In all of my years watching and obsessing over The Good Wife, I never once identified with Diane Lockhart. I admired her poise and tenacity, laughed at her arch observations, and envied all of her fantastic pantsuits, but I didn’t feel any true kinship with her. That is, until the opening scene of The Good Fight, as she reacts to the sucker punch of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The first seconds of this spinoff are almost painful to watch, as Diane stares slack-jawed at a television while Trump takes the oath of office. Partway through the inauguration, she snaps off the TV and decides that enough is enough. She goes to France, picks out an expensive and isolated chateau, then announces her retirement to the other partners of Lockhart, Deckler, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert, Lurie, Kagan, Tanenbaum and Associates. (For newcomers, the name is an in-joke about the number of times the Good Wife’s firm changed over the course of the series.) Everyone’s a little surprised, but happy for her, and David Lee is so overjoyed that he busts out an undignified fist pump.
When the opening credits roll, they feature solemn classical music that underscore telephones and desks exploding. It is impossible to tell whether these credits are intended to be serious or tongue-in-cheek, but like so much of The Good Fight, that’s part of the charm so far.
In the weeks after Diane’s announcement and before her actual retirement, Diane’s goddaughter, Maia, passes the bar and comes to work at Diane’s firm. Maia’s embarrassed by the extra attention — Diane offers her a nicer office and her parents send a massive floral arrangement to her “desk” — but doesn’t seem to mind the nepotism when it affords her the chance to work on Diane’s final case before retirement. Diane is representing the city of Chicago in a police brutality case, and Lucca Quinn and her new boss, Adrian Boseman, are representing the victim of the beating. Things between Lucca and Diane are icy but not hostile, and it’s as fascinating and gut-wrenching as ever to watch Diane defend the bad guys. Maia later pulls Diane aside and asks her, essentially, why they’re backing the wrong side. Diane explains, “People I thought with all my heart were guilty turned out to be innocent. People I thought were saints … they weren’t.” Given The Good Wife’s fondness for calling Alicia “Saint Alicia,” it’s safe to say Diane is talking about more than just her clients.
At Diane’s retirement party, we meet Maia’s parents, Henry and Lenore, who are introduced in the time-honored TV category of “old and dear friends who were never mentioned during the original series but who are now integral to the spinoff.” Shortly thereafter, Henry, who is also Diane’s financial adviser, is arrested in a Bernie Madoff–esque financial scandal. All of Diane’s retirement money is gone, and the French chateau is off the table. (Sidebar: I would have happily watched a spinoff that was Diane’s free-wheeling life in Europe, but it clearly wasn’t meant to be.) She goes back to David Lee and the rest of the partners in an effort to un-retire, but David tells her she’s too tainted. There’s a lot of animosity in her client roster because of how frequently she recommended Henry’s financial-planning services to colleagues. All of their money’s gone, too. And despite heaping accolades on Diane at her retirement party, no other firm in town is interested in working with her, either.
Diane’s accountant suggests she divorce her husband, Kurt, to spare him from the potential financial consequences as well. It’s the first time he’s mentioned in the episode, and it’s impossible to read Diane’s face when his name finally comes up. She and Kurt are separated — presumably ever since his affair was revealed in The Good Wife finale — but when he gets word she wants a divorce, he shows up on her doorstep. He sits by her on the couch as she cries, tells him everything, and asks, “How is my life so fucking meaningless? How can you work so hard every day of your life and have nothing to show for it?” It’s gutting, and it’s also far more satisfying than I expected to hear Diane Lockhart say “fuck.” It just sounds right coming out of her mouth.
Later in the episode, Kurt tells her to file for divorce if she wants to, but he won’t be the one to close the door on their relationship. I hope they find a way to make it work, or at least a way to talk more about making it work, and that’s not just because I want more Gary Cole on my television. I root for Diane and Kurt in a way I don’t root for many televised couples. There’s always been something compelling about the way their desire to support each other has superseded their differences, even when those differences are massive.
Meanwhile, Alicia is mentioned but never appears, and we’re meant to assume that she and Diane haven’t spoken since the slap that concluded The Good Wife. But there’s a scene between Lucca and Maia that feels like it could’ve been written as a scene for Alicia and Maia instead. It works very nicely with Lucca, though something about the framing makes me wonder if Julianna Margulies was offered it as a cameo. Maia’s been fired from the firm and berated by strangers because of her connection to her father’s alleged wrongdoing, and Lucca bumps into her being screamed at by a stranger. She follows Maia into a bathroom stall and offers some advice she learned from “a friend who went through the same thing.” Lucca tells her not to let people see her cry, to harden herself, to keep her head down and work, and to stay away from TV and the internet and read books instead. It is very good advice for anyone in these troubled times.
By the end of the episode, Adrian has offered to bring Diane on at his predominantly African-American firm, saying, “You can be our diversity hire.” He tells her she’ll be back on the good side, and that she won’t have to worry about colleagues or clients being angry at her about the financial scandal. “[The investment scheme] never invited black folk.” It’s unclear how Diane talks him into letting her bring Maia along, too, but she manages to pull it off. Race was an area in which The Good Wife sometimes faltered, so I’m a little nervous about the future of this story line. Toward the end of The Good Wife’s run, creators Michelle and Robert King frequently complained about the demands of the 22-episode season, so maybe the shorter, less hectic time frame of ten episodes will lend itself to some additional nuance.
There’s so much to be excited about in this first episode. It sets up The Good Fight as a familiar story (a woman tries to remake herself and her career in the wake of scandal) and something brand new. There’s not a weak link in the cast. The show’s embrace of race, age, and gender diversity is all but unprecedented on network TV. And, of course, the most exciting thing is Christine Baranski’s performance. When The Good Wife wrapped, I wondered when she’d find television work again. Hollywood is remarkably prejudiced against actresses of her age, but her work in The Good Fight just proves how misguided those prejudices are. Truly, this is Baranski at her best.