The Good Fight
Sometimes titles are evocative and strange, more about setting a tone or a theme than telling audiences what they’re in for. As the bully Nelson Muntz says of Naked Lunch in The Simpsons, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.” But then sometimes it’s really satisfying for a piece of art to deliver on its title, especially if it involves literally beating back the surge of white supremacists in this country. To that end, “The One Where a Nazi Gets Punched” is like that first deep breath of fresh mountain air — crisp and pure and totally invigorating. Always feels great to watch Nazis get punched.
But is it right? Here’s Jay’s entire monologue, delivered straight to the camera, as a racially instigated melee breaks out in a parking lot of a polling place on election day:
Is it alright to hit a Nazi unprovoked? I was always taught never to throw the first punch, never to instigate. Defend, but don’t attack. But then I saw a video of the white nationalist Richard Spencer being punched in the face during an interview. I realized Spencer was in a pressed suit, wearing a tie, being interviewed like his opinion mattered — like it should be considered part of the conversation, like neo-Nazism is just one political point of view. And then I realized there’s no better way to show some speech is not equal. Some speech requires a more visceral response. It’s like Overton’s window — that’s the term for which ideas are tolerated in public discourse. Well, Overton’s window doesn’t mean shit unless it comes with some enforcement. So yeah, this is enforcement. It’s time to punch a few Nazis.
The concept of the Overton window has gained a lot of traction in the past decade — the right-wing gadfly (and briefly woke) Glenn Beck published a novel with that title in 2010, which the Washington Post hailed for its “laughable prose” — because public discourse has shifted around dramatically. The Overton window has become a convenient concept for members of the far-right and far-left to use in pressing their agendas: Concepts that were previously considered verboten, like Medicare for All or the $15 minimum wage, become mainstream policy initiatives, and the notion of allowing neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer to have their views amplified can go from unfeasible to, say, an issue of free speech on college campuses. Do a Google search for “punching Nazis is good” and you’ll find a range of contrary arguments on the subject, but Jay’s point of view is reflected in this piece by Katherine Cross, who believes that Nazism is democracy’s “anti-matter” and must not be allowed to spread through the system. Making Nazis fear going out in public, therefore, is a good way to smother their cancerous ideology.
It feels strange to write about this issue in the context of The Good Fight, a show that’s ostensibly a legal procedural, but then again, The Good Fight is really about using the form to engage in what it’s like to live in our profoundly fucked-up times. In this episode, Lucca and Jay shuffle off to the sticks to act as Democratic poll-watchers, and that’s enough to spark a discussion of neo-Nazi groups. (The “Red Jackets” are most likely a reference to the Proud Boys, whose brawl with antifa members led to several members of the group getting arrested and doxxed.) It also leads to the question of how ordinary, rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans can continue to live with each other. It turns out that Nazis are a unifying force in that respect: The left and right can clash over abortion and Black Lives Matter, but here, on the lowest possible common denominator, they can agree.
The news also collides with The Good Fight in the A-plot, which deals with the sharing of genetic information between a home DNA-kit site called Second Helix and insurance companies. The plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit that Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart have been managing for two years are suing Second Helix for giving these details away to the insurance companies, which can then either raise premiums or deny life-insurance coverage to high-risk clients. How dot-com companies handle people’s personal information is a major issue, because Silicon Valley has been caught repeatedly violating privacy rights in order to sell data to third parties or track ride-share customers or sharpen its AI. Last month, FamilyTreeDNA confessed to having shared genetic data with the FBI, despite marketing itself as particularly mindful of privacy concerns. So, in this episode, a man can mail out a kit to learn more about his Irish ancestry and lose his life insurance coverage due to the stroke risk that eventually kills him. And those damned terms and conditions limit his family’s legal options.
The ripped-from-the-headlines quality of the case is compelling, but really it’s a pretext for the return of Michael Sheen as Roland Blum, whose hyperaggressive and ethically dubious legal practices turn out to be effective under the circumstances. With Second Helix nearing an IPO, Blum contends that a potentially devastating civil action could threaten its value and that it would be in the company’s interest to cut a fat check. He’s wrong, mostly, which leads to some wondrous courtroom theatrics, like Blum evoking a widow’s honeymoon through a tender rendition of “Tura Lura Lura! (That’s an Irish Lullaby)” or calling his dietician to the stand to act as an insurance-company whistleblower. (“Who are these men?! I wanted to be an insurance adjuster!” is maybe the funniest line-reading of the hour.)
Sheen’s presence on the show has been difficult to process, but he’s an acquired taste that’s gotten more delectable with each guest appearance, as much for what he draws out of other characters as he does on his own. Blum is heavily responsible for Maia’s current “Fuck You” phase, and he meets his match in Marissa, who acts as his keeper and gives back as good as she gets. (When Marissa jokes about being a Russian mail-order bride, Blum barks, “The humor of the American Jewess, in full flower!”) And here he comes together on legal strategy with Adrian, who’s second only to Julius in pragmatism among the firm’s partners, but enjoys sinking his teeth in a juicy gambit all the same. Having Sheen around as court jester gives an episode swarming with neo-Nazis the comic balance it needs.
• Many candidates for GIF of the week, but the winner for me is Roland Blum putting on that chullo hat to talk about a witness’s honeymoon in Machu Picchu.
• In doing research for this recap, I stumbled upon a hilarious Easter egg: The name of Blum’s dietician-turned-fake-witness is Arthur Gardner. Arthur Gardner also happens to be the name of the hero in Glenn Beck’s The Overton Window. Crossing the subplot streams!
• A third chunk of the episode is devoted to the fallout over Maia’s firing, which lands her in the humble position of dishing out advice for a “Consult-A-Lawyer” phone bank. What’s most fascinating is the mistrust that develops between Maia and former allies at the firm, specifically Diane and Lucca. She doesn’t feel like either of them did enough to fight for her job, so she no longer considers them friends. The door-closing on Lucca has a very Godfather-like quality to it.
• Always fun to see Christine Baranski grooving a bit, and her little duet with Audra McDonald on “Raspberry Beret” was a minor treat. Those handclaps make it a karaoke classic.
• Another wonderful Jonathan Coulton video, this one about “John Barron,” the sock-puppet publicist persona Donald Trump would use to boost his own reputation. (“He talks a wall around my sins / Turns my failures into wins.”)