in an alley by a sickly attorney and who serves as the perfect butt of the show's best joke, when he finds himself on the receiving end of the middle finger John Stone flips at him while they stand in the security line at the courthouse.

What happened to Duane Reade?

This question sounds like the beginning of a pretty bad joke that ends with, "Tell me about it -- the pharmacy ain't what it used to be." But the answer is that Duane Reade had his day in court (see the knife question above), and he's currently serving time for an unrelated, but potentially helpful-to-Naz crime, of burglary at a state penitentiary known as the Cave.

What was the deal with the creepy hearse driver?

It was good of him to turn up, and to be just as menacingly semi-cooperative as he's always been. But what was his deal? Well, maybe he's smelled too many embalming fumes in the line of duty. Or maybe he's been hanging around with too many people who put their cigarettes out on the flesh of living humans. But at least we know that he didn't kill Andrea.

Where's the cat going to live?

At a crucial moment, just after the defense had rested its case and he becomes convinced that they'd not only lose the case but would actively contribute to Naz being found guilty, John Stone basically gives up. This includes giving up on the cat he'd rescued from Andrea's house. He returns the cat to the city pound. He throws away its litter and food. The feline's fate is seemingly sealed.

After the trial ends and retrial is nixed, he's sitting in his apartment watching TV when one of those heartbreaking "adopt a pet for just $18 a week" ads comes on. It's using Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which is nearly a verbatim quote John Stone used in his closing statement regarding his initial encounter with Naz. It would have been very sad if Naz had been saved but the cat hadn't, which is why the sight of the cat strutting across the apartment after John Stone leaves his apartment to go the police precinct to take on another case provided one of the series' most welcome moments.

What will happen to John Stone's feet?

They will continue to itch, and he will continue to ride the subway to his support group, where he will no longer be as flippant about having been cured by a quack doctor, and he will scratch himself on the subway with a long-ish wooden and/or metal implement, and people will continue to be grossed out when he does that. Life goes on. We are all John Stone.

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John Sellers is the Entertainment director at Thrillist and is looking into antidepressants after watching The Night Of.