Off the top, congratulations to the writers of Your Honor for not following through on what would have been an all-timer of a telegraphed death — akin to Goose getting a visit from his wife and kid before a mission with Maverick in Top Gun (parodied excellently here in Hot Shots!, in which the Goose character is accurately nicknamed “Dead Meat”). It’s the opening night of Big Mo’s jazz club, and after nearly running over her new neighbor, Gina (and the camera) takes a good, long look at the marquee, which hails Janelle Williams, Big Mo’s girlfriend, as the featured performer. Then we see that Big Mo has a giant diamond engagement ring that she intends to give Janelle but not until after the show. Cue the falling anvil over the stage!
Janelle, however, miraculously survives tonight’s episode, albeit not before catching yet another glimpse of what her girlfriend does for a living. In that sense, her shock and disillusionment puts her in line with Fia Baxter, who’s been hanging out with gangsters for much longer and has learned how to turn a blind eye to the family business. Janelle knows that Big Mo heads up a criminal empire. At a minimum, she recognizes that the hot new French Quarter club that she’s performing (and not dying) in was purchased by dirty money. Just as long as she doesn’t see the brute gangsterism and drug dealing that paid for it, Janelle can look the other way and enjoy Big Mo’s tender side. But it’s a little absurd for her to seem heartbroken when she follows Big Mo to the scene of a robbery. To quote Claude Rains’s droll police captain in Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on here.”
Fia has been protected from the family business her entire life, but surely a family as openly vicious as the Baxters couldn’t have been successfully parading their fake legitimacy around the house like the corpse in Weekend at Bernie’s. As a mature-beyond-her-years teenager and now single mom, Fia has been trying to get some separation from her family without needing to learn more about it than necessary. There’s a long-standing, tacit agreement with her parents and sociopathic older brother that she will not acknowledge or investigate what she cannot see. When confronted with real evidence by Olivia, who needs an insider to support her case against the Baxters, however, Fia can no longer pretend the worst things she’s heard about her parents aren’t true. The first question is, What is she going to do about it? And second, Why must she put her future on the line for trouble she didn’t start?
These questions become a unifying element of his fairly solid episode of Your Honor, which keeps circling around the idea that the most decent, conscientious people in this corrupt environment are the ones who are asked to put themselves at risk to save a crime-riddled city. It’s unknown yet what Janelle might do, if anything, to stop Big Mo from turning a burglary into a full-on gang war, and Fia has to make an agonizing decision for herself, and Eugene, facing a life sentence for killing Adam, is pressured into giving up incriminating information on Desire’s operations. Two of the three of these characters are minors who are now paying for the sins of grown-ups — and it’s other grown-ups, the ostensible good guys, who are asking them to do it. They are getting an early glimpse of how unjust the world can be.
Fia and Eugene do have adults who are willing to put their careers — and even their lives — on the line to keep them out of harm’s way. Eugene’s dilemma is the more morally compelling of the two because he wants to be understood more than he wants to avoid a prison term that could take him into middle age and beyond. The prosecutor is willing to reduce the charge against him to negligent homicide, which would reduce his sentence to ten years (three on good behavior), but he needs Eugene to testify against Desire. That’s a scary proposition because he knows Big Mo’s people can get to him on the inside. So his lawyer Lee, who still feels indebted to him and his family, throws herself on the pyre, risking disbarment by attempting to blackmail the DA’s office by revealing evidence that Michael fixed a trial. That would effectively throw all the prosecutors’ convictions under suspicion.
But that’s not what Eugene wants. He wants to be able to tell the court that he isn’t “some thug who shot up a hotel,” rather that he had some human, identifiable rationale for his actions. Let’s not forget that this is the same Eugene who had a golden opportunity to have his revenge on Carlo after the car accident and refused to pull the trigger on him. He’s also the same Eugene who returned to the New Orleans lion’s den with that bag full of Big Mo’s cash when he could have tucked the money away for himself. He had good reason to seek revenge on the gangsters who wiped out his brother Kofi and the rest of his family, but it seems like he’s grown up even more since then. He’s trying to assert his decency, and pleading guilty without a trial won’t get him what he wants.
As for Fia, Olivia plays to her conscience, too, in order to turn the screws. Michael’s adamant refusal to help Olivia further in her case backfires terribly as she simply bypasses him and appeals to Fia, the best possible source anyway. All she has to do is tuck at the veil that Fia has been keeping over her eyes. She can’t think about, say, the Jones family dying in a “gas leak” when the evidence of her family’s misdoings has been laid out in front of her. But working against them would be painful and perilous and likely short-circuit a newly drafted “five-year plan” that includes a GED and Adam’s college fund, which Michael shifts over to her.
Your Honor appears to be setting the stage for Michael’s martyrdom. He’s been sporting a depression beard all season and was once so despondent that he was sizing up a belt to take his own life. And that’s not even counting the two times he’s had a gun to his head and been perfectly sanguine about his adversaries pulling the trigger. Fia and his grandson give him a chance at redemption, and his eagerness to step up in her place and infiltrate the Baxter family himself is the sort of death wish that suits him. Adam is his grandson’s middle name, after all. He’s willing to die if part of his son can live.
• Fia taking the GED is a bit out of nowhere, isn’t it? Not that we needed a montage of her hitting the books like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School, but caring for a newborn while managing family chaos would have presumably eaten up her free time.
• A lot of amazing opportunities this week for Hope Davis to turn Gina into a mob-wife demon of the first order. Her coffee meeting with one of the women from her grief group is amusingly brusque from the start (“I suppose I should apologize. I’m sorry I said your son was a heroin addict.”), and she’s even blunter in trying to wrest Carlo away from his father’s influence (“Just remember this: You came out of me”). Gina is a true menace, and Big Mo has the good sense to know it.
• Jimmy to Carlo on his “sartorial choices”: “The absence of a tie lets people know you answer to no one.” As someone who always has to watch videos on “how to tie a tie” every time there’s a formal occasion, I can now say I’m sending that message all the time.