(Note: This post has been cross-posted at my new home Agony Booth! Check it out!)
(Warning: This post contains some spoilers from the HBO summer series The Night Of, lots of cat pictures, and one or two very gross pictures of John Turturro’s feet.)
Based on the hit British crime procedural/mystery miniseries entitled Criminal Justice, and a posthumous passion project of the late Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini, The Night Of definitely raised a lot of eyebrows this summer, with its unflinching look at the criminal justice system and perhaps overly intense fascination with actor John Turturro’s foot fungus problem.
For some, The Night Of was about the inherent injustice of our criminal justice system, which places what many would consider an undue burden on everyone from low-end beat cops to district attorneys, demanding they craft a case that ends in the conviction of their chief suspect, even if that means purposefully turning a blind eye toward exculpatory evidence.
For others, The Night Of was about our prison system and its penchant for creating criminals and nurturing criminal instincts, before spitting half these guys back out onto the streets without the resources they need to do anything but commit crimes again, or, in the case of the wrongfully accused, commit them for the first time.
Still others felt like this was just the story of a kind-of-nerdy college kid who really, really should have stayed home from that “cool party” to which he garnered a surprise invitation.
I imagine there were others who thought the story was all about foot fungus. Because there was a lot of foot fungus in this story. Seriously.
And all those people would be wrong. Sorry, but it’s true.
The Night Of was actually the story of One Brave Cat…
Placed outside out of harm’s way by the victim of our tale mere moments before her brutal demise in the pilot episode (did she know what was coming? Did she save the cat because she couldn’t save herself?), this nameless orange tabby begins the series in a rather precarious position, alone and afraid in a world where literally nobody knows her name (she never gets one throughout the series; in fact, I’m not even entirely sure she’s female since it’s never stated outright, but I’m taking creative liberties here), and everybody seems allergic to her natural musk. (I’ve never watched a series where so many of the main characters suffered from severe cat allergies! What was up with that?)
Though a few kindly cops leave our nameless feline heroine a bowl of milk and some kibble just outside the gory crime scene, it becomes immediately clear that no one is coming to claim this orphaned kitty. Not the victim’s douchebag stepdad, nor her accountant ex-boyfriend (though in the end, I guess that ends up being a good thing), nor her drug-dealing waiter pal from down the block.
Enter attorney John Stone, he of the really gross feet, cat allergies, and penchant for sleeping with prostitutes/hanging out around the local county lockup to fish for new clients. At first, these two beings seem like the least likely of allies.
In fact, John’s first main overture toward our Brave Cat is to drop it off at the local kill shelter, where the teen working the desk admits the little guy will likely be euthanized in ten days because he’s “old and ugly”.
NOOOOOOOO! Oh the humanity/felinity of living amidst a superficial and ageist world! We’ve all been there, am I right?
Fortunately, John Stone is nothing if not a sucker for a lost cause. See: Nazir Khan, the boy he fished out of a lockup, only to learn that he was found near the scene of a brutal murder with what appears to be the murder weapon, covered in the victim’s blood, and his sperm all over both the victim and her bed.
So, despite his allergies, John decides to take a chance on our Brave Cat… albeit temporarily. “It’s not a pardon, just a stay of execution,” John insists to the teen, as he walks out with cat carrier in hand.
At this point, Brave Cat will take whatever she can get!
And admittedly, at first it’s not much. John’s cat allergies are so severe that he can’t be in the room with Brave Cat without gloves and a face mask. So the gross-footed attorney with the heart of gold relegates himself to sliding food, toys, and the occasional newly cleaned litter box into the closed guest room that’s become Brave Cat’s slightly swankier prison than the kill shelter, before heading out to: (1) defend our protagonist, (2) sleep with his favorite hooker, and/or (3) see one of his many foot specialists about the darn fungus.
But Brave Cat perseveres, keeping her spirits up, even when things seem to be at their bleakest, by sneaking into John’s bed for an ill-advised cuddle during one particularly lonely night.
Then come the dark days, when Nazir’s trial has reached its lowest point and a bereft John lashes out at the nearest party. We see him tossing Brave Cat’s toys and litter box in the trash and dumping the poor gal back at the kill shelter for a second time.
“NOOOOO,” says the teen working at the front desk, who has become as invested in this feline’s story as we all have!
And that’s the last we see of Brave Cat for a while.
We go through the conclusion of Nazir’s trial, and Stone’s rousing closing argument, and the jury being hung, and the D.A. refusing to re-prosecute because she knows the creepy ex-boyfriend accountant did it anyway, and Nazir being released, and us thinking the guy from Boardwalk Empire is going to kill him as he’s leaving jail, but he doesn’t kill him because he really likes him even though he got him hooked on drugs and had him become an actual accessory to murder in prison and stuff.
And all I’m thinking about this whole time is, “WHAT THE HECK IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO BRAVE CAT? DON’T LEAVE ME HANGING, DARN SHOW! I NEED ANSWERS, AND I NEED THEM NOW, DAMMIT!”
And then we get to the final scene. John Stone is back in his apartment, watching that Sarah McLachlan commercial. You know the one, with all the super-sad animals staring at the camera to the tune of that super-depressing “Angel” song. And John is crying, of course. Because anyone who can watch that commercial and not cry has no soul. (Then again, maybe he’s just crying because his feet are really itchy.)
John rises from his chair, and as the end credits roll, all of us viewers watching at home are thinking the same thing: “He’s going to go get Brave Cat back! He’s totally going to rescue Brave Cat!”
John leaves the house, and then it looks like the series is going to end on the biggest cliffhanger of all, because we the audience are still stuck inside John’s apartment and don’t get to follow him out the door! I mean, Brave Cat is literally hanging from a metaphorical cliff at this moment in the story. And I’m trying to mentally prepare for this as I watch, telling myself that it’s okay, because I can imagine in my head that John did go back and get Brave Cat, whether or not they actually show the act of doing so. This is what I’m going to need to do, if I want to go on living my normal life, after this show ends…
But then, just a second before the screen fades to black, a familiar puff of orange waddles across the frame. It’s Brave Cat! She’s been there all along! And better yet, now she’s allowed to leave that darn room! Severe cat allergies be damned!
Life is good! There is a god! Prayer works, people!
Sure, things aren’t all rosy at the end of The Night Of: Nazir has a drug problem, his community hates him, that nice lawyer lady lost her job because she made out with him (but surprisingly not because she smuggled drugs into prison for him in her bra). But that’s okay, because Brave Cat is alive and well in John Stone’s house.
Personally, I think we all can learn a lot from Brave Cat’s story, a tale of bravery, true grit, and how sometimes we can find hope and salvation in the strangest of places: amongst the most disgusting of feet.
And cat allergies? Totally curable. Just saying.