The Night Of

If you haven’t started watching HBO’s The Night Of, you should. The miniseries follows Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as a Pakistani-American college student who, after a night of partying with a female stranger, wakes up to find her stabbed to death and gets charged with her murder. Based on the British television series Criminal Justice, the critically acclaimed HBO show features a compelling mystery which gives us a look into the devastating criminal justice system.

Nasir “Naz” Khan’s case is quickly picked up by a plea lawyer named John Stone, played by John Turturro. One aspect of the series that I’ve seen a lot of people talking about is a subplot involving Turturro’s character battling a weird foot condition.  On the show, Stone explains:

It’s eczema. My dermatologist says to keep them aerated — like that’s going to cure anything. I don’t know. Maybe it helps, I really can’t tell.

The affliction gets a lot of screen time in the first three episodes, causing a lot of viewers to wonder what possible purpose it serves in the series. So why is John Turturro’s foot condition a significant subplot of The Night Of, and what might it possibly represent?

Last night while watching episode 3 of the series (I’m an episode behind, I realize), I tweeted the following thought:

I published the tweet as a joke, but some of the responses were interesting enough that I thought it was worth further exploration.

John Turturro Foot condition subplot in The Night Of

The Fan Theories

Ric Peavyhouse provided a theory that Turturro’s character’s foot condition is a metaphor for our decaying judicial system. “It’ll seem like it’s getting better and then suddenly get worse,” he added.

Another /Film reader Lane Howard mentioned that some people think that the foot condition is a parallel to Nas, “since they both keep getting conflicting advice about how to fix their problems.”

Both are fun theories, and the series leans heavy on the metaphors. For example, the third episode ends with Stone leaving the victim’s abandoned cat in an animal shelter, with the character asking the attendant how long the cat has to be adopted before it is put down. After telling him ten days, the car is escorted down a hallway filled with barking dogs, echoing Naz’s situation in Rikers Island prison.

Winston Cook-Wilson has another theory that it is the character’s scarlet letter. You can read his theory in depth on Inverse, but here is a brief excerpt:

We enter into Stone’s life at a stage in when his hideous feet are one of his distinguishing characteristic (we see almost every character he encounters ask about or notice them), and in a support group with other men suffering from chronic skin irritation. … It becomes clear that, in the wake of his divorce — and as he’s become accustomed to his modest lot in professional life — he’s embraced his deformity. In the most basic sense, Stone’s treatment of his eczema represents the way in which he adheres to his own set of rules both personally and professionally. … He attempts every method and psychosomatic device when it comes to dealing with his feet, physically and psychologically, even as it begins to seem like something he may be stuck with for the rest of his life. It threatens to make him a social outcast as much as a professional one. But slowly and steadily, Stone analyzes and attempts to fix the problem. He exploits it in public situations to own it — to make himself feel better about it, like he can tackle it. When characters … watch Turturro scratch or tend to his feet, their face betray a mix of horror, disgust, awe, and often respect. Stone’s lack of fear, and worldly-wise perspective, is central to the action of The Night Of, and the drama of his blotched, burning feet is one of several microcosms of that.

The Night Of John Turturro

The Showrunners Explain

But what is the real reason for the character’s foot condition? What you may not realize is that the eczema is part of the adaptation. The corresponding character in Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice also had eczema. Executive producer/writer Richard Price revealed to reporters at the Television Critics Association panel that the reason that original character had the foot condition is that Moffat suffered from eczema and wrote it into that series.

He wrote me an email saying it went away in the last few years but, guess what, it came back. When you have a malady that is so personal it becomes part of who you are. I always put asthma sprays in what I write, because I have asthma.

That’s not to say that the feet aren’t supposed to have any greater thematic meaning. Price admits that critics and fans have “picked up” on their use of eczema “as a metaphor for the frustrations of finding a solution and the entire judicial system.” The Night Of co-creator Steve Zaillian admits that was not the original intention, but while the British series only had one or two shots of it, they decided to “run with it.”

It gradually became a kind of symbol, it developed in a very natural way, it spoke to who this character was. We did a lot of research on it, too, and it became more and more interesting.

Zaillian earlier told the Washington Post that it actually “became a part of his character and bedevils his life.”

It’s something that became — I guess you could call it a subplot – essential to his character.

Turturro, who doesn’t personally suffer from eczema, sat for hours with the makeup artist to “make his feet look just right, and didn’t even mind wearing sandals throughout filming, even though it was freezing in New York at the time.” Turturro has said that the foot condition helped to make “the character great,” and that “all those problems affect you… and can really wear you out in a big way.”

As for if the eczema subplot will have any payoff, Zaillian has said that it “becomes even more important in the last episode.” So there you have it, direct from the series creators.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: