“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”
That line, from the end of W.H. Auden poem “First Things First,” is quoted by Michael Desciato to Joey Maldini, Carlo Baxter’s best friend, as he prepares to become the star witness for the prosecution at Carlo’s trial. It’s tempting to say that Michael had some loftier intent in referencing Auden, perhaps suggesting Joey’s newfound isolation from the Baxters, whom he considered family. But it could also be like that biblical quote from Ezekiel that Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) likes to recite at a moment of reckoning. (“I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass.”)
Michael is getting a little cute here, and a little sadistic, too. He believes himself to be the sort of learned, high-minded intellectual who can make such a reference, but he has to be relishing the irony that he’s tainted this life-sustaining water. It’s not as if Joey is a remorseful man seeking redemption here — testifying against Carlo and the other Baxters, and getting a sweet government deal for it, is just a way out another tight corner for him — but he’s in a vulnerable spot. He is the lonely man suggested by Auden’s poem, living without love, and now even the water is a killer. Or a maimer, anyway.
If there was any time when Michael could hope to emerge from this cover-up with his integrity intact, that time has definitively passed. He’s entirely in scramble mode now, doing everything possible to save himself and his son from the Baxters and the law. The trial is the big grenade he’s falling on here. Rigging the court in favor of an obviously, flagrantly, remorselessly guilty thug like Carlo would take an incredible effort even without Carlo’s best buddy testifying that he bragged about splitting Kofi’s head open like a watermelon. (To underline the point, this episode also includes an incredible scene where Carlo’s lawyer is gently coaching him through his witness testimony and cannot get him to say non-vicious, non-incriminating things.)
There are no big holes in the prosecution’s case, exactly, but Joey’s testimony would have laid the self-defense argument to rest. In addition to Joey witnessing Carlo brag about killing Kofi, he can also testify that Carlo’s mother arranged for her son to be transferred to Kofi’s prison so he could have access to him. (Which doesn’t make that much sense given that Jimmy Baxter has goons on the inside willing to kill Kofi without Carlo getting his hands dirty.) It should be obvious, based on Carlo’s motives and the nature of his attack, that he wasn’t acting in self-defense when Kofi stepped into his cell. But poisoning Joey does let Michael sustain that precious shadow of a doubt, and he’s got more rigging to do.
The trouble is, there’s too much beyond his knowledge or control that’s starting to get away from him. That’s been the issue with Adam from the start, as he’s been on a passive campaign to incriminate himself for Rocco’s death and that campaign may finally be coming to fruition. He confessed to Frannie shortly after the incident and now he’s alienated Frannie by taking up with Rocco’s sister, Fia, which is like taking two giant steps into the lion’s den. Now Michael’s best friend, the politically connected mayoral candidate Charlie, knows that Adam did it. And Jimmy Baxter, through some casual Instagram sleuthing, knows that his daughter happens to be dating the son of the judge he believes ran over Rocco.
The noose is tightening elsewhere, too. Lee Delamere has learned that Kofi was taking the GED at the time of Rocco’s death, so he couldn’t have been responsible for the hit-and-run. (Was it really necessary for poor Kofi to have failed the GED? Give the kid a break. He’s dead!) New information is slowly coming to light about the death of Adam’s mother a year earlier, which seems timed to a big connect-the-dots reveal in the finale. And there’s some business about how the Desire gang figures into all these storylines, and what possible role Kofi’s little brother Eugene might play in either helping or exposing the gang leaders who have brought him under their wing.
Have I mentioned there’s only one episode left? The number of loose ends Your Honor needs to tie up next week is staggering to consider, given how much the show has opened up to down-the-ensemble contributions from familiar faces like Margo Martindale, Maura Tierney, and Chet Hanks. We’re going to have to get some conclusion from the trial, which will presumably dovetail with the Baxters’ reaction to that conclusion, which will presumably dovetail with Adam’s combustible relationships with Fia and Frannie, Charlie reacting to what he knows about Adam, Lee and Costello pursuing their independent hunches, and whatever revelations await about the war between the Baxters and Desire, and how Adam’s mother’s murder figures into all of it. A classic New Orleans gumbo, right? Or maybe just a gloppy pile of sausage, shrimp, herbs, and vegetables that don’t make any sense together?
But let’s give Your Honor the benefit of the doubt here. It’s been a reliably pulpy plot machine all season, so there’s reason to believe that all these little gears and springs are going to keep the show ticking until the end. A bigger question — and a question we must ask of all plot machines — is how meaningfully the show will feel once it’s over. Just as the ceaseless work of covering up the hit-and-run has clouded Michael’s sense of self, the show has the difficult job of not getting lost in the frantic details. Will it be a series about family ties, morality, racism, and systemic injustice? Or will it be a series about a bunch of stuff that happens. Stay tuned …
• It should be noted that Michael’s moral sense prevents him from taking the easy way out with Joey. His original suggestion to Jimmy was to allow the prosecution to allow Joey to testify, but give the defense a day to prepare to cross-examine this surprise witness. That would give the Baxters an opportunity to slip in and murder Joey before he takes the stand. By denying the defense any time and making Joey incapacitated himself, Michael finds a non-violent and elegant solution to the problem.
• Even though the odd circumstances of Adam’s mother’s (and Michael wife’s) death are hinted at in the first episode, it nonetheless feels like a cheat to table any information on her murder until the very end of the show. It doesn’t seem like we need any extra baggage here.
• Lots of shifty looks from Costello in this episode, including a big one after Joey collapses on the stand and Michael instructs the jury to toss out his testimony entirely. Presuming that Joey recovers, she will surely have questions for him, especially since she likes the idea of using him to break up the Baxter empire more comprehensively.
• “Let’s keep our social distancing.” It’s very strange how half-heartedly Your Honor has handled the pandemic. We’ve maybe seen one juror in a mask, and what little else we’ve gotten has been vague. The show should either be set during the pandemic or not, because this ’tweener world does not exist.
• All Carlo’s attorney needs him to do is two things: (1) Say he was “terrified” when Kofi, his brother’s presumed killer, walked into his cell, and (2) Say he was “sad,” not angry, when he learned what happened to his brother. But he simply cannot pretend not to be a macho idiot.