Warning: This post contains spoilers for “The Night Of.”
HBO’s gripping new drama “The Night Of” is rightfully earning praise for its portrayal of the criminal justice system gone awry. However, what people might not have expected when tuning into the crime drama is a lot of talk about feet.
In the show, Nazir Khan (Riz Ahmed) is accused of murdering a young woman. An eccentric lawyer named Jack Stone (John Turturro) takes on Naz’s case only to be pushed out after another lawyer offers to take it on pro bono. However, Stone remains invested in Naz’s fate.
While there’s much talk of prison and trials, Stone suffers from a severe case of eczema on his feet. This character quirk is not a small background detail: it is discussed a lot. People are noticing:
It might seem out of place, but it is a surprisingly crucial part of this story.
It serves as comic relief.
The best dramas, from “The Sopranos” to “Breaking Bad,” know that you need to tell a few jokes.
Every time Stone scratches at his feet, it feels oddly like a breath of fresh air. This show is so relentlessly dark, and the stakes are so high, that you can’t help but laugh whenever Stone walks into a government building, or goes to a cemetery, wearing a pair of sandals.
It defines the character.
“The Night Of” is an American adaptation of a British series called “Criminal Justice.” In that show, Ralph Stone, the equivalent of Turturro’s character, suffers the same affliction. However, “The Night Of” took some liberties.
“In Peter Moffat’s ‘Criminal Justice,’ [the character] does have eczema, but we took that to a much further degree in our story,” co-creator Steve Zaillian said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It really became a part of his character and bedevils his life. It’s something that became — I guess you could call it a subplot — essential to his character.”
Stone’s feet are a metaphor for who he is. As critic Alan Sepinwall pointed out, his feet serve as “a physical symbol of the way his life and career haven’t turned out as planned, and left him a joke or an afterthought to the people in his life.”
It’s the most visible baggage imaginable. Because Stone has to wear open-toed shoes, he can’t walk into a room without everyone noticing his feet. The man, who may very well be a good lawyer, can’t walk into a room without being a laughing stock. And sadly, it’s why nobody will listen to his take on the case.
It became very important during a recent episode.
During the fourth episode of the season, Stone visits a doctor who gives him some tips about how to cure the eczema. The routine involves bathing in Clorox bleach and a heavy dose of steroids.
A pharmacist warns Stone that the possible side effects to taking such strong steroids include “hair loss, explosive acne, uncontrollable crying drags, shrinking balls.” Stone goes with it anyway. The decision he must make to cure himself mirrors a major decision that Naz has to make in the episode.
Naz must decide whether he wants to plead guilty and face a reduced sentence, or say he’s not guilty and face a trial that he’s most likely to lose.
Both outcomes are bad, but the former comes with the possibility that Naz won’t spend his entire life in prison. Similarly, Stone must decide whether to take medication that will alter who he is but also cure him, or to spend the rest of his life scratching his feet with a chopstick.
Thinking of this, it shouldn’t be a surprise then that Stone, who’s one of the few people who believes Naz, tells him to take the deal. Naz decides to ignore everyone’s advice and goes to trial. The fact that this show can be about both a life-altering decision, and a guy’s foot ailment, shines a light on how perfectly balanced and multi-layered this show is.
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