After an explosive first episode littered with clues, it only made sense The Night Of’s whodunit narrative would take a backseat as the background stories began to unfold. The second episode, “Subtle Beast,” peeled back the curtain on Andrea, Detective Box and John Stone just enough for us to get more questions rolling around in our heads, especially: who is the “subtle beast”?
We were given some important background on Andrea, the murder victim, starting with the biggest mystery of all: how a 20-something girl has a brownstone to herself. As it turns out, her father died when she was about 10 and her mother died sometime within the last year from cancer, leaving her with only one next-of-kin: her stepfather, Don Taylor.
Something feels off about Don. Similar to Hasan’s lack of reaction to the news his brother was suspected of a brutal murder, Don doesn’t really show much emotion as he finds out his stepdaughter has been murdered, or when he sees pictures of her body, or when he’s shown a photo lineup of potential suspects – though he does make a point to ask if it was an Arab. Which raises another question: why is Nasir constantly being mistaken for an Arab? Maybe it’s to show ignorance, but if that were the case wouldn’t it be more effective to have different people assume different ethnicities, like Afghani, Indian, Iraqi, or even Pakistani, which actually is his heritage? I digress.
Don makes it pretty clear Andrea has been in trouble with the law several times before, mostly for drugs. But when did her drug problem start? Was it after her mother died? I can’t say I’d be totally convinced her mother dying was enough to spin her into a downward spiral, but I suppose that all depends on their relationship. Instinct tells me it has to do with Don. He looks suspicious anyway, but the way he stared intently at the crime scene photo – something I doubt a distraught parent (step or biological) would be able to do for an extended amount of time – makes him even more so. And saying it wasn’t Andrea in the photo, only to immediately change his tune when asked take a look at the body to be sure – it all looks backwards from how a distraught parent would normally act. When he’s speaking with Box, he talks about her with a sort of disappointment or disgust, something you don’t hear people doing about the deceased (especially that soon) very often. Sure, he’s not drooling or barking at the moon (yet), but he’s just odd enough to make a junior detective wonder if the episode’s title doesn’t refer to him: is he a monster with enough self-control to keep it hidden? Then again, is there a “right” way to find out your stepdaughter has just been brutally murdered?
If we’re taking things at face value, it would seem that Detective Box is our Subtle Beast: soft-spoken and relentless. Stone uses the phrase to tell Nasir what kind of cop they’re dealing with, Nasir repeats the description to his parents, and from what we see of his investigation, manipulating the people involved without ever raising his voice, the term is apt.
Stone describes Box as a very good cop – not to be confused with a good guy – who (barely) plays within the rules; part of his game is manipulating people into believing the surface level of things, whether it’s the evidence pointing directly and only to Nasir (whether he believes it or not, which I don’t think he does) or that he’s doing nice things because he’s a nice guy (like giving Nasir his inhaler back). But we know better, he’s showed us as much.
When Nasir’s parents arrive at the precinct, the desk sergeant makes it clear they cannot see their son since he’s not a minor, but when Box arrives, he has a loud “argument” with the sergeant, asking why he wouldn’t let them see their son. Then, the sergeant quietly asks if he needs to argue with him more but Box gives him a “no, that’s enough, thanks” look, revealing the whole thing to be a skillfully executed ruse to earn the trust of the parents while knowing he can legally listen in on Nasir’s conversation with parents.
But when he gets frustrated, he can be a subtle beast in other ways, like giving Nasir a Harvard sweatshirt to wear to Rikers Island – the New York City prison known for being one of the absolute worst in all senses of the word – making him a clear target for both the guards and the inmates.
Or, maybe Stone is the Subtle Beast. We learn quite a bit about Stone’s professional and personal life in this episode, including the surprising fact that he’s never handled a murder case before. His ex-wife, Box, the judge at the arraignment, and almost everyone else he encounters is surprised to find him working such a hefty case. The judge even asks him if Nasir was a friend of the family or if it was right place, right time – a poetic parallel to Nasir – and, of course, Stone answers him with a sly grin. People that know him know he’s in over his head, which suggests he will either be a dark horse in this race to justice or he’s going to screw up Nasir’s case due to lack of experience.
This – the opposition of Box’s experience versus Stone’s lack of could be a signal things are switching tracks, which has made me question the outcome I’m looking for. Maybe the show itself is the Subtle Beast, and we’ll never find out who the killer is. In any case, Nasir’s fate will be determined by how Stone handles his first heavy-hitting case, the lack of competence shown by the police during the initial investigation, and how Nasir handles himself in jail and in court.