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Your Honor Recap: The Telltale Brain

Vulture.com logo Vulture.com 1/18/2021 Scott Tobias
a man looking at the camera: Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME © Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME

The last episode of Your Honor ended with Bryan Cranston’s Michael Desiato in a familiar Walter White spot, begging for his life and playing one last, desperate trump card. Jimmy Baxter doesn’t have the facts exactly right, which is crucial, but he knows that Michael played a role in his son’s hit-and-run death and Michael, eager to protect his own son, isn’t about to disabuse Baxter of the assumption that he was the driver. In a convenient — if elegantly rendered — bit of dramatic timing, Michael happens to know that Baxter’s idiot son Carlo is about to get rung up on first-degree murder charges and offers to tips the scales of justice in Carlo’s favor.

Baxter’s belief that Michael ran over his son and fled the scene sets up a compelling bit of role play for Michael, who’s been so busy scrambling to protect Adam (and himself) from the police and the mob that he hasn’t given much time to reflect on the incident itself. Baxter confronts him with the obvious question: What kind of human being hits someone with his car, steals his cell phone, and then leaves him to die? There are obvious mitigating circumstances, but Adam has spent this entire time asking himself the same question, with his guilt manifesting itself as a combination of self-destructive behavior and a kind of a numbing paralysis. And this isn’t even factoring in the injustices that have been happened as a result of the cover-up, which has claimed the lives of Kofi Jones, his mother, and three of his siblings.

Ironically enough, it’s Baxter who helps bail him out of this conundrum by talking about the lengths a father will go to protect his kid, which puts the men on similar moral footing. When Michael fire back, asking him if he’s told his children the truth about who he really is or about the supposed “gas leak” in the lower 9th, Baxter waxes philosophical about the pain of losing a child, noting not only the terrible pain and overwhelming sense of failure that goes along with it, but also a kind of freedom. “Nothing matters,” he says. “Not ever again.” Michael has not given himself over to such cravenness just yet, but it turns out that his nemesis understands how he feels better than anyone.

Still, Michael believes himself to be a good person. He isn’t so untethered from basic decency that he’d be unbothered by Baxter’s goon killing a witness at the marina or unfazed by having to dispose of his blackmailer’s body and clean up the blood and viscera scattered on a fishing boat. We’ve seen him fall well short of his vaunted standards in choosing to allow Kofi to plead guilty for his son’s crime and passively arranging for excellent legal counsel, which ultimately didn’t save Kofi or his family from tragedy. But now he’s pretending, for Baxter’s sake, to have been the driver that day and he surely has to wonder if Adam deserves to be punished. Maybe Adam doesn’t deserve the death penalty he’d get in the hands of the biggest mob family in New Orleans, but something feels wrong about getting away with it.

Michael’s guilt manifests itself as a piece of gristle that follows him from the marina to his home, where Adam puzzles over this odd gray-white chunk that he finds in the kitchen — most likely from the blackmailer’s head. In classic Walter White style, Michael stumbles onto an excuse, claiming the meat is offal that their butcher had set aside as a treat for their dog. When the dog barfs up the telltale brain at an inopportune moment, when all of Michael’s friends have gathered for his surprise birthday party, it’s a reminder that he cannot so easily dispose the evidence of his sins. That’s the burden of having a conscience, even one that his choices have diminished more and more every day.

Meanwhile, more problems continue to mount for Michael — some he knows about, some that will probably blindside him later on. He promised Baxter that Carlo would end up in his courtroom and lucks into being the assigned judge for the arraignment, which turns into such a boondoggle that he loses the case to another judge. Now he has to figure out how to intervene on Carlo’s behalf without manipulating the trial from the bench. He also faces the hidden problem that his cop friend, Nancy Costello, knows that someone tipped Baxter off to Carlo’s arrest before it happened. Costello believes that maybe the mobster has a mole on the inside, but she’s been known to scratch such itches until they bleed.

As an unexpected counterpoint to Michael’s continued odyssey, the episode follows Judge Sara LeBlanc, the chief justice at the courtroom, as she gets pulled over by the police. While Michael’s friends are throwing him the surprise party, Sara, a Black woman, has a frightening and humiliating encounter with two white cops that ends with her in the back of a squad car. It’s a none-too-subtle reminder that two scales of justice exist in the city and the country: One that allows white men like Michael and Baxter to scheme and manipulate the system on the behalf of their sons, and one that punishes an accomplished judge for the crime of being Black. Does Michael have the bandwidth to feel guilty about that, too?

Beignets:

• You try to tell your friends that Your Honor isn’t a Breaking Bad knockoff and then there’s a whole sequence where Michael is considering slashing a gangster’s throat with a box cutter.

• You try to tell your friends that Your Honor isn’t a Breaking Bad knockoff and then Bryan Cranston tells his son that story about the butcher reserving some offal for the dog and it sounds like he’s explaining to Skylar and Walt Jr. why the house smells like gasoline.

• Costello uses a description of the lethal injection process to try to scare an early confession out of Carlo, to no avail. But she’s right about how often the procedure is botched and how the second drug, which induces paralysis, is really used to mask the unspeakable agony of the last drug. It’s our way of making an inhumane act appear peaceful. Here’s an explainer.

• Michael blaming a play session with his dog for the cut on his face is very Biden-esque.

• Baxter: “You know what I hate? Atlanta. Peaches. Peach trees. Peachtree Street … but nothing as much as people who break their promises.” Good episode, absolutely horrific piece of dialogue there.

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