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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Death looms over the balanced, foreboding season two premiere of The Good Fight

Illustration for article titled Death looms over the balanced, foreboding season two premiere of The Good Fight

Photo: The Good Fight (CBS)

The Good Fight returns for a second season with a premiere steeped in death. Elegantly framed by a central funeral that moves from church to cemetery to at-home reception, “Day 408” slowly unspools its ominous thread, surrounding its main characters with subtle dysfunction and doom.

Carl Reddick’s death sends Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad into an upheaval that everyone fights to hide for the sake of the somber occasion. The premiere quickly introduces us to Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald), Carl’s daughter and Adrian’s (Delroy Lindo) ex-wife, who’s set to be a major player this season. The Good Fight lives in a place of controlled chaos, as its stunning opening sequence likes to reiterate. The funeral program provides a clear structure for the episode, making the narrative feel tightly constructed. And yes, chaos brews just beneath the cordial exchanges and displays of grief. By the end of the initial church service, Liz has already quit her job as an AUSA, getting ahead of her possible removal over a tweet she posted in which she called Donald Trump a white supremacist.

The news quickly spreads that she’s going to start her own firm, which means the firm might lose one of their top clients, the Obama Library. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) is called upon to mitigate, but she’s tied up in court and has to play catch-up by the time she arrives at the cemetery. And Diane and Julius (Michael Boatman) eventually hatch a plan to go over Adrian’s head and offer Liz a named partnership at the firm. Meanwhile, another firm’s trying to poach Diane but ends up poaching Barbara (Erica Tazel) instead. Yep, all within the span of a single funeral, the pieces all shift to set up the new game for the season. And while a lot is happening at once, it never feels out of control, most likely due to that strong, clearly defined structure framing the episode.

Despite all the death and doom, the premiere also manages to weave in some of the show’s signature sense of humor. The Good Wife’s inept lawyer Howard Lyman returns here as an inept judge, much to Diane’s chagrin. What should be a simple continuance becomes a tedious voir dire, which turns into a comical display of pointless tedium, Lyman determined to assert his new power and to make Diane miserable.

Even the deaths themselves become darkly humorous, everyone confused about which funeral they’re all talking about. In addition to Carl’s, there’s also that of a top litigation lawyer at the firm that burned Diane in the show’s pilot. And then there’s that of a divorce attorney, run down by a client who accused him of overbilling. The news reports about the hit-and-run show the killer shouting “kill all lawyers!” That seems to be the rather on-the-nose but thrillingly dark tone heading into this new season.

The show also seems to be doubling down on its anti-Trump messaging. Plenty of shows now are set in Trump’s America, but none seem as pointedly fixated on that context as The Good Fight. Even the previouslies use actual Trump sound bites as a framing device. Trump doesn’t just happen to be the president on this show; he’s a part of the story, an ever-present force who influences not just the plot but also seems to always be on the characters’ minds in a way that feels strikingly authentic.

Perhaps the most compelling reference to current political events is the episode’s portrayal of audio manipulation software. Ever since The Good Wife, Michelle and Robert King have woven skepticism about modern technology and privacy into this universe. The manipulation of truth is as foreboding as death itself. It’s easy to laugh at the faked Trump and Pence phone calls Lucca (Cush Jumbo) and Jay (Nyambi Nyambi) create for Maia (Rose Leslie) to prove to her that the FBI is messing with her—at first. But the real underlying implications are terrifying.

The premiere takes place just a matter of days before Maia faces trial, and Madeline Starkey (Jane Lynch) lingers at every corner, ready to catch Maia in a lie or confession. Their first interaction—a lengthy sequence at the funeral where Starkey does all the talking and Maia remains deliberately silent—oozes with tension, reintroducing the fun, antagonistic dynamic between the characters. Then Lucca jumps in and makes it even more fun, Cush Jumbo’s tight delivery always enticing. Her performances on TV always invoke her Shakespearean roots.

While Maia and Lucca do seem to exist just on the periphery of everything else happening, their storyline doesn’t overpack the episode and still manages to be thematically relevant in its foreboding tone. Their storyline also delivers some of the most compelling scenes of the episode, leaving a little more room to breathe than some of the other ongoings which are too busy setting things up to really let big emotional moments land. Maia’s scenes bring some necessary languidness. Her trial is certainly urgent, but by focusing in on Maia’s sense of memory, the episode creates something intimate and slow.

A blurry security photo of a woman allegedly withdrawing money on her vanished father’s behalf triggers Maia’s long-term memory muscles. She remembers the woman, at first, in incomplete bursts, in isolated body parts. The memories start with a touch, with a vague feeling. She eventually remembers a face, then a first name, then a naked body, then a desire. The woman was Rosalie, her tennis coach 12 years ago who her parents let go because they could see Maia’s attraction to her. The initial sequence of Maia remembering is so gorgeously constructed that I immediately had to watch it again, feeling so thoroughly pulled into Maia’s headspace. Later, Maia remembers one part differently. Two Maias appear on-screen to represent the conflicting memories with a scenic composition that verges on sci-fi levels of unsettling.

Flashbacks are obviously a plot device, but The Good Fight manages to make them more than that. The flashbacks on this show provide character development, establish emotions, explore the very concept of memory itself. It’s in these moments that The Good Fight becomes more than just a legal drama, imbuing its world of backstabbing lawyers and shifting allegiances with depth and dimension. Season two is poised to be much darker than its first. The Good Fight often looks like a meticulously constructed opera, but it isn’t afraid to get messy.

Stray observations

  • A note: While The A.V. Club has decided to cut regular episodic coverage of this show, I will be dropping back in at midseason and for the finale, so meet me back here in a few weeks.
  • The Good Callback: Aside from Lyman’s appearance, we also get shouts to Alicia Florrick and Will Gardner (RIP). Liz apparently went to school with Alicia. Also, for those who don’t remember, Audra McDonald did appear in one episode of The Good Wife but as “Liz Lawrence,” so her character seems to have been retconned a bit to fit into The Good Fight.
  • The Good Fashion: For her funeral look, Diane trades in her usual oversized chain for a gorgeous layered pearl necklace.
  • Diane Lockhart is just casually micro-dosing mushrooms now?!?! I don’t know where this is going, but I think I’m along for the ride.
  • Marissa Gold leverages her way into becoming a part-time investigator.

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