The Good Fight

Heading into the 2016 presidential election, NBC pulled an episode of Law & Order: SVU based on the sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. When he won the election, the episode was pushed even farther into the future, and it’s unlikely the episode will ever air. In “Stoppable: Requiem For An Airdate”—a wordy but direct reference to the SVU episode, which was titled “Unstoppable”—Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad take on a case against a television network suing a writer from “one of those Chicago shows” who penned an episode about a Trump-like character facing rape charges and uploaded it to the internet when the network pulled it after the election. Yes, it’s a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of television about a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of television. The ultra-meta storyline would be easy to dismiss for being too attention grabbing. Michelle and Robert King firing shots at Dick Wolf and NBC sounds initially like a self-important endeavor, but they end up pulling it off without seeming like jerks and without letting the issue itself drive the episode. Marcus Dalzine pens an exciting and sharply of-the-moment script that deftly unravels the issues central to the case but also doesn’t let it overpower the rest of the narrative.

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A large part of The Good Fight’s success with this storyline has to do with the fact that the writers are committed to more than just churning out plotlines that make good headlines. “The Good Fight takes on NBC and Trump” is a grabby logline, but the episode doesn’t just throw around Trump’s name for the sake of seeming present. The episode, as with the whole series so far, is so clearly and authentically situated in the context of Trump’s America. After November 8, 2016, the simple question “how are you?” became a loaded one for a lot of people, and there’s a moment in “Stoppable: Requiem For An Airdate” that captures that exact sentiment: Diane asks Neil Gross how he is, and he immediately answers “harried, angry, worried.” Even Trump’s predilection for temperamental tweets at odd times have narrative significance in the episode, although the writers probably could have had a bit more fun coming up with that fictional Trump tweet that ends up changing the course of the case of the week. Could have definitely thrown a “sad!” or two in there.

It’s the most densely plotted episode of the series yet, bringing several of the long-term arcs established in the first few episodes together for a complex narrative. Mike Kresteva ups his attack on Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad, fixating on Maia Rindell. But the firm ups their defensive, bringing in none other than Elsbeth Tascioni to figure out what Kresteva is up to. Barbara pressures Diane to put up her capital contribution, and Diane eventually finds a solution in a chance encounter with Neil Gross, who also gives new stakes to the case of the week. Though there are several characters and stories at play in “Stoppable: Requiem For An Airdate,” it’s a tightly structured and balanced chapter, all the pieces fitting together to form an exciting, smart, compelling episode. Though it’s the one of the longer installments of the season, it never drags. Every minute counts.

Each of the storylines at play lead to strong emotional moments and character development. Diane’s realization that she needs to downsize comes at the same time as a reconnection with Kurt. The reconnection begins as a casual and seemingly professional one: Kurt just wants her feedback on a speech he has to give to the police union. But an evening of wine and editing (the best kind of evening!) turns into something more, and Kurt and Diane reconnect on a romantic level, too. Diane finds herself in an even messier place: Her living and financial situations are uncertain right now, and so is her relationship with Kurt. She turns down his offer to move in together. Throughout their entire relationship, they’ve had to draw lines in the sand with each other. At first, that was mostly about their differences in political beliefs, but ever since he cheated on her, their relationship has become even more fractured and fluctuating. Their reunion isn’t wholly happy or sad. It’s marked with uncertainty.

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Maia also hits a crucial turning point in the fallout of her family’s scandal when Elsbeth uncovers that her father could be using her. Kresteva gets Henry Rindell out on bail, but he’s clearly using him to get to get something on Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad. At first, Elsbeth thinks that there must be someone at the firm on “The Schtup List”—a list of VIP clients at the Rindell’s fund that Jax used to do shady special services for. But then she realizes that the person implicated by the list could easily be Maia, assuming that Henry turns on her. Maia’s face when Elsbeth asks if it’s a possibility says it all: She doesn’t trust her father enough to unequivocally say that he wouldn’t turn on her. The quiet and tense moment that follows, with her attorney Yesha clearly about to say something but then holding back, is a great moment. The episode’s length allows for some more measured and meaningful pauses like that, and it really adds to the episode’s dynamics. Also, Chalia La Tour’s performance as Yesha is worth noting. She hasn’t had a ton of screentime, but she gives a consistently funny performance, and this episode in particular has some great little moments for the character.

Colin and Lucca’s romance heats up, starting with Colin simply coming to court and flirting from afar as Lucca slays in her cross-examination (the opposing counsel accuses her of “sarcastic badgering,” which is a great term for Lucca’s general approach to lawyering). Then, they go on their milkshake date and finally consummate the burning flame between them, starting with a sexy carside kiss. It’s all extremely hot, but it’s more than that, too. Their romp leads to a beautiful and revealing character moment for Lucca. In bed with Colin, she explains her previous declaration that she doesn’t have any friends, talking about a former best friend (though she never says so explicitly, she’s talking about Alicia Florrick). The short but brilliant scene plays on all sorts of expectations about women and relationships, with Lucca explaining that she doesn’t have friends because she’s afraid of getting hurt. Colin naturally thinks she’s also talking about her sexual relationships with men, but she shuts that down, saying she doesn’t get hurt by boys. The fact that Lucca has trouble making friends because she’s scared of getting hurt is much more interesting—and less-trodden material—than if she had trouble forming romantic relationships for the same reason. Again, The Good Fight puts the effort into developing Lucca and making her a real, dimensional, distinct character in a way The Good Wife never attempted. Of all the little pauses sprinkled throughout “Stoppable: Requiem For An Airdate,” this one is the most commanding. It’s just a damn good scene.

Aside from pretty straightforward plot-based connections between all the storylines at play in the episode, there’s also a compelling thematic throughline. The Good Fight as a series is largely concerned with what it means to be on the “right side” of things, but another facet of its thesis seems to be what it means to be a fighter, a word that gets thrown around a lot in the episode. Kresteva no doubt considers himself a fighter. He fits the dominant, patriarchal picture of what a fighter is. When he first meets Elsbeth Tascioni, he underestimates her, as so many people do. But Elsbeth is a worthy opponent for Kresteva, outsmarting and out-manipulating him. She takes Kresteva’s threat and uses it against him, worming her way into his house by bonding with his wife. Elsbeth is a fighter, and she can get dirty when she needs to, although her intimidation methods come with a lot more smiles and ice cream than Kresteva’s. Amber Wood-Lutz, the opposing counsel in the case of the week, is a sneaky fighter, too. All smiles and pleasantries, she’s nonetheless ruthless up against Adrian and Lucca. Like The Good Wife, The Good Fight is committed to making its one-off and smaller characters fully realized and specific. We learn a lot about who Amber Wood-Lutz is through her interactions with the other characters, and she fits the series’ overall voice.

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Diane’s a fighter, too, using the fact that she helped bring ChumHum’s business to the firm to finagle her way out of her capital contribution and into a named partnership. Adrian mentioned in the first episode of the series that Maia is perfectly positioned to be molded into a fighter, and we have been watching that happen gradually over the course of the series. The Good Fight isn’t just about the fight; it’s about the fighters. It’s about the characters, and that’s what keeps “Stoppable: Requiem For An Airdate” from feeling like just an opportunistic issue-driven episode. The carefully crafted character moments are more noteworthy and engaging than the blatant Trump takedowns. The episode has a loud hook, but it shines in its silences and pauses.

Stray observations

  • The Good Callback: Alicia gets referenced directly and indirectly several times in the episode, but one of my favorite little callbacks is when Diane points out that Barbara’s words remind her of what they used to say to associates before letting them go at Lockhart Gardner. “We’ve had to make a difficult decision here” certainly reminisces of when Alicia and Cary were sat down at the end of their competition in season one.
  • The Good Fashion: In a bit of a twist, Lenore Rindell wins best dressed this episode. That off-the-shoulder top on Bernadette Peters is just too good. But it would be negligent of me to not also give this particularly fabulous Diane Chain the praise it deserves:

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  • Barbara asks Adrian why she has to do all the dirty work while he gets to have fun in court, and I’m wondering the same exact thing! Erica Tazel is so great, and I want to see what this character is like in court.
  • Neil Gross nobly wants to go after Trump the way Republicans went after Obama, but he still comes off as an entitled and obnoxious white dude, tokenizing Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad. And no doubt his aversion to Trump has to do mostly with his business. I like that he’s positioned as an ally rather than a villain but still very unlikable.
  • Colin and Lucca who? My new favorite The Good Fight ship is Elsbeth Tascioni/Deidre Kresteva. Deidre, girl, leave your crusty husband for your new bestie.
  • Who else wishes we could have heard that Neil Gross and Marissa Gold were talking about when Diane interrupts them?
  • Elsbeth remains the master of knowing when to record conversations.
  • Carrie Preston is fantastic as always. Elsbeth is no doubt a fan favorite, but her presence in this episode doesn’t feel like audience pandering. There are some really great subtle moments for the character, like when she mentions that eating alone reminds her of school. I genuinely felt sad about that. Preston makes Elsbeth feel like a real person rather than just a gimmick.

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