The Good Fight

As its title suggests, The Good Fight interrogates what it means to be on the “right” side of things. Diane and Maia came to Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad after having lost everything they knew. Barbara and Adrian are trying to figure out how to run a firm when algorithms are determining what’s a good case and what isn’t. All the characters in this rich ensemble are navigating a changing world, in both a macro sense and on a more personal level. And they all want to be on the right side. But the right side isn’t fixed; it isn’t unequivocal. Like truth, it can be deceptively hard to discern.

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In “First Week,” Maia joins Julius Cain and Lucca in providing pro bono legal advice for mall workers. They’re just there as part of their contract with the union, and it becomes clear right away to Maia that aren’t even really there to help. But one guy’s problem catches her attention: His employer has been garnishing his wages for shoes they allege he stole, and he signed a confession to the crime when his manager bullied him into it. Maia fills Lucca in, and they both attend his arbitration hearing, where they learn that his manager used something known as the Friedman Method to get the employee to confess. After attending a seminar on the method, Lucca and Maia learn that it’s supposedly a way to detect when someone is lying—based not on the words they say but on small physical tics—as well as a way to coerce them into confessing. Though it was developed for cops, corporations have started sending management to the seminars to learn how to interrogate employees suspected of wrongdoing.

It’s a straightforward case, but The Good Fight uses it to tell a larger and more layered story about lies. The case of the week seeps into the other parts of the story. Maia attempts to use the Friedman Method to figure out if her own mother is lying to her about a cancer scare as an excuse to talk to her…and if she’s lying about her innocence in the Ponzi scheme, too. In the end, it turns out she was definitely lying about something: She’s sleeping with her husband’s brother/Maia’s uncle, the man who’s supposedly really at fault for the Ponzi scheme. Though this certainly doesn’t look good, The Good Fight keeps us in the same headspace as Maia in the episode: I’m not exactly sure whether to believe Lenore about Henry’s innocence or not. “Just because the feds say it doesn’t make it true,” Lenore insists to Diane. Good point. Contrary to what the current President Of The United States believes, saying something does not make it true (as with the first episode, this one makes a few references to Trump that ground it in our reality). But at this point, Diane doesn’t even care if it’s true or not. It doesn’t matter; either way, her life’s savings are gone.

The Friedman Method attempts to codify human behavior with, as Lucca puts it, bad psychology. People lie and deceive for a whole number of reasons. And as much as we all like to believe we can tell when someone is telling the truth or not, it’s never as simple as studying a person’s chin muscles. Maia’s whole world has shattered in the wake of her parents’ scandal, and it’s making her question every aspect of her life. Even the conclusion to the case of the week is somewhat ambiguous. Is their client telling the truth when he denies having stolen from a previous employer? We can never really be sure. And it doesn’t matter anyway. The class action suit crumbles.

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The episode hinges on a motion to dismiss the class action suit being pulled together by Maia and Lucca of workers who have been forced into confessing to infractions they did not commit and subsequently had their wages garnished. It’s not exactly the most exciting courtroom scenario nor the sexiest issue on the table, but The Good Fight nonetheless makes it exciting. In our post-truth era of alternative facts and fake news, there’s cultural relevance to this episode’s obsession with the truth. The case’s themes inspire compelling character work—for Maia in particular—but also hint at deeper societal problems, like the fact that the working class is quite literally being policed by their employers. The Friedman Method is touted as a management skill, but it’s nefarious in practice: When they put its founder on the stand, he admits that the method encourages interrogators to lie in the pursuit of truth when necessary. Though the Friedman Method is fictional, but the issue is far from it. Over the past few years, retailers have increasingly turned to investigation methods used by the police when handling employee misconduct. And like they do with the police, these methods often result in false positives.

The Good Fight also makes the case of the week exciting with its weird and specific sense of humor. Charles Abernathy—forever one of my favorite Good Wife judges—makes a grand appearance, wasting no time before he launches into his bleeding heart sentiments. He wears sunglasses throughout the initial hearing—a bit of silly but oddly satisfying physical comedy. Sarah Steele returns as the resourceful, matter-of-fact, shruggy Marissa Gold, one of The Good Wife’s most blatantly comedic characters. She ends up being a key player in the case of the week, proving her worth to Diane as an assistant and cementing her status as more than just a source of comedic relief on the show.

But it’s Lucca Quinn who provides the most scintillating parts of the episode. She engages with the lawyer on the other side (another character from The Good Wife, played by Christine Lahti) in a delicious back-and-forth game. They yank each other’s chain without even dropping their smiles and friendly cadences. Do not underestimate Lucca. She’s as cunning and ambitious as Diane Lockhart, and she’s almost playful in the way she works people, full of vim and vigor. Lucca is downright vitriolic when she hands over the piece of paper with her hairdresser’s name on it. So far, The Good Fight really does feel like an ensemble show—no one character dominates the narrative. But Cush Jumbo is quickly becoming the cast’s brightest star.

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The episode makes strides toward developing some of its new characters, too. Aside from the character work done with Maia, there are also strong moments for Erica Tazel’s Barbara and Delroy Lindo’s Adrian. Barbara makes it clear she isn’t going to beat around any bushes with Diane. “Not too much,” she says coolly when Diane says she hopes she didn’t embarrass herself too much when she sat on a panel about racial hiring. And Adrian’s passionate, theatrical energy comes through in his meeting with one of the firm’s wealthy by cautious benefactors who relies on a weirdo with a complex algorithm to determine whether a case is worth taking or not. Adrian’s confidence and grandiosity reminisces of Will Gardner. He’s a commanding presence, and hopefully the show will continue to develop the internal dynamics of Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad.

Even though the episode follows a pretty straightforward narrative arc, there are little moments that don’t necessarily have any major plot implications but work toward building the show’s world and perspective. At the initial union event, Lucca observes that significantly more people are in line to get advice from Maia than any other lawyer. Maia is the only white lawyer there. The Good Wife often got stuck in a self-reflexive feedback loop in its storylines about privilege, racism, and systemic inequality, because the characters in control of the narrative were all, well, rich, white Chicago liberals. Already, The Good Fight shows more depth and dimension on that front. Race is already closer to the forefront of the narrative.

The Good Wife no doubt faced constraints in its storytelling because it aired on network television. I noted in my review of the premiere that the series can get away with swearing now, but that’s not the only freedom that comes with it being a streaming show. There’s a slightly different energy here. It has the same tempo as The Good Wife (fast as fuck) but a different rhythm, and that’s evident throughout “First Week,” which blends genres in the same way The Good Wife did but does so with even more confidence right off the bat. There’s room for bolder ideas and for more dynamics than there was on network television, and Michelle and Robert King are already making use of that. The Good Fight doesn’t pull any punches.

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Stray observations

  • The Good Callback: This will be a recurring section where I highlight some of the Good Wife callbacks/references that don’t make it into the main part of the review. One of the subtle parallels to The Good Wife in this episode is how Boseman uses Maia’s personal life to his advantage in court, arguing for the first judge’s recusal on the basis that he lost his money in Ponzi scheme. Alicia was used like that all the time in the beginning of The Good Wife.
  • Boseman wants to mold Maia into a fighter.
  • Lucca’s wardrobe so far this season has been so great.
  • If you don’t know exactly how a Ponzi scheme works and are too embarrassed to ask, don’t worry: This is a judgement free zone. But I wanted to use this opportunity to point you toward Drunk History’s episode on the original Ponzi scheme.
  • I hope to see more character development for Amy (Maia’s girlfriend). Right now, their relationship is cute, but I need more substance.

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