The Good Fight
“Is there anyone you would not represent?”
This is a question, from mentor to mentee, that Liz asks of Carmen, the peculiar and brazen new junior associate, toward the end of this week’s episode. Carmen has just agreed — or, to put it more accurately, accepted the will of the highest of higher-ups — to represent Craig Wolfe-Coleman, an accused rapist that her officemates are likening to Jeffrey Epstein. Last week, Carmen finagled her way into representing one of the firm’s premium clients, the cartel boss Oscar Rivi, and now Wolfe-Coleman, a fellow inmate, has asked about her. Her inexperience isn’t an issue for either of them. Perhaps her moral flexibility is the chief allure here.
Carmen is new to the firm, so she doesn’t roll her eyes at Liz’s hypocrisy in asking that question, but this week’s episode makes absolutely, comprehensively certain that we are aware of it. This is a show called The Good Fight, but the title is often suffused with irony. There have been plenty of occasions when this firm, which posits itself as a Black-run and progressive-minded operation, has abandoned its ideals by taking unsavory business or by falling short in the composition of its staff, like bringing in the quite-white Diane as a partner. The reason for most of these decisions is simple: money.
Carmen shrugs her shoulders and gives an answer to Liz’s question (“Alan Dershowitz”), but the truth is that the only clients Liz, Diane, David, and any of the other big decision-makers at Reddick-Lockhart would not represent are the ones that cannot pay. The sole difference between the normal clients and the repugnant clients is the fee. Reddick-Lockhart will sell out if the price is right. Keep in mind, the alarm over Carmen taking over as Rivi’s chief attorney — and surely with Wolfe-Coleman — is not the stink over the firm representing a murderous cartel boss. It’s that the murderous cartel boss is supposed to get premium service.
Money is the engine that drives most of the subplots in this lively episode, which reflects on a legal business that perverts justice for the many in order to cater to justice for the few. That’s the theme the show appears to be establishing this season with Judge Wackner’s copy-store court, which may administer justice zanily, but does so efficiently and at a price ordinary people can afford. Wackner lays it out in a speech to Marissa: “You know why all these people are here? Because the courts and the lawyers and the appeals have made justice unattainable, out of reach to anyone who doesn’t have a shitload of money to wait it out. That’s why Exxon beats out Mr. Nobody.” In the end, Wackner himself has to pay out a stiff retainer just to get the firm to listen to him.
Two new cases harmonize around the theme, each prefaced by a gaggle of Reddick-Lockhart lawyers who fret over taking a client until a dollar figure turns them around. One is Carmen’s case, which seems iffy to the firm not because Wolfe-Coleman is the next Jeffrey Epstein, but because other clients might leave once they find out Reddick-Lockhart is representing him. So that’s an issue for the balance sheet, not the conscience. The matter is quickly resolved when David comes traipsing down from STR Laurie to make it clear that they’re taking the business — and that also, by the way, he’s the diabolical creep who’s running things upstairs now. Liz and Diane now have a boss worse than John Larroquette’s mercurial demon.
The second, more provocative case is about Section 230, the controversial legal umbrella that protects platforms from liability for third-party content. It starts with a slam-dunk win in which Liz represents a bike-shop owner whose family business got shut down by false reports that he was a child molester. The only problem is that the defendant cannot pay the settlement. So in swoops David Cord (Stephen Lang), a GOP operative who’s willing to pump $12 million into a lawsuit or lawsuits aimed at damaging major Silicon Valley companies like ChumHum and giving Section 230 the sort of serious legal challenge that only dark money can buy. It became a popular cause among conservatives in the waning days of the Trump administration, which had blamed the perceived biases of platforms like Twitter and Facebook for its electoral demise.
The complexities of Section 230 inspire another wonderful song explainer by Jonathan Coulton, who sums the issue up in a few neat couplets. If the founders of internet platforms like Google, Twitter, and Facebook are to be understood as publishers, then they have a massive advantage over ordinary media publishers, who can and have been found liable for printing untrue and defamatory news. (“So now I can’t get sued for what my users say / It’s why I own two spaceships and most of L.A.”) In fact, they are incentivized to highlight articles that trigger an emotional response from readers, whether those articles are of any value or not. (“I just want to engage you with things to enrage you / to keep your eyes on your screen.”) As things stand now, users have to accept the reality of lightly moderated platforms, which results in phenomena that can be beneficial or destructive to society. (“You get Arab Spring, you get hashtag Me Too / Bonus items: pizzagate, fake news, and Q.”)
What Reddick-Lockhart gets is the money to appeal all the cases it’s going to lose until Section 230 perhaps finds its way to the highest court in the land. When Liz tries to sue ChumHum on behalf of the bike-shop owner, Cord doesn’t seem at all surprised that the judge rules against her, despite finding compelling evidence that the ChumHum platform makes editorial decisions that are similar to newspapers that don’t have such protections. The judge has to follow the law, after all. But Cord comes back with another 27 cases that Liz can pursue, and he has the cash to fund every one of them. Whether or not fighting for Cord is “the good fight,” the firm can dip into that money well indefinitely. That’s how the justice system works.
• Marissa agreeing to serve as a law clerk in Wackner’s court is cleverly framed as her skipping the line as much as embracing his idealistic vision. She watched Carmen get summoned to a major client while she’s working overtime collating documents that are ultimately not necessary. She wants a piece of the action and she wants it sooner than a junior associate like herself ever gets. She hasn’t even taken the bar.
• Excellent subplot involving Kurt landing in legal trouble for training a veteran wanted for his participation in the January 6 insurrection. Kurt isn’t the type of Republican to cheer the insurrection by any means, but he also doesn’t want to name names. Diane’s decision to blow the whistle without Kurt’s knowledge satisfies her conscience while breaching their marital contract. There’s a delicious irony to Diane offering herself as a legally privileged vault for whatever he needs to say after leaking information without his consent.
• The birds that slam against Madeline Starkey’s transparent office window at the FBI recall the firecrackers in the Boogie Nights scene with Alfred Molina: background disturbances to raise foreground tension.
• Note to Starkey over how the Conways, like Diane and Kurt, make their politically contentious marriage work: They are professional political operatives. They are in the same gross club. See also: James Carville and Mary Matalin.