The thing about power, Adrian explains in “The Schtup List,” is that “you got to take it from somebody to give it to somebody else.” It’s a great line in an otherwise weak story, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Like The Good Wife, The Good Fight fixates on the concept of power—both as it pertains to interpersonal relationships that blur lines between the personal and the professional and as it pertains to larger institutions. As Adrian’s words suggest, power is finite, which is part of what makes it inherently corrupting. Power relies on hierarchies. In the strong case of the week at the episode’s core, both sides of the issue engage in a power struggle only to realize in the end that they were both being played, outmatched by an outsize source of power: the U.S. government.
Lucca and Diane team up to protect Dr. Picot, a heart surgeon played by Zachary Knighton with very bad hair. Dr. Picot assists with open-heart surgeries in Syria remotely, working with Doctors Without Borders to provide guidance over Skype to understaffed medical professionals on the ground. He’s arrested for terrorism, the U.S. government arguing that Picot’s patient is a terrorist and that he’s providing material support by assisting in his surgery.
Lucca and Diane argue in front of The Good Wife Judge Suzanne Morris, and the government’s case quickly becomes confusing and convoluted, revealing the muddled mess created by the U.S.’ nebulous, ongoing war on terror. Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin Morello (played by Justin Bartha) argues for the government, his slick look matching his slick way with bending international laws to work in the government’s favor. At the heart of the case is the question of whether doctors are obligated to treat patients regardless of whether those patients are “good” or “bad” people. Dr. Picot is merely doing his job by saving a patient’s life. But there are so many other factors at play that complicate the case, particularly because the U.S. government is all about cultivating the appearance that it’s taking a hard stance against terrorism all while implementing rather ineffective policies to curb terrorism. The patient, Tariq, turns out to be not a terrorist at all but rather the brother of an ISIS fighter, who journeyed to Syria intending to convince his brother to come home.
The trial all turns out to be an elaborate ruse executed by the U.S. government to use Tariq’s condition to draw his brother out into the open. It’s a hell of a twist. It shocks, but it also gets to the show’s core: Fighting the good fight ain’t easy. Lucca and Diane’s brief victory in getting Dr. Picot out of custody is undercut by the reality of the situation: Tariq and his brother both die in a U.S. airstrike lauded as a major victory for America’s battle with ISIS. Morello was played, too. Both sides thought they only had to fight each other, but the real enemy is more nefarious, elusive, and manipulative.
Besides just being an interesting and layered case, the trial gives Morello, one of the series’ recurring characters, a grand entrance. Both in and out of the courtroom, Lucca and Morello develop a feisty, back-and-forth dynamic that’s as alluring as Will Gardner and Alicia Florrick’s initial flirtations but with a different kind of tension. “Do you two know each other?” Judge Morris asks, exasperated by their impassioned, clashing declarations in court. They don’t, and yet, Lucca sizes Colin up right away, and both seem to understand what makes the other tick, their thoughts briefly slipping away from the case at hand so they can play games with each other. So already, The Good Fight looks like it will indeed scrutinize and explode the divisions between public and private life in the way The Good Wife did, even if that isn’t at the forefront of this show.
Now, there’s the issue of the B plot, which has decent intentions but very poor execution. In it, Barbara and Adrian learn that Trump’s presidency means direct and immediate negative effects on their business. One of their major clients, a cell tower corporation, needs the federal government on its side and sees Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad—which has made police-brutality cases one of its priorities—as an unlikely ally to the new administration. Adrian and Barbara scramble to find someone at their firm who voted for Trump who can pitch to the client, and they land on Julius Cain. The episode makes no real attempt at explaining Julius’ psychology beyond the vague and lazy phrase “conservative politics,” suggesting that Julius Cain is destined to remain an underdeveloped and confusing character whose actions are only really justified by what’s convenient for the plot on The Good Fight, just as he was on The Good Wife. I’m certainly not saying that I think The Good Fight should have attempted to rationalize a black Trump supporter’s motivations, but the whole story just fell flat, not getting to any of the nuances of the issue. It doesn’t help that a lot of the dialogue within the storyline—particularly the stuff about Kanye—sounds contrived. The Good Fight has a more racially diverse main cast than The Good Wife did, but it’s still being written by a mostly white writers’ room, and that’s glaringly obvious in this episode.
The end of the episode casts Julius as someone worthy of pity and understanding. Suddenly, he’s an outsider in his place of work, ostracized by his coworkers who figure out on their own exactly why he was the one chosen to pitch to the cell-tower company. We have no real understanding of why Julius voted for Trump, and yet the storyline ends on an empathetic note. The Good Fight never even gets close to exploring the reasons a black man might vote for Trump. No, this storyline is too surface-level for that. It uses Julius as a means to an end rather than making him seem like a real person who represents real ideas. The episode continues to develop Barbara and Adrian, but with this particular plot line, it seems like the writers think they’re being daring and provocative when they’re plainly not.
With everything else going on, there’s little time for Maia, but the immediately aftermath of her discovery that her mother is sleeping with her uncle Jax unfolds throughout “The Schtup List,” a title that refers to a supposedly damning list her father has her steal from Jax’s personal computer. The scene between Maia and her father in prison is wonderfully done, their lawyers’ presence adding a thick layer of awkwardness and formality to the moment. The personal is rendered impersonal, making it impossible for Maia and her father to say what they really mean. Rose Leslie has a much different presence on screen than the rest of the series’ regulars. Her character is more nervous and neurotic than the polished likes of Lucca, Diane, Adrian, and Barbara. Her twitchy physicality in the scene with Paul Guilfoyle underscores her character’s internal struggle.
We don’t know the significance of the schtup list yet, but Maia’s quest to get it adds more intrigue to her family’s scandal. Jax insists Maia’s father is a fake, that he swindled everyone with his Ponzi scheme not for the money but for the perception that he was winning, for the perception of power. During this scene, the camera faces a mirror. We’re looking at Maia and Jax’s reflections rather than their actual selves, a strong directing choice from Marta Cunningham that quite literally mirrors the exact themes Jax evokes with his rant. The way others see us is sometimes at odds with our true selves. Jax and Robert are trying to cast one another as the villain in Maia’s eyes, leaving her unsure what to believe, calling her perception of both men and her mother into question. Julius fears as to how he’ll be perceived now that people know he voted for Trump. In Tariq, the U.S. government sees a terrorist sympathizer, but a more scrutinizing eye can see he’s just a brother reaching out to his brother.
- The Good Callback: For those of us who paid way too much attention to the finer details during The Good Wife’s run, titles became a clear indicator that the seventh season would be its last even before the official announcement was made. In the first season, The Good Wife had one-word titles, moving to two-word titles in the next season and so on until season five when it went from four-word titles to three-word titles, counting down to one-word titles once again in season seven. Based on the progression of these first three episodes, it looks like The Good Fight is doing something similar, with the number of words in each episode title matching the number episode it is.
- The Good Fashion: Okay, the costuming on this show is too good, and I regret not highlighting some of the more spectacular fashion choices on The Good Wife (excepting Diane Lockhart’s chains, which I used to keep a running tally of), so I’m going to start highlighting some of my favorites here in the strays. I always love Lucca’s bold looks and patterns, but this week I found myself lusting over Maia’s blue coat.
- In addition to Colin, the episode introduces Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad’s investigator, Jay Dipersia (Nyambi Nyambi), who reluctantly partners up with Marissa Gold. It’s always a delight to watch Marissa get up to her shenanigans—her distraction call to Jax is one of the episode’s gems—but she also needs to be checked, and Jay seems equal parts amused by and wary of her, which makes for an interesting dynamic.
- I love how sly and deliberate Barbara is with her shade.