The Good Fight Recap: Living in Tiananmen Square

The Good Fight

Stoppable: Requiem for an Airdate
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
John Benjamin Hickey, Christine Baranski. Photo: Patrick Harbron/CBS

Spoilers ahead for episode four of The Good Fight, now streaming on CBS All Access.

Long before The Good Fight came along, its predecessor The Good Wife struggled with the question, “How do you solve a problem like Elsbeth Tascioni?” How do you put a character at the center of a show whose personality straddles the line between quirky and outright bizarre, without turning her into a caricature?

It’s a question The Good Wife tackled with varying degrees of success throughout its run, but by the end, Elsbeth had lapsed into over-the-top territory. An episode featuring the inner workings of her brain felt downright reductive, featuring a preoccupation with clowns and penguins, not a brilliant but unconventional legal mind. To a certain extent, The Good Fight’s version of Elsbeth is plagued by those same issues. When we see her again, she references a recent hospitalization that may or may not have been psychiatric. She gets overly flustered by an Alexa-like device. And she pops up over glass dividers between diner booths to startle a rival attorney. It’s all a bit much, but man, it’s great to see her again.

Elsbeth is brought in as a firm-wide lawyer, trying to sort out what exactly Mike Kresteva has to use against them. It’s Lucca who recommends her, quoting Alicia: “When you’re in trouble, call Elsbeth.” (The white lawyer Adrian initially brought in horrified all of the partners by quoting rap lyrics throughout their meeting and actually saying, “It’s the new civil rights, my bros!”) Gruff, cutthroat Mike is a near-perfect foil for Elsbeth, and when they meet for the first time, Elsbeth acts appropriately cowed. When Mike tells her that his practice is to personally destroy everyone who comes after him professionally, I thought she might actually back down.

I should’ve known better. Instead, Elsbeth finds Mike’s wife at a Trader Joe’s (seriously), passes herself off as a co-worker of Mike’s, scores an invitation to their house, and is there when Mike gets home. In a truly magnificent and satisfying reveal, Mike walks in and discovers the two of them wine-buzzed in the kitchen. Elsbeth mentions helping address thank-you notes for Mike and Deirdre’s anniversary gifts and exploring his study. Mike frantically checks for recording devices or missing files, but all he finds is a business card of Elsbeth’s stuck under the keyboard. When he follows her to her car and threatens her with a disbarment hearing, Elsbeth plays him a recording of his earlier threats. It’s sheer Tascioni brilliance. No one else could possibly carry it off.

Even with Elsbeth’s help, it’s still not exactly clear what Mike’s agenda and evidence are. He manages to get Maia’s father Henry released from prison on bail, but no one’s sure exactly what Henry might have given Mike in return. Maia and Elsbeth try to figure out what names on Henry and Jax’s “schtup list” might have ties back to the firm. Elsbeth finally realizes that the only possible link could be Maia downloading the list from Henry and Jax’s computer. But if Mike’s aware of that, it would mean her father sold her out to him, which he would never do … right?

Meanwhile, Adrian and Lucca take on a complex case. Lucca is friends with a TV writer (I laughed out loud when they referred to him as working on “one of those Chicago shows”) who wrote an episode based on the allegations that Trump raped a 13-year-old girl, but the network decided to pull it for political reasons. Julius, the firm’s lone Trump voter, gets up in arms about the firm deciding to take the case. It’s great to have a countering voice in the room, but it’s really difficult to believe Julius would still be vociferously defending Trump after all that’s happened over the past several weeks. The travel ban? The specific attacks on Representative John Lewis? The failure to denounce anti-Semitism? And those were literally just the first three I thought of. It’s hard to imagine Julius still going to the mat for that man.

The TV writer is being sued for deciding to post the episode online, and Adrian’s all in on his defense, seeing an opportunity for the firm to expand into entertainment law. It is a truly bonkers case that includes high points like the judge exasperatedly saying, “Look, I hate Yale as much as the next man!” at one point to break up a fight. Adrian initially argues that posting the clip falls under fair use, but posting a full episode of TV doesn’t fall under the “brief excerpt” provisions of fair use. The TV network’s lawyer, Amber, comes to the firm’s offices to hammer out the damages — they want $12 million. Adrian and Lucca slide back a counter offer of zero dollars. Amber snaps, “Fuck you,” and storms out of the office. Maybe we could dial back on people saying “fuck” just because they can? I’m not puritanical about swearing, but it feels out of place and excessive in some instances.

Adrian gives a downright chilling speech about how we’re “living in Tiananmen Square,” which doesn’t really seem to sway the judge. But he and Lucca win the case on the most bizarrely appropriate technicality of all: a Trump tweet. Just before the judge announces damages, Trump tweets, “Congrats to Weintraub for standing up to another Hollywood crybaby — time to look into who they hire to write.” The tweet makes the case inherently political, with direct government involvement. That means the episode’s now protected under the First Amendment and the writer can’t be penalized for posting it. It is downright chilling to see a Trump tweet legitimized and given this much weight in an actual court of law, even if that court of law is imaginary. (I know he’s the president, but every new dimension of that authority feels like a blow when it emerges.)

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Colin and Lucca have their much-hyped milkshake and sex date, in which he uses the truly regrettable line, “I’m going to kiss you, and then I’m going to save you.” Still, they’re sweet to each other, and it’s interesting to see both of them beginning to open up, beyond their flirty banter. Lucca also obliquely talks about her friendship with Alicia, which makes me wonder (again!) whether we’ll hear what and how she’s doing before the end of the series. We certainly don’t need to, as The Good Fight is chugging along perfectly well without her. But I’m curious regardless.

Even though Diane doesn’t take point on the case against the television network, it’s a big week for her, too. After her hang-up call in last week’s episode, Kurt turns up at her office. He asks for help with a speech he’s giving to police about ballistics and leaves her a gift-wrapped gun. Diane helps him polish his presentation, and then turns up to watch him deliver it. Afterwards, they kiss and go back to Diane’s place, where he asks if they should live together again. Even though she’s being pressured to deliver her capital contribution to the firm, Diane says no. “It’s my problem,” she explains. I understand Diane’s point of view, but I also root for Kurt and Diane harder than I root for most couples in pop culture. It’s hard to explain why, but I think it has something to do with how different they are on paper. The overlap in their Venn diagram has never been shared interests or compatible political views. It’s their desire to care for and accept one another. In a world where many televised relationships are rooted in being adversarial, that feels a little revolutionary. Put more succinctly: GET BACK TOGETHER, YOU GUYS.

Diane was right — it’s her problem to solve, and because she’s Diane Goddamn Lockhart, she does so perfectly. Earlier in the episode, Diane runs into Neil Gross, the founder of ChumHum, The Good Wife universe’s maddeningly named proxy for Google. He’s tired of his lawyers, and impressed with what the firm did to stand up against the television network. When he comes to the offices to speak with Diane, he says he’s looking for an agency with some fight, and I can’t tell whether that was an intentional play on the name of the series. He also delivers the firmest anti-Trump directive the series has offered so far: “I say we do the same thing to Trump that the Republicans did to Obama — don’t settle. Don’t negotiate. Don’t back down.” Diane brings him into the firm, securing a $58 million retainer, but she delivers ChumHum with a catch. She wants her capital contribution to be taken out of the retainer, and she wants to be a named partner. Adrian tells her she has a deal, and Diane walks out of his office held higher than we’ve seen it all season. Barbara sighs, “She’s gonna be trouble.” Gonna be?

The Good Fight Recap: Living in Tiananmen Square