There was always going to be a lot — too much, really — to sort out in the Your Honor finale, which not only has to conclude the trial of Carlo Baxter, but mete out justice to Michael and Adam Desiato, and pay off the involvement of Nancy Costello, Lee Delamere, Charlie, and Kofi’s little brother Eugene, who is the only surviving member of his family. And it was hard to guess what shape justice would take, what narrative punishment would be appropriate for the Desiatos, who have many more deaths on their consciences than just Rocco Baxter and who could not be expected to get off scot-free.
It’s our demand as viewers that screenwriters be the administers of cosmic justice, which generally produces a tidiness that real life almost never mimics. And in writer Peter Moffat’s defense, there’s probably no ending that could balance the equation here: Kofi’s murder and the subsequent death of his mother and three of his siblings cannot be answered by any machinations of the plot, save maybe for the deaths of both Desiatos, three-fourths of the Baxters, and Big and Little Mo. (And perhaps a maiming of Charlie. Or an end to his political ambitions.) But Moffat essentially chooses The Godfather Part III ending, with the son catching an accidental bullet and the father cradling him in his arms, having paid the steepest price for his sins. It’s not a one-to-one comparison — Adam is guilty, after all, and Mary Corleone is an innocent — but the parallels are unmistakable.
But before casting judgment on the ending, let’s issue some verdicts on other parts of this rocky finale. One benefit of Moffat pulling the strings as relentlessly as he does is that many of the major characters have to confront the same “What would you do?” question that led to this cascading tragedy. Nancy and Lee, especially, have to at least puzzle over it a little before they can righteously grill Michael for his lies. Nancy discovers that the Desiatos’ clever alibi, a veteran watching the cemetery gate near Robin Desiato’s grave, remembers exactly when they visited, since it was the same day his unit was massacred in Vietnam. Lee also discovers that the blue station wagon was “stolen” the day after Rocco’s death and is mostly able to piece together the rest from there.
The strongest scene by far in the finale has Lee coaxing the truth out of Michael in chambers and hearing a full-throated defense of his behavior. “Justice and principle do not take precedence over the life of your child,” he tells her. And if the truth were to come out to the Baxters, Jimmy Baxter would kill Adam. (“Would the death of another 17-year-old make everything better?!”) Michael is asking Lee, at a minimum, to allow him to take the fall for his son, but she isn’t having it. He manipulated her into representing Kofi and now she’s devoted to seeking justice for her client and her client’s little brother, who has some damning testimony he’s ready to deliver for the prosecution. She’s giving Michael a chance to cleanse a fraction of his soul — and when it comes time for him to do it, he once again chooses Adam over the Joneses.
But let’s get serious here: Absolutely no way this jury doesn’t convict Carlo Baxter for murder. They don’t need Eugene to tell them that Kofi had stepped into Carlo’s cell to clear up his role in the whole affair. They already have a key piece of Carlo’s testimony crumbling under cross-examination and Carlo reacting by calling the prosecutor a “stupid cunt.” Carlo’s lawyer did not want her to have a “Perry Mason” moment and that’s exactly what happened—except here, the jury didn’t give Perry Mason the win. Despite Michael putting his thumb on the scales of justice, the show doesn’t do enough to make a “Not Guilty” verdict seem plausible. Carlo cannot be coached out of his vile impulses.
The show also botches the little bit of intrigue around Robin Desiato and her affair, a secret which Michael had been keeping from his son. One piece of this subplot made it to the “Previously On” sequence without ever making it into the actual show, but it’s never clear why Robin’s affair has much relevance to the larger story anyway. There’s a thin thematic thread here about Michael’s other attempt to “protect” his son from the truth, but the entire thing could have been edited out of Your Honor without anything significant being lost. We’d have gotten less Margo Martindale, but Margo Martindale’s time should have been better used regardless.
Now to the ending. Justice has to be delivered outside the courtroom, and Moffat tries to make it as poetic as possible by having Eugene buy a gun using the money from the signed Mariano Rivera baseball that Kofi had found in Michael’s car. If it wasn’t already obvious that Adam’s fate is connected to Michael’s moral failings, then Michael indirectly paying for the gun that shoots his son hammers it home. There’s a kind of justice to Adam getting killed, because Adam never did take responsibility for what he did, despite its impact on his behavior in the aftermath. And of course there’s justice in Michael losing a child just as Jimmy Baxter did—and just as another Michael, Corleone, did in the underrated yet significantly diminished final chapter to Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic.
But once again, tragedy has been heaped on the shoulders of another member of the Jones family. Eugene has survived his brother’s death at Carlo Baxter’s hands and the rest of his family’s death in an explosion ordered by Carlo’s father. It might be a comfort to him that his stray bullet caught the young man whose hit-and-run set all these events in motion, but he’s going to leave assuming that he missed Carlo and shot a blameless person. And he may or may not return to the Desire gang, which had set Kofi up on the car-stealing job and made him take the fall for Rocco’s death.
Perhaps that’s the intended point for a show where most of the loss has been heaped upon a Black family that isn’t powerful enough to defend itself. All Kofi Jones did was get paid to drive a car that wasn’t his. While Michael tried to give Kofi the best defense, he ultimately could not take responsibility for an innocent man taking the fall for his son, and he refused to allow Kofi’s only surviving family member to testify on his brother’s behalf. As a good liberal judge, Michael had intervened personally to block a false drug charge against Kofi’s mother, but the moment the stakes got personal, his devotion to racial justice abandoned him. That’s a solid thematic note for Your Honor to strike, but it ends instead on the bookend of another 17-year-old taking his last breaths, and on Michael screaming and crying. It’s all made to feel like his tragedy, and his alone.
• “I can smell a bluff like the mustard pot of a bad whore.” Some extremely colorful figurative language from Big Mo, though she probably does have Lee pegged in that scene.
Michael telling Adam the story of cracking Robin’s rib from hugging her too hard leads to a neat payoff later, when Adam finally meets Jimmy Baxter face-to-face and gets what seems like the Fredo embrace.
• The Vietnam veteran spoiling Michael’s made-up alibi makes his cover-up efforts a near-comprehensive failure. Walter White got out of all kinds of jams in Breaking Bad, but even Michael’s smaller and subtler fibs backfired at one point or another.