Showtime's mini-series, The Night Of, has a lot of great storytelling elements. The first episode does a great job of rooting the viewers to the main character, Naz, played by Riz Ahmed. Naz is an American born Pakestani student living in New York. He's a little socially awkward. He's not great with girls. Lives a conservative life that was forced upon him by his parents. And he steals his father's taxi to get to a party. But when Andrea, a young attractive woman, steps inside the cab, his life changes. He drives her all over Manhattan, does drugs, stabs her hand, then has sex with her. Then he gets arrested for her murder. We've all been there, right?
Most of the show is done well.
The characterization of Jack Stone, played by John Turturro, is fantastic, who I feel steals the show. He's a low level lawyer, feeding off of the dregs of society. But he has heart. We see this when he takes on Naz's case, believing in his innocence, and further more when he adopts the dead girl's cat, who was on its own death row in an SPCA center. Stone has a Columbo feel as he begins to piece together the truth behind the case.
When the crime scene is revealed in all its horror, blood has spilled from 22 stab wounds, covering Andrea's body. Blood is splattered everywhere. The bed is soaked red. Walls look like an abstract painting of Death in its throes. The cops nab Naz as a suspect in the murder. All of this is in the first episode, which is so well paced, by the way.
Right away we know Naz cannot be the murderer. There's no way. He and his clothes are clean of blood, aside from a hand wound, which we saw him cut on broken glass. So, as I devoured each episode, watching Stone brilliantly find new clues, plan new defense strategies, I waited for him or someone to explain why Naz has no blood on him.
And when the credits of the final eighth episode rolled by, I was like What the fuck? Did the writers forget that big ass plot hole that stared millions of viewers in the face? To be honest, there were several holes in the story. A lot for a show that has received well-deserved positive reviews. And you needed to watch all eight episodes to see the story collapsing under itself. However, if they filled in just some of those holes, the mystery might have disappeared and the resolution probably couldn't withstand eight episodes.
So is it cool to withhold information to the point of creating plot holes, to prolong the mystery and the tension?
I'm not sure.
I'm workshopping my book with other writers, and they've asked me similar questions. Why hold back information? The simple answer is to further the mystery. But holding back information when it doesn't make sense can create plot holes.
In The Night Of, the lead detective and a female defense lawyer peruse street and security footage that plague New York City. But it wasn't until the last two episodes when the writers revealed that there's more footage that could have pointed to another suspect, poking holes in the prosecution's case against Naz. They might have done that to focus the story on Naz and the weaknesses and prejudices of the justice system. Which is fine. But dummying down intelligent characters is not the way to do it. And for me it did take away from the brilliant pacing and genius storytelling because there were too many inconsistencies.