The fourth season of The Good Fight opened with an audacious, episode-long dream in which Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election and the firm had to grapple with an alternative reality, one in which the Me Too movement didn’t exist and Harvey Weinstein was never convicted. The sixth-season opener, written by showrunners Robert and Michelle King, isn’t as comprehensive a head trip, but it does pull off a similarly destabilizing effect in setting up the final ten episodes. As always, the Kings are interested in situating The Good Fight in the world we actually live in, specifically the world as its bruised idealist, Diane Lockhart, sees it. Diane is confused and unsettled by the state of things in 2022 — and, thus, so is the show.
The Kings usually achieve their most provocative effects in the writing, but “The Beginning of the End” starts with a thrilling cinematic moment, akin to the dream sequence in Vanilla Sky where Tom Cruise steps into an empty Times Square. When Diane and Liz Reddick walk to work together, downtown Chicago has been cleared of the hustle-bustle of commuters on a workday, leaving the eerie feeling that Diane will identify later as déjà vu. The only indication that other humans exist outside Reddick & Associates is the great plumes of smoke coming from a violent protest on the streets below the office. What are they protesting? Are they part of the People’s Convoy? Nobody seems to know for sure.
“The Beginning of the End” has one foot in and one foot out of reality, reflecting Diane’s feeling that her life is a “hamster wheel” that keeps circling back to the start, only giving the illusion of a world that’s capable of change. She is a progressive who feels like she’s running in place, as if Martin Luther King’s “arc of the moral universe” — which Barack Obama often quoted (and perhaps incorrectly) — was more of a straight line. As she tells an alternative therapist late in the episode, “It’s like the last 50 years never happened.” Roe v. Wade has been overturned, voting rights are in jeopardy, the Cold War is back, and Donald Trump is running for office again. Diane has done her best to use money and influence (and wacky schemes) to affect justice, but she’s mostly as powerless as everyone else in the face of historical forces much larger than she is.
Diane’s anxiety about this moment in American life ties into bigger questions about her mission: What is the good fight? Is she still fighting it? Can she and her colleagues really claim to be on the right side? Reddick & Associates isn’t an independent operation and it’s not really a Black-run firm, despite having Liz alone at the helm. It is run by STR Laurie, which presides over operations from a heavenly perch above while its lawyers work below in purgatory — or worse, on the bottom floor where associates sit elbow to elbow and where Diane’s dark new office awaits. The firm is currently running hot in the eyes of STR because it has reclaimed the tech giant Chumhum as a client, but the increase in business neither affirms the leadership of the Black woman in charge nor assures the righteousness of the cases the lawyers take on.
The Kings create an ideal Good Fight case to underline the theme: modern, zany, and much thornier than it seems. Liz and Diane are defending Chumhum in a civil suit in which a woman claims she was sexually assaulted in a virtual environment. The two defenses against these charges are obvious: One, the plaintiff could have taken off the VR goggles and haptic suit at any time to get herself out of the situation. Two, the assault did not actually happen because it was in Chumhum’s “Metaverse,” not the physical world. The always wonderful Richard Kind, as Judge Alan Davies, initially rejects the suit on those grounds, but the defense persuades him to try on the goggles and haptic suit and get a sense of the experience himself. He initially finds it silly to inhabit the body of his buxom avatar (“Look at how sexy I am. Happy birthday, Mr. President.”), but when the groping starts, it becomes another story.
Far from the usual case-of-the-week stuff, the virtual assault puts Liz and Diane in the position of denying another woman’s experience and blaming the victim for what happened to her. As a Hail Mary on a lost case, the firm’s investigator, Jay, reveals an exchange he witnessed the evening before between the plaintiff and one of her attackers — which, as Liz and Diane argue, makes it seem like the event wasn’t as traumatizing as she would have the judge believe. But the actual conversation was about the plaintiff trying to acknowledge her humanity and understand what he did to her, which in the real world would not be equivalent to a woman who has “gotten over it.” The plaintiff speaks directly to Liz and Diane: “They attacked me and I felt it,” she says. “And yes, this is blaming the victim.” Ouch.
Meanwhile, Carmen Moyo, still a precocious third-year associate at the firm, has turned herself into a high-end Saul Goodman. After her excellent work representing the temperamental drug kingpin Oscar Rivi, Rivi and Lemond Bishop’s sleazy personal lawyer, Charles Lester, recommends Carmen to another shady character, Ben-Baruch (Ben Shenkman), on a murder rap. (You know the job is legit when goons take you there with a burlap sack over your head!) Carmen once again thinks her way through charges connected to a supposed wiretap, but identifying the informant that ratted on Ben-Baruch ends inevitably in another murder. When the detective in charge of the case tries to appeal to her conscience, Carmen answers coldly, “If you really think I’m that bad that I would get a man killed to save a criminal, then why would I be moved by anything you say right now?” Touché.
Perhaps a little new blood will change the firm’s direction, but the introduction of the great Andre Braugher as Ri’Chard Lane, the new name partner, gets off to an unpromising start. Ri’Chard is precisely the nightmare that Liz had been dreading: A man she had no hand in hiring strolls into the office and immediately colonizes it, converting the conference room into his personal office until a more sufficiently grandiose one can be built in its place. He then responds to complaints of a worker shortage by marching down to a swearing-in ceremony and making some quick hires — again without Liz’s consultation or approval. Once confronted, Ri’Chard does give showy deference to Liz and assures her that they share common goals. But “The Beginning of the End” has already made us question what those goals might be. If Diane and Liz don’t seem to know, how could a guy who hasn’t yet worked a full day in the firm?
• How could I get through an entire recap without even mentioning that John Slattery is on the show now? And that he will lead Diane through psilocybin treatments like Bruce Dern in Roger Corman’s The Trip? It was just that busy of an episode. At first blush, this is looking like an expanded version of Diane’s microdosing experiment from a couple of seasons ago, but she won’t have to go through it alone this time.
• Marissa is a lawyer now, which keeps Sarah Steele’s role from conflicting with Jay DiPersia’s as Jay and gives her a new arena to work her unconventional magic. But Marissa gets “the yips” in attempting to get a simple continuance, and it seems she’s back to the firm’s investigative salt mines for now.
• Braugher can never recapture the intensity of his performance as Detective Frank Pembleton on Homicide: Life on the Street, so here, as with his work as Captain Raymond Holt on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he tweaks more playfully with his reputation. When an associate wonders if he’s serious when he has everyone say one thing they hate about the firm (or get fired), he replies, as only Braugher can, “Sir, you have to learn one thing about me: I am never not serious.”
• A grenade tossed into an elevator packed with all the major characters? The Good Fight is back, baby!