Heading into its fifth season, The Good Fight had a bunch of messes to mop up — some related to a COVID-shortened fourth season, and some to the abrupt departure of two major characters. There was reason to believe that the show would thrive under these difficult circumstances, because making messes is what The Good Fight does best. There’s rarely been a social controversy or a political fracas that the showrunners haven’t wanted to steer into, even if got the occasional blowback for its audacity, like an animated segment on Chinese censorship that was nixed by CBS (note “CBS Has Censored This Content” was put in its place), or a monologue about the value of punching Nazis that wasn’t kindly received by the alt-right.
But there’s a difference between choosing messes and having those messes chosen for you, and this first episode of the new season spends much of its time laboring with a bucket and a mop. As its title suggests, “Previously On …” makes a joke out of the [waves hands around] quality of our pandemic year, which created chaos in the real world and the make-believe world of shows like The Good Fight. Perhaps the funniest joke of all is that the opening credits, which both The Good Fight and The Good Wife would famously tuck deep into an episode, don’t appear until the end of the show — and even then, the expected images of exploding phones and televisions are replaced by cuddly animals. The message here seems to be: “Please forgive this episode-long throat-clearing session. We’ll return to your regularly scheduled chaos next week.”
The biggest messes after last season are the departure of two major cast members: Delroy Lindo as Adrian Boseman, the partner who brought Diane and her ChumHum account into the Chicago firm that would become Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart; and Cush Jumbo as Lucca Quinn, an associate who would get promoted to the head of divorce law at RBL in season three. Both Lindo and Quinn agreed to appear in this episode to wrap up their story lines — more on those in a bit — but the show has to deal with the additional headache of losing two Black actors whose characters were a central part of a mostly Black-run law firm. There’s the uncomfortable question, in both cases, over how well these characters were served in the end, especially Lucca, who spent the fourth season hijacked by a rich pop-star client in need of a friend.
True to form, The Good Fight is transparent about its shortcomings, turning the discussion over RBL’s future into a metafiction about the show’s own challenges in turning the page. With Adrian leaving the firm for a career in politics, a slot opens for another partner to join Diane and Liz at the top of the masthead. In conversation with Liz, Diane shares her dream of a firm led exclusively by women, which could be accomplished by them not filling the position at all. But Liz also hears from other highly placed RBL attorneys that it was a mistake to bring Diane and her now-departed ChumHum account onboard to begin with, and now’s the time to replace her with two Black partners and bring the company back to its original mission statement. Beyond that, there’s also the matter of 20 percent across-the-board layoffs, which have cost 15 Black associates to just a few of their white colleagues.
“Previously On …” tables those questions over the firm’s future for later, because there are too many loose ends that need to be tied up now. Adrian’s character gets the cleanest send-off because it dovetails so perfectly with the real-world events that shaped 2020. When we left off last season, Adrian was courted by the Democratic Party to run for political office, specifically DNC muckety-muck Ruth Eastman (Margo Martindale), who encourages him to write one of those memoirs that double as lukewarm policy promoters. (In other words, less Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father and more Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.) But when footage of the killing of George Floyd surfaces, Adrian doesn’t want to write a watered-down book anymore, and he won’t have his fury over racial injustice tempered by Ruth’s cynical Democrat triangulation. In the end, he winds up leaving Chicago for Atlanta, based on election results that suggest a demographic shift in his direction. He’s going to do something there, but it’s never specified exactly what.
Lucca’s exit has more of a hasty, “I have to go now, my planet needs me” quality to it, in part because the show had been struggling so mightily to give her something to do. Her adventures with Bianca last season had so little to do with the RBL business or the issue of the day that she already seemed to be starring in a peculiar spinoff, jerked around by the whims of one conspicuously wealthy client. It’s only natural that she spinoff entirely in “Previously On …,” which has Bianca willing to outbid RBL at any price to have Lucca serve as her full-time personal attorney. Lucca flies to London to buy Bianca a resort, leverages a $500,000 offer for her exclusive services into $1.3 million, and peaces out via Zoom call. Let’s face it: She was working remotely long before the pandemic started.
The last, even hastier bit of company business is the prosecution/persecution of Julius Cain, once RBL’s lone rock-ribbed Republican lawyer before he successfully vied for a federal judgeship. Despite his politics, his liberal colleagues at RBL respected his integrity, and it’s that integrity that got him into trouble last season over Memo 618, the super-secret conspiracy of elites designed to shield themselves from any legal consequences for bad behavior. Julius’s flouting of Memo 618 got him arrested on blackmail charges, and despite Diane’s best efforts, a Trump-appointed judge gives him eight years for it. In an abrupt (though plausible) episode-ending twist, Julius happens to wriggle out of the charges because his name is included among the long list of conservatives pardoned by Trump during his final days in office.
And that’s pretty much it. The Good Fight allows itself to have some fun in the margins, like having Jay survive a COVID-19 hospitalization, but not before hallucinating deep conversations with Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, Black Jesus, and Malcolm X. The “previously on …” structure also gives the show some freedom to comment on the major events of 2020, from the earliest days of the pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protests to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death to Joe Biden’s election and the insurrection that followed early the next year. Under normal circumstances, The Good Fight might have been able to tackle some of that drama head-on. Now that the opening credits have finally arrived, the show can continue with its previously scheduled mayhem next week.
• The parameters for the proposed book about Adrian’s “political awakening” is a good reminder never to read the campaign-gear memoirs of politicians, even the ones you like. The difference in candor between those two Obama books is only Exhibit A.
• Michael Bloomberg’s hilariously stilted appearance here is more evidence that no role is tougher than playing yourself.
• Brilliant little throwaway joke where Adrian nearly falls down an elevator shaft. That’s how L.A. Law infamously handled the departure of Diana Muldaur as Rosalind Shays. Adrian ultimately gets a more dignified exit.
• One nice pandemic detail is who does and doesn’t wear masks under certain circumstances. Notably, Diane’s conservative husband is the only person not wearing a mask as a crew sets up a panel of monitors for her Supreme Court appearance, and the Trump-appointed judge, scanning his courtroom, snorts, “Am I supposed to wear a mask or something?”