“Who’s ready for contact poker?”
The first season of Your Honor was very much a contact sport. The first 20 minutes was some of the most compelling television I’ve ever seen. Bryan Cranston started us off as the titular judge Michael Desiato. He’s known as a tough but fair judge. He’s got a pretty good life until his son makes a fatal mistake and sets the series on its course. Adam has an early morning accident where he runs down another teen and leaves him for dead. Michael’s first reaction is of course for Adam to turn himself in to the police. But at the station he learns the victim was the son of the local mob boss, Jimmy Baxter, played ruthlessly by Michael Stuhlberg. Michael knows that if Jimmy finds out who killed his son, he’ll kill Adam. So the first season covers his elaborate plan to cover up the crime. That meant asking his childhood friend, local politician Charlie Figaro, to help get rid of the car. Fortunately, Charlie is played by the great Isiah Whitlock, Jr. You know him as Councilman Clay Davis from The Wire and he was underused in the first season. Even more fortunate for us is that he has a much bigger role here in Season 2. That cover-up ended up unintentionally framing a young black kid. So it’s the black kid’s family that gets taken out in explosive force by the Baxter family. Jimmy finds out anyway and is forced to fix a trial for another Baxter child in order to save Adam’s life. It ends up not working out, as Adam gets killed by the surviving teen of the Jones family, and a war between The Baxters and the drug family that calls itself Devine is the result. Michael ends up in prison, and now you’re up to speed.
We find an almost unrecognizable Michael in prison where he pretty much wants to die. He won’t bathe. He won’t talk, and he won’t eat, leading to a pretty brutal scene of him being strapped down and force fed through a pump and tube. His son is dead. He’s a disgraced jurist, and he feels he doesn’t have anything to live for. He’s even volunteered for a prison tradition called contact poker. Inmates are put at a poker table in the middle of a rodeo ring. They play cards while a bull is set loose to pick them off one by one until one inmate is left standing. It looks like something you might see in a Taylor Sheridan show. Meanwhile, Michael has resigned himself that he’ll spend the rest of his days in prison. That wouldn’t give us a very long season, however, and we’ve got episodes to fill, people.
Enter Olivia Delmont, a federal agent played by Rosie Perez, who is terribly miscast here, but more on that later. She offers to make Michael’s confession, and hence his prison sentence, go away if he’ll cooperate and help bring down Jimmy Baxter and pals. He refuses the deal, but news on the outside changes his mind. You see, his son was at the Baxter party where he was accidentally shot because he was dating Jimmy’s daughter, Fia Baxter, played by Lilli Kay. Olivia feels that his connection with Jimmy might put him in a position to spy. Eventually he takes the deal. Remember? We got episodes to fill. But he resists all of her efforts to actually do the job. That’s when he discovers that Adam and Fia had a baby who was born after Adam died. Now Michael really has a connection to Jimmy, and Olivia couldn’t be more thrilled.
On the other side of the street, Big Mo (Ward Hammond) is dealing with the aftermath of all of this on her gang, Devine. It doesn’t help when Eugene Jones, played by Benjamin Flores, Jr., shows back up in the Big Easy. He’s there because he witnessed a drug deal gone bad and took off with Big Mo’s money, which she needs to buy a club she got from our pal Charlie, who is now the mayor of New Orleans. Eugene was the young lad who had his family taken out by Jimmy when he thought that was who killed his son.
The rest of the season deals with consequences for all involved. There really aren’t any good guys here, and story threads lead to the real reason Michael’s wife was killed years ago and the effort of Jimmy’s wife Gina (Davis) to take over the mob. She considers Jimmy weak, and she’s really been the reason he goes to war. She pushes him on at each turn while insulting his manhood when he takes a step back. You see, it was her father who started this mob family, and she always thought that it should have been her put in charge, but the mobs have a thing about putting women in charge of stuff. So she calls Daddy to return and put the family “right”. That’s good news for us, because it means we get to meet Carmine Conti, played by Mark Margolis, who I recall pleasantly from his days on The Equalizer. He’s a tough old Italian guy, and Gina’s going to manipulate these strong men to disastrous results.
The show does a good job of navigating the political corruption and network of Michael’s “friends”. That’s thanks mostly to Whitlock. who steals every scene he’s in. “No good deed goes unpunished” is the lesson he’s going to learn here. We’re also going to find out some disturbing things about Charlie, but I love him anyway. More Whitlock can’t be bad. I mean, we have to fill some episodes, right?
It’s actually a great cast. Cranston is always good, and he shows such a raw gauntlet of emotions here that I found him far more compelling here than I did in Season 1. I like the scruffy new look. Of course, the title is now misleading, as Michael doesn’t get to be a judge again. Michael Stuhlberg is also a force of nature here, and it’s the triad of Stuhlberg, Cranston, and Whitlock that keeps the machinery rolling.
I found all of the drama with Devine and Big Mo’s power struggle too much of a distraction and never a compelling part of the story. The performances were good, but it just didn’t feel like it belonged in this story, and every minute we spent with them was less time spent on the real story here. It doesn’t belong even if we have episodes to fill here. And Rosie Perez is a fine actor, but she’s really bad as Olivia, and every line is delivered like she was reading it. I can’t believe she was ever comfortable here, and they do pull away from her by mid-season.
You get 10 episodes on three discs. The first season was released on Blu-ray as well as DVD. Not so for Season 2. That’s a shame, because Season 2 is better. There are a handful of promotional short extras, but nothing with any real meat on them. It doesn’t look like there will be more. There are some cliffhanger moments, but not enough to really get you angry it’s not returning. They’re leaving the door open, and I guess if you’re patient or make a lot of noise, things could change. “Patience is not an action, and violence is not a demonstration of strength.”