“What does this guy know?”
And with that exchange, at the very end of a gripping sixth episode, Michael Desiato has finally dropped into the moral abyss. Some might fairly suggest that Kofi Jones’s prosecution and death in prison are also on Michael’s head, though at least in that case, he was working behind the scenes to get Kofi exonerated. Having Kofi go to jail for a crime his son committed is no doubt the wrong thing to do, but it wasn’t irreversible, at least not until Carlo killed him. But Michael signing the death warrant for the ne’er-do-well who tried to blackmail him is basically pulling the trigger himself. And now he’s looking to spare his life — and his son’s life — by heaping more injustice on the Jones family.
There’s an important common denominator to this business: Michael is never the trigger man. He’s always one degree of separation. He didn’t dispose of the Volvo. He talked to Charlie, his politically connected friend, who then talked to the gang leader Little Mo who then tasked Kofi, one of his soldiers, with the job. Michael could not intervene directly in trying to give Kofi legal help, so he cajoled his former protégé/current girlfriend Lee Delamere to give him the representation that a public defender could not. And, of course, there’s no way he could bring himself to shoot Trevor, the mildly sleazy blackmailer who spotted Adam at the gas station, so he starts payment on an expensive fishing boat. When Jimmy Baxter’s sudden appearance makes that loose end impossible to knot non-violently, he indicates to Jimmy that Trevor knows “everything.” And so Trevor catches a bullet.
To the extent that Your Honor is about anything, other than a good yarn that gives Bryan Cranston an opportunity to break bad again, it’s about power and privilege in a city like New Orleans, where the elite can make life-or-death decisions without worrying about personal consequences. Those early scenes of Michael covering up Adam’s hit-and-run — scrubbing the Volvo’s interior, gathering up bloody garments, tossing evidence into the river — may have a visceral quality to them, but it ends the moment he asks Charlie (and Lee and Nancy) for a favor. Then it becomes a show about the privileged protecting their own, right up to the moment when Jimmy has a gun at Michael’s head and he offers him a deal to tip the scales of justice in Carlo’s favor. That’s how the system works, even under these unusual and very personal circumstances.
Even Nancy — the ultimate by-the-book, we’ll-catch-the-bastard-who-did-this cop — is not above bending the law for a friend. After getting a partial plate number on the Toyota Camry that parked behind the Volvo at the gas station, Michael comes to Nancy with a story of domestic abuse and exploitation, and the scam artist who ruined a woman’s life and took off with her car. Whether the details of this story are partially real or invented from whole cloth, Michael’s gambit works to convince her to run the numbers through the system and allow him to peek at the four hits that come up. From there, he finds his way to Trevor through Trevor’s father-in-law, whose dementia gives Michael the rare opportunity to confess his sins. He isn’t so corrupted yet that he doesn’t have a guilty conscience.
What he doesn’t realize until the end of this episode is that the blackmailer was the least of his problems. After Jimmy and his chief goon discovered last week that Kofi could not have killed Rocco and that the esteemed judge had tampered with the surveillance tape, it was only a matter of time before they confronted Michael directly. The writers answer this threat with a clever (if conveniently timed) countermeasure: Lee’s continued work on Kofi’s behalf has earned her a second DNA test and a witness who can testify that Kofi was in Carlo’s cell the day he was murdered. And so just when Jimmy is ready to avenge his son’s death, Michael reveals that Carlo is about to be up on murder charges and he can use his position as judge to help him.
Now that we’re an hour past the halfway point of the series, Your Honor is suggesting a late shift into Michael’s courtroom, which is ostensibly easier for him to control than the chaos unfolding on the streets of New Orleans. The variables of such a situation, though, put a knot in the stomach: Quite apart from the moral wrong and honking irony of Michael working to get Kofi’s killer off scot-free, the amount of scrutiny such a trial would attract is mind-blowing to contemplate. The public and the media will care about a murder trial involving the son of the city’s most notorious crime boss, as will all the major players here, from Kofi’s gang to Lee and Charlie to the entire Baxter clan, who won’t look too kindly on a guilty verdict.
Michael and Jimmy are now effectively partners, though obviously the relationship is volatile in the extreme. What neither of them know is that Michael’s son and Jimmy’s daughter are currently seeing each other, which adds a Romeo-and-Juliet twist to the proceedings, albeit with the slight caveat that Romeo ran over Juliet’s brother with a car and Juliet doesn’t know about it. With Jimmy asking his daughter to bring her mysterious new boyfriend over for dinner, things stand to get a little awkward for Adam, who will have bumbled his way into a room full of Rocco’s immediate family members. How much Jimmy is willing to overlook to protect his son is an open question, but if Michael is any indication, his instincts as a father may prevail over all other concerns.
• Michael Stuhlbarg’s commitment to playing the mob-boss archetype to the hilt finds another level this week as Jimmy infiltrates Michael’s home and pees with the toilet seat down. He leaves a Polaroid on Adam’s bed to let the Desiatos know someone was in the house, but this is a more traditional way of marking his territory.
• Fia Baxter has shown signs of breaking with her family, but she’s walled up in denial about its supposed wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Adam seems nourished in some odd way by hearing her talk about Rocco’s death, as if he feels like he deserves to have his guilt enforced. The fact that Fia is a good Baxter, instead of a murderous sociopath, allows him to be harder on himself
• Adam wandering around taking photographs of an abandoned amusement park reminds me of a great detail in the fifth season of The Wire, where a newspaper photographer brings a burnt doll to insert in photos of the aftermath of house fires. A good photographer has to know his or her clichés.
• He may have died a few minutes later, but Trevor was on a boat. This isn’t SeaWorld. This is as real as it gets.