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The Good Fight turns into a parody of itself with its tangled Jeffrey Epstein episode

Illustration for article titled iThe Good Fight /iturns into a parody of itself with its tangled Jeffrey Epstein episode
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To be fair, this was not supposed to be the season finale of The Good Fight. Like many series, the show’s production schedule was impacted by the pandemic. Instead of three more episodes of season four, we’re left here. With the stunty (although, what even qualifies as a stunt when it comes to this show) Jeffrey Epstein episode. It’s far from an ending for this chaotic season, so it makes more sense to consider this as just another middle episode of the series rather than a finale. But even on that front, it fails sort of spectacularly.

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Only covering the premiere and “finale” of this season of The Good Fight has been dizzying—in part because it’s bookended by the two absolutely most bonkers episodes. First, there was the “alternate reality” premiere, which I found interesting in concept and scattered in execution. In the middle stretch, there was the also stunty Slave Play episode, but I actually found it one of the more coherent iterations of the show’s camp and absurdity. Now here comes “The Gang Discovers Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein,” which sounds almost like a parody episode title for this season. You know when someone tweets or shares something publicly that’s so wild and chaotic that it probably should have just been a text to their close friends? That’s sort of the feeling I had walking away from “The Gang Discovers Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein.” It’s like a pitch that should have stayed in the writers room.

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It starts in Jeffrey Epstein’s prison cell and rapidly devolves into a Dan Brownian explosion of conspiracy and mystery from there. Diane and the firm have been hired to re-examine the extremely examined case of Epstein’s death: suicide or murder? It feels like something from approximately one million news cycles ago, but the media fatigue makes its way into the episode. How many different ways can the same story be told? At what point is a conspiracy theory just that—a theory—and at what point does it bend toward some larger truth? How deep does the dark web of America’s corruption go? The Good Fight is intermittently effective in considering these questions over the course of the episode, but succeeds best when it comes to the last one.

In a very The Good Fight move, there’s an absurdist play on “rosebud” from Citizen Kane. In this case, it’s “BUD,” first thought to be one of Epstein’s fired lawyers then maybe someone else then maybe his murderer then maybe someone he was trying to protect. In the end, it’s his cryogenically frozen penis, stored in a vault along with his heart. The final shot is more disturbing than the series seems to realize. It’s not bold or surreal—it’s messed up. It makes light of Epstein’s long history of sexual abuse and sex trafficking. At times, the Epstein conspiracies that unfold in the episode seem to be rendered as darkly comedic, and that tone is disorienting and dismissive.

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The episode attempts to insulate itself against exactly that kind of criticism by way of Marissa, who comments at the very end that they all seem to have lost sight of the actual issue at hand, favoring the whodunnit mystery over concern for the victims along the way. Rather than directly engage with that idea—which touches on voyeuristic media consumption, patriarchy, systems of abuse—it’s just that. One line. If The Good Fight is going to go big with its concepts—which it often does, especially this season—it needs to back it up with incisive storytelling. Otherwise it’s just the concept driving the episode. And that’s a flimsy foundation.

There’s definitely some deeper storytelling embedded in the episode’s Epstein saga, like the look at how many people were passively and actively complicit in his abuse. It ranges from all sorts of real-life American politicians (at times, the episode feels like a simplified yet spiraling redux of American political news of the past decade) to characters cooked up by the show, like the hairdresser to the stars who Lucca has an in with thanks to Bianca.

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The Memo 618 of it all also comes to a head: Epstein’s entire life was built on the ability to evade laws and justice. Thanks to Conspiracy Theorist Rachel Dratch in the penultimate episode of the season, we know a little more about how Memo 618 works, although I’m sure we would have learned more if the season could have continued as was originally planned. Diane gets in a great monologue about how Memo 618 provides an easy off-ramp for the rich and powerful whenever they get into legal trouble. Indeed, the episode is most compelling when it wades through the depths of the country’s corruption. Julius’ arrest drives it home. Because he didn’t bend to Memo 618, he’s now being punished, and he and Diane have the realization that the Inspector General is probably in on it. They don’t even have a recourse for whistleblowing anymore.

Another story strength of the episode exists on the periphery of the Epstein case. It’s a twisty power struggle that evokes the good ol’ days of The Good Wife. Robert and Michelle King are masterful when it comes to stories about workplace plotting, betrayal, and control. In this instance, the higher-ups at STR Laurie demand a “reduction”—cute way of saying layoffs—of 20% across all departments in the firm. Adrian, Diane, and Liz find themselves in the tricky position of having to assess the worth of their employees, bleakly reducing them to numbers and boxes. It’s definitely an accurate look at how corporations reduce humans, and Adrian, Diane, and Liz have increasingly become the very power structures they used to claim to fight against (this is seen most starkly in the swimming case earlier in the season when Adrian perpetuated transphobia for the sake of a client).

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Attempting to avoid the layoffs, the trio hatch a plan to buy themselves back out from STR Laurie. But when they bring it to the top, they’re foiled by Firth. Turns out he only gave Diane the pro bono cases in order to decrease her billable hours, triggering a clause in the contract that means the buyout would have to happen at a much higher price than before. This is all genuinely more thrilling than the Epstein stuff, evoking both The Good Wife and also Mad Men, which similarly saw its characters through whiplash mergers, buyouts, and reconfigurations. The Good Fight doesn’t entirely lose itself in this episode, but it’s absolutely an example of the Too Muchness of the show going just way too beyond. I don’t need The Good Fight to stop doing the most, but it could stand to dial things back just a bit from the Epstein madness that this episode is so steeped in.


Stray observations

  • Apparently, this is the last season for Cush Jumbo and Delroy Lindo, which is a huge bummer—especially since this was a truncated season. So there’s no real hope for a satisfying conclusion to either character’s arc. I guess Adrian is going to maybe retire and not run for president? And Lucca is just gonna get rich enough to disappear on an island somewhere?
  • The performances in this episode remain great. Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald deserve awards for their work this season.
  • Sometimes this show feels like a weird social experiment, and that’s not necessarily an insult.
  • That final shot still makes me mad.
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