The Good Fight Review: 1×10 “Chaos”

So this episode was where we got to find out the answer to the question the Kings have perhaps unwittingly posed: Is it easier to write a great ten-episode season than a great twenty-two-episode season? Or, more specifically, would having a ten-episode season enable the Kings to write a flawlessly brilliant season, as they often implied it would? For background, the Kings, bless their hearts, sometimes responded to implied criticisms of The Good Wife‘s more uneven moments with the defense that cable television shows have it so durn easy with only ten episodes a year. So now that the first season of The Good Fight is over, we can see if their theory panned out!

Much of this episode revolves around a fun case-of-the-week. Jason Biggs returns as the Bitcoin guy and hires Diane to help him stop a planned cyberterrorism attack that he claims not to be involved in, is the usual mix of treachery, plot twists, and that paranoid fascination with modern technology that characterizes this show. It was twisty and enjoyable, and I liked it. I also somewhat enjoyed the reveal that Jason Biggs (let’s be serious, no matter how many times he shows up in this universe I’m not gonna remember this character’s name, because whenever I see him I’m like “Oh hey! It’s Jason Biggs!”) is secretly working with the Milo Yiannapoulos clone Felix Staples to plan the cyberterrorism attack, because both want to start a revolution, but of very different kinds—not-Milo actually jeers at Bitcoin guy for being a Bernie bro. Just like many of the real Bernie bros, in his fervor for revolution, Jason Biggs accidentally found himself cheering for the wrong side.

But before this happens, one of the twists is that Lucca herself gets taken into custody after providing Colin with anonymous evidence from Jason Biggs that turns out to have a malicious Trojan horse on it. Colin’s boss tries to get Lucca thrown in jail as a co-conspirator, but luckily a reasonable judge puts a stop to it–not, however, before Colin has to admit in court that he’s her “ex-lover” and also admit that she gave a virus to his entire department.

This also leads to a minor breakthrough for Maia, who receives a performance evaluation that she’s not bold enough. It’s so bad that after she leaves, Barbara remarks that they’ll give her two weeks to turn it around. But she takes the feedback to heart and, when Lucca is arrested, gets super pissed and ferociously defends her in court. That was good to see. As usual, this show’s female friendship game is top notch.

Most importantly, this episode brings the Rindell scandal storyline to a very satisfying climax. Henry, who has played on Maia’s emotions time and time again by summoning very convincing frail-old-dude tears whenever she was about to get wise to him, plays on them one more time. He has a sentimental, tearful good-bye with her—as if he is going to send himself to prison in a heroic gesture to save Maia, who’s now been implicated, by winning her immunity in the plea bargain. He has a sentimental good-bye with his daughter and wife, only to flee the country despite knowing that Maia will quite possibly land in prison instead of him. He’s always been scum, but in this episode he crosses over into irredeemable scumminess, and Maia looks like she’s about to get the wake-up call she needed to recognize it.

So, excellent episode. But let’s get back to the question: Did a shorter season leave the Kings more time to put together a tight, well-crafted arc?

I try (not particularly successfully) not to bring up The Good Wife too often in these recaps. The Good Fight wants to be independent and for the most part it has been, especially in the last few episodes. But here we have such a good basis of comparison: twenty-two episodes of TGW per season, versus the ten episodes so far of TGF. And having seen both, I simply have to remark that having more time to write a season doesn’t guarantee it’ll hang together better.

It should hang together, shouldn’t it? I mean, this show has a pretty good concept. In a world chilled by overreach from powerful, hard-to-understand technology on one side and from a crazed wannabe dictator on the other, a band of idealistic lawyers contends with scandal, betrayal, and corruption—including a white woman who, after years of being at the top, agrees to be junior to several black partners at an all new firm. I mean, it’s not bad as concepts go.

As Adrian says to Diane near the end, everything in the world seems to be turned upside down, and their only constant is the law. I see Adrian as the moral authority on the show, so I think we can take his summation as a statement of the theme of the show.

But: did you cry? Did you cry when Maia’s father finally revealed his true spots and betrayed her? I didn’t. I felt for her in an abstract way, and I was surprised at Henry’s move, but I didn’t feel heartbroken because I haven’t managed to get truly invested in any of these characters. When The Good Wife‘s first season ended, we were WITH Alicia Florrick. We knew her fears, her goals, the ways that she was changing, the ways that her world had changed around her; we knew things about her she didn’t know about herself. And her universe was peopled with three-dimensional characters, each with their own view of the moral and ethical complexities of their world.

Do we have that here? In my opinion, we don’t–mostly because we need to know the characters better. The most stunning moment of the entire season was when Maia realized she had in fact been complicit in her parents’ crime—though consciously she never knew, unconsciously she was busily, almost furiously, constructing blind spots for herself so that she would be able to say later, I never knew. But the other characters often feel like strangers. What makes Adrian tick? What is his tragic flaw? What lies behind Barbara’s fearsome competence? What does Jay want out of his life? These are things that I think we should be closer to having some idea about, after a full season.

All I’m saying is—you can have ten episodes that are basically a long movie with a tight arc that ends with a fulfilling conclusion, tying up the threads you’ve so carefully woven together. Or, you can have ten episodes of uneven pace and depth, some moving the overall plot along, some not, and finish up with a conclusion that doesn’t feel especially stirring. And this particular ten-episode season felt more like the latter, even if each episode was clearly the work of brilliant writers.

There is a very strong possibility that The Good Fight is a brilliant show that I’m just nitpicking because it’s not The Good Wife and that makes me sad. But somehow I don’t think so. Rather, I think The Good Fight is a very strong show but that The Good Wife was something special and rare.

Anyway. Kudos to the costume department, though. Their work actually goes a long way towards making these characters three-dimensional—from Lucca’s inexplicable neck bows and mod shifts, to Barbara’s lush fabrics and bold patterns in restrained cuts, to Maia’s lacy, girlish aesthetic which I feel is best characterized by the words “angel, comma, doily.” And ah, the coats! If there is an Emmy category specifically for the people who manage to fit the largest number of stunning coats into ten hours of TV, The Good Fight’s team should win it hands down.

Other thoughts:

  • If you want to know how to Draw Appropriate Boundaries at work, watch Diane. When Marissa, like the stereotypical idiot millennial that most of us in fact are not, announces to her own boss that she’s planning to leave her position to be an investigator and asks Diane to do the work to make that happen, Diane is just like, ummm, no. I loved it!
  • One more The Good Wife comparison: remember how after Will died, Alicia had gotten a cryptic missed call and message from him and never knew why he called? In this episode, Kurt almost dies in a carjacking before Diane can return his call. But unlike Alicia, she gets to find out why he called: to ask her to dinner. Sometimes fate is so cruel–and sometimes it gives you just a little break.
  • Let’s talk about Lucca and Colin for a second. Warning: rant forthcoming. Lucca’s dating antics got even more annoying this week, which I didn’t think possible. First she dates Colin and makes a big fuss about hating games despite the fact that she’s actually the one playing games with him. (A classic move.) Then she breaks up with him in a parking lot and heartlessly tries to make him feel stupid for caring. Then, in this episode, she shows up to a meeting with him to give him evidence about the Bitcoin case and ASKS HIM WHY HE HASN’T CALLED, like he was supposed to keep chasing her when she literally told him he wasn’t allowed to have feelings about them breaking up. And THEN, when he says that’s customary after a breakup, she literally responds, “Was that a breakup?” Like, EXCUSE ME?! In what universe do you tell someone, “We both knew this wasn’t forever,” and then claim you weren’t sure if that was a breakup? If that’s how you talk to people you’re not breaking up with, you’re… not very good at talking to people. Let’s just put it that way.
  • Check out the way Colin Morello says “You undercut me, sir.” How much do you want to quit a job someday with only that line? Of course, he backs down once he’s offered a promotion—and then warns Lucca that it’s rough out there, knowing that he only almost cared for her enough to quit a job that forced him to betray her. But that’s Chicago. And that’s the Good
  • Am I missing something obvious, or did it not really make sense why Barbara was outside Adrian’s office listening sadly while he and Diane waxed philosophical in the moonlight? She’s not in love with Adrian, is she? Is she just sad that Diane’s kind of trying to elbow her way into the top partnership? Or are we actually going to have a senior partner love triangle? Because I’m not sure I can take that.

This was already renewed for a second season, so we will definitely be back on this in 2018. Damn, I’m going to miss my weekly dose of covetable coats.

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