The reordering of Your Honor from a limited series to a somewhat less limited series has opened up a kind of power vacuum at the top, particularly given Michael Desiato’s situation. In the first season, the action was driven by the tragic decisions he made on his son’s behalf and their corrosive effect on his soul. Now he’s drifting like a ghost outside the action, shunned by most of his friends, booted from his home and his courtroom, and still waiting for his chance at redemption. Bryan Cranston has started this second season as part of the ensemble but is not yet at the center of it.
Enter Hope Davis as Gina Baxter. Last week, Gina treated her son Carlo to a hearty Oedipal embrace, making it absolutely clear to her gangster husband Jimmy that she favors the boy’s hair-trigger temperament over Jimmy’s more patient approach. Never mind that Eugene had reason to be upset about the Baxters murdering his entire family — Carlo must be avenged today. This week, Davis makes her first appearance at a grief counseling circle, and the most immediately striking thing about her performance is Gina’s posture: Hunched forward, legs splayed, ready for attack. She rolls her eyes at a tearful testimonial, chastising the group for their “collective whining.”
Asked why she keeps attending, Gina’s contempt deepens: “How would I fill my Thursday nights if I’m not listening to a grown woman talk on and on about losing her mommy?” There are shades of Tony Soprano to Gina’s posturing in this therapeutic setting, an alpha-(fe)male hostility toward the entire touchy-feely business of mental health. But like Tony, she’s listening intently. She’s trying to find answers for the pain she carries over her son Rocco, but she’s not the type to marinate in grief or work toward achieving some inner solace. Just as Tony used his psychological breakthroughs with Dr. Melfi to clarify and weaponize his own vile purpose, Gina uses her Thursdays to plot. She decides that anger is the stage of grief that she prefers and has no intention of moving on from it. “Anger is where I flourish,” she concludes.
It’s sometimes hard to tell whether Davis’s performance gives Your Honor a boost or knocks its more sober intentions off-balance, but in another ho-hum episode like “Chapter Twelve,” you take whatever moments of excitement you can get. The show is working hard this season to turn Big Mo into a major character rather than the one criminal powerful enough to offer protection for an underprivileged Black teenager like Eugene. And so many minutes of precious screen time are given to Big Mo’s effort to buy a jazz nightclub that its owner doesn’t want to sell. She doesn’t make him an offer he can’t refuse, so he refuses it because he’d rather not hand over his business to a known drug dealer. So two more scenes are necessary: the first is a meeting where Big Mo exploits her ties with Mayor Figaro, who gently requests that she curtail the number of overdoses connected to her product, and then another meeting where Figaro finagles the sale.
Perhaps there will be some payoff down the line when the club becomes an important hub of activity like the hotel is to the Baxters. But getting to that point is a bit of a slog, as are the details surrounding Desire’s illicit business, which has to refocus after a bad batch of product caused overdoses around the city. This leads Lil Mo out of town to explore a new connection who has more than enough quality stuff — so much, in fact, that he can’t afford to buy it in the requisite bulk. Lil Mo having the scrounge up an enormous amount of money to pay a supplier he’s just met sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but it doesn’t happen here. That’s another blah subplot that’s been kicked down the road.
Meanwhile, Michael adjusts to life on the outside. He makes a beeline from prison to his old house, which is now occupied by a happy, complete family with a dog. He takes temporary residence with his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Guthrie (the great Margo Martindale), who reluctantly takes him in and winds up discovering that he’s been sleeping in her pantry instead of the guest room. Michael seems to long for the confinement of a prison cell — or maybe he just feels like he deserves more punishment than the state has given him. At one point, he works a dog leash into a noose to end his agony once and for all, but Elizabeth’s lovable pup trots up to him, eager for a walk.
His salvation may arrive when he can help bring down the Baxters, but Fia provides him with a reason to live. The two have a touching exchange when he slouches into her hotel with an order from the butcher shop where Olivia Delmont has gotten him a delivery job, and Fia follows through at the end by revealing that he has a grandchild named after her brother and his son — Rocco Adam Baxter. This would seem to complicate the tensions between Michael and the Baxters, who are family now, but that remains to be seen. Gina is out for blood. And if this early part of the season continues to drag along rudderlessly, Hope Davis stands ready to hijack the show completely.
• More Gina in grief counseling, when a participant says their pain is exactly the same: “Your son was a heroin addict. My son was an angel who was taken from me.”
• Therapy isn’t the only arena Gina terrorizes in this episode. She’s also lost patience with Fia for moving into the hotel semi-permanently. “Moving out of your parents’ house and into their hotel,” she snorts. “You’re the model of an independent woman.” And when Fia tries to retort, she gets a slap across the face.
• Fia’s connection with Michael obviously stands as a serious wedge between him and the Baxter family, but Jimmy Baxter isn’t a happy man, either. He and Gina don’t share a bedroom anymore. And when she comes in to use the shower after a workout, he dramatically climbs out of bed and leaves her behind. They are not on the same page.
• Michael’s past looks to play an intriguing role this season because he rendered so many judgments in his courtroom. A security guard is unhappy to have to enforce his restriction from City Hall, and his boss at the butcher shop fondly recalls him reducing a 14-year sentence to eight months, which might explain how he has a butcher shop at all. He may have many such hidden allies in the city.
• Genuinely nice piece of writing on the impermanence of New Orleans in this speech by Figaro: “You can’t dig graves deep enough in this city to hide them from the storms. Water will get to the bodies every time. Only sure thing about the dirt beneath our feet is that it’ll wash away one day.”
• Michael might have his mother-in-law and Figaro in his corner, but his detective friend, Nancy Costello, won’t be coming around any time soon. “When your guardian angel vanishes,” she tells him, “I’m going to be the next thing you see.”