In this brutal, tight limited series we are being taken through the steps of the criminal justice system and as we watch are not we beginning to ask if it works properly? As it plays out we look at all the jobs required, all the angles that need to be analyzed for any one given crime, all the dancing around and carefully placed words. Some play by rules and others will play on the flexibility of those rules and still others will just break them – all in the name of justice. This episode observes that dance and two of the ways it is interpreted as the justice for one life and the fate of another hang in the balance.
And now our thoughts on –
Part II: Subtle Beast
Instructed by Stone not to talk to anyone, Naz breaks his promise when his parents arrive at the precinct. Later, he’s transferred to Central Booking and, after pleading not guilty at his arraignment, to Rikers Island. Detective Box looks into the victim’s troubled past. Helen Weiss, a prosecuting attorney, meets with Box to discuss the evidence against Naz.
There is nothing subtle about it. Part II clearly focuses on Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp). He is the ‘subtle beast’ the title refers to; it is a description given by attorney John Stone to Naz and then repeated by the suspect to his parents. We get to see the beautiful subtlety played out more than once within the hour. In the justice process it is time for through investigation of the crime and those involved directly & indirectly. Box knows this and uses his skill to make inroads. For example, he uses his charm(?) or sympathy(?) to talk to the victim’s stepfather after the poor man identifies the body. He also carefully and effectively uses his skills to get Naz to open up when they are alone. One of the best scenes of the hour is when we see if Box can crack the suspect wide open. We wait to see if Naz reveals or bumbles out something telling. Some clever psychology is at play there and it works.
So far, Box is proving a more developed character than John Turturro’s John Stone. We are sure though, that Turturro will get his big moment…just not yet. All we really know about Stone, besides his eczema, is that he plays by a set of rules; his rules, but rules nevertheless. His big rule, made clear here is..Shut It! It is a rule he seems to apply to every client he gets. He doesn’t waver off that tactic. Each client gets the same speech it seems; to keep your mouth shut and wait for them to postulate their theories as we will get the opportunity to speak after they are done and it is at that moment that we have our chance. Blunt, on the brink of a threat, but clear. That is in contrast to Box’s style. He sizes up each suspect case by case, decides an approach and works those angles with the sense of effortlessness, all the while using that aforementioned subtleness. It is because we see him deep into that zone even on what he thinks is a “cut & dry” case tells more about who he is even though we haven’t heard much about his life and background. That is masterful writing right there. Again, Turturro will get his turn. I don’t think the scene of him at home with his biracial son was it. We do learn though, indirectly, that he really must need to win Naz’s case to give him some credibility.
The last twenty minutes or so changes the scene up. We see Stone in his personal time, but it is still mostly about the eczema and a bit about his family, we see Box heading out of work clearing his head with classical music and we see Naz sent to a central holding facility to await arraignment. Notice no family time depicted for Box. We see him next morning checking out what was found in the taxicab and meeting with the Khan family. He is through, polite and still subtle, though the police with him are not. The big moment of the back half though is the arraignment. It is short and swift with no bail and a trip to Riker’s island for Naz.
Sorry, but the focus has got to stay on Box here for one more moment. I initially questioned Box’s sincerity when he pondered aloud to Naz that he was missing something. He sees Naz as a good boy from a hard-working family, he says. At first I thought that was his angle to get in Naz’s head and gain his confidence just to pry the truth from him. By the time he meets with prosecuting attorney Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) I am second guessing myself. We shall see how that plays out.
Now, let’s single out a few good scenes that accent more of that great writing from Richard Price and Steven Zaillian. For example, there is subtle (there’s that word again) humor in each dramatic hour. In this particular one we have the scene in which the Khan’s show up at the precinct to be there for their son now suspected of murder. It is not a funny moment, yet it is as they discover they are at the wrong precinct. The scene of Mr. Taylor verifying and claiming Andrea’s body is an odd & surreal moment that you want to laugh at, but shouldn’t. Somehow I don’t think it is the last we will see of him! Great little moments so well thought out. Price & Zaillian should write for HBO all the time! Hey guys, have you heard of TRUE DETECTIVE and VINYL? They could have used you.
TWO CLUES – The opening sequence appears to be a dream Naz is having as he sits hour upon hour in his holding cell. He is reliving the night with Andrea in his mind or is he? Examine the imagery again. We hear Naz and Andrea up in the bedroom but yet we are witnessing it from the perspective of walking up the steps to the second floor. Who is on the stairs if Naz is already bedding Andrea? Was someone else in the house or is all this just Naz’s nightmare?
The second clue is the CSI team swabbing for evidence in the brownstone. They paid an awful lot of attention to the trophy mount on the wall. Was the viscous liquid swabbed blood? How did it get there? The camera work certainly wanted us to note that. Just like it focused on the blood on the post at the bottom of the stairs as the body bag maneuvered over it. Perhaps the blood at these locales do not match the sample from the victim and the now accused?
So many questions with more to come in Part III.