At 40 minutes, “The End of a Saturday” is one of the shortest episodes of The Good Fight and it feels designed that way with a cut-to-the-bone script that jettisons the usual A, B, and C plots for a fast-paced, standalone drama around a single story. The timing couldn’t be better for the show: For one, it needed a purposeful episode after last week’s more diffuse hour, but more importantly, it allows itself a true showcase for the entire cast as it heads into the final stretch of episodes. There are serious overarching matters to resolve — the fate of the firm, the battle between Liz and Ri’Chard, the other individual dramas (Carmen as gangster lawyer, Diane’s entanglement with her doctor), and real-world violence continuing to encroach on the scene — but, for now, we can celebrate how well this ensemble works. Over six seasons, this is a chorus that knows how to harmonize together.
The episode opens with Ri’Chard at the hospital with his 11-year-old nephew Dustin, who is set to receive a life-saving bone-marrow transplant that morning for sickle cell anemia. The procedure is abruptly canceled, however, when the donor backs out at the last minute. This seems inexplicably cruel on the donor’s part, but there’s no option to file a lawsuit against someone for failing to give a promised gift, so Ri’Chard has to get creative. As he tells his sister and his doctor with a steely resolve that no one can do quite like Andre Braugher, “We’re lawyers. There’s always a plan B.”
Through a Zoom call, Ri’Chard assembles his legal Avengers for various weekend activities. Jay happens to be at the firm investigating the neo-Nazi stickers festooned on the elevator while Julian is slaying monsters in the VR game in his office. But the others are scattered around, including Diane, who’s getting a treatment from Dr. Bettencourt; Liz, who’s taking her son Malcolm on a wilderness outing; Marissa, who’s in an Israeli combat session; and Carmen, who’s bedding her current girlfriend on a mattress in her scantily appointed apartment. (Psycho behavior, as noted in a previous recap, though Carmen shows signs of returning to the fold in this episode.)
Plan B turns out to be several plans on multiple fronts. Through Dr. Bettencourt, who sits on a prominent hospital board, Diane learns about a critical trial for a gene-splicing procedure that would make a bone-marrow transplant unnecessary. The trouble is, they discover, the child is 11 years and nine months old, and the FDA requires patients to be 12 years old or up to get the surgery. That sends Liz, Diane, Ri’Chard and Dr. Bettencourt to a child’s birthday party in Hyde Park, where the judge takes a break from hosting to rule in their favor. The bad news? The procedure costs $9 million and the FDA won’t pay for it. So that sends multiple lawyers to plead for emergency funding on two fronts: Liz and Ri’Chard pitch the NIH for money, arguing that the organization has shown racial bias in its failures to address a disease that predominantly affected people of color. The one major hitch is that the author of a persuasive piece that made that argument is currently in a rehab facility for alcoholism. Meanwhile, Diane and Julian try to get Medicaid to pay for it, but need the patient and his mother to show up in court, preferably looking as pitiful as possible.
Back at the office, Marissa and Carmen are exploring donor databases, but compatible matches are rare in bone-marrow transplants, so they have to get a little creative. The tone of the episode is largely serious and pedal-to-the-metal, but The Good Fight isn’t the type of show to get bogged down in Very Special Episode earnestness, even when it’s about getting care to a child who will likely die in a week. Carmen’s effort to nail down a weirdo from a “donor fetishist” group leads to an exchange where the potential donor admits that he wants his bone marrow in a woman, “preferably a hot woman.” For a lawyer who’s currently making money off creative, ethically shady workarounds for gangsters, Carmen has no trouble copying and pasting a picture of a lingerie model who hasn’t lost any hair, “except on her genitalia.” It doesn’t come as much of a surprise when this edgelord’s mother shuts him down. (The assumption that internet-savvy young adults still live in their parents’ basement is a cliché that needs to be retired, but it’s fine here.)
The big question in this fishing expedition is which line (if any) will catch the fish. The twist is a great one: They win every single case and still don’t get what they need from the legal system to go through with the gene-splicing operation. The FDA, the NIH, and Medicaid all intend to appeal, which in the latter two cases means that the $9 million the child needs immediately will not be released. This result dovetails nicely with a message The Good Fight consistently sends about the American legal system and its failures to deliver justice for those who need it the most. Even in the rosiest scenario, with the best lawyers at a top Chicago law firm winning judgment in their favor 100 percent of the time, the just result doesn’t happen. It happens because Carmen and Marissa barter their way to a donation chain complex enough to resemble the “Pepe Silvia” meme from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The pace of the dialogue and the action gives “The End of a Saturday” a distinctive pop among Good Fight episodes, and it’s a rare (and perhaps final) opportunity to bring the ensemble together in common cause and give the actors a near-democratic showcase. Emphasis on “near,” however, because it’s the newcomer to the group, Braugher, who makes the deepest impression. Ri’Chard’s unvarnished emotion over his grandson’s situation, combined with a genuine gratitude for the team’s efforts, are not so much undercut by his egotism (his “self-branding”) as complicated by it. Braugher leaves you feeling more sympathy for Ri’Chard than ever before, but also more suspicion. He may wind up the scorpion to Liz’s frog, using her in the fight against STR Laurie only to sting her midstream. It’s in his nature.
• Just a couple episodes after Frank Landau’s murder, we get another shocking, violent death on the show, with an unidentified man landing on a statue outside Diane’s office before falling (along with the statue’s head) to the roaring masses below. After this episode-long break in the action, this was a splash of cold water to the face.
• Odd development with Carmen sleeping with a woman who looks like Marissa. Beyond Marissa’s habit of befriending young lesbian lawyers — let’s not memory-hole Maia, folks — it seemed clear that Carmen’s beef with Marissa was connected to her own stress and preoccupation. Glad the two seem to have worked things out, but is this leading anywhere?
• Very funny exchange between Diane and Dr. Feelgood after they’re called into action during a session and Diane spots a costumed chicken on the road: “You’re not seeing things, are you? Because I can drive.” “Was that a large chicken?” “Yes.”
• That’s the great character actor William Sadler as the Hyde Park judge. His role as Death in the Bill & Ted sequels may be his most popular turn, but he’s been good in movies and TV since the early ’80s. The 1992 Walter Hill thriller Trespass, an action riff on The Treasure of Sierra Madre with Bill Paxton, Ice-T, and Ice Cube, was the rare above-the-title role for him, and he’s outstanding in it.
• “Make yourself a brand. It’s the only way to make a place for yourself in a world not built for you.” Not the worst advice from Ri’Chard to Liz’s son, but rechristening him “Mal’colm” is an idea that can be discarded.