Ever since Diane Lockhart sauntered onto our screens over a decade ago on The Good Wife, she has been an aspirational figure. An Emily’s List Democrat and staunch Hillary Clinton supporter with inimitable grace, thanks to the incisive, layered portrayal by Christine Baranski, she represented a safe kind of femininity that defined success as vaulting up the corporate ladder. But when The Good Fight began in 2017, the life Diane had long led crumbled. In quick succession, she lost her money, her job, and her marriage was splintered after infidelity on the part of her gun-loving, Republican husband. As the show developed — its fourth season premiered on CBS All Access last week — it has radicalized her, showing her the power of anger in the wake of Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency as well as revealing to her the faults and fragilities within the systems she trusts.
The Good Fight is a bolder show than its predecessor, taking more seriously the dynamics of racial politics within its vision of Chicago, considering more deeply what it means to exist in our present moment, and offering a more tangled view on what personal and political justice looks like. Its fourth season premiere, “The Gang Deals With Alternate Reality,” feels especially incendiary, even for a show that has metabolized such contentious issues as the pee tape and the Shitty Media Men list. “The Gang Deals With Alternate Reality” sees showrunners Robert and Michelle King, who penned the episode, take their curiosities and criticisms to daring new heights by skewering corporate feminism as a means for the powerful to maintain their power, in the process indicting whiteness and particularly white womanhood.
The episode acts as a series of awakenings for Diane. She wakes to a world in which Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election but remains aware of the alternate path she remembers our society taking. At first blush, this world seems a paradise: Diane is flush with joy as news anchors report that a possible cure for cancer has been found, the polar bears are in overpopulation, and the rainforest has been saved. She learns that she’ll be arguing for the White House in front of the Supreme Court, which includes justices Elizabeth Warren and Merrick Garland. When the name Brett Kavanaugh is mentioned, fellow lawyer Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) replies with a confused “who?” It’s a preposterously exaggerated fantasy, one that creates an ironic distance between the ecstasy of Diane’s reaction and the horror that comes next.
After hearty congratulations from her partners at the firm, which had been cash-strapped and desperate to land a big client, Diane learns that she has poached none other than Harvey Weinstein from his longtime counsel Lisa Bloom. It is here where the episode pivots on its axis: Diane is stunned to realize the righteous anger that propelled forth the Me Too movement — the anger that helped end the careers of men like Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose, all of whom are name-checked in this alternate universe and are continuing along just fine with the accusations against them left to mere rumor — never burst into the mainstream after Clinton’s victory. What’s troubling isn’t just that the groundswell of feminist rage never got its time in the sun but who is complicit in protecting The Good Fight’s vision of Weinstein: women who use the gossamer-thin facade of corporate feminism as a shield for their immorality.
What is corporate feminism? It is the belief that women vaulting themselves to the same echelons as white men is radical progress. It is Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg saying, “We would be a lot better off if half of all countries and companies were run by women and half of all homes were run by men, and we shouldn’t be satisfied until we reach that goal.” It is Hillary Clinton, in her recent Hulu docuseries, insisting she’s not a part of the establishment as a means to bolster her legacy, with little regard to the women she has failed as a politician. Corporate feminism isn’t so much feminism but a shield that women of privilege use to hold on to the power they’ve garnered — even if it means undermining other women’s concerns and tragedies to retain that power. As Diane says after wincing through Lucca defending Weinstein in court, “Justice is an equation. Justice equals the law times the zeitgeist. The law on its own doesn’t stand up.” The zeitgeist in this universe works against the righteous anger Diane has grown into.
The insidiousness of corporate feminism takes an especially potent form as Diane learns just how much Weinstein has benefited under the Clinton presidency. He remains a powerful Hollywood producer, sending his minions to squash any sexual assault allegations that rear their head by using sexist language about “bitter actresses” with a “limited shelf life.” He’s garnered the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Much as he did in our world before Me Too, he is able to thrive in part because he uses feminism as a shield, echoed through his friendship with Clinton as well his donations to splashy liberal causes like Women Unite for Change, a charity that Diane discovers she co-founded in the wake of Clinton’s win. Here, The Good Fight reveals the interlocking factors of a specific brand of spineless liberalism — the women who become oppressors as they rise to positions of power, the emptiness of Hillary Clinton’s messaging, and the willingness of the powerful to maintain a destructive status quo — and how it ultimately protects men like Weinstein.
“The Gang Deals With Alternate Reality” is a study in not just the failures of corporate feminism but the white imagination itself. In her groundbreaking 1981 book Ain’t I a Woman, bell hooks writes, “American women have been socialized, even brainwashed, to accept a version of American history that was created to uphold and maintain racial imperialism in the form of white supremacy and sexual imperialism in the form of patriarchy. One measure of the success of such indoctrination is that we perpetuate both consciously and unconsciously the very evils that oppress us […] For how does one overthrow, change, or even challenge a system that you have been taught to admire, to love, to believe in?” This idea comes to the fore late in the episode when Diane attends a glitzy Women Unite for Change fundraiser, after failing to convince the firm to drop Weinstein. She’s joined by Clinton’s press secretary, Zoe Redgrave (Kathryn Erbe), who declares during an interview on the red carpet, “This isn’t the year of the women. It’s the decade of the women. It’s our time.” But which women is she speaking about? It certainly isn’t about poor and working-class women and women of color who are absent from their circles. It isn’t about trans women. She is touting an individualistic feminism that reveals the lie of shared sisterhood: Women like Zoe aren’t looking to dismantle systems of oppression but advance within them until they become equal to the men of their class.
It’s telling that Weinstein never attacks Diane directly as she tries, again and again, to bring his crimes to light; instead, others threaten and undermine her for challenging the status quo. It also isn’t a coincidence that nearly all of Weinstein’s defenders are white women who resemble Diane in the privilege they embody. Meanwhile, by choosing to represent Weinstein, Lucca complicates this critique: She’s the sole woman of color in the episode who dismisses Diane’s mounting concerns about him, but her place in this narrative still feels precarious. Weinstein preys on Lucca, trying to lure her into his hotel suite through a tactic Diane immediately recognizes and warns of. Through this, the Kings subtly call attention to the fact that even when women of color are complicit in protecting men like Weinstein, or the systems that prop them up, their standing is far more complicated than that of white women’s.
At the Women United for Change event, Diane futilely tries to light the ember for the Me Too movement, crediting Tarana Burke for coining the term and urging women to come forward with their stories. But her manifesto and plea is strangled before it makes it to air, the local news merely running an innocuous soundbite snipped from her call to arms. Worse yet, Zoe makes a surprise visit to Diane’s office, not just imploring her to stop but threatening her for trying to make such a movement happen. Zoe puts it bluntly: “You’re trying to suggest women get angry about abuse, right? That’s not the message that helps us in 2020. Hillary only gets reelected if men don’t feel women are leading with their anger.” I bitterly laughed at this moment, at this white woman’s desire to be powerful, at the notion that attaining such power could be seen as progress for all women. As bell hooks writes, “White women who dominate feminist discourse today rarely question whether or not their perspective on women’s reality is true to the lived experiences of women as a collective group. Nor are they aware of the extent to which their perspectives reflect race and class biases.”
In the end, Diane doesn’t get her triumphant moment. There is no splashy victory in the face of the horrors she witnesses. No justice. Little hope. Her anger is ground down and rendered futile — by Weinstein, by Zoe, by the overwhelming force of power asserting and protecting itself — and then the entire twisted fantasy dissolves. Diane wakes up returned to her own world, having learned that there is no freedom from the systems of oppression that let men like Weinstein flourish. Which is the most bitterly honest ending of all.