Spoilers ahead for episode three of The Good Fight, now streaming on CBS All Access.
One of the wonderful things about Michelle and Robert King’s method of storytelling is how unafraid they are of silence. This week’s episode of The Good Fight, “The Schtup List,” opens with an amazing example: For about 30 seconds, Maia Rindell wordlessly stares down her mother Lenore and her Uncle Jax, whom she just caught together, taking in Jax’s untucked shirt and bare feet and Lenore’s guilty expression. After Maia storms out, Lenore follows and explains she’s just trying to talk some sense into Jax. Maia, understandably, wants to know what sort of “sense” requires Jax to have his shirt off. Lenore responds by claiming that she’s sleeping with Jax so that he’ll … stop framing Maia’s father? It’s a bit of a stretch.
As a result, Maia goes to see her father Henry in jail. Both her lawyer and her dad’s lawyer are present during the visit, so they’re not able to speak freely. But as Henry hugs Maia good-bye, he whispers a password and a file name. It’s up to her to get to Jax’s house, distract him, log on to his computer, take cell-phone pictures of the information, and then leave without him noticing. If that scheme sounds a bit cockamamie, it’s because it is, and it’s hard to watch the episode without noticing all of the potential holes in Maia’s plot. If you framed your brother in a Ponzi scheme, wouldn’t you wipe your hard drive? Or change your password, at the very least? Regardless, Maia recruits Marissa to keep Jax occupied on the phone with a truly aggravating, intricate message. It’s a sequence that makes me love Marissa a little more, and wonder what Eli Gold is up to these days. It’s too much to hope for a cameo, right?
Maia gets what she came for: a list of names and phone numbers called “the schtup list.” When she asks her father whether they can use the list to bring down Jax without inculpating her mother, he says he doesn’t know. After the first two episodes, I was a little concerned about how the many story lines would balance, and whether the show could actually do justice (no pun intended) to each of its leads. I also wasn’t sure whether I wanted to spend ten episodes watching Maia haltingly practice law. But, as seen in this episode, shifting the weight of the Ponzi scheme story to Maia while letting Lucca and Diane litigate is a really effective storytelling choice.
Despite the notable changes the Kings made to The Good Fight after Trump was elected, I assumed the Trump details would remain fairly surface level, as they were in the show’s first two episodes. But for better or worse (mostly better), “The Schtup List” tackles a fully Trump-centered story line. Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad is missing a retainer from a major client, so Adrian and Barbara take lunch with its CEO to figure out the problem. Ron, the CEO, implies that the corporation is looking to do business with a minority-owned, Trump-friendly firm. With its progressive politics, record for taking on police brutality, and partners who speak at anti-Trump rallies, Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad won’t exactly fit the bill. All of this leads to a pretty hilarious sequence in which Adrian, desperate for a way to demonstrate that the firm is even remotely bipartisan, walks into the bullpen and bellows, “Who voted for Trump?”
No one answers affirmatively, but later, a lawyer named Julius pulls Barbara aside and says that he did. She tells him he can pitch to the company, and he’s immediately resistant. Julius is afraid he’ll be ostracized. In an attempt to reassure him, Barbara says, “Kanye voted for Trump!” Julius corrects her and says that Kanye said he would’ve voted for Trump … had he voted. Adrian and Barbara have an identical exchange a few minutes later. Of course, Kanye was ostracized for saying he would’ve voted for Trump. He wasn’t shunned from society, but the social-media backlash was immediate, and the think pieces were many and varied. Using Kanye as a reassuring example in this context is weird, and it’s equally not reassuring to say, “Here is a single example of another African-American person who voted for Trump!” I’m not sure if this is a misread of Kanye’s actions and the response, or a rewrite of the script that came without much time to consider them, but it’s a wrong note in an otherwise very compelling story.
Julius does wind up landing the client, and his reward is a round of hearty cheers from his colleagues. They’re all whispering behind his back shortly after, and I’m interested to see to what extent Julius’s story is revisited. Millions of voters backed Trump, including people of color, but Julius is one of the very first TV characters to fall into this category. That’s a fascinating opportunity to explore what it’s like to be a Trump voter in the controversial first weeks of his presidency. Does Julius have buyer’s remorse? Did he believe Trump would win, or was it a protest vote? Does he think America is great again?
Maybe it’s a result of this op-ed I read about the struggle of Arab actors (and this one from a few years back), but I felt a little uneasy about the case Lucca and Diane tackled this week. Here’s how it plays out: Diane is representing Dr. Pekoe, a surgeon who was arrested while talking a doctor in Syria through a surgery. As he explains it, Doctors Without Borders is so pressed for boots on the ground that they tutor Syrian doctors via Skype. Dr. Pekoe was arrested for abetting a terrorist by helping to operate on him from a distance. After he’s released on bond, he begins to help the same patient again, and is re-arrested. He tells the judge his patient only has a few hours to live, and the case is kicked into high gear.
In the grand tradition of The Good Wife, there’s melodramatic footage of clocks throughout.
Eventually, we learn that the patient, Tariq, wasn’t a Syrian terrorist. He’s an American citizen who went to Syria to try to reform his brother, an ISIS leader named Aimar. By the end of the episode, we learn that arresting Dr. Pekoe was never the end goal, either. The authorities wanted Tariq’s surgery to be delayed so that Aimar would come to the clinic. He does, and threatens to kill the staff if Tariq dies. That potential loss of life effectively decriminalizes Dr. Pekoe’s aid, and he’s allowed to finish with the surgery. But shortly thereafter, the medical facility is bombed, and Tariq dies. All along, the case was a ruse by American authorities to draw out Tariq, and then kill him. The moral and legal conundrum at the core of Dr. Pekoe’s trial is fascinating, and the episode successfully uses the case to tee up story lines for the rest of the season. We meet Colin Morrello, an AUSA who has an immediate romantic chemistry with Lucca. We see how Lucca and Diane’s defense approaches complement one another’s, and how potentially unstoppable they are as a team. We even see Marissa beginning to work with the new firm’s investigator, Jay, in whom she might have met her match. On its own merits, the story line is both well-crafted and engaging.
But I’m confident that The Good Fight could have found a way to accomplish those goals without telling yet another story that casts people of color as terrorists. The Good Wife really struggled with stories about race; it seems ill-advised for its spinoff to feature a story that reinforces the stereotype that Syrians are a threat to America and relegates people of Arab descent to terrorism-centric story lines.
The story line also raises an issue The Good Fight couldn’t have anticipated: Would Tariq have risked going to Syria during Trump’s travel ban and the ensuing uncertainty, knowing he might not be able to return? I have a feeling that the questions raised by a show that’s a funhouse image of our real world will continue to be just the tiniest bit maddening — but a little bit exhilarating, too. At the very least, The Good Fight will keep rattling around in my brain until the next episode comes along.