There’s a scene at the end of this episode where Jimmy Baxter, still dressed in the snappy white tuxedo from his 50th-birthday party, has Michael escorted from the posh ballroom of his hotel to the drippy, fluorescent-lit basement area where presumably all his dirtier business gets done. (I wonder if this requires any upkeep? Perhaps staff members are directed to keep this area as atmospheric as possible.) Jimmy is furious that Michael seems to be developing a close relationship with his daughter Fia, whom he calls “the most precious thing I have in this world.” He’s suspicious about the judge’s motives for hanging out with his family. When asked why he was let out of prison early, Michael tells Jimmy that he was considered a suicide risk and the state didn’t want his blood on its hands. He then invites Jimmy to pull the trigger now.
This isn’t the first time that Michael has been genuinely suicidal this season. In a previous episode, he had briefly considered strangling himself with a belt at this mother-in-law’s place, and his Depression Beard was getting quite billowy until Fia cleaned it up. Yet his despair never registers — not here, not last season, not anywhere on the show. The writers are fine with the machinations of a crime series, but it should not be forgotten that Your Honor is intended as a tragedy, built around a noble public servant who sacrifices his integrity for his son, only to lose him to violence in return. It’s here that the show can start feeling a little hollow, despite all the work that Bryan Cranston is doing to communicate Michael’s agonized soul.
The connection between Your Honor and Cranston’s famous role as Walter White in Breaking Bad came up a few times in my recaps last year, and the show firms up that connection tonight by introducing Mark Margolis, who played the fulminating gangster Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad, as Jimmy’s influential father-in-law. The comparisons are never flattering to Your Honor — which isn’t fair, granted, since it’s hard to measure yourself up against one of the most acclaimed shows of recent vintage — but it’s striking the degree to which they contrast in emotional resonance. As monstrous as Walter White turned out to be, the pain he created within a family he ostensibly sought to support was always right on the surface, no matter how byzantine and bloody the meth business got. Michael is a far more virtuous person than Walter and much more earnest in his motives for breaking bad. Yet it’s hard to engage with how he feels because the show doesn’t seem that interested in it.
Ditto poor Eugene. Here’s a kid who’s already lost his entire family and home, killed the wrong person in an ill-considered attempt to avenge his brother, and is now under the care of Lower Ninth Ward drug dealers. He looks fearful and a little glum sometimes, but again, the trauma he must be feeling isn’t often invoked. And so he, too, is at the mercy of the plot machine, which in this episode has him sitting on a duffel bag full of Big Mo’s money while Little Mo and Trey sit in jail for assaulting each other. As the Houston supplier comes sniffing around Aunt Sheila’s house looking for the money, we can admire Eugene’s street smarts in beelining to Big Mo in the end. But he probably still longs to kill Carlo, and that seems to take precedence over the loss of everything important in his life.
The centerpiece of “Part Fourteen” is the 50th-birthday shindig that Gina throws for Jimmy, who surprises her (and seemingly everyone else) by giving Michael an invitation he can’t refuse. Jimmy also wants Michael to bring Charlie as his plus-one, despite the mayor rightfully fearing that an appearance next to the city’s most notorious gangster might be a political negative. At Olivia’s behest, Michael gets himself cleaned up for the party to be her “ears” on the event, but she’s already listening, thanks to a bug that he discovers tucked into the lapel of his new tailored shirt. Once Charlie turns up, Jimmy reveals the true purpose of his invitation: classic influence-peddling. He uses his birthday speech to shout out Michael, his fellow grandfather to Baby Rocco, and bring Charlie in for a photo-op with Gina’s father, Carmine Conti (Margolis), who has been so out of touch with the family business that he hasn’t appeared in the city since the ’90s.
Despite the power play against Michael and Charlie — which is personal, yes, but also essential for Jimmy in applying pressure for the riverside land deal — there remains division within the Baxter clan about how to handle their affairs. Gina summoning her dad from an island off the Italian coast is the ultimate show of no confidence in her husband, and she’s apoplectic about Michael being at a party intended for friends and family. Gina doesn’t comprehend the long play Jimmy is trying to pull off with Michael, which puts her in league with the hotheaded Carlo, who accepts yet another Oedipal gesture from her. She doesn’t even seem that engaged in the billion-dollar complex Jimmy intends to make because she’s putting family first and feels like the Baxters are getting rolled. (She’d have loved to see the Baxters’ chief goon slug Michael in the stomach, but the drippy, fluorescent-lit basement area of the hotel is a bit of a man cave, apparently.) Bringing in an Italian mobster played by the actor who starred as Hector Salamanca will surely ramp up the aggression, but the show is back to searching for a reason to care.
• News that Jimmy is over-leveraged in his bid for the riverside property is an intriguing angle, suggesting there’s more weakness to the Baxter empire than internal squabbling. With the Baxters also trying to overpay for the nightclub to get it off Big Mo’s hands, the cash-flow problem only stands to get worse.
• Olivia likening betting on Michael to wagering horses that are good in the slop: “When shit gets fucking messy, that’s when I’m betting you shine.” Seems like a reasonable gamble, given how well he improvised around Adam’s situation.
• Funny bit for Carlo to hit on the concierge by offering fake observational details about everyone in the hotel lobby. If he were actually that gifted, it would undermine his image as an impulsive psycho.
• “I don’t want you slumming. Don’t ever settle.” That’s Gina chiding him for making the moves on a staff member. There’s only one woman good enough for Oedipus.