Michael Desiato is “the stubborn bastard in Court 14 who insists on putting justice over everything.” Those are the words of Sara LeBlanc, the chief justice, who had the Carlo Baxter case assigned to her courtroom until the police mysteriously pulled her over on DUI charges. Now that she’s been quietly shuttled aside for rehab, the case is back in front of Michael, and she can take some comfort in his peerless reputation for fairness and fastidiousness — as much as those qualities curb the pace of justice more than she’d like. It is plainly obvious to her that Carlo is guilty of murdering Kofi Jones, and not all the judges in the building can be trusted.
“Part Eight” opens with Michael laying out his shoes, socks, and watch in tidy order, underlining a point that the show has made repeatedly. Before the hit-and-run, his reputation for doing things the right way was unimpeachable. He may be friends with a guy like Charlie, who has his connections to New Orleans’s seedier elements, but he is in every way a straight arrow. And so the ugly business of protecting his son has completely upended his conception of himself, and with Kofi’s murder and the murders of Kofi’s family members, this grand deception has resulted in a cascading set of tragedies for which he is responsible. Having to preside over his own sins is the nightmare he surely deserves.
But the effect is, nonetheless, a gut punch, to the point where Michael returns to judge’s chambers after a witness’s testimony just to catch his breath. The gods simply will not let him get away with what he’s attempting. To put it in Breaking Bad terms, his treatment of Kofi Jones was a half-measure: Rather than come clean to prevent this innocent young Black man from pleading guilty for the hit-and-run, his solution was to hire him a great lawyer. That obviously did not work, and so the injustices have ballooned to an unimaginable scale, with several people dead and with Michael now in the position to deny justice for Kofi once again for good measure. He has to do it to save his own life and his son’s life — Baxter has given him a “deadline” in the most literal sense of the term — but his soul is in peril.
It turns out that tipping the scales of justice in the Carlo Baxter case is going to take a truly astonishing amount of judicial tomfoolery, and Michael’s first step is to make sure it’s done with limited scrutiny from the press and the public. Without mentioning the pandemic by name, he warns of a vague “existential threat” that might contaminate his courtroom, so as much as it pains him to jettison the principles of transparency and accountability, he says he will only allow access to lawyers, court staff, and family members. The second, more nuanced step is to frame the evidence in such a way that the jury will have to acquit. “I’m Gregory fucking Peck in there,” he tells Jimmy Baxter, who’s alarmed by how the trial is going. “Twelve of our peers will do exactly what I want them to do.”
Those peers are going to need serious convincing, because the opening statements and early witness testimony is pointing toward guilt. It cannot be denied that Carlo killed Kofi in his cell and so his lawyer is arguing for self-defense under the logic that Kofi ran over his brother and was coming back for another Baxter, perhaps on behalf of his gang. But that argument is undercut by the physical evidence, which suggests anything but self-defense, and by testimony from the victim that landed Carlo in prison in the first place, who talks about being assaulted and curb-stomped. Even with his connections, Carlo could not wriggle out of that verdict.
For now, Michael is laying the groundwork by minimizing the gruesome nature of Kofi’s death and targeting a juror who’s already leaning strongly toward conviction. He asks the jury to “forget” the frantic call Jimmy Baxter made to his son before his arrest — which, incidentally, implicates him for providing Jimmy that information — and he keeps them from seeing the graphic photographs of Kofi’s bashed-in head, though the prosecutor, Fiona McKee (played by yet another veteran character actor, Maura Tierney), paints an effective picture in their minds. After getting a juror’s note that signals a guilty verdict, Michael quietly sets about discovering the juror’s identity and manipulates the data on her phone to make it seem like she’s seeking information about the case outside the courtroom. That’s enough to get her dismissed.
That the juror in question is a Black woman reinforces a point about racial injustice that Your Honor has been making ever since Kofi’s arrest, conviction, and murder: That even a “good,” progressive white judge like Michael Desiato will allow Black people to become collateral damage when it suits him. Much like his encounter with his blackmailer’s dementia-riddled father, Michael uses his dismissal of the juror as an opportunity to explain himself in vague terms, just to have someone understand his actions. After learning she has a daughter, Michael argues vaguely for his own absolution: “Nothing is more precious than her — not principle, not courage, not conscience.” He has the audacity to want this woman he’s wronged to let him off the hook.
Meanwhile, his own precious child is still in the wilderness, pursuing a relationship with Rocco’s sister, Fia, while putting his secret relationship with his teacher Frannie on ice. Frannie has arranged to legitimize their love by quitting her job and possibly moving to New York, where she expects him to be matriculating at NYU, but he lies and tells her the school rejected his application. Adam also slips into his father’s courtroom during a particularly gruesome piece of testimony, which further undermines Michael’s efforts to protect him. There’s a lesson here, perhaps, about children growing into young adults before their parents come to terms with it. Michael has been shielding his son from accountability, and it’s preventing Adam from squaring up to what he’s done.
At a dinner to celebrate his acceptance into NYU, Adam drops a bomb on his father: He doesn’t want to go. He wants to take a “gap year” instead. When a crestfallen Michael asks if he intends to travel, he says no. He wants to stay in New Orleans. Adam is guilty of half-measures, too, in that he’s not coming clean about his actions, but he’s not skipping town, either. In keeping him safe, his father is also keeping him from growing up.
TV shows get away with “that clip has gone viral” moments too easily, even web-savvy ones like The Good Fight. Bernie Sanders bundled up on a folding chair in woolen mittens at the inauguration? Instant viral sensation. A clip of a local judge failing a sobriety test? That’s a stretch.
• That Mariano Rivera-signed baseball keeps making the rounds. Lee Delamere catches Eugene fiddling with it over lunch, so she takes it to Michael to see what kind of money the kid might get with it. (The internet says about $300 to $400, depending on the ball’s origins. Perhaps it’s the ball this MAGA closer used to play catch with President Trump.) Weirdly, the ball is present for the celebratory dinner for Adam but the boy never sees it.
• If you’ll recall, Frannie knows some incriminating things about Adam. Now that he’s lied to her and she’s spotting him holding hands with Fia, another threat to his freedom emerges.