Bryan Cranston Returns to the Darkness in Your Honor
Has there been a greater performance in the history of television than Bryan Cranston’s work as Walter White on Breaking Bad? It’s been very difficult to argue otherwise even more than seven years after the final episode aired. Cranston has not quite vanished from the medium that launched him to superstardom well before the debut of that series — his work as LBJ on All The Way was a masterwork, and his performance on the undervalued Sneaky Pete on Amazon was appreciated by many.
Now, however, he returns to a role much close to the one that brought him glory in Showtime’s new Limited Series Your Honor. In it, he plays New Orleans Judge Michael Desiato, a widowed father and, as we see in the opening minutes of the Pilot, a bastion of the law. We also see his son Adam, an aspiring photographer, due to an asthma attack accidentally hit a boy about his age riding a scooter. He panics, drives away, and when Michael sees his son, he gently nudges him into doing the right thing and taking him to the police. Then when he reaches the station, he realizes who the child’s father was — Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg, one of the great discoveries of Peak TV), the most vicious crime boss in the city. Knowing full well what Baxter is capable of, he reverses course, and starts covering up the crime his son has committed.
Unfortunately, just like so many of Walter White’s plans, this one starts to spiral out of control almost immediately. He calls upon one of his closest friends, Charlie (Isiah Whitlock, Jr. in a role not that far from Clay Davis) to make his son’s car disappear. Unfortunately, the cops find it before it can get to the scrapyard and Baxter’s man in the New Orleans PD gets to the patsy and leads him open. Charlie arranges a cover-up, but Michael’s conscience is clearly getting in the way, and its already clear, so is Adam.
As always, Cranston leads the way in a character that is far closer to the level of goodness that everyone thought Walter White was. He also gets to play a character with a real sense of morality and compassion, something that he didn’t get to do that much as White. It’s another master class of a performance. Stuhlbarg is actually a greater revelation here: he always seemed urbane as Arnold Rothstein on Boardwalk Empire and inept as a criminal in Season 3 of Fargo. Here you see a man who is capable of compassion to those he loves, and far more frightening and ruthless than even the world knows.
The series has a great supporting cast, but so far only Stuhlbarg and Whitlock have gone to show off. Hope Davis, playing Baxter’s wife, has done very little so far, and Carmen Ejogo, a defense attorney who has a history with Michael has done even less. (Margo Martindale is in her somewhere we have yet to see her. Still, with the level of menace that always seems right around the corner (the sequence leading up to the fatal accident is one of the best I’ve seen this year) and the atmosphere of New Orleans fully permeating this show already, Your Honor, yet another marvelous production of Robert and Michelle King, has the potential to be yet another in a superb line of limited series to fill 2020. In any case, seeing Cranston back on screen is a great way to rap up the year.
My score: 4 stars.