In Defense of Naz's Stupidity in 'The Night Of'

The main character in 'The Night Of' is an idiot—but that's the point.

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Complex Original

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There have been two loud reactions in response to The Night Of, HBO's new miniseries that officially premiered last night. First, pretty much everyone agrees that the show is great. Richard Price's (Sea of LoveThe Wire) writing and Steve Zaillian's (Searching for Bobby Fischer) directing result in an immersive procedural with a captivating pace and unique tone. Last night's premiere is one of the tightest episodes of television this year.

The second reaction is, basically, why the hell is Naz, the show's protagonist, so god damned stupid?

30 minutes into Night Of and have yelled "You idiot" at the screen literally 16x already
Naz, for a seemingly smart guy in the beginning of the episode, you did all the stupid things we can think of and more ! #TheNightOf
I'm getting irrationally angry at how dumb this dude is on The Night Of

It's understandable that Naz, a seemingly smart and well-intentioned kid from Jackson Heights, Queens, has all these people yelling at their TV screens. Over the course of an hour and a half, he makes bad decision after bad decision. Let's recap:

  • He steals his dad's taxi cab, which really isn't that bad. But then he drives it through Manhattan with the medallion light on, and mistakes the car's windshield wiper lever for a button that may turn that light off.
  • He stabs a strange girl in the hand, and is TOTALLY down when she responds not in pain or anger, but by wanting to have sex with him. That's shaky judgment. This is partially excused because Naz is a 23-year-old who's only had sex one time before this—guys like him will put up with A LOT for female attention. 
  • Upon seeing that the aforementioned girl is lying dead in a pool of blood—on the bed she and Naz just had sex in—he runs. And touches SO many things on the way out.
  • He leaves behind pretty much everything in this girl's house: his inhaler, his jacket, and most importantly, the keys to his dad's taxi.
  • Doubling back to retrieve all of the above, Naz realizes he locked himself out of the house. So obviously, he smashes a window pane and BREAKS BACK INTO THE HOUSE, which he now knows is the scene of a murder. To make matters worse, he cuts his hand on the window pane and bleeds all over it. Also, a neighbor sees all of this happen, because Naz is not being stealth. (I assume this is the point when the screaming-at-TV factor was highest.)
  • He TAKES THE KNIFE he and the girl were stabbing each other with. He doesn't wipe his prints off of it. Nope—he just straight up takes it. 
  • During his getaway drive, he commits multiple traffic infractions. And remember, the medallion light is still on at this point. He's basically begging to be pulled over, which he eventually is.
  • Fast-forward: Naz has been brought to a police precinct. After a painful amount of time, he's finally strip-searched, and the murder weapon is found on him (yes, he actually put it in his jacket pocket). How does he react? He runs. In a police station. That is filled with policemen. 
  • In an interrogation room with a very sharp detective, Naz answers every question he's asked. Then! He consents to DNA swabs—even a penile swab. He's basically like, "Okay, sure. Collect all the damning evidence against me you can." All of this, mind you, happens without Naz being charged of an actual crime.

So yeah, Naz is monumentally dumb. Or rather, he does things in this episode that are monumentally dumb. Much of the reaction to this undebatable fact has carried a negative connotation. Upset viewers are taking Naz's stupidity as a discredit to The Night Of, as if the decisions the character makes are so bad they render the show implausible (a point Todd VanDerWerff argues against convincingly here). But looking at Naz's stupidity from a "I would never do that" perspective is not only astonishingly egotistical and unempathetic, it's missing the point.

First of all, can we agree that none of us have ever woken up, still high on molly, cocaine, and tequila, to find a one-night stand bleeding out in a bed? Can we agree that it's unfair to assume how we'd react in that situation? Okay, cool—now onto the more interesting stuff.

One of the main points of The Night Of, aside from showing the miniscule intricacies of the legal system, is that it's a story about a kid who's in so far over his head, regardless of his innocence. Naz is stupid—that's the point. He's stupid in that he's landed in a situation in which everyone else in the room is smarter than him. He might do better on a college exam that Detective Box, but Box, every other cop, and Naz's attorney John Stone, know way more in this sphere: everything from how to avoid looking guilty to how a murder investigation unfolds to what sways a jury. Naz is a representation of countless people who are arrested and subsequently chewed up by the unforgiving machine that is law and order. The system doesn't care if you don't know how it works—remember Brendan Dassey in Making a Murderer?—and that is what The Night Of is trying to get you to understand.

The other, subtler point of Naz's so-called stupidity is that, deep down, he might actually think or suspect that he did murder this girl. He frequently professes his innocence, and we the audience trust him because as the protagonist of the show, we assign an inherent goodness to him, but nothing has been truly been revealed yet. Is that why he fled the scene against all reason? Is that why he took the murder weapon? Don't yet rule out the possibility that Naz's subconscious led him astray.

The Night Of is just beginning and there's so much we still don't know. But if you're being pushed to the brink because you can't fathom a human being as dumb as Nasir Khan, don't go outside, or look in the mirror. Fact is stranger than fiction—and often, just as stupid.

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