Exploring the Clues in HBO's Critically Acclaimed Miniseries 'The Night Of'

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Riz Ahmed is one of the stars of HBO's new critically acclaimed miniseries, "The Night Of." HBO

HBO's critically praised detective miniseries The Night Of technically premieres Sunday evening. However, thanks to HBO's other platforms, such as HBO On Demand, HBO Go and HBO Now, 1.5 million people have already viewed the first episode. When an audience the size of Phoenix has already seen the premiere episode of a whodunit, must we really tiptoe around the details of the storyline? Can't we explore the clues that screenwriter Richard Price and director Steven Zaillian have provided? I'm not talking about a full-blown descent into the Rust Cohle Detective Agency, but if HBO has already let the cat out of the bag (wink, wink), why can't we?

You've been warned, Neo, this is a spoiler alert. The blue pill is closing this window on your browser; the red pill is reading on. It's up to you. One last note: What you are about to read is not a betrayal of the sacred television reviewer's oath. HBO never provided me with an advance copy of this episode; if it wants to tease out a premiere in order to build buzz—and it worked (only Game of Thrones drew more viewers for HBO between June 24 and July 5, when The Night Of leaked)—then it tacitly permits us to share this with you. All of us who've ever posted a naked selfie on Snapchat only to see it go viral understand this basic tenet of social media.

Let's begin by recognizing that Andrea Cornish's killer falls into one or two groups: He or she is either someone we saw in the premiere or someone we did not. There's little suspense in our killer falling into the latter group, unless it happened to be the same guy who murdered Frank "Buck" Rogers in the premiere of Vinyl, which is a joke you didn't get because you never watched Vinyl, which is why HBO canceled it after one season, so thanks a lot. Anyway, let's assume that our murderer is someone we have met, or at least seen.

Detective Box and his colleagues at the 21st Precinct believe the murderer is Nasir "Naz" Khan, which is typical of the sort of ill-founded conclusion-leaping that occurs after a uniformed officer pulls the murder weapon from a suspect's leather jacket, as he is wearing it, inside the squad room. Cops, man. Somewhere, on another network, defense attorney Barry Scheck is insisting that the knife was planted on Naz.

The ways and means in which Naz incriminates himself are comic in the otherwise dark premiere, which argues against him being Andrea's killer. What would be the fun in that? But all evidence appears to point in his direction: When Andrea was fatally stabbed numerous times, Naz was with her alone on the Upper West Side in a brownstone that was locked. Or was it?

Let's jump to the final scene. Naz's father is standing alone in front of the family's home in Jackson Heights, Queens, on the morning of Saturday, October 25, 2014. He sees that his taxi—the one that Naz took without asking permission—is missing. The wide-angle camera shot casts him as a solitary, somewhat lost, figure. But what's that in the background? An orange tabby cat, not unlike the feline that lived with Andrea, is crossing the road. And there's your clue.

It is highly improbable that this is the same cat that Andrea put outside after inviting Naz home, as the odds of felines successfully crossing the 59th Street Bridge without incident are infinitesimally small. So what is the clue? This must be a wink from Price and Zaillian to pay attention to the cat's role. You may not have noticed it the first time you watched Andrea place her cat outside (Naz points to the cat and indicates that he has asthma, implying he is allergic to it), but a second viewing reveals that the latch on the outside gate to Andrea's ground-floor door fails to click behind her as she re-enters her brownstone. The gate is not locked, meaning that a killer besides Naz could have entered later that evening.

Of course, the killer may have been inside the apartment all along, even before Andrea and Naz returned home, but nothing in the plot suggests as much. So who are our other suspects? The motorcyclist in the tinted mask whom Naz encounters at a stoplight on Broadway as he makes his futile getaway; the African-American man who shot a hostile glare Naz's way after a brief verbal altercation on West 87th before he and Andrea entered her home; and the schlumpy, white, middle-aged neighbor who called the police after Naz broke the window of her front door because he locked himself out without the keys to his taxi.

If we've already met the killer, odds are it is one of those three. We know nothing about the biker, so let's winnow it down to the African-American with the baleful glare and the schlumpy neighbor in a bathrobe, who doesn't finger Naz as a suspect until the last possible moment. In a series in which a prevailing theme appears to be the turpitude of racial profiling, I'd put the middle-aged neighbor atop my suspects list. Besides, a voyeuristic middle-aged man as your New York City killer would be an inspired nod to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, albeit from a street-view window.

With seven episodes remaining, I'd put the tired-looking ("Do I look like a threat to flee to Europe?") neighbor as the most likely, albeit unusual, suspect. It must be him. Then again, that hearse driver looked a little creepy…

Exploring the Clues in HBO's Critically Acclaimed Miniseries 'The Night Of' | Culture