This Sunday night, the world will finally find out who killed Andrea Cornish on The Night Of , when the HBO limited series airs its Season 1 finale. Or is the series finale? It's hard to say. Promos for Sunday's episode are billing it as the latter — but executive producer Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) told reporters at the Television Critics Association that, although "this was designed as a stand-alone piece … we're thinking about [a second season]." So will The Night Of truly be a one-and-done? Or will it become what True Detective was supposed to be for the network: a critically-acclaimed crime anthology that tackles a new mystery each season? If it's the latter, then what will The Night Of Season 2 be about?
It's hard to get too specific about spoilers for the show's second season when we don't even know whether such a thing will even exist. And yet, there's one thing that can give us some pretty strong hints about the direction The Night Of will take in its hypothetical Season 2 — and that's the fact that the HBO show is based on a British drama called Criminal Justice . Running for two seasons from 2008-'09, Criminal Justice was also an anthology series, each five-episode installment following one suspect through the criminal justice system from beginning to end, from arrest to verdict.
The Night Of is very closely adapted from the first season of Criminal Justice, which featured Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as a young man who steals his father's cab, Ruth Negga (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as the stranger who gets in his cab and later turns up dead, a detective named Box, and a lawyer named Stone. And although HBO's version of the story fleshed things out a bit more, consisting of eight episodes rather than five, it still seems to be heading towards a conclusion similar to the BBC's version. So if The Night Of does end up getting renewed for a second season, it stands to reason that there's a very good chance it would be adapted from the second season of Criminal Justice. (Spoilers ahead!)
Season 2 of that show features an all-new cast of characters, this time following a wife and mother named Juliet who, despite having a seemingly perfect life, is charged with attempted murder after stabbing her husband, Joe. The lingering question is whether Juliet tried to kill Joe because she is mentally ill or because she's a victim of abuse — or some combination of both. Apart from exploring themes of both mental illness and spousal abuse, Season 2 also explores the effect of the criminal justice system on children, since Juliet has a 13-year-old daughter in addition to being pregnant with an unborn second child.
Eventually, Joe succumbs to his wounds and Juliet is charged with full-blown murder. But only after giving birth and being deemed a risk to her own newborn baby does Juliet finally open up and admit the truth: she was being abused. She is found not-guilty of Joe's murder, but she pleads guilty to manslaughter, ending the season on a typically bittersweet note.
Of course, even if The Night Of returns for a second outing, there's no guarantee that it will follow this template; after adapting one season of the British series, creators Zaillian and Richard Price could decide to strike out on their own and craft an entirely original season. But if they don't adapt Criminal Justice Season 2, their won sophomore season could still bear a lot in common with its predecessor. After spending a season with a male protagonist, it wouldn't be surprising to see Season 2 focus on a female suspect. And while Season 1 was heavily concerned with themes of race and class, we can expect Season 2 to tackle different, equally thorny themes; including but not limited to abuse, mental illness, sexuality, corruption, or otherwise.
Heck, even if Zaillian and Price decide to adapt Criminal Justice Season 2, they could approach it differently. While the British series featured an entirely new cast in for its second case, the Night Of showrunners could decide to bring back supporting characters like John Turturro's lawyer John Stone and Jeannie Berlin's DA Helen Weiss to usher the next suspect through the system. Or, fresh off the raves that Season 1 received, Zaillian and Price could recruit even bigger names to headline Season 2. Who knows? We'll just have to wait and see.
In short, the only "spoiler" I'm fully confident in predicting is that this Sunday will be the last we see of Riz Ahmed's murder suspect Nasir Khan. Whether The Night Of gets renewed or not, the only thing that's not a mystery is that Sunday's finale will be the end of Naz's story… for better or for worse.
Images: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO (2)