SPOILERS AHEAD! Don’t read further if you haven’t watched the finale of the Showtime series Your Honor, which wraps its 10-episode limited series run tonight. What follows is a recap of the final episode of the drama that got Bryan Cranston nominated for a Golden Globe, followed by an interview with British writer Peter Moffat –the BAFTA winning creator of Criminal Justice, which was adapted into the American series The Night Of. Moffat developed and ran Your Honor and here explains how he transplanted some elements of an Israeli TV series but went mostly his own way after borrowing a killer concept. He set the drama in New Orleans and got Cranston to play a righteous judge who turns all kinds of wrong, betraying everyone and everything he held dear, in a desperate effort to cover up his son’s hit and run accident, a decision he made in a hot second after discovering the father of the victim is ruthless mob boss Jimmy Baxter.
The web of lies spun by meticulous New Orleans Judge Michael Desiato to insulate his 17 year old son Adam (Hunter Doohan) from culpability in the hit and run death of motorcyclist Rocco Baxter had begun to buckle under the weight of lies, and tonight it all came tumbling down on the judge. Cranston himself directed the final episodes as his character knew his only chance of surviving was to preside over the murder trial of the son of Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg), and have his thug son Carlo acquitted in the beating death of Kofi Jones, the car thief who took the rap for the hit and run. As it became clear Kofi didn’t commit that hit and run, Judge Desiato got Baxter to believe it was he, and not his son, whose car collided with the motorcycle driven by young Rocco. Tonight a carefully choreographed ruse fell apart in dramatic and tragic fashion.
Episode Nine ended with the Baxter family curious about grieving daughter Fia’s relationship with the mysterious boy Adam. Not knowing he was the son of the judge they believe killed Rocco. Adam’s former photography teacher girlfriend already divulged that he ran down Rocco to Judge Michael’s best friend Charlie (Isiah Whitlock Jr), the town fixer and mayoral candidate who came to warn the teacher to leave Adam alone. The cracks were already showing.
The final episode began with a surprising revelation, that Michael’s deceased wife and Adam’s mother was having an extramarital affair, which explained a little about her shocking death a year earlier (the hit and run resulted because Adam visited the place she was shot). Adam’s grandmother Elizabeth (Margo Martindale) tells the youth the news, but Adam takes it well because he’s fallen head over heels in love with Fia. Michael’s lawyer girlfriend Lee (Carmen Ejogo), whom he asked to represent the slain car thief Kofi because he felt he could control her, will not let go that easily. She is the one who got Kofi’s father to okay an autopsy that revealed a brutal murder by Carlo, and she is now cajoling Baxter’s rival Big Mo (Andrene Ward-Hammond) for the identity of the real hit and run driver, who clearly was not her deceased client Kofi. Big Mo threatens to kill Lee, who says she has left a note even as she seems to realize the danger she is in. It’s a tense moment. “I can smell a bluff like the mustard pot of a bad ho,” says Big Mo, who nonetheless allows Lee to walk out. “You kill me, a whole lot of shit comes down,” Lee warns. Lee walks away clear in the knowledge her client stole the hit and run car a day after it was used in the fatal incident.
Adam is quick to forgive his father for keeping the secret about his mother’s infidelity. “Thousands of things your mom was, so many wonderful things, that wasn’t this one bad thing she did, this one mistake, it shouldn’t define who you are,” the judge tells his son in the warmest embrace, as dad confides that when Adam’s mom told Michael she was pregnant with him, he hugged her so tightly he broke her rib. A fact she concealed through the pain on their abrupt wedding day. “Was that a lie, or was that love,” the judge asks. It is the warmest engagement between father son since the hit and run. But the lies are closing in.
Cut to Carlo, the violent son of Jimmy Baxter who murdered Kofi in the mistaken belief the young man had killed his brother. Jimmy Baxter implores his son to hold his temper while testifying, or else give the prosecutor her Perry Mason moment. Asks Carlo: “Perry who?” Jimmy tells his son he will eventually run the crime family, and that he will need to use brains and not just a temper and brawn. “Show your father what a real man you can be,” Jimmy warns his son.
Michael tenses as he watches Lee enter his courtroom while Carlo is falsely telling jurors about the terror he felt when Kofi came into his cell. Carlo spreads the lies out too thickly, explaining that he would never forget the sound of Kofi shutting the cell door before pummeling Carlo, and then reopening the cell door and walking out, after the brawl. Lee goes to the cell herself, and sees that once the door is slammed shut, an inmate cannot open it; it locks and only a guard can reopen it. Lee conveys the information to the prosecutor (Maura Tierney) and when she confronts the defendant with his lie, Carlo’s civility and charm fades. He calls the prosecutor a terrible name, one which the jury hears. While he attempts to walk back his story, his bald faced lies are there for the jury to see. Judge Desiato’s careful attempt to fix the trial is in grave jeopardy.
Next, Detective Nancy Costello (Amy Landecker) figures out Michael has been lying when she visits his wife’s grave site and a homeless Vietnam vet who sits sentry there explains that the judge had fudged his whereabouts on the day of the hit and run. Desiato’s indignant response to the cop leaves the detective cold. They break and Michael has lunch with Charlie, the pal who arranged for the hit and run car to be stolen. Charlie tells him he knows Adam was the driver, disappointed Michael hadn’t told him in the first place. Michael confides that he’s in deep with the Baxters and can only be saved if Carlo is acquitted, which now looks unlikely. Charlie tells the truth to Detective Costello, and promises her a place high up in his administration — he’s the frontrunner to be the next mayor — if she conceals the crime. The detective is stopped cold in her tracks when Charlie tells her that Michael is taking the blame for his son Adam, whose life will be forfeit to the Baxters if the truth gets out.
Next relationship that goes down is the one with Michael’s lover, Lee. This one is particularly painful. After Michael gives her the proceeds from selling the Mariano Rivera signed baseball — the money is for Kofi’s brother Eugene — Lee begins to see through Michael’s lies, and she too realizes that Adam is to blame. Michael challenges her to turn in his son, “Kill Adam, cleanse your soul,” he taunts, holding a cell phone for her to make a call. “Justice and principles, do you think either of those takes precedence over the life of your child? Will the death of another 17 year old make it right?” She is speechless. “Who are you?” she says. “Your lies and manipulations are fu*king me up. It’s not my soul that needs cleansing, Michael, it’s yours.” Later, Lee will discover that Kofi had been taking his high school equivalency exam the day of the hit and run but by the time Michael disallows this to be read as evidence because the prosecution rested its case, he has lost the woman he expected to have a life with.
He realizes the weight of all he is losing as he tries to keep Lee from abandoning him: “I’ll go to the police, but we tell them it was me,” he says, sobbing. “I don’t want to be this person. I don’t want to lie anymore. But he is my son. Am I a bad person because I value my own life so much less than the life of my child?”
She reminds him that four children and a mother are dead because of his actions. “I’ve done terrible things,” he allows, “and I am so ashamed. But I love you.” She slaps him and tells him to stop talking about himself. “You can never have me, now.” She is done with all of it, and when she hands the money for the Mariano Rivera baseball to Eugene, she tells the young man who lost his brother Kofi to a vicious beating, and saw his family firebombed by the Baxters, to “get all you can.” The young man is simmering with the betrayal by the judge, and the legal system. Lee implores Michael to allow Eugene to testify, that it will result in Carlo’s conviction and a second chance for his soul. But we all know Michael’s in too deep.
As Judge Desiato disallows Eugene’s testimony, he glimpses that his son holds hands with a young woman he doesn’t recognize. When she sits and hugs her father, Jimmy Baxter, the judge can feel the noose tightening. Because the only thing keeping Adam alive is that Baxter thinks the hit and run was perpetrated by him, and not his son. Baxter takes a long look at Adam, as the judge nixes Eugene’s testimony.
Jimmy Baxter again threatens Michael, and the rest of the judge’s family, in an effort to tighten the noose even further. It works. The judge scribbles an anonymous note, ostensibly from a juror, and while the lawyers fight, Desiato says he himself will “do it; I’m neutral and I’m impartial.” He is soon providing the narrative for the playing of the 911 tape of Rocco Baxter’s final moments, laying out the stakes dramatically, that these are the last moments of a 17-year old’s life and that this was what Kofi heard. Neutral and impartial? This judge has leapt to the dark side; spreading on sympathy for an obviously guilty defendant at the behest of an unnamed juror who asked to hear the 911 call, who actually was the judge himself. This will come to destroy the judge’s entire effort to conceal his son. We know the 911 call was made by Adam on Rocco’s phone (the one he would throw in the river) as Adam struggled for breath with the inhaler he dropped which caused the accident, and which became a clue at the crime scene when Adam discarded it. Hearing the 911 call again is too much for Jimmy Baxter’s wife Gina (Hope Davis), who leaves the courtroom. Adam too is overcome by reliving his 911 call, and walks out into the hallway. Jimmy Baxter comes out to retrieve his wife and they turn just in time to see Adam puffing…his inhaler! Now, there is no doubt about who killed Rocco Baxter. It is a bitter pill for the Baxters to swallow, even as Desiato comes through and Baxter’s son Carlo is found not guilty. Jimmy is going to want vengeance.
Eugene seethes at the acquittal. And Fia invites boyfriend Adam to the Baxter’s hotel for a celebration party, Adam oblivious to the peril that awaits him. Eugene takes the money he received from the autographed ball, hands it to a man and waits for something in return. Michael heads home, but his moment of peace is interrupted by a call from…Jimmy Baxter.
“He’s here,” Baxter says. “Who?” “He’s having a little trouble breathing,” Baxter continues. “Maybe he has his inhaler with him, maybe he doesn’t. You want to watch what I do to your son, Baxter House Hotel. C’mon over.”
Finding his car boxed in, the judge, an avid runner, sprints to the hotel, where he’s denied entry by security men who’ve been told by Jimmy Baxter not to let the judge in. In his second attempt to enter the premises, security muscles Michael away, and in walks Kofi’s brother Eugene, holding a bag.
While Adam is having a nice time, making forever plans with Fia, Michael’s nightmare gets worse as he peers through the window and sees Jimmy embracing Adam, enveloping him in a bear hug, like the embrace of a serpent.
Eugene winds his way through the kitchen until he sees the party guest he is most interested in: Carlo, just acquitted of killing his brother. But Eugene’s aim isn’t true, and his bullet misses Carlo and lodges in the neck of Adam. Soon, Jimmy Baxter is pulling his bloodied, screaming daughter Fia away, and Judge Michael Desiato is left to bid his son farewell, the life leaking out of a hole in his neck. The enormity of his grief moment is reminiscent of Michael Corleone in the final installment of The Godfather. Despite the hit and run, and all of the terrible things that the judge did to try and protect his son, Judge Michael Desiato is left with the knowledge that the son he sold his soul to save is gone. And he is still in the grasp of the ruthless crime boss who would have killed the boy anyway. Both Michael and Jimmy now share a bond, grieving over a dead teen son, but there is no telling where their relationship might go from here. Cut to a Mozart aria, and this riveting limited series is over. For now, at least. The Israeli series on which it was based went to a second season and this one’s high ratings might bring it back for more, as well.
Now, an interview with series mastermind Peter Moffat:
DEADLINE: This was a great ride. We’ve seen other Israeli TV series get transplanted to America, most notably Showtime’s Homeland. Very different cultures. What element from that series hooked you?
PETER MOFFAT: The premise. [Executive Producer] Liz Glotzer called me, and she said, what would you do as a parent if your child hit and killed another child on the roadside and left the scene of the accident? My answer is probably shared by most parents, which is, well, you have to do the right thing and take your son in to the police station. What do you do, she said, if you discover that the father of the victim is the biggest gangster in town. And my answer is, again, I think probably the same as most parents. You turn around and leave, and to be completely honest with you, and I know it sounds like a writer talking to a journalist moment. I knew then I was going to write this. I got off the phone, went upstairs to my study, and going upstairs I fell over, like a child, and hurt my arm a bit.
Carried on up the stairs, sat down, and I fu*king stayed up for hours and hours and hours. Writing the next hundred questions that came to mind. And to answer your question properly, I quickly got frightened about watching the original and about knowing the story the original series had come up with, because I was so quickly into my own process, thinking hard about what this could be. I didn’t want that train of thought interrupted and disturbed by the reality of the original. So, I didn’t watch it. I made a conscious decision not to watch it. Once the [writers] room started up, people obviously did watch it, and brought in elements of the original into the room in order to discuss and see where they could fit for us.
DEADLINE: How long before you watched?
MOFFAT: It was many weeks and months later before I looked at it. I wanted to be sufficiently confident in what I was doing before I felt kind of safe to go and look at other directions.
DEADLINE: Why set in New Orleans, the French Quarter? It brought in the haves and have nots, and systemic racism…
MOFFAT: Yeah. So, it’s a small town, New Orleans, right? People know each other, right, and inside the criminal justice system, people really know each other. The sheriff knows the chief of police. The chief of police knows all the lawyers. Judges know the lawyers. The police officers know…it’s a very interconnected place, and as you also know, it’s a very corrupt place. It seemed to me that it would be a lot more interesting for our main character, Michael Desiato, to try and hide things, to keep secrets, and to lie effectively if everybody around him is more known to him and is looking at him closely and has understood and is speaking about him than it would if he were more anonymous in a bigger place. And New Orleans, the strange thing for me is that it’s so filmic. Point the camera anywhere in New Orleans, and it’s really interesting to look at. It’s interesting you mentioned the French Quarter because we stayed away from that story, from Mardi Gras and voodoo and the quarter and all of that. I just wanted to explore the rest of New Orleans, a city that has a lot of poverty, a lot of problems, and a city that has deep and fascinating and vibrant and wonderful and exciting culture.
DEADLINE: You can see where you went differently from the other series. There, the motorcycle accident didn’t kill the mobster’s son and the mobster was in jail. But the protagonist in that series made moves outside his courtroom while you added another son and focused the action in the courtroom. Both judges were distinguished but here, you had this former traded his morality and sold his sold his soul to fix a murder trial of the gangster’s son. Felt like a ‘eureka’ moment.
MOFFAT: Michael Desiato has a lot of skills, knowledge and experience about how to work the system, about how the criminal justice system functions. When he’s on the other side of it, he can think well and effectively about how to keep his kid safe. And that felt very important to me, that he was good at it. I used to be at the criminal bar myself, a barrister here in London. I spent 10 years doing this work in courtrooms in London, at the Old Bailey and all those places. So, I know about it and I just thought how complex, how complicated, and how interesting that world is. Bryan Cranston’s character knows it like the back of his hand, and that gives him an advantage in trying to fu*k around with it and trying to get the better of everything. That’s pretty interesting to me, and I think, pretty effective in the show.
DEADLINE: So you knew how a fair trial could be corrupted, from been in that system yourself. Like withholding the gruesome autopsy pictures of Kofi Jones’ battered face, the young man whom Michael hired to steal and lose the car his son Adam drove that accidentally hit and kill the son of the gangster. Kofi in turn was beaten to death in a prison cell by the gangster’s other vicious son, Carlo, who was on trial for the murder. In his attempt to get Carlo acquitted, Judge Desiato also refused to allow the testimony from Kofi’s brother Eugene, and sabotaged the testimony of Carlo’s best friend and fellow drug dealer. He even set up his fellow judge and close friend Sara LeBlanc by invoking his dead wife’s memory to get the judge to share a belt of Scotch with him, so he could set her up for a DWI arrest and get himself to be the judge on Carlo’s case. Did you ask other judges how your character could fix a case methodically, incrementally giving his soul away in hopes the gangster father would let him and his son live?
MOFFAT: So, I spent a lot of time in two courthouses, primarily Tulane and Broad in New Orleans, and 26th and California in Chicago, which is the busiest courthouse in America. I talked to judges and lawyers from both places and got to know them really well and saw textures and everything of those places and what they’re like. But I’m really pleased that you mentioned that scene with the photographs of Kofi, dead Kofi, and the injuries that Carlo has allegedly caused him, because that’s an interesting moment for a judge. Let’s just say that he isn’t corrupt, for a moment. Just imagine that. It’s a real question that he would have to ask himself in a situation like that is, is my jury going to be too upset by looking at these pictures?
Is it essential for the prosecution that they see these photographs, or have they heard enough about the injuries that have been caused to this individual? And that’s a kind of genuine question that a judge needs to ask themselves in a situation like that. But if you think about Michael Desiato and what he’s done and the deaths that are consequent upon his actions and the people that have died because of his failure to tell the truth and because he’s covered up, to pretend to be in that moment that the fatherly judge is taking care of 12 citizens who are doing their absolute best to do their civic duty is an astonishingly horrendous action, I think, on his part. It’s very, very disturbing, but what’s interesting for me is that I kept putting myself in his shoes, every step of the way, and those first two moments that we’ve just been talking about 10 minutes ago, what do I do if my child is in this situation, what do I do if I discover that the victim’s father is this vicious criminal? Those are easy enough answers. The next question is much harder to answer. What’s the next thing you do? The answer is you commit a criminal offense. You start to cover up evidence of a crime, which is a criminal offense, in itself, right?
MOFFAT: How are you doing now? Well, I think it’s still okay because I would do that for my child, but there comes a point in there…people are dying because of what you’ve done, that the question becomes way, way harder, way harder. And by that stage, when he’s performing like that in front of the jury, it’s pretty despicable behavior, but it’s interesting to me. And it seems that what audiences are telling us is that, it’s despicable behavior, and I hate you for it, but I also still love you, I also still love you, right? I want you to succeed, but I hate myself for thinking that, so I’m feeling pretty complicated, and I’m asking myself, as an audience member, some hard questions, some good, serious moral questions about my own moral map, not just his, which is everything you want as a writer from an audience, right? They’re there doing that work. They’re having those arguments, with themselves and with each other. I love that.
DEADLINE: So two follow-ups there. One, based on what you just said, so, if you had been a judge, a fair judge, would you have withheld the Kofi pics?
MOFFAT: Yeah, quite possibly, because I think we’ve seen it. We had the video. We had that evidence on the screen already. No question, if you’re prosecuting this case, you want those pictures in, and you want them handed around the jury, and you’ll sit and watch as the jury look at them, and you’ll see their responses, and their responses will be that they’re appalled, right? And that’s what you want. If you think about an adversarial system, it’s obvious, but it’s worth saying that there are competing narratives, right, that there are two stories, and the best story wins. The truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s a central part of an adversarial system that the truth is not important, because you’re constructing a narrative that you want to defeat your opponent’s narrative. It’s storytelling. Now, you can’t depart too far from reality. You can’t depart from the truth, right, but you’re definitely shaping something, constructing something that moves people towards the result that you want, and in the prosecution’s case, it’s a conviction, a guilty verdict, and if you think that those pictures, horrible though they are, are going to help you get a guilty verdict, then you want them in, and your motives are not that clear, actually. In my previous career, I’ve opened briefs and looked at the most appalling photographs, and I thought, god, you know, these are terrible, nobody should be looking at this. But then you have to ask yourself the second question, which is does it help your client? And if the answer is, yes, it does, do your job. It’s not your business. Do the best for your client. You know you’re a gun for sale, gun for hire, you know?
DEADLINE: Everything you just said about the judge’s conflicts and the audience still loving him comes down to your star. Bryan Cranston most famously morphed from Walter White to Heisenberg in Breaking Bad, and once again, here we watched his morals corrupted. How did you make sure he didn’t fall too closely back on that familiar track many associate him with?
MOFFAT: Well, here’s the thing about Bryan. I think he wears a kind of coat which says that he’s a good human being. That’s one’s impression of him, because it’s true. If you walk with him down a street in New Orleans and people stop, they say, I just want to shake your hand, and carry on doing what you’re doing. Which is obviously not carry on being a former chemistry teacher who’s dealing crystal meth and fu*king up everybody’s lives. They’re saying, carry on being Bryan Cranston, and we love you.
We all thought that it was a pretty good idea for a character who’s going to fall a very long way across 10 hours of drama, that you start him off as somebody who has that inherent goodness about them. Inherent decency about them, and that’s what Bryan has. So, he has further to fall, and this is a little bit pompous, and sorry about it, but this show’s a tragedy, and the further that your hero can fall, the better. That’s what happened, and to me, he’s like a modern-day Gregory Peck, which is why there’s a reference in the show to Gregory Peck, right, one big fu*king Gregory Peck in there. He is that. I trust Gregory Peck. I trust him in To Kill a Mockingbird, right, and I trust Bryan Cranston. It turned out I’m completely wrong to trust Bryan Cranston, but at the starting point, I trust him.
DEADLINE: How hard was it to convince him to return to episodic series?
MOFFAT: We met for lunch on the hottest day of the year and with nobody else in the restaurant. It was in the Valley in Los Angeles, and I said here’s what happens in episode 2, because he’d read episode 1, and then, I said here’s what happens in episode 3, and then, he said are you going to tell me the story of all 10? We’d been there about an hour and a half by then. So, I said, oh no, I’d better shut up a bit, so I did, and you know, I could tell from the conversation that we were having and the level of engagement that if he were to do this, we would have a great time together. And that conversation has never stopped, his level of interest in everything that is written and in everything that we’re doing has never slowed down. It’s been an incredible experience for me to have that kind of relationship with an actor, and of course, with the director of the last episode, because he directed the last episode.
DEADLINE: Where did you ever get the idea that a look from Michael Stuhlbarg could be so lethal? His Jimmy Baxter character is convincingly dangerous, a measure of grief for losing his favorite son, and rage to get revenge.
MOFFAT: I’ve watched and loved him for a long time is the honest answer. He’s done gang boss before, but it doesn’t feel like the center of him. It’s slightly off-key casting, in a good way, I think. He’s not Italian, for a start. The thing about Michael is he takes such care over everything, he’s so particular in the best possible way that everything is thought through, everything is worked out, everything is discussed, and I think that’s how and why you’re able to arrive at those kind of small moments which speak so big. Originally, I had thought that the ending of the show would be that moment in episode 10, which is there, of course. When Michael Desiato is outside Jimmy’s hotel, while inside the hotel, his nemesis brings his son, Adam, into his arms, holds him, and looks at Cranston outside, like, I’ve got him, I own him, you’ve lost him, you’ve lost your child to the devil. Effectively, that is what that moment is saying, and I thought that would be the ending, because, Michael can pull that off completely. Yeah.
DEADLINE: Why did you veer from that?
MOFFAT: Because it became a bigger show. The heart of it is obviously, will a father succeed in protecting his son? Will a father keep his son alive against all the odds? That feels like the heart of things, but as we wrote more and developed it more, it became a wider-reaching show than that. It goes into the politics of race, the politics of class, the politics of corruption in New Orleans, generally, the corruption of police in New Orleans, and beyond. All those elements are there.
It felt completely wrong to leave those elements out of the ending. It feels right to me that the person who probably has suffered the most as a consequence of the actions of the hero in the show, which is Eugene, should be at the center of things in those last moments, and what’s happened to him to be what we should be thinking about and looking at and working over in our heads, as we watch.
DEADLINE: Adam, the judge’s asthmatic son played by Hunter Doohan had me yelling at the screen a bit. He walked through these episodes almost in a dream state after hitting the motorcycle and leaving the scene. He seemed oblivious to his father’s soul selling and desperate maneuvers to shield his son from this murderous gangster. He risks everything by engaging with Jimmy’s daughter, Fia, whose brother he killed. Describe how in the writing the boy got away with acting this way, well got away with it until the end? Give me a sense of Adam’s mindset and unwillingness to confront his own crime.
MOFFAT: I’m glad that it pissed you off. I always love that anybody who has a strong enough reaction to make them want to get off the sofa, okay, it makes me very happy. I’m delighted that you felt that way, and I think it’s important to remember with Adam that he’s 17 years old. That he’s a child, right, and what he’s been asked to do is huge, and he gives control to his dad. He says, dad, help me, and dad does, okay. So, he’s given that over. So, what he’s left with, really and fundamentally, is his own childish guilt. But at the same time, it’s insisted by his dad that he not do anything with that, that he mustn’t confess, that he mustn’t share, that he must keep it secret. I just think that’s really, really hard. I think he spends a bit of time in the show exploring his feelings of guilt, and I think he becomes almost fascinated by his victim and by what he’s done, that he can’t stop looking at it. And it’s true, too, of other forms of crime and other forms of criminals. They do this thing, where they remain fascinated by what they’ve done, and they literally and metaphorically revisit it, and that’s what Adam does here. That’s what Adam does here because he’s a criminal, but he takes it a long way, and I’m sure it’s maddening to watch, you know, two things, everything that his dad is doing to try and protect him while he looks like he’s sometimes doing the opposite of keeping himself safe.
DEADLINE: Like when his father has him attending school far away in New York, and he decided to push his enrollment a year and stay close by.
MOFFAT: But more importantly, he’s continuing to live a life in which he falls in love, has dreams and hopes and ambitions at the same time as the people that are suffering because of his actions, are suffering. And that goes to a much bigger question about privilege and power and what happens when you commit a crime according to the color of your skin and the amount of money you have and the amount of power that you have in order to get yourself out of the problem.
DEADLINE: You added the reveal that Michael’s wife and Adam’s mother, who was shot in a random store holdup, had been having an affair. It felt like a red herring. Was there more significance than that? You also had this running thing about a baseball signed by Mariano Rivera that seemed also like filler, but boy did that deliver a payoff, in when Eugene used the money for the ball to buy the guy that led to him shooting Adam.
MOFFAT: Okay. Here’s what Adam learns, or thinks he learns when he discovers that his mom was having an affair and that his father has kept it from him, right? He understands that his father hasn’t told him about what his dead mother was doing, because it would be too painful for him to hear. And the conclusion of that, and what you can say about that is that sometimes love is much more important than the truth. Which would be Michael’s then-argument for not telling Adam about what his mother was doing. And Adam is able to draw a parallel between that and his own life in which he’s in love with, head over heels in love with, thinks he wants to spend the rest of his life with the daughter of the person who, it turns out, would like him dead.
He can’t tell her. He can’t tell her. If he tells her, you know, what he did to her brother, it’s over, right? And so, he’s also saying, in his fu*ked-up 17-year-old brain, sometimes love is more important than telling the truth, and he comes to understand, having failed to understand initially, why his dad is doing what he’s doing. Now, it’s like a moral position which has some holes in it but it is a good argument, actually, that the truth isn’t always the best thing. And actually, although it’s a throwaway line that Michael has in that scene with Elizabeth at the beginning of episode 10, let’s round up all the 4-year-olds and tell them that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, it’s actually quite meaningful, that you do have to lie to children. It’s hard to say. I don’t even like saying it myself. It comes out wrong. But you do it all the time.
DEADLINE: And the Mariano Rivera baseball? It stewed in my brain for a little bit before I figured it out how that ball underwrote the shattering climax, after making small appearances over numerous episodes…
MOFFAT: Yeah. It threads the whole way through. But it does get there, doesn’t it?
DEADLINE: That moment when the murderous parents Jimmy and Gina Baxter see Adam using his inhaler and everything unravels…have you, as a writer and showrunner, ever had an opportunity to use an inanimate object as effectively as that inhaler?
MOFFAT: Oh, that’s a great question. Okay. So, I think, disappointingly for you, the answer might be no. I think it might be the best use of an inanimate object that I can think of in my own writing career. It’s in the pilot. It’s central to the pilot, right, and again, it makes it all the way through. It gets there. You know it’s there at the end, and it’s important at the end. So, maybe not. I’ve used inhalers before. I had an inhaler before. There’s an inhaler in The Night Of, or Criminal Justice, which became The Night Of.
DEADLINE: Can you encapsulate that look on the face of Michael, watching the life leak out of the son he tried so hard to protect, and the enormity of the realization that he had sold his soul and betrayed everyone he loved, and now has nothing?
MOFFAT: I’m fortunate enough to be able to answer that really simply, which is that we have playing that part, in my view, the best actor of his generation. Who is, in that moment, expressing something about as raw — the death of your child — and about as purely painful as anything I could imagine as a parent, myself. And I think he does the job to perfection. It’s an extraordinary achievement on his part, and I’m just very grateful that he was able to be there and do that, for everybody.
DEADLINE: When you tripped up those stairs as this whole series began for you, did you have it in mind then that Michael would have to lose everything despite his careful choreography?
MOFFAT: Definitely. Definitely. It’s partly because I’m English, and I want to apologize for sounding too self-important. But Shakespeare’s always the guide. Shakespeare’s always the guide, and if you can get King Lear on television, then that should always be the ambition. You’ll always fall a long way short, but he’s the guide, and you know that’s what one’s always after. I’m always after thinking about how do you strip naked a human being who starts with lots of clothes on, and what do you see when you see him naked, in a storm, with nothing, right? What does that look like? And well, I don’t apologize too much for that, but you know what I’m saying.
DEADLINE: Aside from leaving the judge stripped naked, how much did you lay track for perhaps another season of this show?
MOFFAT: No thought at all for laying track for another season of this show. If there are loose ends…I’m never unhappy about loose ends, provided, as you say, that the main stuff is satisfied and the main architecture has been built, constructed, and loved. I don’t mind loose ends, but there’s no planning which says let’s leave that open, or let’s leave that open. That was never an intention in the writing of this.
DEADLINE: The Israeli show had a second season. Is there a desire for you to keep exploring these characters and this storyline in subsequent episodes? Your judge remains in the pocket of the devil. Does that intrigue you?
MOFFAT: The honest answer to that is, what kind of writer would you be if you wrote and spent two and a half years working on something, written 10 hours of television, and hadn’t given another thought to what would happen if there were an episode 11 and beyond? You’d be a strange human being if you could just drop everybody at the end of 10 hours. So, of course I’ve thought about it, and of course, I have several hundred good ideas, but that’s a description of where I’m at in my head.
DEADLINE: So nothing solid about continuing?
MOFFAT: No. One last thing I want to say. I want to mention the score. I want to mention our composer, Volker Bertelmann. At the end of Episode 1, we have some Mozart, and at the end of Episode 10, we have the same Mozart, right, and you know, Mozart is Mozart, and you know Volker has a job of scoring a show which begins and ends with the greatest musical genius who’s ever lived. One of my favorite-ever moments in this whole experience was talking to Volker about how, musically, to bring us into the Marriage of Figaro, which describe the last moments of Michael Desiato’s pain as we roll into the credits, and there’s a tiny thing, which you might not notice, but he just ramps, like a little bit of ramping that the last bit of his score that lifts you into the Mozart, and it’s a kind of beautiful connection, between somebody writing a score for a television series now, and the greatest composer that’s ever lived. It’s a small thing, not something that everybody will notice, but it made me incredibly happy. It’s one of those tiny moments that you get in the construction of something as big as this that really delights, and made it a real privilege to be a part of.
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