Image: The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
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The Good Fight’s season three premiere has a lot going for it, playing to all of the show’s strength with spectacular finesse. It’s a tour de force of acting, writing, and directing. But one element shines brightest of all: Audra McDonald.

The episode’s weightiest storyline hinges on the reveal that Carl Reddick, the firm’s founding partner and a civil rights leader who died in the season two premiere, raped multiple women in the office, including his secretary of many years and the stenographer. The revelation sends the firm into a frenzy, everyone suddenly discussing payouts and NDAs with bleak automation, as if they’re going through the motions for what should be done. It’s tough to watch, but it feels very real.

And all along, The Good Fight doesn’t forget about Carl’s victims, who have agency and specificity within this storyline so that they don’t just feel like plot devices. Cynthia’s personal, raw testimony about what Carl did to her plays multiple times over the course of the episode, unedited and in full, forcing the characters to face it and us, too. This is a #MeToo storyline that is gutting and evocative without feeling exploitive. It’s nuanced, and it’s rooted firmly in emotional stakes instead of just being a topical moment for the show.

And in addition to compelling writing around Wendy and Cynthia, those emotional stakes really come into play with Liz, McDonald delivering her aforementioned standout performance. Adrian avoids telling Liz the truth at first but finally lets her in on what her father did. From there, Liz unravels. She’s devastated by what her father did and yet not altogether surprised it seems. She makes it clear that she and her mother were treated poorly by him but that they had put him on a pedestal, thinking he was too busy doing good to treat them well. But her mind starts to go in other dark directions. She suddenly becomes paranoid that Adrian knew all along, starts picking apart things he said and did years before, convinced he’s part of a cover-up conspiracy. It’s a surprising and yet totally convincing reaction, and McDonald plays that paranoia well.

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Paranoia is a persistent theme throughout this premiere, one that the show returns to often. Diane is back with Kurt, but the old wounds of their past are not fully healed by any means. She isn’t looking for anything when she picks up his jacket, and yet a stray hair catches her eye. So she keeps looking and she finds more. Then she finds an unfamiliar scent. It’s a strikingly real look at how cheating is so hard to recover from. The episode literally starts with Diane remarking how happy she is, with Kurt assuring her that nothing can go wrong. That opening is, of course, a very fitting moment for the show in that it technically shows triumph while suggesting impending doom. That is indeed The Good Fight’s modus operandi. It feels overly simplistic to call this show cynical, but it certainly is one that reiterates that the fight is never truly won.

Diane’s paranoia, it turns out, is valid yet misplaced. The real truth might be even worse than Kurt sleeping with one of his blonde babes: He’s hanging out with Eric and Donald Trump Jr. The extent to which this show has woven anti-Trump sentiment into its narrative is one of its most alluring features. It isn’t afraid to say any of their names, to make the fight against Trump a core part of its story. Diane is appalled that Kurt could ever associate with the Trumps to the extent that she finally follows up with the sex worker who revealed she had an abortion after sleeping with Trump last season.

Here’s where The Good Fight is definitely unlike most legal thrillers on television right now. This source isn’t hesitant to come forward because a hit has been placed on her or anything over-the-top like that; she just doesn’t want to have to be inevitably put through the ringer, arriving at an emotional decision about it all without the help of excessive violence or a dramatic twist to the storyline. The Good Fight certainly dabbles in melodrama, but it is starkly restrained when compared to other shows in this genre, like How To Get Away With Murder, For The People, and the late Damages. The twists on The Good Fight are grandiose but not off-the-rails.

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Diane’s “footman to the king” soliloquy is Shakespearean in its own right. It is over-the-top. It’s an “out, damned spot” moment—down to the hallucinating and all. But it feels perfectly situated in this show and its scope, Christine Baranski turning it into this irresistible spectacle and also genuinely weighty emotional moment. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, and yet. The Good Fight brings out the big guns for “The One About the Recent Troubles,” and the payoff is staggering.

Not all subplots work though. Perhaps because the central plotlines are so strong, some of the sidee happenings just can’t live up. Maia Rindell’s evolution from meek, scratched-cornea pushover to a confident sunbeam—sparked by a pep talk from Marissa and a pair of new sunglasses—feels unearned. It’s hasty and it doesn’t carry the kind of emotional weight that the rest of the episode does. And yet it’s not funny or fun enough to be a bit of relief from everything else. It just feels unnecessary and disconnected from the rest of what’s happening. Perhaps it’s exposition for whatever becomes of Maia’s arc this season, but for now, it just doesn’t entice.

Even Luca’s sidelined for much of the episode. Her sudden transition into a divorce lawyer similarly seems like it’s setup for something bigger to come, but for now, it doesn’t mean much, and Cush Jumbo is sadly underused. Luca’s scene with Francesca, however, is some welcome comedic relief.

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Ultimately, this season premiere touches on so many of the themes that make this show tick: paranoia, power, moral ambiguity, compromise, sacrifice, the blurring of lines between professional and personal boundaries and problems. Liz wants to know the extent of her father’s wrongdoings and doesn’t want to know at the same time. She has to react as a partner at the firm but also as his daughter and as a woman. The Good Fight strikingly tackles the complexity of all that. Despite that modifier in its title, this show often strays from what is “good,” instead presenting its fights as messy, complex, dynamic. And like any truly good fight, it’s hard to watch and engrossing all at once.


Stray observations

  • The animated short about how NDAs work and what they really mean is a great use of the show’s occasional experimental style.
  • Diane’s hallucination of Trump on Kurt’s back is...less so an effective use of that experimentation. As noted above, the monologue is great, but it doesn’t need the Trump voiceover or the hallucination at all.
  • The settlements that the firm offers Cynthia and Wendy are paltry, and yet that seems very realistic.

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