Your Honor season two review: Bryan Cranston is excellent as a grieving father
There are a lot of befores and afters in television history. Before and after colour transmission, for example, or before and after live broadcasts. And then there are the shows that catalyse great changes: before and after Seinfeld, before and after The Sopranos, before and after Breaking Bad. It’s the last of these that we are still feeling the ripples from: whether it’s Ozark or Happy Valley, TV drama is currently dominated by men thrown in at the deep end, struggling for their lives. And there is no show that takes this more seriously than the Bryan Cranston-led Your Honor.
As the second series opens, Adam Desiato’s death is still raw. His father, Michael (Bryan Cranston), has been impeached and seems to have taken the Unabomber as his grooming icon. He is approached by ambitious agent Olivia (Rosie Perez) who has the Baxter dynasty in her sights. “This is not just about one man,” she tells a room full of law enforcement agents. “I want to bury an entire criminal organisation for good.”
Part of the problem with many American mini-series in the post-Walter White world, is that there’s no confidence that they will survive more than a single season. And so rather than laying the groundwork for a long-running serial, they tell the whole story – beginning, middle and end – and are then flummoxed by the question of what comes next. Think of Big Little Lies’ contortion act for its sophomore outing, or the continued protraction of The Handmaid’s Tale. With Michael rumbled and Adam dead, the arc of the series seemed to have closed. Two accidental deaths; no justice, intentional or otherwise. But, despite that sense of closure, here we are, back in New Orleans.
Cranston is an excellent screen presence, and in Michael Desiato he has found another vehicle for his ability to convey a range of tortured emotions while maintaining an, almost eerie, stillness. Michael Stuhlbarg, equally, is deft as the bookish crime lord Jimmy Baxter, and Hope Davis venomous as his wife Gina (who also dresses more like Wednesday Addams than Wednesday Addams). But the writing is sometimes laboured and humourless, a byproduct of a world populated entirely by people consumed by grief. “Adam ran because he was afraid,” Jimmy tells Michael, in a bleak exchange between bereaved fathers. “His fear was entirely forgivable. It was your fear that got him killed.”
The second season of Your Honor is confusing. The show opened with a simple premise: what would a good, law-abiding citizen do if the person they loved the most accidentally killed the child of a mobster? But that situation has been resolved, and now the story is fragmented. Michael is heading in one direction, Jimmy in another; mayor Charlie (Isiah Whitlock Jr), gang leader Big Mo (Andrene Ward-Hammond) and accidental assassin Eugene (Benjamin Flores Jr) are all on their own trajectories too. And that’s before we even mention Fia (Lilli Kay), who is central to binding the Desiato and Baxter clans together. Put simply, there’s too much going on.
Nothing about Your Honor is actively bad – the acting, the plotting, the direction; all have the glossy veneer of “prestige TV” – and yet the sum of those parts is frustrating and unsatisfying. Perhaps they should’ve followed the advice of all good criminals and quit while they were ahead.