The Good Fight
Spoilers ahead for episode nine of The Good Fight, now streaming on CBS All Access.
If there’s one storytelling device that The Good Fight has overly relied on in its nine-episode run, it’s the use of quirkiness as the primary defining character trait in its side players. Over the course of the series, we’ve had the return of Elsbeth, the original quirky breakout character of the Good Wife/Good Fight universe. We’ve seen a reliance on Marissa’s unconventional and sassy side as a means of comic relief (to be fair, we’ve also seen her character developed further than it was in The Good Wife). Last week, we met a lawyer who loves playing Candy Crush and making lascivious blowjob motions to female attorneys. And this week’s episode featured Jane Lynch as Madeline, a properly kooky federal agent/investigator with a zanily cluttered office and a set of windows into which birds were continually flying. She likes See’s Chocolate! She’s homespun and folksy! Even though Lynch’s performance brings layers to the character, there’s nothing nuanced or complex about the way it’s written. It feels like the writers are constantly elbowing us in the side — “Can you believe this woman?! What a trip!”
I’m not asking The Good Fight to provide rich backstories or complex characterizations for one-off characters in a limited-run series, and I applaud the show for focusing on character development in its (stacked) main cast, rather than getting tangled up in guest stars. But using “Let’s make them WEIRD!” as a rallying cry for multiple characters feels tiresome at this point, and that’s not fair to the show or its performers. The novelty of weird wears off when it’s the defining characteristic of character after character after character. And it wasn’t helped this week by bringing back Colin Sweeney, inarguably one of the most bizarre guest stars in the history of The Good Wife. But we’ll get to him later.
Maia and Lucca have been called to Madeline’s office for an interview related to the investigation of the Ponzi scheme. It’s a sort of “get out of jail free!” interview for Maia — or, more accurately, a “stay out of jail” discussion. Nothing she says in the interview can be used against her, unless she lies to the agent, because that’s a federal offense. The core purpose of the conversation is to determine what Maia knows and remembers about her parents’ involvement in the Ponzi scheme.
What follows is a pretty fascinating look at the malleable nature of memory. Maia confidently asserts details about her past and her memories of conversations and events, only to have Madeline shoot those memories down with meticulously gathered evidence. (The show plays a little fast and loose with her ability to recall specific instances from random dates nine years ago, but that’s forgivable, as far as storytelling offenses go.) Maia remembers multiple gynecologist appointments that her mother brought her to, but it turns out her mother never brought her to those appointments. They were a cover for Lenore’s biweekly sex dates with Jax.
Sympathetically, Madeline explains to Maia that it’s natural for brains to show us the memories we want to believe, rather than what actually happened. She tells a story about being on Bozo’s Circus, playing the Grand Prize Game, and winning the jackpot. It’s incredibly evocative, although probably less so if you’re not from a generation who regularly watched children on TV throw ping-pong balls into buckets in hopes of winning a bike from a slightly creepy clown. It turns out Madeline never played or won — it was her older sister. “The mind has an odd way of turning wishful thinking into memories.”
But those reassurances mostly exist to lull Maia into a false sense of complacency and trust in her conversations with Madeline, who begins pulling out the big guns. She asks Maia why she doesn’t have more of a memory of the beginnings of the Rindell Foundation, and why the board of that foundation hasn’t been more active. Madeline then says that because Maia took ownership of the foundation on her 18th birthday, she’s culpable for any crimes committed using its funds. Fortunately, Maia’s able to escape this culpability because she signed the papers at her birthday party, which took place a few days before her actual birthday, when she was still 17.
Eventually, Maia realizes that because she kept her girlfriend Amy’s parents from investing in the fund, she must have known something was amiss. (Amy is wearing a tank top that says Blonde Bestie in the flashback where Maia figures this out, which is all kinds of frustrating.) But she tells Madeline that the truth is she told Amy to keep her parents out of it so as to not mix family and finances. Madeline replies, “In my experience, whenever someone says ‘the truth is,’ that means it’s not.” She goes on to say that she believes Maia lied to her and is going to recommend that she be prosecuted for doing so. It’s a scary moment for Maia, but it’s a little confusing, too. Isn’t it Maia’s word against Madeline’s at this point? Wouldn’t someone — her parents, Jax, Amy — need to testify against Maia for the charges to stick?
Meanwhile, Adrian and Diane take on another police-brutality case, with an unconventional defendant: Colin Sweeney, the billionaire wife killer. (Or, as he points out, the billionaire alleged wife killer.) The cop accused of wrongdoing, Andrew, is the same police officer involved in the case in the season premiere, which is a nice, full circle moment for Adrian and Diane. I haven’t said this outright, but I’d be remiss in letting the series go by without saying how wonderful Christine Baranski and Delroy Lindo’s chemistry has been. It’s been a long time since Diane has had a true friend and a true contemporary — maybe even since Will died — and it’s been really satisfying to watch that unfold.
Sweeney is as batty and infuriating as ever, and I’ll admit (abashedly) that at one point I wondered why I should care whether he was brutalized by a cop. It doesn’t help that he keeps doing things like comparing himself to Rodney King or lamenting the plight of the poor, misunderstood rich white dude. But that’s precisely the point the show is trying to make. The good fight isn’t a fight for Sweeney, it’s against police brutality. No one deserves violence at the hands of our “protectors,” even people who we (rightfully) find despicable. That said, while it’s satisfying to see him, Diane, and Adrian get Andrew removed from the police force, it makes my skin crawl to think of him back out in the world, doing bath salts at sex parties and luring potential murder victims to his home. But that’s a testament to how fully Dylan Baker inhabits his character — even though Sweeney is fictional, the menace he poses feels real and absolute.
It’s a little surprising that next week is the show’s season finale, both because the time has flown, and because it seems like there’s still so much story left to tell. Will Maia be found guilty? Will any of her family members? Will Diane and Kurt get back together? Will Adrian lose control of the firm? Will Mike Kresteva make good on his threats to Elsbeth? There was no guarantee when this season was written that there would be a season two (there will!), so it will be interesting to see whether the show opts for neatly tied up stories or deliberate, delicious ambiguity. No matter how the show decides to wrap up its first season, it’s been wonderful to watch The Good Fight go from good to great.