After kicking off the season with spectacular bravado last week with a stand-alone alternate-universe episode, The Good Fight settles into its own version of business as usual, with intimations of things to come. It’s an entertaining hour, but without the political spikiness of last week — and virtually all of last season, with its topical references and Jonathan Coulton Schoolhouse Rock ditties — it feels like a bit of a letdown. For the first time in a while, it behaved like a normal-ish courtroom drama, like a few curse words removed from something that could run on network television. No microdosing, no Nazi–punching, no episode-long Wizard of Oz fantasies.
Okay, emphasis on the “ish” part of normal-ish. The episode still opens with the chaos of unsupervised dogs running through the halls of Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart, pulls off a mini-revival of ’80s NBC Thursday with appearances by John Larroquette and Michael J. Fox, allows 16 minutes of action before the opening credits, and teases a wide-ranging conspiracy of the ultraelite that hints at season four’s overarching political agenda. So business as usual for The Good Fight will never quite be business as usual for other shows of its kind, even when it’s planting its feet on terra firma for a moment. The promotional materials for the season have asked the question, “What is Memo 618?” but the show isn’t prepared yet to play those cards. As of now, it’s mostly those words (and only those words) on a page.
But first, dogs! After nine months away from the job, Diane returns to a firm transformed by pet-friendly new management. The seventh largest firm in America, STR Laurie, has acquired Reddick, Boseman, leading to a massive payout to the chief partners, paltry bonuses to the equity partners, and the dogs of STR Laurie’s main partners doing their dirty, sinful business in the halls. Meanwhile, “Mr. Laurie” and “Mr. Firth” are a floor above the peons they’ve taken under their wing, and even the most senior staff at Reddick, Boseman have to be escorted up a spiral staircase to meet with their betters. Otherwise, it’s off limits.
And yet, for now, it’s all carrots and no stick. When Diane is summoned up to see Mr. Firth, played with a suspiciously wide grin by Larroquette, he offers a surprisingly pleasing directive. She expects to return to her old cases, but he wants her to table her corporate workload entirely and head up the firm’s pro bono division, a team of 22 lawyers with access to investigative resources and full billable hours compensation. It’s a dream come true for Diane, who’s unleashed to seek social justice on the behalf of little guys and gals, and it’s a boon for the show, too, which has given itself a natural avenue to comment on how the system functions for workaday clients.
So far, so bad. The first case Diane picks up is an effort to save an authentic Mexican diner from demolition, and she lucks out in getting to argue in front of newly minted Judge Julius Cain (Michael Boatman), once the lone conservative in her firm. Her opposing counsel is the wily Louis Canning (Fox), who draws an immediate laugh by launching into the same spiel about his Parkinson’s disease that he’s been giving since his first appearance on season two of The Good Wife. At no point does Diane get to argue for her client, even though she wins a restraining order. The issue becomes entirely about the subpoena that Canning’s wealthy client, Tucker Nugent, is brazenly ignoring, even though it comes from a judge on the federal bench. When Nugent is finally dragged into court in cuffs, he refuses to get sworn in, tells the judge to “go fuck yourself,” and predicts he’ll get an apology when he’s free from jail.
And that brings us to Memo 618. The implication is that there’s a mysterious cabal of ultraelite people, including men like Nugent, and the law simply doesn’t apply to them. Julius learns first from another judge, Charlotte, and a former judge turned Uber driver that he has to respect Memo 618, release Nugent from holding, and offer him one utterly humiliating apology. He shocks Diane in court by doing just that, inexplicably curbing his anger over the open contempt Nugent had displayed for federal court. Diane still escapes with a continuation of the injunction, only to learn later from her client that the diner has been demolished against court orders.
The Good Fight is heading toward a strong era-specific message for the season: The rule of law doesn’t apply anymore. As Charlotte tells Julius, “The whole thing isn’t real. What we do, what we rule. It’s just shadow play. We say, ‘You go to jail, you don’t,’ and then we count on other people making it happen. And if they don’t want to, they don’t have to.” In the Trump era, where accountability is all but nonexistent and pardons are issued as political favors, the understanding that no person is above the law has been thrown into doubt. No doubt the Nugent case is merely the throat clearing for the chaos to come.
In a much less compelling B-plot, Luca (Cush Jumbo) gets her marching orders from Mr. Finch, too, but they’re not quite as appealing. Finch needs someone to team up with his chief divorce attorney on a high-profile case because the client doesn’t seem comfortable with him. That attorney? David Lee (Zach Grenier), the irascible cutthroat who’s stuck around The Good Wife/Fight universe from the beginning. Lee’s brusque personality and anti-PC provocations are a hassle for Luca and a bad fit for their client, an African-American cosmetics icon whose ex-husband wants to wriggle out of the prenup he set up before she made her fortune.
The divorce case leads to some good, frisky exchanges between Luca and David, and undermines the suspicion that David is trying to bilk their client for billable hours rather than do what’s right for her. But it also feels like a time-filler that doesn’t relate much to the A-plot and doesn’t justify its existence on its own. It isn’t often that The Good Fight struggles to give its main characters something to do.
•A little sad that the ChumHum account has been lost for now. The comings and goings of a goofily named and occasionally sinister search engine seems eternally relevant to the times.
• The full Zen Master story Finch tells Diane can be read here, in case you’re searching for enlightenment.
• Flying to Saint Lucia in a private jet just to have guava: One of those simple pleasures you really miss under quarantine.
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