He spent the entire season turning to the dark side as he fought to cover up a horrible hit-and-run his teenage son Adam (Hunter Doohan) committed after learning the kid who was killed was the son of Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg), a man with criminal ties. This included allowing another young man, Kofi (Lamar Johnson) to take the heat for the crime. Another Baxter killer Kofi, and then Michael ended up presiding over his trial, bars Kofi's brother Eugene (Benjamin Flores Jr.) from testifying, and finds Carlo not guilty. So, Eugene bought a gun and attempted to kill Carlo, but he missed, hitting Adam with his bullet instead. Adam died in Michael's arms.
Now returning for a second season, Michael's grief over that loss will be a major theme in the drama series, but so too will be the idea of him finding his way back to who he was before he started making such terrible, life-altering decisions.
"The first season [was] where the central character compromises his principles and loses himself and ends tragically, and the second season...is about redemption and where in our society, in the larger picture, and where in our story on a more micro-picture, does redemption fit — sorrow and forgiveness, is there a place for that in our world?" Cranston, who also serves as executive producer on the series, said during a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the series.
When the show picks back up with Michael, he will have been "living with that level of grief and despair and [the show will look at] how does a person come out of that to continue on?" he continues.
Michael's attitude is different in Season 2 and so too is his physicality because one feeds the other. While he was once an important figure in this society and greatly valued the respect he had earned from others, he no longer cares what other people think about him, Cranston said, because of how deep into that despair he is. This means "the hair grows, my posture changes, [there's] weight loss."
Cranston noted that they could have ended the show after Season 1 where it was like his character had died because of how much of himself he had lost, first with his morality and then with his son, but he was intrigued by the idea of building the character back up.
"Is there life after despair? Is there any sense of life after grief? That intrigued me," he explained. "There can be a reconstruction of a human being if that person follows certain human protocols to get back in touch with their humanity. And that's what happens here... Season 2 has a very slow spiral upward, for lack of a better description, and it actually made me feel better about human beings and the complexity that we hold."
That is not to say that the Baxters are softer, kinder people with time and events, though. Stuhlbarg noted that after everything that happened in the first season, including the Baxters learning who really killed their son, the second season will be "a shaky time for the Baxter family."
"How do you go on after losing a child? It's a question that's hard to even think about. Gina Baxter is in a really terrible place. All she has is her children and one of them has been taken," Hope Davis said of her character, noting that she still blames her husband, who bought their son the motorcycle he was riding when he died in the first place.
David added that she doesn't think her character wants anything from Michael at this point, but she wants him to "burn in the fiery depth of Hell." And because Jimmy wants to keep peace in his family, he wants what his wife wants. But Jimmy, Stuhlbarg said, knows he "has to act or get swallowed up in the despair that Michael is."
"You may see behaviors being challenged to the point where the things they have inside them have to come out one way or the other," he continued.
This has a ripple effect on the whole world within the show because, as Davis put it, Michael "lost his moral compass in Season 1" (and clearly the Baxters had pushed theirs aside years earlier). So, "what happens when a town is run by people who have no moral compass? You can't trust the cops, you can't trust the mayor, you can't trust the judges. The bus is careening down the hill," she said.
However, someone new that you hopefully can trust is assistant U.S. Attorney Olivia Delmont (Rosie Perez) who is looking for true justice and seems unlikely to get as corrupted as Michael in Season 1.
"I think what drives her is just the rule of law and justice and caring about victims, especially the offsprings of victims: how the trauma trickles down — all the way down," Perez said. "In her personal life, the backstory, she has experienced that as well, so that's what really drives her. If someone commits a murder, what happens to the family? ... The complexity you have to play is that you know human beings are flawed and one mistake can change someone's life [but] does that mean they're a degenerate and we should toss them aside, or should they pay their debt to society and move on?"
Your Honor Season 2 will premiere Dec. 9 on Showtime's digital platforms and then air on the premium cable network Dec. 11 at 9 p.m.