The Good Fight
Earlier this month, New York Times op-ed columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote a piece about The Good Fight called “The Only TV Show That Gets Life Under Trump.” Goldberg speculates that the reason we haven’t seen much fiction on the subject is “because people are desperate for a respite from Trump, or because the imagination can’t compete with the strangeness of reality.” She continues: “The feeling that makes otherwise sane people wonder whether we’re all living in a computer simulation gone glitchy hasn’t yet been successfully channeled into any art that I’m aware of.”
To put it less elegantly than Goldberg, this season of The Good Fight has been absolutely fucking bananas. We’ve seen Diane joining an underground resistance group that’s not above rigging voting machines and “swatting” the architect of right-wing immigration policy. We’ve seen Jay monologue directly to the camera about the virtues of punching Nazis. We’ve seen Lucca get confronted by her own BBQ Becky or Permit Patty (i.e., a white woman calling the cops on a black person). We’ve seen Maia suck on fentanyl lollipops, Jonathan Coulton sing animated ditties on nondisclosure agreements and Russian troll farms, and CBS give carte blanche to whatever outrageous ideas the show’s creators could dream up … except when it came to China.
And now, the last episode of the season is called “The One About the End of the World,” and the show is only half-joking about it. This is the Magnolia episode of The Good Fight, when all the heightened melodrama on several fronts is brought together by a mysterious, cataclysmic event of near-biblical significance. In Magnolia, it was a rain of frogs; here it’s a series of “lightning balls” that have developed around the Chicagoland area, starting fires and knocking out power and generally giving off the eerie vibe of the apocalypse. (As I discussed last week, such events are what we Chicagoans call “the weather.”)
But until the lightning balls reach downtown, it’s business as usual for Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart. The divisions within the firm over race have been an ongoing theme this season, explored openly and audaciously and with just the right amount of discomfort. With Julius leaving for a federal judgeship, a partner position has opened up for one of two worthy candidates, Lucca and Rosalyn, who each say something about the “image” of the firm. Both are black women, but the implied concern is that Lucca isn’t black enough. She doesn’t see the other black associates outside of work, and her closest friends are Marissa, Maia, and Colin — all white people. With the firm experiencing so much tension along racial lines, exacerbated by unhelpful initiatives like scrapping the “hot desk” system and hiring more white people in the mail room, Rosalyn is seeming like a better choice for political reasons.
It’s remarkable that the show has chosen to get this granular about issues of race, given how often the racism on film and television tends to be more about overt bigotry. So here we’re treated to several cringeworthy scenes, like Lucca suddenly hitting the town with Rosalyn and other black associates, only to say the wrong thing about Barack Obama (“I bet he wished for one day when he didn’t have to be the black president”) and have Marissa pop into the conversation. It’s an opportunity for Lucca (and us) to think about her place in the firm — and for Marissa to step in it again — but it’s also about the partners exacerbating a problem they’ve been trying to solve. In the end, they wind up pitting two black women against each other and extending the offer to Maia, in a pitiful bid to bring her back onboard.
What the partners underestimate is how complete Maia’s heel turn has been since they fired her. She and Roland Blum were never as far apart as they seemed temperamentally and tactically, and a lawsuit they bring against Reddick-Boseman has them perfectly aligned. Both have reason for revenge against the firm that fired one and got the other disbarred, and they’ve rounded up former clients to complain about the firm taking too big a chunk of their settlements. It’s a particularly sensitive issue with Reddick-Boseman because the original suits are all examples of how the “good fight” they’ve been willing to take against institutional injustice is undermined by plain old-fashioned greed. The suit may seem like a Blum troll job, but it has some merit.
It also gives the show another opportunity to mock a Donald Trump judicial appointee, who in this case mirrors his sponsor’s ineptitude and childlike need for guidance and approval. When a lawyer complains about a Catch-22 situation, he replies, in the most dignified tone he can manage, that he “will hear arguments on the 22nd catch.” Diane’s big breakthrough, inspired by her husband’s own efforts to craft a sycophantic tribute to Trump, is to embrace simplicity. Just as Trump likes his briefings to be succinct and full of illustrations, Diane instructs a witness to make their case through a story of zoo animals with names like Judy Giraffe and Polly Possum. And in one particularly inspired/ridiculous scene, they take advantage of the discovery that the judge is into ASMR, or “autonomous sensory meridian response,” in which a person gets “brain orgasms” through triggers like the soft whispering into a microphone.
The madness finally winds down with the lightning ball hitting Chicago and leading to a moment of eerie self-reflection. Lucca and Marissa decide to drop acid. Adrian laments to Diane about how “the guardrails are gone” and that neither the law nor personal conscience can save us. In these final scenes, The Good Fight again has the candor to ask when this surreal, terrifying, dreadfully uncertain moment in history is going to end. And it has no answers.
• The show’s up-to-the-minute cheekiness includes a funny jab at Game of Thrones in the “Previously On …” segment, with a paper coffee cup placed conspicuously in front of the monitor.
• What an amazing breaking-the-fourth-wall moment with Marissa in freeze-frame and rolling titles explaining the Apple FaceTime glitch that allowed her to get the inside scoop on the firm’s hiring plans for partner. Just another example of how liberated the show has been to break the rules as it pleases.
• If you haven’t seen the Cabinet meetings that inform Kurt’s struggles to fawn enough over Trump, they’re really mortifying to witness. Diane’s suggested line, “Not since Abraham Lincoln has our great country been blessed by a leader of such wisdom and courage,” isn’t far from reality.
• If R.E.M. didn’t already have a song titled, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine),” Jonathan Coulton’s ditty summing up the season could have taken it. “Everything’s everywhere / And it’s way too much / And it’s all the time” is the season’s thesis in a nutshell.
• Answering Diane’s question “What could go wrong?” with a Book Club–ordered SWAT team outside her door is one spectacularly unsettling final shot.