The Good Fight
When it comes back for a fifth season on CBS All Access—as announced last week—The Good Fight will probably be the only show on television with a welcome take on coronavirus, but for now, the outbreak has cut the current season short by three episodes, making “The Gang Offends Everyone” the penultimate episode. And yet, even without the ability to react to the current moment as it always does, the show trades its opening-credit fanfare for a touching tribute to Adam Schlesinger, the great songwriter and Fountains of Wayne member who died of COVID-19 on April 1. The chosen track, “Hey Julie,” off the sterling pop record Welcome Interstate Managers, is a bright song about a relationship that redeems the everyday drudgery of an office job. It doesn’t connect to the show in any meaningful way, but it’s a lovely gesture to Schlesinger—and to a time in America that the show is missing for now.
And speaking of musical moments, this episode offers the glorious return of Jonathan Coulton’s “Schoolhouse Rock”-style animated explainer, which were featured on every episode last season, but haven’t appeared on this one until now. The explainer is a blockbuster, too, because Coulton gets to explain the Office of Legal Counsel, which is a big part of what this Memo 618 chicanery has been all about. A companion of sorts to Coulton’s insanely catchy second-season ditty, “Nobody’s Above the Law,” the song details the often sketchy relationship between this part of the Department of Justice and the Executive branch that it serves. It connects the dots between multiple presidential power-grabs—FDR’s Japanese internment camps, the memo saying a sitting president could not be indicted, the John Yoo torture memos—that needed some legal cover. In Coulton’s words, the OLC is “the hidden hand that holds the tail that’s wagging the dog.”
That hidden hand has at least one face in the oily mystery man who keeps turning up in judges’ chambers to remind them that he’s the guy-behind-the-guy, ready to promote the compliant and shuffle the troublemakers to ride-share jobs. As Julius and Diane work together to unmask him and get to the bottom of this lawless cabal, they find an ally of sorts in a stenographer (Rachel Dratch) who’s been tucking the paperwork from jettisoned cases away in her apartment. She’s the perfect witness: Her job gives her a front-row seat into all of a court’s proceedings, but her role is so inherently inconspicuous that no one would suspect that she would have an active stake in the justice system. The only question is whether she or Diane or Julius could ever successfully expose the Memo 618 people, because they’ve gamed the system that’s supposed to hold them to account.
Elsewhere in the episode, The Good Fight reinforces the idea of a society that operates differently for the elites than mere mortals. After turning Bianca Skye’s $50,000 stake into a $1.5 million cash-out in poker, Lucca buys herself a brand new, $20,000 Birkin bag and immediately suffers the consequences. For one, the conspicuousness of carrying it around raises eyebrows—Marissa, ooh-ing and aah-ing, quips “Everyone wants one. Like a yacht or a pony.”—but then there’s also the issue of whether she really has the money to pay for it. As David Lee points out, the ultra-wealthy losers who owe her those poker winnings haven’t paid up because they don’t expect to be asked. They’re used to comped hotels and meals, and taking advantage of the services to which they feel they’re entitled. “They’re deadbeats,” says Lee. “I work with the rich. They promise everything, they give you nothing.”
Lucca eventually gets compensated, but a similar dynamic is at play in Adrian’s issues with Charlotte, who emerges as a problem for him should he decide to take up an offer from the DNC to run for president in 2024. (Sidenote: That the DNC wants to groom him as a black candidate who can make it through Iowa, rather than someone with a feasible chance to win the nomination, is a stinging assessment of Democratic Party leaders. They want black faces on the stage to shore up the base, but they don’t care much about black people holding actual power.) Charlotte is a judge whose position has opened her up to ethical compromise, from anodyne perks like free Chicago Bulls tickets to much more dodgy benefits like insider trading. Her corruption threatens Adrian’s candidacy, but she’s part of a strata of society that makes her untouchable.
Adrian’s struggles to live up to the ostensibly enlightened values of his own firm has been a theme all season among the partners at Reddick, Boseman, and it comes through powerfully in the A-plot of this episode, which has him taking a transphobic position on behalf of a client. The case of a swimmer, Melanie, who loses her spot in the 2020 Olympics to a trans athlete is the type of social clusterfuck that The Good Fight lives to concoct. Adrian’s initial tack is racial: He contends that the Olympic committee rigged the trials to keep Melanie, an outspoken advocate for Black Lives Matter, from potentially inserting politics into the competition.
When that strategy hits a dead end with the judge, played delightfully by an exasperated Rob Reiner, Adrian gets into the unsavory business of questioning the trans swimmer’s womanhood, at least in how it relates to how testosterone levels affect performance. He brings Liz on board for cover and not even she can bring herself to make some of the arguments necessary to win. Nonetheless, they face a mutiny from the younger associates, who wonder why the firm is taking a position on trans rights that’s so retrograde. The whole matter gets sorted in a convenient last-second bailout involving a third athlete who has disqualifying testosterone levels, despite identifying as a woman her entire life, but the die has already been cast on the partners of Reddick, Boseman. Money and power have had a corrosive influence on the firm’s mission, and The Good Fight is holding its characters’ feet to the fire.
• The “Rule 50” cited that prohibits political protest at the Olympics is a real thing. The International Olympics Committee published new guidelines in January forbidding kneeling, hand gestures, armbands, or any any form of protest at the Games. Maybe the IOC could start publishing Deadspin.
• The Memo 618 guy tells Julius that he doesn’t represent the angry, but the “people who like order and control.” There’s a chilling implication to a phrase like that, which dissociates “order and control” with the law. The people he’s representing are interested in order and control only insofar as they can suppress anyone who questions their privilege.
• Hard to believe that next week’s episode will be the season’s last. I can’t imagine the Kings tossing the last three scripts into the bin, but they’re also inclined to stay on top of current events. It will be interesting to see how the show resolves the open issues from this season in the next and how much of its plans have to be jettisoned.