The Night Of: The Art of War

Aug 03, 2016 by Sarah Moffatt

It’s halftime on The Night Of, and like most sporting events, it’s time for a momentum shift. With such an evocative title, this episode gave a heavy dose of foreshadowing, but for whom?

I hadn’t read The Art of War by Sun Tzu before it was mentioned in this episode of the same name, so I’d like to think I have a pure view and analysis of how it connects with Stone and his efforts to lead Nazir to freedom, and Nazir’s adjustment to life at Rikers. (I’d also like to think I’m not the only one obsessed enough with this show to have read the book cover to cover the day after the episode aired.)

Based on the seven questions Sun Tzu says you can answer to predict who will prevail in any given conflict, I’m not very optimistic for Nasir. The answer to every question is either Detective Box or the prosecution, so it looks like Nasir will be convicted of first degree murder (as the charges stand now, anyway) and sentenced to life in prison. Stone’s lack of murder-trial experience and reputation as a bottom-feeder has worked against him quite a bit so far, and according to The Art of War, it will continue to do so:

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

Or perhaps he’s acquainted with a different evil of war: One big advantage that Stone has is his comfort working with the darker side of society. He’s never handled a murder case, but he’s spent enough time with other creatures of the night to know how to find them, to interact with them, and most importantly, to get them to talk. I wonder if we won’t see that play in his favor in uncovering what really happened. We’ve seen enough of Stone being dismissed because of his skin condition that I’m starting to think maybe that’ll somehow play into his strategy of winning Nasir’s case.

For his part, Nasir is quickly learning how to tell friend from foe in prison. After his fellow inmates set his bed on fire, Nasir lost his only friend in prison and gained about a hundred more enemies. Turns out, prisoners have a code: Don’t rape and murder women. It has to be discouraging and intimidating to be in a prison and know everyone hates you and the likelihood of being harmed in some way is 99%, which makes Freddy’s role in Nasir’s life all the more important. For the low, low price of knowledge, Freddie offers to protect Nasir in prison as long as he will teach him collegiate-level material – turns out that Harvard shirt he entered the prison in is going to do him more good than harm, at least in this case.

Freddy recommends Nasir read Jack London’s Call of The Wild to learn the prison code. Nasir says he’s already read it, but I hadn’t so I decided to do as I did with The Art of War and check that off my reading list.

Obviously, our main character Buck is Nasir: a St. Bernard-Scotch Shepherd happily living with his owner in California (Nasir living in Queens, minding his own business) until he’s stolen one night and sold into a world he doesn’t belong (arrested for murder) – somewhere primitive where he becomes less and less civilized (Rikers). Buck, however, ends up fighting for survival no matter the cost, so for Nasir’s sake, I hope this isn’t foreshadowing his time at Rikers – he has very few friends and the only thing he’s heard consistently from friend and foe alike is to stand his ground. Perhaps the prosecution’s motivation to fast-track his case due to media spoilage will help to curb any further shenanigans Nasir might find himself a part of, shenanigans that would keep him in the big house no matter the trial outcome.

Watch The Night Of Sunday at 9pm ET or catch up on HBO on-demand.

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