From in the opening moments of Episode three of The Night Of, people are asking about John Stone’s (John Turturro) feet. He can’t get through a scene without them coming up.

First, a grinning, snobbish young lawyer asks him about the eczema in the courthouse bathroom. Stone, despondent about the pile of negative evidence he’s just learned the prosecution has heaped against Naz (Riz Ahmed), says nothing. Naz, now on Rikers Island, eyes his sandals in one of their meetings; a security guard there asks Stone about them, suppressing a grin. Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) — the amiable state defense lawyer — brings them up when Stone goes to try to negotiate a manslaughter charge with her. To protect self-confidence and an amenable demeanor, he tells her they are okay.

In fact, they are the worst they’ve ever been. Stone wears cologne to counteract the smell of maple syrup from the Neospirin he applies daily, and according to the latest doctor he visits, it’s made the irritation worse. Meanwhile, he’s heading to a weekly support group for eczema-riddled, lonely men like himself. They talk about their dysfunctional personal lives as much as they talk about their skin. There’s no question that Stone’s rashes and sense of personal/professional fulfillment are grotesquely entangled on The Night Of.

The persistent, stubborn deterioration of Stones feet mimics his progress on Naz’s case. He’s working (almost poignantly) hard to project the air of a Real Trial Lawyer. After all, he’s been saddled with a major (read: overwhelming) case that he’s passionate about — the very first of his career. But projecting false bravado doesn’t get him any closer to intercepting any helpful tidbit of the state’s evidence, or to being granted the official right to represent Naz. His modest financial situation means that he has to ask for a retainer upfront to take the case on; he looks like a prisoner walking to the gallows while opening Naz’s parents’ gate in Jackson Heights to ask for it.

Just as it’s becoming clear he’s getting nowhere on the case, his doctor recommends he demean himself further by covering his feet in Crisco and covering them in Saran Wrap. “I can’t walk around in public,” he protests. “Why not just some WD40 and a Glad cinch sack?” Mournful string-and-piano music plays as he resignedly applies the Crisco to his foot over a bed of newspaper. Immediately afterward, he finally gets his chance to examine the crime scene — by now, stripped of any truly useful evidence.

Just like the Saran and Crisco, the intercession of wealthy, star defense lawyer Alison Crowe (Glenne Headly)— an experience trial lawyer who offers to take on Naz’s case for free — throws a definitive wrench into Stone’s plans for his future. Moving out of his prescribed corner of the criminal justice justice is much easier play-acted than done.

Crowe’s sniper mission reminds Stone that he’s pegged as the guy whose card the police hand to people like Salim’s fellow cab owners (they can’t retrieve their car because it’s been confiscated as evidence). Crowe easily talks Naz’s parents out of agreeing to hire Stone, explaining his normal clients (“Mr. Stone represents drug dealers and prostitutes…or rather, pleads”) and informing them that he’s never tried a murder case.

There’s no clearer tie-in between Stone’s professional failures and his feet than the moment in Episode three — just after he’s heard that Crowe has intercepted the case — when Stone morosely eyes a nice pair of Italian shoes in a store window before dejectedly walking away. The shoes are the promise of something better than his lot, but for the time being, that proves inescapable.

Photos via HBO