Some spoilers below for the series premiere of Showtime's Your Honor, so be warned!
Going by the early previews for Showtime's new crime drama Your Honor, audiences knew to get ready for another layered performance from Breaking Bad vet Bryan Cranston. In his latest TV role, Cranston stars as New Orleans judge Michael Desiato, a father who faces the ultimate test both professionally and personally after a hit-and-run in which his teenage son accidentally killed the son of the city's most notorious crime boss (as played by Fargo and The Looming Tower's Michael Stuhlbarg. It's a sticky situation to say the least.
While Michael obviously isn't doing anything as socially toxic as Walter White trying to take over a meth empire, Bryan Cranston's Your Honor character is also that much more on the side of law and justice than Breaking Bad's proto-Heisenberg. During a Your Honor virtual Q&A session for press, Cranston was asked about the similarities between Michael and Walter in terms audiences rooting for them even as they're engaged in terrible behavior. (I mean, Michael likes Shawshank Redemption, so how can he go wrong?) Here's how Cranston answered:
I think, just generally, I'm really attracted to characters that are complex and flawed, as Walter White was, as Michael Desiato finds himself having to accept that as part of who he is. The difference is that the decision-making was more of a protracted idea in Walter White's case. In this one, it was instantaneous. He was forced to make a decision immediately, at that moment, and that decision had repercussions that he couldn't see. I was really attracted to that dilemma, that the decision-making you make now is going to have a ripple effect. And as thoughtful and as experienced as Michael Desiato is, it's not possible for anyone to see where it could go, what could happen. So the decision was an extremely difficult one to make, and on the other hand, it was the only decision he could make.
As viewers saw in Your Honor's series premiere, Bryan Cranston's character didn't have a whole lot of time to craft any master plans once he was made aware of the crime committed by his son Adam, played by Hunter Doohan. (A crime that included a stomach-turning attempt at resuscitation.) He was forced to act on instinct, and while that instinct should have been something more in line with the justice system, Michael chose to look out for his own family above all others. Not that his actions weren't relatable and understandable in one way or another, similar to how Walter White's motivation to leave his family financially comfortable after his death was a relatable feeling. But while Breaking Bad's anti-hero purposefully and incrementally set his crime-ridden future into place, Michael's decisions were far more spontaneous.
In such a high-stakes situation, many real-world parents would probably react with lawfulness, without considering either the means or the methods that would go along with covering up that kind of crime. But for someone with the kind of occupational connections and mental know-how as the honorable Michael Desiato, it's not so impossible to consider "getting away with it" as an option. When Bryan Cranston was asked about how his reaction to Michael's situation, here's how he put it:
I think most of us feel very confident in our moral standards, wherever that may be for the individual. But our morals and ethics really only come into play when you're challenged by that. When they face a challenge is when you truly see the illumination of that person's ethical standard. And so Michael was of course going to do the right thing and guide his son to do the right thing. As difficult as it is, as heartbreaking as it is to see his son in the in the judicial system and receive punishment, more than likely, he still has to do the right thing. When it came to the fact that doing the right thing, he believed in his heart of hearts, that that would be the demise of his son; it would be the death of his child to do the right thing. Wow! What a fantastic dilemma for any parent, and he makes [his choice] immediately.
It's definitely a situation that only someone with a certain amount of privilege can find themselves in, which obviously plays into Your Honor's racial quandaries and its other social issues. On a surface level, though, Michael's decision to keep Adam out of trouble is a choice that many parents likely wouldn't judge too quickly, and Bryan Cranston went on to reveal that many of the people he talked to about Your Honor's storyline shared that viewpoint.
And so when I talk to people and I tell them the premise, they go, 'Oh, my God, I have to see that.' And I go, 'Yeah, what would you do?' Not a person who's a parent said otherwise. They said, 'I would do the same thing.' I said, 'So you would become a criminal?' 'Yes.' 'A felon?' Yes.' 'Would you have made that decision if you knew it was going to harm someone?' Now it enters into a place that is real difficult. If Michael had that question asked of him at that moment, I think he would have said, 'No, I have to take my chances.' I believe he would have said no. So we see the morality line lined up for each person. But he could not have imagined at that moment, with literally seconds to decide which way he's going to go, that it would cause harm or possibly even death to someone he's not even aware of.
That moral dilemma is, of course, similar to the trolley dilemma, for which there are no right answers in which everyone gets what they want. Michael's actions will likely cost a lot of other characters happiness, freedom and other life-affirming values and rights, somewhat similar to the way Walter White's rise as Heisenberg led to a wide variety of deaths and ruined lives, not to mention the ruthless hostage situation Jesse was put into. But we'll just have to wait and see where things go from here.
Also starring Hope Davis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Carmen Ejogo, Sofia Black-D'Elia and more, Your Honor airs on Showtime every Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. ET. While waiting to see how heightened this drama will get, head to our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule and our 2021 Winter and Spring TV lineup to check out all the new and returning shows that will be popping up in the coming months.