In Which We Think About Both Of The Men

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The Object of Their Affections

by ADA KAPLAN

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the fact that I love two men, and that two men love me. I’ve actually been thinking too much about this fact for the last two years.  There are good weeks and bad weeks, and this was an eventful one. For one thing, they’re both in L.A. now, and my intention for the new year was to free myself at last of this complicated and heartbreaking binary, but everything I do seems to make things worse. One of these men was my boyfriend for many years, and then neither of them were, and then the other man was, and now neither of them are again. This is because my latest solution is to “be on my own.” So I suppose I am single, though I wonder whether it’s possible to feel less so.

I have illusions, that I’m concentrating on my work, that I don’t need a man, that I am independent. I must uphold these illusions in order to believe in myself, as something other than the center of this enduring amorous sideshow. I call it a sideshow because it seems from the outside that’s how it must look, but to me, it’s my life. And I need my life to be about more than being the object of these affections, even if, truly, it isn’t.

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I’m ashamed. Whatever women may think, it doesn’t feel good to listen to a man you love and respect beg or cry, or tell you to pick him because he brought a superior toy to your cats. What it does is make you despise yourself.  It’s the fault  of a weak and indecisive mind, possessed of delusions of intellect and ambition, but moored in that loathsome covenant of female want. How important, really, is it to feel beautiful? To be loved? Important enough to ravage the pride of two strong, kind men? They’ve chosen to remain in the situation, and I have never lied to either of them, but I implicate myself.

So far being alone has meant trying to explain why. It’s something about feeling responsible for the whole thing, and shouldering so much love, that I’ve forgotten how love should feel, when it isn’t jealous or concerned with others, or sad. There was a day around Christmastime, when I made my alone decision, that I felt my life regain a sense of levity. I actually jumped up and down in my childhood room. This only lasted a day.

 

Being alone has meant buying an old lady roller cart so that I can wheel groceries into my apartment and a rubber gadget that allows me to open jars on my own. Being alone has meant failing at being alone, and convincing myself that I’m not at all interested in sex. This is mostly true, but there’s still a real part of me that cares. And if I cave and spend the night at the most recent boyfriend’s house, then I will pass the morning, which I intended to spend writing and working, because I am a serious independent woman whose priority is working and writing, as I did today, googling the 22-year-old girl who told him she wants to “bone down,” whom I’ve met briefly, only to be reminded by a fancy magazine that she is the daughter of a big producer, and prefers ballet flats to heels.  He asks me what he should do about other women. I want to scream, but I say I can’t tell him what to do. Why? he says. They always ask me why. He only wants to be with me, he says, why can’t I just be with him. It’s a question I’ve heard from each side many times.  The answer is because I love them both. And because I don’t have the heart, because I lack the strength, to choose, I have to say no.

After I spent the morning browsing hipster photo blogs, I cried. I looked at the manuscript of my book and wanted to burn the thing for being so futile and uninteresting. I imagined my life, and their lives, unfolding. They were married to beautiful women in ballet flats. They were carrying toddlers on their shoulders. I was glad for them, glad they were free of me, but also reminded of the scene in Legends of the Fall when Susannah sees Tristan with his happy family at the state fair, and goes home, sits down at her lovely vanity, chops her hair off, and shoots herself in the head.

I imagine myself married to one of these men, and seeing the other at the state fair with his happy family. It’s bad. Then I switch them, and it’s just as bad, Even if they can’t have me, I know they want me to live.

Ada Kaplan is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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In Which J.J. Abrams Tries To Murder Other Peripheral Franchises

Enterprised

by DICK CHENEY

Star Trek Beyond
dir. Justin Lim
122 minutes

What kind of interest do you have in hearing Idris Elba perform a distinctly racist version of his own voice as a pseudo-alien named Krall as Zoe Saldana, looking like the mom of everyone involved, screams, “You already got what you wanted! Let her go!” I hope the answer is none.

At the beginning of the interminable Star Trek Beyond, Saldana’s character Lieutenant Uhura politely informs her boyfriend Spock (Zachary Quinto) that she no longer feels attracted to him and she would like to part ways. She offers back a necklace he gave to her, but he allows her to keep it because it tracks her location. He will always know where she is.

This is the most entertaining scene in the entire movie.

Shortly thereafter screenwriters Doug Jung and Simon Pegg entertain us with the worst fucking cliche in all of Star Trek: the destruction of the Enterprise. Director Justin Lim has Idris Elba’s ships swarm and destroy the larger the vessel, and what feels like it should take only moments lasts a good half hour. Pretty much everyone survives, and the artifact Elba pursues is luckily safe. It easily might have been destroyed, rendering his tactics somewhat questionable at best and jawdroppingly nonsensical at worst.

But I mean you won’t want to be focusing on the plot here, since there really isn’t any. The entire crew is marooned on an alien planet, which would be exciting except there is literally nothing to distinguish this world from any other random place the original Star Trek cast set down upon.

The original Star Trek was always shit and the only reason that these movies even exist for J.J. Abrams to torture us with was the tremendous critical and commercial success of the follow-up television serial, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart singlehandedly carried the entire cast, but the writing was also very good at times and LeVar Burton wasn’t terrible either.

Star Trek: The Next Generation realizes a key lesson about the vast boredom of space intoned by Kirk at the beginning of Star Trek Beyond: if you don’t have someone to ejaculate inside of, it can get super lonely out there. Kirk is so completely done with space that he applies to become the vice admiral of an orbital installation named Yorktown. I guess if Chris Pine’s career gets bad enough, they can spin that off to series.

Pine’s enthusiasm is usually his strongest selling point, along with his comedic timing. In Star Trek Beyond you can tell that he was ill during some of the shooting, because many of his line readings are completely off and he sounds like he has a frog in his throat. The end result is the most unprofessional final cut of an actor I have seen in awhile.

In order to compensate, most of the attention is thrown to the Enterprise’s engineer, Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg). Pegg makes himself basically the star of this movie the exact same way he did in the last horrid Mission: Impossible jaunt. In that movie he at least had lots of great lines and a decent foil in the playful wiles of tiny Tom Cruise, but here his partner in crime is a bit more serious: an alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).

The thing Star Trek Beyond misses the most is any sense of wonder at all. Even encountering this strange woman on an alien planet who lives in the desiccated shell of a Starfleet ship should be a moment of astonishing vitality and novelty. Instead two seconds later Montgomery Scott is being called a cute nickname by the alien and they are bickering like old friends. In every conceivable way it can, Star Trek Beyond skips the B that comes between A and C.

The rest of the cast is given very little. The supposedly southern accent of Bones (Karl Urban) waves completely from scene-to-scene, and he is paired with Spock for most of the film for in-depth conversations about serious and important topics like fear of death and their respective futures in Starfleet. Elba’s Krall is not particularly calculating or fearsome villain, and the reveal of his true identity later on both repeats notes from the previous film and makes you wonder why they waited that long.

At the box office, early returns on Star Trek Beyond were that it was down fourteen percent from the previous film. That isn’t so bad, but the previous movie really struggled with its tone as well and it had the benefit of a far better villain and story. At least with Star Wars, Abrams can just remake The Empire Strikes Back like he did A New Hope and at least the story itself won’t be absolutely terrible. He seems to have no idea what to do with these characters; or maybe he has just realized they don’t have very much potential anyway.

The real answer is war. Star Trek was at its best when it turned space diplomacy into a canvas for the intersections of different ethics and views. A larger, powerful alien enemy is likely to be the focus of the next film, and there is a way to completely revamp this story into something compelling for a modern audience. First contact always has tremendous potential to make us reimagine our own ideas about what meeting other intelligent species in the universe would be like.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which Communication Is Good For This Line Of Work

I Won’t Give Up On Us

by ETHAN PETERSON

Mr. Robot
creator Sam Esmail
USA Network

With its low camera angles and unnatural-natural cinematography, Mr. Robot has never been the easiest show on television to watch. Eliot (Rami Malek) has a voice which reverberates at such low tones it can be hard to understand without subtitles. The Egyptian-American actor has a moment in the second season of the show, airing now on USA, where he explodes into an effluvium of natural speech, explaining his reaction to Seinfeld in a bubbly excitement. It is very funny to see him break out of the darkness, but it doesn’t last for long enough.

This is by way of answering the question of why no one is watching Mr. Robot. The explanation from the show’s fans after a promising first season have been enlightening, though perhaps more revealing of themselves than the show’s flaws. The truth is that the dark and merciless world Eliot operates in remains wildly pessimistic and optimistic, but in both ways it echoes the worst tendencies of our own.

The news on television is already bad. Mr. Robot tells people that simply by going to work they are feeding into this vicious cycle. Maybe it was like reading the beginning of The Communist Manifesto, the fun part before fully realizing the gravity of what was implied — control, fear, violence and deprivation. The hacker group Eliot founded in the first season of the show, fsociety, seems more and more like a terrorist group. In the season’s first episode, the group messes with the home security system of a corporate lawyer, who is forced to move out to her house in Greenwich for the evening.

One of the best parts of Mr. Robot was the story of Angela (Portia Doubleday), a security analyst for the evil bank that is the focus of fsociety’s hacking efforts. Despite whatever they accomplished in season 1, the financial industry seems to be moving on roughly as usual. Angela’s mother was killed by corporate malfeasance relating to a toxic gas leak, and yet we still find her working for this company directly under its CEO, Philip Price (Michael Cristofer), even after she has spearheaded a lawsuit against them. It doesn’t make much sense.

The additions to the cast are generally welcome, but their exact place in the winding narrative that Esmail has created will only become clear after six or seven hours of television. It is a long time to wait to identify with someone. FBI agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer) is the main addition to the cast, and she quickly becomes basically the main star of Mr. Robot as a masturbating loner insomniac who reads people as well as Eliot doesn’t.

Craig Robinson and Joey Badass have come aboard as Eliot’s new compadres. Both are excellent at playing off of Malek, but so much mystery surrounds them and every other aspect of the show that I understand why even informed fans of Mr. Robot might be confused. “Maybe truth don’t even exist,” Robinson bleats at one point in a park, stroking his dog.

The best part of last season was the rise and fall of Eliot’s primary antagonist, Tyrone Wellick. He has yet to show up on this season in any meaningful way, and it has substantially hurt the show. Christian Slater’s performance as the titular character is as awful as ever, and the machinations occurring within Eliot’s disturbed mind are no longer the novelty they were. None of this directly answers the primary question of why no one is watching Mr. Robot. I guess it’s because at the end of a long day, they probably don’t want to feel like cogs in a corporate machine.

Esmail has been writing much of this second season himself, and directing it as well. He is immensely talented at both tasks. Watching Mr. Robot, you can feel his singular vision for this world. That is what makes the show so completely different from anything out there. Because it hasn’t been focus-tested and revamped a million times, plenty of moments are rough around the edges, and performances and scenes play a lot more like theater than we are used to in this medium. Despite all its problems, you sense that Mr. Robot has something absolutely terrible to say. By the time it says it, we will all be watching Westworld or some shit.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which We Emerge The Victor Of These Events

service of the lord

The Friendship Mask

by ALEX CARNEVALE

She says the same thing, that bitch, that you do about me, that I’m an emotional cripple, by which she means that I don’t release my true emotions, that it’s a cover-up, what I show the world.  

Elia Kazan to his therapist about Barbara Loden

Elia Kazan decided to break things off with Barbara Loden. She had already felt, almost imperceptibly, his reluctance. She had recently told him at length of all the men she had ever been with. She informed him of her history, she said, so he did not have to wonder.

Enraged, Kazan began cheating on her whenever he could. She rehearsed her part in The Changeling all afternoon and evening at Lincoln Center, and he was free to stroll off from the set during those times. With a blonde girlfriend, he now exclusively courted brunettes.

One of these available women was a singer in a religious choir he had met in Tennessee. She kept her eyes closed while they fucked, mystifying Kazan. Another was a Greek brunette who tried to convince him to impregnate her and disappear. He refused.

While Loden was being fitted for costumes for her role, he wandered in Central Park one day and picked up a girl playing softball. She gave him her dead husband’s favorite sweater.

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Kazan’s friends feared that Barbara Loden had trapped him years before by keeping her only pregnancy. The boy, Leo, was now three, and Kazan had less than no interest in him. “I’ve never regretted telling Barbara that if she wanted a child it was all right with me,” he writes in the best show business autobiography ever penned, A Life. “Knowing my nature, wouldn’t you say she was taking a riskier chance than I was?”

Seven years into the relationship, Kazan was now weary of her. (“No one can tell me that novelty is not a great charge in sex,” he states in A Life, as if that were a revelation.) His numerous indiscretions only further convinced Kazan that he and Loden did not have love between them anymore.

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He planned to pick up Barbara Loden from rehearsal in a cab and head back to her place, where he would break the news gently. In the taxi, she immediately began complaining about how he had blocked her scenes, and criticized his directorial efforts in general. Kazan turned on her, dismissing his earlier reticence towards cruelty. She listened quietly to what he said.

Once her room, she took off all her clothes immediately, as she always did, to appease him. “I wanted to lie still on the bed and hold her,” Kazan writes about the post-coital mood. “But I noticed she didn’t like this the way she once had, and although her head was on my upper arm, and her leg over mine, she seemed tense, like a runner before a race. Then she said, with a casualness I thought feigned, ‘Daddy, I wish you’d tell me what you want me to do.'”

He could think of no real reply. Moments later, she said, “It’s either we marry or break up for good.” After seeing her home, he went to the apartment of the young widow. There he was happy for a time.

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When Elia Kazan had first introduced Barbara Loden to his friend John Steinbeck, the writer told him, in no uncertain terms, to stay away from her. Kazan planned to resolve his conflict with Loden by leaving for Europe; his therapist suggested he would feel better if he said goodbye to her. There, on a bench in Central Park, he met his son Leo for the first time.

Elia had been with his first wife Molly Kazan when he first met Loden. Ostensibly a playwright, Molly was not much of a writer and on some level, even after four lovely children by her, Kazan could not forgive this weakness. Molly first learned of Kazan’s penchant for infidelity during his not-so-quiet affair with the actress Constance Dowling.

He always made a habit of introducing his wife to his mistress, but his affair with Constance was so obvious Molly was told by a third party. His wife banished him to the study of their home, right next door to the bedroom, and seriously considered divorce. A friend gave her a piece of advice: “If you want him, you’ll have to take him as he is.” The only one who supported the director in the marriage’s impasse was his parents.

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He started up with Loden originally on the set of Splendor in the Grass. They had sex during every single lunch break. When the production was in New York, he would go home to his wife and their maid would serve the family dinner. He only stopped having sex with Loden when she became visibly pregnant.

Again he was compelled to see what Molly thought of Barbara, and vice versa. Unable to resist, he asked Loden for her opinion on his wife. “She’s a very handsome woman,” Loden said.

Throughout these lascivious trails, Kazan reveals he felt very little in the way of guilt. His penchant for self-acceptance in A Life reeks of 20/20 hindsight, but there is something else at work there, too, an essence his analyst identified and determined could never be fully repaired. Kazan did not long for other women because there was something lacking in his life. He had determined that this was his life: what primacy could any other part of his self claim, to stand up to that?

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Elia’s commiseration with Loden waxed and waned as the years went on. Sometimes she sent him letters describing an empathy she felt for him; at other moments she wondered if she even liked the man at all.

From his perspective, her innate destructiveness and lack of interest in how others viewed her was what attracted him in the first place. It was also the inner element which produced the natural charisma invaluable to her work as an actress and filmmaker.

Loden and Kazan continued to see each other, if infrequently, in the last years of Molly Kazan’s life. (Molly died from a brain hemorrhage in 1963, and was buried with her wedding ring.) Given a new primacy in his life after Molly’s death, Loden challenged Kazan regarding the stage roles he gave her. She constantly threatened to move to Los Angeles.

Kazan openly wondered to friends whether he’d required Molly to make his relationship with Loden work. He lost the ability to maintain an erection with her during sex, and attempted to break things off, as I have already described.

Free of Barbara, wandering the earth, Kazan felt somewhat alone. He wrote to Loden, suggested he missed her and asked her to come to Japan. They kept writing until she arrived, and when he saw her at the airport, he knew he had made a mistake. Still, she did everything she could to please him, and he responded in turn. She seemed happy to be with him again until Kazan told her that he had been fucking around with another woman in the month before she arrived.

Back in the U.S., Kazan continued seeing both Loden and his new mistress. (He was never able to manage much more than two at a time.) Again, his curiosity got the better of him, and he encouraged Barbara to confront the other woman he was seeing. Kazan called the girl to warn her Loden might try to see her.

“She’s right here,” the girl said.

“How are you getting along?” Kazan asked.

“I like her very much.”

Loden somehow emerged the victor of these events, and she moved in with Kazan a few months later, walking into Elia’s study and putting Leo in his lap. They were married in Kenya soon after, and a ceremony was held in the Caribbean. They were wed for less than a year before he found a mistress that would complement her better.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

you sure about that

 

In Which Motorbikes Claim So Many Innocent Lives

You Before He

by DICK CHENEY

Me Before You
dir. Thea Sharrock
110 minutes

I only break my post-Game of Thrones semi-retirement for Emilia Clarke movies. Alex started talking up this movie real early, claiming “It wouldn’t be like the Terminator movie b/c the Dragon Queen has to play a normal.” Boy, was he right. Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) proclaims in the first twenty minutes of Me Before You that she doesn’t enjoy watching films with subtitles because it requires too much work and she’s too basic to read.

Her dad is Bates (Brendan Coyle) from Downton Abbey because of course he is. When Louisa loses her job at the neighborhood bakery that seems to be giving away most of its food, her dad is like, “We’re really screwed now,” as the bakery $$$$ was all that was holding his small family together.

Louisa’s boyfriend is Neville from Harry Potter because half the excitement of this movie is realizing what other, peripheral movies the cast has been in. Neville is a long-distance runner, and since Louisa can’t share his passion for fitness because it is painful to run with her breasts, they start to grow apart.

By the far best part of Me Before You — although there are a lot of best parts since this is the best romantic comedy in awhile, even though there isn’t much in the way of comedy but who cares since the Dragon Queen is loving a paraplegic — is the fashion.

The costumes in this disasterpiece/masterpiece are stunning. At one point Louisa’s sister Katrina Clark (Jenna Coleman, who is a superstar in the making) wears a yellow shirt that was so perfect emblematic of her character that I began to sob quietly. Katrina is really supportive of Louisa’s relationship with the main antagonist in Me Before You, an ex-corporate stooge named Will Traynor (Sam Claifin).

I was once hit by a motorbike and the bike bounced off of me and everything was absolutely fine. It was a tiny little bike I mean who cares. Will Traynor is hit by a motorbike and he immediately goes down like a sack of potatoes and he never gets back up. Neville suggests maybe he should try a fitness regimen, which would make a lot of sense but Will pooh-poohs that advice since all the information he has from his doctors is that he’s pretty much incarcerated from the neck down.

Will immediately gets the idea that since he is in no way as sexually active as he was before the accident, that life is not remotely worth living. His previous girlfriend moves on and his mother hires Louisa to cheer him up between pithy remarks.

Although this setup isn’t much and anyone not attending the Republican National Convention can pretty much see where it is going, I have to admit some things that I did not expect and am ultimately not proud to have to say. Emilia Clarke is fantastic in this movie. It turns out that it is actually the shit-tier dialogue of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss holding her back. Me Before You lets her carry the action with a bubbly personality. You know what, Sam Claifin is really good too — he mostly just has to play off the Dragon Queen but she is always knocking things over and making mistakes but she never apologizes for them, she just accepts them as a part of life. I never knew how attractive a person like that can be until this movie.

It also helps that Emilia is a bit funny-looking but not without her charms. By all evidence her sister is the greater catch and we sense that when Will Traynor meets her family at a climatic birthday party at the end of the movie’s second act that he is maybe more interested in seeing where things go with her. But instead he gives Louisa these wacky socks that she was really wanting. You can never underestimate the impact of a thoughtful gift on making a woman want to dump her boyfriend.

Me Before You kinda slows to a crawl after that. Louisa and Will can only consummate their romance with chaste kisses. She never even plays around with his dick just to see if maybe there is an involuntary reaction. He likes having her in bed next to him and their lips touch at odd, bizarre intervals. To prevent him from wanting to take his own life she takes him to the horse track; I guess logically thinking that watching animals bred for human amusement would somehow cause him to rise out of his chair like Matthew Crawley.

The one reason that all of this inaction comes across so well is Thea Sharrock’s brilliant direction. She is completely spare with all of the varied emotions in Me Before You. To be honest, I was quite confused by that the different aspects of love depicted here and Sharrock keeps everything spare and understandable. Will’s parents are pretty unhappy with his choices but they treat him as an adult and abide by his wishes, even though it’s kind of hard to see why you would want to die living in a castle with Daenerys Targaryen waiting on you hand and foot and giving you soft kisses right before bed.

I won’t spoil what happens at the end of Me Before You, even thought my target audience has probably read the novel. I really don’t understand the negative reviews this movie got. I was legitimately hard throughout the last third of it, especially in this amazing scene where Will’s dad Charles Dance/Tywin Lannister chases after Daenerys at the airport. For a second, I was relatively sure that he was going to murder the poor girl. Instead she just rode away on the bus. From an airport. That girl sure was a normal.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

In Which We Think About How To Make The First Move

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

What is the right time to introduce sexting?

I don’t ask this question because it particularly turns me on. The women I’ve gone on dates with recently seem to expect a great deal of texting before we actually meet. On one hand, I understand this is a decent if potentially misleading way to get to know someone. On the other hand, I feel like sometimes the conversation peters out or loses a spark because of a lack of physical presence. It’s also tiring to keep up with some of these women, and I’m not sure how often to communicate with them.

I feel like if I introduce how attracted I am to them early on it will prevent me from getting friendzoned, so when is the best time to make that move?

Mike C.

just plain afraid to fail

Mike,

In my experience, there are three types of texters we need concern ourselves with to properly answer your question:

Women who don’t seem particularly texty. Some women just don’t love to text guys they haven’t met yet too much, since they view it as a waste of time if they don’t like you in person. Others are probably furiously texting other people and the fact that they don’t have time to text you indicates you are not exactly a priority. You can still make yourself a priority from there, but it is tough.

The best thing to do if you are getting mediocre responses to your texts is change lanes. Just call her and see where it goes. If she doesn’t call you back, she’s not interested anyway. If she does, you can accomplish everything that texting does in a fifth of the time and spend the remaining hours watching Workaholics.

Women who will text you a lot. If a woman is texting you a lot, she probably is looking for a relationship with a guy who will answer her texts. If you don’t answer her texts, you are not the type of person she wants to reproduce with. The positive side of this arrangement is that it gives you a lot of possibilties to flirt or as you call it, “sext.” You should only do this with a woman you don’t know in real life if you are (1) solid in terms of a connection or (2) you don’t give a fuck. Otherwise just stay flirty but keep it light. Otherwise she’s probably just interested in the attention you give her.

hard to say mia nguyen

Women who will text you a little. The story of Goldilocks and the three bears is a homophobic metaphor for almost everything in our lives. Did you know that Goldilocks was originally a disgusting old woman? The point of the story in Goldilocks is that we can never truly know who is in our bed, and afterwards, who has been there. She may have eaten the porridge also, she may not have, but we have no way of knowing. The truth is, the food is gone.

Many women fall in love quickly and heavily like Myrcella Lannister, but others are not so apt to be entranced by the text you send that contains the words “how r u?”

It’s important to know your strengths. If you’re not clicking with this person over text, I doubt that will suddenly change when you start telling her how much you love the MTV program Are You The One? Text communication is important, but it doesn’t represent how much you might enjoy spending time together, or even how she would text you once she gets to know who was in her bed.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Never Went To Jail For So Long

Savior Chic

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Night Of
creators Richard Price & Steven Zaillian
HBO

John Stone (John Turturro) finds it very difficult to drape his physique in the right way. He has long legs, perhaps a bit ungainly for the abrogated shape of his torso. His feet are coated with unsightly blisters, the residue of dyshidrotic eczema, and he claims he wears sandals in order to expose them to the healing air.

These winsome character traits are mostly a distraction for Stone’s work as a criminal attorney in the New York City court system, depicted here with an absurdly pleasing amount of over-faithfulness. Richard Price was tired of his books turning into garden variety procedurals since he put so much work into detailing exactly the way things are. The result of his frustration is The Night Of.

Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is just as fun to watch as Turturro’s overwrought lawyer. The sparring between he and his legal opponent becomes the main centerpiece of A Night Of, while the accused Nazir Khan (Riz Ahmed) is instructed to never speak. When he does talk, he sounds like a fourteen-year boy instead of the college student he supposedly is.

Every Pakistani-American male I have ever met is acutely aware of how American society defines him, but somehow growing up in an insulated Queens neighborhood Nazir remains blissfully innocent of the world around him. On some level we have to buy this conceit in order to believe in A Night Of, since it allows us to enjoy the story of a proud family of American immigrants turned into a showpiece for white guys to debate the true meaning of the justice system.

In the show’s first episode, Khan finds himself ensconsed in the blood of a woman he has met the evening previous. In his pocket is the knife which carved her up. Despite the fact that the lifelong abstainer was under the influence of copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, he never once entertains the idea that he might have done this horrible deed. And so what if he did? He’s still entitled to a defense.

Stone gives him this, hectoring him at length whenever Khan speaks up to proclaim his innocence or talk to cops. Price’s depiction of the entire process of Khan’s arrest and incarceration is the most realistic depiction ever done in this medium, and Steven Zaillian, who directed all but one of the series’ eight episodes, revels in each tiny parcel of procedure. Every single notation or moment within the process is adjudicated its own little sense of justice, until it begins to make up a larger moral whole.

Price has been critical of the police and larger justice system in his novels, but A Night Of is mostly about how great everyone is. As Dennis Box, Bill Camp delivers a star-making performance and gets most of the good lines here, going on and on to his Pakistani suspect about how he is the only one who really believes in the truth. The veteran theater actor commands the scene with his unmistakable presence; there is not even any describing his poise — it just emerges like a force of nature.

Price has always been interested in how and why people lie. Deception is simply the greater part of both Box’s job and Stone’s job. The dance between the two of them is the only sunlight in the bleak views of Queens and Manhattan. A Night Of offers this contrasting diegesis without much in the way of a musical score to tell us what to feel. The spareness adds rather than subtracts from the mood.

Scenes with Khan’s parents Salim (Peyman Moaadi) and Safer (Poorna Jagannathan) also take on intense emotional weight because of their novelty. Poorna Jagannathan’s understated mothering plays well in comparison to Turturro’s intensely louder role. We see John Stone at home, so sure of himself in everything he does, so convinced he is the hero of something. In The Night Of, no other people are afforded that same silly confidence, the braggadocio that only comes with being white.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.