Film Crit Hulk Smash: THE NIGHT OF And The Devastating Cost Of Presumed Guilt

The haunting morality shrug from one of the best writers on the planet.

"No good deed goes unpunished."

IT'S A QUOTE THAT GETS THROWN AROUND A LOT WHEN IT COMES TO THE MORE SENSELESS ACTS WITHIN SOCIETY, BUT HULK NEVER LIKED IT MUCH. IT PAINTS THE PICTURE OF A PETTY UNIVERSE BUILT OFF CONTEMPT, IMPLYING A KIND OF MEAN-SPIRITED CAUSALITY TO SENSELESS ACTS THAT JUST NEVER QUITE MADE SENSE TO HULK. NO, THE QUOTE THAT BEST DESCRIBES SENSELESSNESS COMES FROM NONE OTHER THAN DON DRAPER, WHO IN THE PILOT EPISODE OF MAD MEN, GETS INTO A LATE-NIGHT TÊTE–À–TÊTE WITH SOME RIGHTEOUS BEATNIKS. THEY CHASTISE HIM FOR BEING A MADISON AVENUE SQUARE WHO IS DOING GREAT WRONG BY SELLING PEOPLE ON "THE LIE." TO WHICH DRAPER RESPONDS: "Well, I hate to break it to you but there is no big lie, there is no system. The universe is indifferent."

THE MAGNITUDE OF THIS IDEA HITS THE HEARTBROKEN BEATNIK, AND HE CANNOT PROCESS THE NOTION THAT THE UNIVERSE DOESN'T CARE ABOUT HIS MORALITY, NOR HIS SENSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, NOR EVEN IS OUT TO SCREW HIM... THE UNIVERSE DOESN'T CARE ABOUT HIM. AND IT DOESN'T CARE ABOUT ANYONE.

NOWHERE IS THIS PHILOSOPHY MORE CLEAR THAN WHEN A CRIME IS COMMITTED.

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RICHARD PRICE IS NOTHING SHORT OF A LITERARY HERO. LIKE MOST HEROES, HE IS UNASSUMING IN THIS REGARD, BUT HIS WORK, INCLUDING THE WANDERERS, CLOCKERS, LUSH LIFE AND THE WHITES, COUNT AMONG SOME OF THE BEST BOOKS HULK HAS EVER READ. HE WRITES MOSTLY REALISTIC CRIME NOVELS IN THE NEW YORK AREA, OFT CENTERING AROUND THE PATIENT WORK OF DETECTIVES, THE SOCIAL TAPESTRY OF BROKEN INSTITUTIONS AND THE PLIGHT AND QUIET DESPERATION OF ORDINARY PEOPLE (ALL WHILE SUBTLY DISPLAYING ONE OF THE BEST EARS FOR DIALOGUE ON THE PLANET). OF COURSE PRICE'S TALENT HAS NOT GONE UNNOTICED BY HOLLYWOOD, AS HE HAS SERVED AS WRITER ON THE COLOR OF MONEY, MAD DOG AND GLORY, LIFE LESSONS, RANSOM AND, PERHAPS MOST NOTABLY, HE IS KNOWN FOR HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO A LITTLE TELEVISION SHOW CALLED THE WIRE.

THERE HAVE BEEN WORSE RESUMES.

HIS LATEST TELEVISED EFFORT IS A RECENTLY COMPLETED LIMITED SERIES FOR HBO ENTITLED THE NIGHT OF, WHICH IS CO-CREATED WITH THE ALSO BRILLIANT STEVEN ZAILLIAN... AND HULK THOUGHT IT WAS NOTHING SHORT OF REMARKABLE.

IN THE DEEPEST THEMATIC SENSE, THE SHOW IS ABOUT SO MANY IMPORTANT THINGS IN SOCIETY THAT IT'S HARD TO REALLY PINPOINT ANY ONE, BUT HULK CAN ARGUE IT CERTAINLY STARTS WITH THE HIGH COST OF PRESUMED GUILT. IN THE SHOW, A YOUNG PAKISTANI COLLEGE STUDENT, STILL LIVING WITH HIS PARENTS, MAKES A COSTLY DECISION TO TAKE HIS FATHER'S TAXI INTO THE CITY TO GO A PARTY. AND IT'S SAFE TO SAY THAT A SERIES OF EVEN WORSE DECISIONS FOLLOW, ALL TO THE POINT THAT HE ENDS THE NIGHT WITH A PRETTY OPEN AND SHUT MURDER CASE STACKED AGAINST HIM. WHAT FOLLOWS IS THE DEEP LOOK INTO NOT ONLY THE LABYRINTH OF NEW YORK'S CRIMINAL BUREAUCRACY, FROM THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, TO PRISONS, TO THE CRIMINAL COURTS, BUT ALSO EXAMINING THE PEOPLE WHO STRUGGLE TO DO THEIR BEST AND WORST WITHIN THEM (IF YOU ARE THINKING THIS ALSO SOUNDS LIKE THE PHILOSOPHY AT THE HEART OF THE WIRE, YOU ARE NOT MISTAKEN). BUT THE NIGHT OF IS DIFFERENT IN A FEW WAYS. UNLIKE THE SWISS-CLOCK PRECISION OF THE SEMINAL DAVID SIMON SHOW, THIS MAINTAINS MORE OF PRICE'S LYRICAL RHYTHM, WHAT WITH THE WAY TIME ITSELF SLOWLY ERODES TENSION, ALONG WITH THE WAY WE CAN FALL DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE WITH THE CHARACTERS. AND WHILE THERE'S SO MUCH HULK COULD LAUD IN TERMS OF THIS SHOW'S EXECUTION, FROM ZAILLIAN'S DIRECTING TO THE INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCES (SOMEONE GAVE BILL CAMP THE ROLE HE DESERVES!), WHAT MAKES THIS SHOW SO VALUABLE IS THE WAY IT GOES DEEP INTO ITS EXAMINATION OF ONE OF THE MOST SUBTLY IMPORTANT FACETS OF MODERN SOCIETY...

AND THAT IS THE DEVASTATING CARNAGE THAT COMES FROM BEING ACCUSED OF CRIME.

FOR THE PERSON ACCUSED, YOU ARE SEQUESTERED FROM THE WORLD AND CANNOT LOOK PEOPLE IN THE EYE, SO THE DOUBT OF THOSE AROUND YOU IS OFTEN NOT SOWN BY YOUR HAND, BUT BY THE TANGENTIAL CONVERSATIONS OF EVERYONE APART FROM YOU. CONVERSATIONS TIPPED BY WHAT A GIVEN POLICE OFFICER SAYS, WHAT A PRESS CONFERENCE SAYS, WHAT A NEWSPAPER SAYS. AND YET THAT ALL COMES FROM THEIR TINY SLIVER OF OBSERVATION OR PERSONAL MOTIVE. YOU SUDDENLY BECOME A VICTIM OF WHAT IS IMPLIED IN EVERY SURFACE DETAIL OUTSIDE OF YOUR CONTROL. AND THE UGLY TRUTH IS THAT NO ONE ACTUALLY WANTS TO SORT IT OUT. NO ONE WANTS TO RECONCILE YOUR GUILT FROM YOUR NON-GUILT. NO ONE WANTS TO LIVE IN THE SPACE OF AMBIGUITY, BECAUSE IT'S JUST TOO HARD. COMMITTING TO YOUR GUILT MEANS TRYING AND RECONCILE SOMETHING THAT FEELS IRRECONCILABLE AND DEALING WITH THE ENSUING ANGER AND BETRAYAL. AND COMMITTING TO YOUR INNOCENCE MEANS PUTTING THEMSELVES INTO THE FRAY ALONGSIDE YOU, ALONG WITH THE FEAR THAT THEY'RE POSSIBLY WRONG ABOUT YOUR INNOCENCE. SO THE TRUTH IS THAT WHEN CONFRONTED WITH THE AMBIGUITY OF GUILT, MOST PEOPLE JUST REMOVE THEMSELVES FROM IT AS BEST THEY CAN.

SUCH IS THE WAY AN ACCUSED CRIMINAL'S WORLD STARTS TO COME UNDONE.

BECAUSE WHEN YOU ARE IN THAT SPACE WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN REMOVED, IT'S NOT REALLY ABOUT YOUR GUILT OR INNOCENCE. IT'S ABOUT MERELY BEING IN THE ARENA OF GUILT, WHICH IS A PLACE THAT NO ONE WOULD EVER WANT TO BE. BECAUSE AS PART OF YOUR CONCESSION OF NOT BEING ALLOWED BAIL FOR A VIOLENT CRIME, YOU ARE PUT INTO OVERCROWDED AND INHUMANE PRISONS. REMEMBER, NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE HARSH PUNISHMENTS OR WELFARE OF PRISONERS ACCUSED OF VIOLENT CRIMES, SO YOU GET PUT IN THE SAME ENVIRONMENT. AND THAT IS AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE YOU HAVE TO DO CRIMINAL THINGS TO EVEN SURVIVE OR GET PROTECTION. THE EFFECT IS CLEAR: TO INCARCERATE A SUSPECT IS TO TURN THEM INTO A SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY. AND WHEN YOU CROSS THAT WITH THE SOUL-CRUSHING BOREDOM OF PRISON (OFTEN SEEN AS A "HARMLESS" PUNISHMENT), THE INSTINCTIVE DRIVE TO DO DRUGS BECOMES WORSE. WHICH ALL ONLY MAKES IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR THOSE WHO STICK BY YOU AS YOU DESCEND DOWNWARD. AND THAT'S ON TOP OF THE DAILY EMOTIONAL COST OF PROPPING YOU UP, THE PHYSICAL COST OF PAYING YOUR LEGAL BILLS, THE CONSTANT FIGHTING FOR YOUR AMBIGUITY AGAINST THE IMPOSSIBLE ANGRY OR UNCARING SENTIMENT OF THE WORLD AROUND ALL OF YOU. ALL OF THIS MAKES THE VERY FEELING OF YOUR BEING ALIVE A BURDEN. AND YOU FEEL THAT SENSE OF BURDEN IN EVERYTHING YOU DO. THE SHAME OF THE ARENA OF GUILT IS SO STRONG THAT YOU QUICKLY REALIZE IT IS EASIER JUST TO BE GUILTY.

THE TRUTH IS THAT MERELY BEING PUT IN THE ARENA OF GUILT IS ENOUGH TO PICK APART YOUR PSYCHE AND DESTROY YOUR ENTIRE SENSE OF WHO YOU ARE. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU GET PLACED UNDER THE MICROSCOPE, ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE GUILTY OF BECOME SO CONCRETE AND UTTER PROOF OF YOUR LACK OF WORTH. AND ALL THE GOOD YOU DID? NOPE, THEY DON'T BECOME PROOF OF YOUR GOODNESS. INSTEAD, THESE GOOD ACTIONS BECOME NOTHING MORE THAN A FORM OF A BETRAYAL, A GROSS VIOLATION OF THE TRUST THAT THEY PUT IN YOU. AGAIN, THE TRUTH OF WHAT YOU DID DOESN'T MATTER. THEY WILL SIMPLY RESENT YOU FOR PUTTING THEM IN THIS DIFFICULT SPACE WITH YOU. AND THIS BECOMES YOUR DAILY REALITY. ONE THAT CAN WRECK YOU. ESPECIALLY WHEN THIS WHOLE DYNAMIC GETS TURNED UP TO 11 WHEN YOU ENTER THE ACTUAL COURT CASE. WHEREIN YOUR ENTIRE BEING GETS TURNED INTO A PETTY GAME OF TWO NARRATIVES WITH TWO DIFFERENT OBJECTIVES. AND THE "TRUTH" ABOUT YOU HOLDS NO WEIGHT... IT IS ENOUGH TO DRIVE ANYONE MAD.

AND IT IS AMAZING HOW MUCH WE DON'T ACKNOWLEDGE THIS.

BECAUSE THE OTHER TRUTH IS THAT PEOPLE OFTEN TALK ABOUT THE PRESSING NEED FOR PRISONER REHABILITATION AND ETHICAL TREATMENT, BUT THE PRACTICALITY OF WHICH IS AN ABSTRACTION FOR THEM. THE BIGGEST REASON FOR THIS IS THAT WHILE THE CONCEPT OF REHABILITATION FITS THEIR VIEW, THAT ACTUAL ACT OF REHABILITATION IS OFTEN INCONGRUENT WITH THE PSYCHOLOGY OF "CALL OUT" CULTURE. TO BE CLEAR, THERE IS A PRESSING NEED IN SOCIETY TO SHINE A LIGHT ON THE WRONGS  THAT ARE OFTEN IGNORED. THERE HAS JUST BEEN SO MUCH THAT HAS GONE UNCHECKED, WHETHER IT IS CORRUPTION, ABUSE OF POWER, RACIAL DISCREPANCIES IN ETHICAL TREATMENT, GROSS PRIVILEGE OR GIVING VOICE TO THOSE WHO ARE VICTIMIZED. IT IS ALL THE TRULY POWERFUL INSTINCT TO HELP LEND A VOICE TO THE VOICELESS. HOWEVER, IN SUCH A CULTURE WE DETERMINE OUR RELATIVE GOODNESS BASED ON WHETHER OR NOT WE HAVE POINTED OUT THAT BAD PEOPLE ARE BAD. AND THE PROBLEM WITH REHABILITATION IS THAT IT IS NOT ABOUT IDENTIFYING GOOD FROM BAD. IT'S NOT CARING ABOUT THAT. IT'S ABOUT ASKING "HOW CAN I HELP YOU DO BETTER?" IT'S ABOUT DIVING RIGHT INTO THE MESS AND HELPING TO TRY AND FIX AN ENTIRE PERSON. AND THE SAD TRUTH IS THAT THIS ACTION JUST ENDS UP FEELING LIKE MITIGATION FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE, A WAY OF NOT POINTING OUT THAT BAD PEOPLE ARE BAD, A WAY OF MAKING IT EASIER FOR THEM. AND THUS IT FEELS LIKE YOU ARE PULLING BACK FROM YOU OWN MORAL CONVICTION (THIS IS TRUE OF BOTH THE RIGHT AND LEFT IN DIFFERENT WAYS). AND THUS, MUCH LIKE NOT KNOWING WHAT TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT SOMEONE IS GUILTY, WE QUARANTINE OFF THE ACT OF REHABILITATION JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE. WE JUST ASSUME IT CAN HAPPEN, AND GO ON DOING THE EASIER PART OF OUR JOB FROM AFAR.

THIS NON-ACT OF REHABILITATION IS JUST THE FINAL INDIGNITY OF A SYSTEM THAT, DESPITE ALL OF OUR HUMAN PASSION AND EMOTION, JUST LEADS TO THE VERY KARMIC INDIFFERENCE HULK CITED AT THE TOP.  FOR INDIFFERENCE COMES FROM THE INABILITY TO DEAL. AND THE QUESTION OF POSSIBLE GUILT IS THE NUMBER ONE THING WE CANNOT DEAL WITH. WHICH THEN LEADS US TO THE INEVITABLE QUESTION: IF THE ENTIRE POINT OF ALLLLL OF THIS IS TO DECIPHER GUILT OR INNOCENCE, BUT THIS IS THE SYSTEM WE HAVE IN PLACE, AND THIS IS HOW WE DEAL WITH THOSE WHO ARE ACCUSED, IF MERE ACCUSATION ITSELF LEADS TO DEVASTATION...

THEN DOES THE SYSTEM EVEN MATTER? DOES GUILT EVEN MATTER?

THIS QUESTION IS AT THE HEART OF THE NIGHT OF, AND IS IT EXPRESSED SO BRILLIANTLY THROUGH THE DRAMATIC JOURNEY OF NASIR KHAN. IN THE END, PRICE HAS A PRETTY CLEAR ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION AND IT PARALLELS A BOOK THAT IS REFERENCED MANY TIMES IN THE SHOW: JACK LONDON'S CALL OF THE WILD. IN CASE YOU'VE NEVER READ THIS MASTERPIECE, IT IS ABOUT A DOG NAMED BUCK THAT IS RIPPED FROM CHILDHOOD BLISS INTO THE LARGER WORLD, WHO TRIES TO SURVIVE THE ILLS AND CRUEL TREATMENT OF THAT WORLD BY GOING FROM SITUATION TO SITUATION AND CHANGING HIS BEHAVIOR. BUT THE NEED TO SURVIVE THIS ABUSE, OF COURSE, TURNS TO VIOLENCE, AND FINALLY CIRCLES BACK TO THIS DOG GOING OFF WITH THE WOLVES AND BECOMING "WILD." THE NIGHT OF KNOWS THAT THIS IS THE BEST METAPHOR FOR BECOMING A PRISONER IMAGINABLE. AND IT IS ALSO WHY THERE IS SO MUCH LANGUAGE AND ATTENTION IN THE SHOW PAID TO THE CONCEPT OF SHELTER ANIMALS. TO HULK, THE POWER OF THE COMPARISON RESTS IN THE OBVIOUS WAY THAT SHELTER DOGS CONNECT TO OUR HUMAN HEARTSTRINGS, BUT IT ALSO INHERENTLY ASKS A BRUTAL QUESTION: WHY ARE SOME OF US SO GOOD AT EMPATHIZING WITH THE MORALITY OF SAVING SHELTER DOGS, BUT CANNOT EXTEND THE SAME UNDERSTANDING TO HUMAN BEINGS? THE ANSWER OF COURSE IS THAT ANIMALS ARE TRULY INNOCENT, LARGELY BECAUSE WE CAN PROJECT THAT INNOCENCE ON THEM COMPLETELY. BUT HUMANS ARE MUCH TOUGHER BECAUSE WE ARE MORE COMPLICATED. AND THAT COMPLICATION MAKES TRUST SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT. FOR HUMAN BEINGS CAN'T HELP BUT TIE INTO THE NOTION OF WHAT CAN HURT US BACK.

ULTIMATELY, A UNIVERSE OF INDIFFERENCE DOES NOT COME FROM THE ACT OF NOT CARING OR BEING CALLOUS. IT COMES FROM PAIN AND BEING AFRAID. HUMAN BEINGS CARRY SCARS WITH THEM, AND SCARS BREED A LITANY OF THINGS TO FEAR. AND THUS, TO AVOID GOING THERE OURSELVES, WE WILL THROW PEOPLE TO THE WOLVES OF INDIFFERENCE. WE WILL LET THEM BECOME FACELESS, AND THEN WE WILL SHUT THE DOOR AND IGNORE THEM. AND WE FEEL WE CAN DO THIS BECAUSE IT IS PART OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT. A LIE AGREED UPON. AND THE UNIVERSE WILL NOT JUDGE US FOR DOING SO.

BUT IF THE UNIVERSE IS INDIFFERENT AND NOTHING WE DO MATTERS, THEN IT JUST MEANS EVERY BIT OF GOODNESS, LOVE, FORGIVENESS AND COMPASSION THAT WE CAN MUSTER IS THE VERY THING THAT KEEPS SOCIETY FROM CRUMBLING. AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THIS "UNIVERSE IS INDIFFERENT" ARGUMENT IS NOT A CONVERSATION ABOUT GOD OR THE DIVINE. THAT'S IRRELEVANT, WEIRDLY. FOR IF ONE BELIEVES GOD IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SORT OUT INNOCENCE AND GUILT, IT'S ACTUALLY EVEN BETTER BECAUSE WE ARE STILL UNDER THE COMMAND TO ASCRIBE TO GODLINESS. MEANING THAT WE ARE MEANT TO LIVE A MORAL LIFE AND ACT IN KINDNESS AND FORGIVENESS, REGARDLESS OF GUILT OR INNOCENCE. SO IN THE NIGHT OF, WHEN NASIR GETS A TATTOO SAYING SIN ON HIS KNUCKLES, IT IS NOT THAT TACIT ADMISSION THAT HE HAS SINNED OF THIS GREAT CRIME, IT IS THAT HAUNTING REALITY THAT HE HAS BEEN LABELED AS SUCH. AND PERHAPS A WORLDLY REMINDER THAT WE ARE ALL SINNERS. AND THUS IT IS CONSTANTLY UP TO US TO REALLY TRY AND DEAL WITH IT. FOR THERE IS NO GRAND PLAN THAT WILL SAVE THE NASIR KHANS OF THE WORLD. JUST US. AND HOWEVER MUCH COMPASSION WE ARE WILLING TO EXHIBIT, WHETHER IT IS THE SIMPLE ACT OF BELIEF, THE TINIEST BITS OF BUREAUCRATIC KINDNESS, THE ABILITY TO WEIGH THE COST OF SOMETHING FOR OURSELVES AGAINST THE COST FOR ANOTHER, OR MOST SIMPLY THE ABILITY TO REFRAIN FROM JUDGMENT, THEN WE WILL HAVE DONE A TRUE ACT OF GOOD.

YES, THE UNIVERSE IS INDIFFERENT.

BUT THE ONLY THING THAT MIGHT SAVE US ARE THE KINDS OF PEOPLE WHO, DESPITE BEING ALLERGIC TO IT, WILL HAVE ALREADY TAKEN THE CAT BACK FROM THE RESCUE SHELTER TO SAVE IT...

AND YOU NEVER EVEN NEEDED TO ASK.

<3HULK

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