The Good Fight Review: 1×03 “The Schtup List”

So here’s what I’m wondering: has a high-quality premium cable-style show ever also been a classic procedural, with single-episode cases of the week?

We know that the prestige premium cable drama is the model The Good Fight’s going after. The Kings frequently defended themselves against any The Good Wife-directed snarking that they had to write 22 episodes a year, and it’s not easy to maintain tight-as-a-drum plot development with that pace of work. Now, with The Good Fight, they’ve landed themselves on a paying-subscribers-only location, with twelve episodes a season. But as we’re learning, a slower pace of production and a more expensive outlet doesn’t mean the drama is inherently deeper.

Instead of continuing with the union storyline from last week, the show follows a new case this week. Diane’s fighting to keep a doctor out of prison who’s been video conferencing into a war zone to help untrained people with life-saving medical procedures, and is accused of aiding terrorism. She and Lucca fight hard in court, only to have the doctor’s patient get blown up anyway: it turns out that the government was using the case to smoke out the location of a wanted terrorist. It is classic King stuff: what seems merely unfair and arbitrary turns out to be not arbitrary at all, but sinister and deep.

Another thing we learn in this episode is that Diane may not really be the protagonist. Once again, her legal storyline takes the emotional back seat to Maia’s family drama. The truth is, Diane needs an emotional center for her storyline. So far I don’t see one, and that’s why Maia and even sometimes Lucca feel like they’re taking center stage, while Diane settles back into being what she was throughout The Good Wife: everyone’s favorite supporting character. I hate to admit it, but I think Diane needs a romantic plot to anchor her story. The supposed “problem” that she was forced to delay her retirement isn’t holding much weight as a problem for me because the fact is, Diane clearly loves to work. What she needs is something she cares about enough to break her usually unflappable composure, like the scene where she cried in front of her estranged husband.

Maia’s storyline also treads water a little bit this week. She is further shedding some innocence about her family: after catching her mother in a compromising position with Uncle Jacks at the end of last episode, she tries to figure out how much her father knows. She and her father have a circumspect meeting, flanked by their respective lawyers—until her father finally hugs her and whispers a secret in her ear before the lawyers can pull them apart, enabling her to pull a secret file called “The Schtup List” off her uncle’s computer while Marissa helpfully distracts him. Maia’s father says it can destroy Jacks, but we don’t actually get to find out what’s in it. So even though I expect there to be more revelations that complicate and tarnish the characters of everyone involved, I can’t say that much has actually, you know, happened in this episode.

Lucca, meanwhile, second-chairs Diane’s case (to Diane’s thinly veiled displeasure) and starts a flirtation with the opposing lawyer, who somewhat adorably shares his burger with her, by negging him that he’s too slick to be her type even though she clearly likes him. They end up bonding when they realize they were both used by the government to draw out the terrorist targets. But how come, in a show that should revolve around Diane, her plotline winds up as a vehicle to get Lucca closer to her new love interest? And for someone who is probably one of the three or four primary characters on the show, is Lucca herself getting enough to do? I’m dubious.

On a lighter note, I laughed out loud at one subplot: Boseman Kolstad pitches for a renewal of their contract with a client who’s now wary of a firm that is openly in conflict with the Trump administration. They have to find someone at the firm who voted for Trump—and will admit to it. Not surprisingly at all, it’s Julian, who was always a little bit of a stick-in-the-mud conservative back in his days at Lockhart Gardner. There is a funny recurring bit where the other lawyers, shocked to learn that Julian would vote for Trump, comfort themselves with the fact that Kanye voted for Trump—or he would have, if he had bothered to vote. I love how even these middle-aged, stolid lawyers are only able to justify this choice with Kanye.

So, to sum up: a witty episode, not particularly exciting, with a clever, thematically relevant, and competent procedural A-plot. Some shows do take awhile to get started; does the fact that this episode isn’t knock-your-socks-off brilliant, this early in the game, mean anything in particular? I’m thinking of House, where the first two episodes were fairly boring; or Battlestar, which didn’t achieve brilliance until the first episode after the four-hour opening miniseries. If this show resembles any previous successful show I can think of, it might be Veronica Mars, whose quirky storytelling and sense of noir built up to something groundbreaking. So when the first few episodes aren’t showy, it doesn’t necessarily spell doom; some shows become critically acclaimed after they’ve had time to gain momentum and build up a multi-layered world. But I do want more from this show: more interesting storylines for Diane, more insight into Lucca’s still-obscure character, and more situations that test and tempt Maia—more situations that force her to grow. That would bring this show up from merely smart and competent to something more than that—to the prestige-drama quality that it is clearly seeking (and that its ancestor show, The Good Wife, attained despite its breakneck pace).

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