Is the Wackner court working?
That’s certainly been a question for Hal Wackner, who’s been fighting for legitimacy and viability from the start, given that he personally has no official judicial power and has been reliant on dubious money sources to keep the lights on. But now it’s starting to become a question for The Good Fight itself, which has invested in the Wackner subplot with the sort of creative élan that makes the show lively. Let it be understood and appreciated that you can count on zero hands the number of legal dramas that would have the go-for-broke commitment necessary to pull off an alternative court. But a gamble is a gamble, and sometimes you come up snake eyes.
The legitimacy problem is perhaps the largest because it poses a relevancy problem, too. Take the opening of this week’s episode: A deranged white man, so notorious for violence that he’s called “Mr. Tire Iron,” gets arrested for assaulting an Asian person on the street. (He blames the victim for the “Kung Flu,” which is oddly and conspicuously the rare time the pandemic has been an issue this season.) Two officers bring him down to the bond court for processing, but the place is a practical and bureaucratic nightmare: The elevators are out, for one, forcing them to climb up to the seventh floor on foot, and once there, they’re told that many collars are being released due to limited space in lockup. Given that they’re dealing with a dangerous man, who will almost certainly attack another stranger on release, the cops instead take him to Wackner’s court for a ruling.
Once again, Wackner is doing what he absolutely should not be doing, presiding over a criminal case that will likely call for incarceration, which he should not have the power to enforce, especially considering his association with David Cord and his network of private prisons. (Marissa tries to devise a hilariously unsubtle hand signal to wave Wackner off such ill-advised cases, but does it to no avail.) To Wackner, taking this assault case is a perfect example of relieving an official justice system that’s too broken to handle properly. To Marissa and anyone with common sense, the notion of an alternative court giving out actual hard time — as opposed to a minor dispute between two parties who agree to have Wackner as their arbiter — seems fanciful at best, self-destructive at worst. It also stretches credulity for viewers close to the breaking point.
But even if we accept the premise — which, as generous consumers of popular art, we should do by default — Wackner’s legitimacy has become a major distraction, especially when dealing with an important of-the-moment issue such as anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. The show primes us to confront racism in the opening scenes (and perhaps policing to boot) but doesn’t actually do so in open court. And when the police bring in two of Oscar Rivi’s street dealers for processing and sentencing, the same hold-ups apply. “Can we even do this?!” can only be a compelling question for so long. Otherwise, Wackner’s court — as both a fictional enterprise and a conceit on The Good Fight — is in danger of unraveling before our eyes.
Still, the street-dealer situation does hit on a strong ongoing theme for the season: Why does Reddick-Lockhart spend so much of its energy representing bad people? Have we even seen any good fights waged lately? The firm is in the middle of legitimizing Rivi’s weed business by partnering Rivi with a dairy company on edible cannabis products. But it’s hard to take the paranoid gangster out of the businessman, especially with a hothead like Rivi. He believes the dairy company is leveraging his violent (recent) past against him in negotiations and that the disappearance of three of his dealers is a hardball tactic. (Rivi retaliating by having three cows whacked is extremely silly but also very funny. Those distressed off-screen moos!)
When Rivi is finally informed that two of his three dealers are in Wackner’s court, he is unsurprisingly confused and apoplectic, and the firm once again scrambles with the conflict of representing Rivi and Wackner at the same time. It’s suggested that Marissa’s clerk job in Wackner’s court can be used to their advantage, which only highlights the divided interests all the more. When the third dealer surfaces in a home court modeled after Wackner’s — and presided over by the wonderful CCH Pounder, of ER and The Shield fame — the judge can’t help but suppress a smile over the mess he’s created. This seems to have been the plan all along: His court is merely the seed for an entire system of neighborhood justice.
In more promising developments, Wanda Sykes seems to be having the time of her life as Allegra, who has quickly realized that she has absolutely nothing to lose since Diane, Liz, and David are wrapped up in a tense existential melodrama. If the powers that be decide that she’s too much of a loose cannon to serve as partner at the firm, she can easily go back to her research on space law, probably with a generous severance package for her troubles. For now, she has the freedom to innovate creative solutions in her dealings with Rivi and counter-propose a massive increase in spending from STR Laurie when the company has given orders to cut the budget by 10 percent. She believes that moneymen from Dubai think marble showers in airplanes are a good investment. Reddick-Lockhart can be that marble shower.
The only wrinkle to Sykes’s addition to The Good Fight is that this season may be getting too silly for its own good. It already has lawyers in animal costumes and devil ears arguing in front of Mandy Patinkin’s self-appointed citizen judge and Elaine May as the ghost of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Zany, left-field ideas are no doubt the distinctive spice of the show, but it’s also a serious, provocative, bomb-thrower of a drama. The balance is starting to feel a little off.
• Brilliant answer from Allegra when David asks what Liz and Diane see in her. She says that she believes that both of them see her as a figurehead they can manipulate. She sees herself as Joe Manchin, gaining power by positioning herself between opposing sides. “[Manchin’s] wife didn’t know he existed last year,” she says. “And now, he controls America.”
• Allegra’s talk about George Lucas quietly securing merchandising rights into his contract with 20th Century Fox for Star Wars is true, and Deadline ran a terrific interview here with Tom Pollock, the man who negotiated it.
• “Art is just as important as evidence.” Why don’t they teach this in law schools?
• Great city-specific reference to Homan Square in Chicago, a facility exposed by Spencer Ackerman in The Guardian as a black site for the police department to log off-the-books detentions. It’s not all deep dish and stand-up in this city.