It should not be forgotten that Hal Wackner is an idealist. Diane Lockhart is an idealist, too. As is Liz Reddick and the law firm they represent as partners. The hidden theme of The Good Fight — and the not-so-hidden theme of this episode — is what happens when that idealism meets the corrosive effects of the real world, which frequently asks for concessions and sometimes doesn’t bother to ask at all. We’ve seen countless examples of Reddick–Boseman–Lockhart not living up to its ideals as a Black-run law firm, even before the conspicuously not-Black Diane Lockhart was added to the name, along with her corporate clients. Liz’s own father, for one, tarnished the firm’s image through personal disgraces that stained his legacy as a civil-rights leader.
But with Wackner, we’re starting fresh. No one could say that his zany alternative courtroom in the back of a copy store was borne out of cynicism or greed or megalomania. He is a sincerely eccentric and eccentrically sincere fake judge who wants to relieve an official justice system that’s only accessible to the wealthy and exceedingly poky and unfair to ordinary citizens. The only problem is that he needs money to keep it running. And with that money, there are inevitably going to be some strings attached. And just as inevitably, the men pulling those strings will want some return on their investment. For Wackner, the question is how much integrity he will be willing to sacrifice at the altar of viability. Will there come a time when Wackner’s idealism is fatally compromised? Will he even know when it happens?
One thing’s for certain: Focus groups are not on board with the status quo. The twin devils on Wackner’s shoulders — conservative dark-money man David Cord and streaming-service producer Del Cooper — are banking on reality TV that will bring The People’s Court into the digital age, like Judge Wapner without the stuffy formalities of a legitimate small claims court. But here, the focus group has indicated a problem inherent in Wackner’s conceit: Because he has no official jurisdiction and must rely on all parties agreeing to have him arbitrate a case, he’s simply not getting very compelling disputes. Viewers naturally want dramatic, high-stakes cases, but Wackner doesn’t have the power to issue prison sentences (last week’s fanciful ruling against the stand-up aside), and non-kooky suits are likely to be settled elsewhere.
And then there’s the matter of the judge himself. Is he a compelling character? The young editor of the show thinks Marissa has all the star quality. (And a flattered Marissa respects and rewards his peerless instincts on this front.) The one scene with Wackner that viewers like is one he’s asked to cut, when the judge furiously berates Marissa for questioning his motives in open court. Does this mean that Judge Wackner will have to reinvent himself as a man of righteous fury, like a Dead-Head equivalent to the late Morton Downey Jr.? That remains to be seen, but Wackner is now acutely aware of how he’s testing among a jury of 12 that’s not in his courtroom but may hold his fate in their hands.
Yet the stakes may be a bit low for us, too, frankly. This fitfully amusing episode is elegantly constructed, with Wackner’s courtroom intrigue bumping into the partner intrigue at Reddick–Lockhart, but the show is getting a little long on silliness. Here, Julius gets sent on the type of legal odyssey familiar to anyone who’s run afoul of big-city parking enforcement, except with the extra surreal dimension of it not really involving the city at all. Julius gets a ticket for parking in a purple zone, a curbside reserved for select members of Wackner’s staff, and he racks up further violations by tearing up the ticket and the ticket for tearing up that ticket. After his car gets towed and he can’t spring it from the lot, he prepares to take legal action against Wackner’s court, but all this fighting just gets him deeper into the Chinese finger trap.
It takes some plot-wrangling to compel Julius to go to trial in front of Wackner, his cameras, and his now-very-pleased benefactors, but the firm’s civil actions on police brutality have made their lawyers enemies of rank-and-file cops, who have no problem frog-marching a guy like Julius to a fake court. He’s never in serious jeopardy, but this one little parking ticket reveals the extent to which the firm’s business is tied up with Wackner’s court. He’s their client, for one. But Cord is also a client — a big one, with potential for growth — and so its corporate masters at STR Laurie do not want anything Reddick–Lockhart does to upset that relationship. And Julius himself, who’s looking for Cord to bankroll a new Black conservative law firm, with Diane possibly jumping aboard, doesn’t want to ruffle those feathers, either.
A fine mess, right?
“And the Détente Had an End … ” continues this season’s bold questioning of Diane’s motives and values, which have more to do with dollar signs and power plays than “the good fight.” Cord won’t take Julius’s pitch for a law firm seriously unless Diane leaves her current position and takes her corporate clients with her. Similarly, David cannot tolerate talk of Diane’s forced ouster from Reddick–Lockhart because she’s too valuable to lose —again, as an earner, not as a high-minded liberal crusader who counts Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her own personal Snuffleupagus. The fact that Diane was brought into a Black-run firm as an unthreatening white face for deep-pocketed clients during the Trump era has never been more awkwardly plain. Yet the money part still matters, especially to STR Laurie.
In a delightful new development, Diane tries to solve the discord at the firm by bringing in a new partner in Allegra Durado, a Black attorney and scholar whose reputation for independent-mindedness earned her clerkships with both Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. But Allegra is played by Wanda Sykes, which is a sign that she’s going to be a wild card even before Allegra herself, in a meeting with Liz, basically implies the same thing. Diane believes she’s made yet another shrewd decision to shore up her position at the firm, but Allegra will have her own agenda. And given Sykes’s persona — and the show’s general ethos — it’s sure to be an entertainingly wild one.
• Saying that Donald Trump “wasn’t shit” until The Apprentice casts Wackner’s populist ambitions in a dark light, like the early days of Andy Griffith’s “Lonesome” Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd.
• It should be noted, we Chicagoans are likely to be particularly triggered by talk of parking fines. The city of Chicago signed over its parking business to a private company on a 75-year contract, a short-term financial windfall that residents will detest for generations. Give us those purple zones, please. Anything else.
• I have not paid proper respect yet to Elaine May as RBG. May is, of course, the comic genius behind the Nichols & May team and many exceptional features, including A New Leaf, Mikey and Nicky, The Heartbreak Kid, and Ishtar. That’s right, Ishtar. It was always good despite its reputation.