Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

The final verdict on the much hyped mystery drama The Night Of

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Riz Ahmed (left) and John Turturro in the HBO television drama The Night Of picture supplied PUBLICITY HANDOUT NZH 12Aug16 - Riz Ahmed (left) is utterly convincing as the accused murd
Riz Ahmed (left) and John Turturro in the HBO television drama The Night Of picture supplied PUBLICITY HANDOUT NZH 12Aug16 - Riz Ahmed (left) is utterly convincing as the accused murd

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers for the season finale of The Night Of.

At the end of the night there were only two things I wanted to know: Did Nasir murder Andrea when he was blazed out of his mind? And if he didn't, as he claimed, then who did?

By the end of the episode I had my answers.

To my first question a resounding ... maybe.

To my second a strong indication that it was ... most likely some other dude.

Andrea's accountant/part time lover to be exact. He popped up for a scene or two a couple of episodes back and it really should have been immediately obvious to any armchair sleuth that he was the one that done did it.

An elementary conclusion based solely on the fame of the actor. Paulo Costanzo isn't a household name, but he is a fairly recognisable face.

Far more so than the other red herrings the show dangled in front of us as it attempted to throw us off the scent.

I'll hand in my magnifying glass now. I didn't pick it. But to be fair, the show hadn't really left any breadcrumbs for us to follow. There was no big 'aha' moment, no revelatory 'of course!' scene.

Instead, the reluctantly retired detective Dennis Box followed a string of hunches and leads and called in some favours to find his guy.

All of which came back just in the nick of time for the series to conclude nicely but not quick enough to get Nasir off the hook entirely.

Instead a hung jury granted him his freedom and us a semi-ambiguous ending.

It's arguable that the jury's inability to reach consensus, hitting a 'six for / six against' stalemate thereby forcing a mistrial, was the show attempting to force the viewer to reach a verdict for themselves.

Despite all the hinting, nudging and ouright shoving it was doing in this final episode to shift the guilt off Nasir here at the end.

So I had my answers. Yes, they were drenched in a vague wishy-washy ambiguity, but it was a satisfying conclusion to what has to be considered one of the top series' of 2016 so far.

This can be largely attributed to the show's terrific performances, which were so great they elevated it into something bordering essential viewing.

John Turturro's John Stone, a walking bundle of dejected cynicism, skin disease and allergies is an instant television classic. Riz Ahmed's transformation - both physically and mentally - from weedy student to prison badass was utterly convincing. And Bill Camp's weary seen-it-all-before detective a few days away from retirement had so much dimension and lived in experience that it took a role we've seen so many times before and turned it into something fresh.

Heck, even the bit part players were sensational. Fisher Stevens' portrayal as Stone's mocking pharmacist being a particular highlight.

The Night Of may have begun as a modern spin on the classic whodunnit, but as the trial and the show's end drew nearer it subtly shifted focus. Nasir's guilt or innocence becoming less and less the point.

Which is just as well because it made it easier to overlook the many boneheaded, WTF moments and character decisions that began popping up with increased frequency.

Instead it became much more interested in commenting on the various failings and injustice's built into America's justice system.

Prosecuting attorney Helen Weiss dismissing Box's new evidence out of hand because she was sitting on a winning case being a powerful demonstration that convictions and wins, not the search for the truth, is what keeps the wheels of justice spinning.

That, and cold hard cash, of course.

Throughout we continually saw Nasir's parents struggling to raise the necessary funds needed to mount Nasir's legal defence. Hawking wedding jewellery, their taxi license livelihood and finally their home to pay for it all.

Proving one's innocence does not come cheap.

The Night Of showed how this system could take a somewhat clean cut kid and set him off on a downward spiral of drug dependency and violence even as it set him free.

An innocent man now haunted by the call of the wild.

The show made its point well. It wasn't perfect. Its flaws covered by performance. But it entertained and it intrigued.

Case closed.

- NZ Herald

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