Following up on Neil Gross’ introduction to The Good Fight last week, “Social Media And Its Discontents” brings the alt-right to the Good universe. In broad strokes, the episode does a pretty solid job of capturing just how horrifying and concerted the alt-right’s online harassment campaigns are. If you think The Good Fight exaggerates the violent language used by the alt-right, then you’ve probably never been on the receiving end of this particular brand of personal attacks waged on the world wide web. As a queer woman of color who writes for the internet, I can certain testify to the veracity of this pointed and perceptive portrayal. It’s all summed up pretty succinctly by the moment when Neil Gross asks Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad to organize flagged posts across his sites—which include a Facebook-like social media platform called Chummy Friends and a Reddit stand-in called Scabbit—in order to develop a new terms of service code and the lawyers decide to make a racist pile, an anti-Semitic pile, a threatening pile, and a misogynistic pile. The moment is far from subtle, but so is the alt-right. The Good Fight doesn’t hold back in its critique, which makes the episode hard to watch at times.
The decision to make the hateful posts of these angry, racist white men more dynamic by including interstitials of these men delivering their diatribes to the camera instead of just showing the posts on screen or having another character read them aloud is an effective one. Online harassers often hide behind screennames and faceless icons, but The Good Fight gives them faces, makes it clear how real these people are. But other than that, the show’s critique of the alt-right is weirdly impersonal, even though its character have clear personal stakes when it comes to the ideology perpetuated by these racist, sexist trolls. The only time we see those personal stakes at all is when Maia brings up her own history of harassment in the wake of her parents’ scandal, but even that moment feels forced.
And the plot mechanics of the episode just don’t work at all, completely taking you out of the moment. The Good Fight stretches the reality of legal procedures like any other legal drama, but the specifics of this ChumHum plot are especially unbelievable. Lucca’s appeal process idea isn’t too far-fetched. Twitter, in fact, has an appeal process for suspended accounts. But the specific appeal process she ends up suggesting includes an in person hearing…with the corporation’s top lawyers. That makes no sense at all. What it does do is put Felix Staples—a smug and dramatic Milo Yiannopoulos-like alt-right leader played by John Cameron Mitchell—in the same room as Diane Lockhart, Adrian Boseman, Barbara Kolstad, Lucca Quinn, and Julius Cain to debate free speech, identity politics, and harassment. There are strong moments in there, and Mitchell’s performance is undeniably one of the best parts of the episode. But “Social Media And Its Discontents” isn’t as narratively tight as the rest of the season has been, and a lot of the Felix Staples stuff just doesn’t feel organic. The episode offers a striking depiction of the horrors of the alt-right, but the issue overtakes the story, and the characters get a bit lost in it all.
In the beginning of the episode, Barbara and Adrian notice that Neil Gross addresses Diane more than them. The characterization of Gross this season is interesting. On The Good Wife, he always came off as an arrogant asshole, but The Good Fight reveals another insidious side to him. He just keeps on insisting how much he loves Black people, which can in and of itself be a sneaky form of racism, which certainly seems to be the case here. He brings up over and over how thrilled he is to be at an African-American firm, and it all screams “I’m overcompensating!” Here he is, talking about how much he loves his Black law firm, but he only looks at Diane Lockhart, the highest ranking white person in the room. But in this episode, it almost feels like The Good Fight is doing the exact same thing as Gross. Barbara, Adrian, and Lucca are all in the room with Felix, but Diane gets the last word in with him. The episode is about racism and yet never really gets into how the Black characters in its main cast are emotionally, psychologically, physically affected by racism perpetuated by the alt-right. Diane instead gets her grand moment of standing up to Felix. Well, it’s supposed to be a grand moment. But her monologue is muddled and ultimately flat, and it left me wondering if Robert and Michelle King—who co-wrote the episode—really do know why the alt-right is so scary. The episode takes lots of hits on the alt-right but then gives a weak final blow. And whereas we see the personal stakes of Maia’s reaction to the misogynistic language used by the trolls, that same specificity and grounded character work isn’t seen in how the episode engages with racism.
And it all just really underscores how Julius Cain is really not working as a character. He’s more plot device than character, a way to exacerbate the in-fighting at Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad brought on by the ChumHum account. The episode uses Cain to represent a dissenting side of the issue—albeit a much more reasonable and innocuous other side than what Felix Staples represents, but he’s just a walking talking point, and it’s still unclear why he is conservative. None of his motivations have been explained or explored, which makes it seem like his politics are just a plot convenience.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing over legal distinctions for what constitutes hate speech and threats in the episode. I’m certainly glad The Good Fight makes no attempts at humanizing the alt-right or making a character like Felix Staples anything other than wholly hateable. “Social Media And Its Discontents” isn’t entirely surface-level in its critique, and it doesn’t play it safe either. But the storyline just doesn’t quite click, especially because of the unreasonable set-up for this appeal process. At times, it feels like the episode is just a debate rather than a story that organically unpacks the different sides of the issue.
- The Good Callback: There weren’t a whole lot of direct callbacks to The Good Wife in this episode, but The Good Wife was always very real and smart when it came to its portrayal of internet culture, and The Good Fight continues that here.
- The Good Fashion: Diane’s breathtaking all-white outfit and Lucca’s giant pink bow dress are tied for best looks this week.
- I’m still waiting for Barbara Kolstad to become a more developed character, and even though she gets more screen-time than usual here, I still don’t have a strong sense of who she is.
- Rose Leslie is really great in this episode. The look on her face when Maia realizes her dad is wearing a wire is devastating.
- There are some wonderful Elsbeth moments throughout, but I’m already kind of sick of the Amazon Echo/Alexa-inspired jokes.
- Things keep on heating up between Lucca and Colin, but Lucca gets up to some weird mind games in this episode. On the surface, Lucca is all sarcasm and bite, but this show has gradually been letting us into the character’s head, and her interactions with Colin have led to some strong emotional moments for the character.