Like a cat, “The Night Of” always keeps us guessing. We’re alternately drawn to and thrown off by the HBO drama’s unpredictable behavior, whether it’s the unfolding of the central murder case, Nasir Khan’s (Riz Ahmed) baffling conduct in jail or defense lawyer John Stone’s (John Turturro) struggles with eczema.
Therefore, it’s appropriate that one of nature’s most enigmatic creatures — a cat — has added to the show’s mystery. The orange and white kitty in question has no known name and belonged to murder victim Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black D’elia). After putting the cat up a few days at the local shelter, Stone eventually saved its life by taking the cat to his own home – but not before saying, “It’s a stay, not a pardon. He may be back.”
Since then, Stone has made a few half-hearted attempts to adopt the cat out to friends and acquaintances, but his reluctance to keep the cat isn’t too surprising. After all, he already has eczema, and the walking dander carpet could cause additional flare-ups, no matter how careful he is to keep it in its own room. At the same time, it’s clear that Stone has affection for the cat — going beyond providing necessities like food and litter — as he actually bought the cat an assortment of toys and talks to the cat through the door as if he were a roommate.
Why would “The Night Of” bring back a detail that had seemed inconsequential and give it its own story line? IndieWire gives its five best guesses about the role of that darn cat below:
1) That cat is all of us. Perhaps it’s deliberate that the cat has no name — at least, that we know of. This allows the viewers to draw parallels from the cat to just about anyone. His life, buffeted by the winds of circumstance (his owner’s murder) and the whims of others (Stone’s decision to adopt him), nevertheless seems like a fairly good one: He has a roof over his head, cans of 9 Lives to eat and tinkly balls to play with. What then, are the events in our own lives that we’ve spent undue amount of time lamenting, instead of accepting? How much of our bad luck are constructs in our own mind?
2) That cat is Nasir. Naz is not a popular inmate, has a lot of evidence against him and defending him could be detrimental to Stone’s reputation. Nevertheless, Stone can’t seem to quit the case, even when the Khans chose another lawyer. Similarly, the cat can’t be unloaded onto anyone and causes detrimental, allergic reactions in many people, including Stone. Again, the lawyer keeps nurturing the cat despite the threat to his health.
3) That cat is Stone. The lawyer can clearly identify with the cat who is unwanted and deemed “ugly” by the shelter employee (worst animal worker ever). Stone has been divorced, has unsightly, socially stigmatized eczema and was even spurned by a prostitute. He’s tolerated and occasionally pitied by his peers (such as when the prosecuting attorney gives him a referral to get a good suit). It’s no wonder that Stone would have a soft spot for a similarly rejected creature that is nevertheless rather sweet and inoffensive.
4) That cat is tolerance. Naz’s asthma, Stone’s eczema, the cat’s dander. “The Night Of” seems obsessed with maladies and how our bodies create ways of fighting off what it deems foreign. Allergic reactions do not stay the same throughout a person’s lifetime, though, and one’s tolerance of, let’s say, cats, can be increased using immunotherapy or gradual exposure. Stone’s body may eventually learn to tolerate the cat. It remains to be seen if there’s a bigger message of tolerance that can be learned by the other characters in “The Night Of.”
5) That cat is a key witness/piece of evidence. With so much attention on the cat, it could make sense that the cat has a bigger part to play in breaking the murder case wide open and exonerating Naz. But that feels like it would be too pat a solution for what “The Night Of” has presented so far. In a show where truth is not absolute and not important to proving one’s innocence, we doubt that a cat — even with Duane Reed’s DNA under its claws — would be the answer to such a complex case. That being said, we weren’t at the murder scene and the cat was, even though he was outside the apartment.
In a lesser sense, the cat may not be the evidence but could represent Naz’s case. “The Night Of” has done an admirable job in building a mystery that had seemed clear-cut, but has lately become more confusing in light of Naz’s recent actions, such as allying himself with Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams), beating up a fellow inmate, shaving his head and getting jail tattoos. Donning the trappings of a hardened criminal like Freddy does not necessarily mean that Naz killed Andrea, though, and this conduct could be a ploy to survive while incarcerated. Stone sticking by the cat gives us hope that, in spite of Naz’s puzzling and possibly damning behavior in jail, he could be innocent since Stone is sticking by him also. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.
What do you think of the cat in “The Night Of”? Is the cat just a cat?
“The Night Of” airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.