For Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), everything just feels so off lately.
“Everybody’s dying,” she says. “I just don’t know what’s going on in the world anymore. I read the news, I watch the news, and it just doesn’t make any sense.”
The second season premiere of The Good Fight (launching Sunday on CBS All Access) follows Diane and her lawyer kin to a funeral for a fellow attorney. But there’s another attorney’s funeral that day, and a madman is on television commanding people to “Kill all lawyers!” President Trump’s on TV too, bragging about the bull market and adopting a pot-bellied pig. And someone at the firm opens an envelope full of mysterious white powder. And, sorry, what was that about a pot-bellied pig?
Full confession: I’m a Good Fight newbie and a Goodverse neophyte. To the chagrin of my learned colleague Samantha Highfill, I watched one whole episode of CBS’ acclaimed The Good Wife. (And that was on a plane.) (And I liked that episode, so why didn’t I watch more? Was I really so busy with Boardwalk Empire?) That means I can’t fully speak to how the new season of the spinoff develops co-creators Robert and Michelle King’s particular brand of cleverly written, stunningly well-acted legal drama.
But I know great TV when I see it, and The Good Fight‘s new season is great TV, tense with a topical paranoia that goes deeper than mere Trump talk. There’s something insidious in the air, swirling around Diane and her colleagues: Death threats, but also an eerie feeling of constant assault. “You should smile more!” one judge (Rob Reiner) tells Diane. “I don’t know when it happened that women stopped smiling.” Diane bursts out laughing, the kind of laugh that never sounds like a smile.
The premiere of season 2 of Good Fight takes place entirely during a funeral for former partner Carl Reddick (played last season by Louis Gossett Jr.). Barbara (Erica Tazel) gives a fiery eulogy: “Carl Reddick was born when Nazis were marching in the streets, and he died when Nazis were marching in the streets.”
Heavy stuff, but the fun of the premiere is how all the mourners use the somber day as an opportunity for some wheeler-dealing. Adrian (Delroy Lindo) is trying to secure a big client for the firm. (The client’s name rhymes with “Shmobama.”) New series regular Audra McDonald plays the dead man’s daughter, Liz, a United States Attorney who recently tweeted that the nation’s new boss is a white supremacist. She’s looking for a new gig, but everyone on The Good Fight is hustling somehow. Diane’s secretary Sarah wants to go Full Kalinda and become a full-fledged investigator for the firm. FBI Agent Starkey (Jane Lynch) swings by the funeral to taunt Maia (Rose Leslie) with new information about her renegade-banker father.
It’s a great episode of television, somehow thrillingly tense but still a boozy good time. (Diane learns about microdosing, and so did I.) The next couple episodes are more recognizable as A Show About Lawyers, cases introduced and resolved, familiar-faced guest judges. But the feeling of wrongness never goes away. Chicago’s attorneys keep dying. Moral and ethical ambiguities keep on piling up. When someone in the firm is threatened by a client, there’s a spiraling quandary: The cops need to investigate the clients, but that would violate attorney-client privilege.
The third episode rips from some very specific headlines, litigating a version of the Bachelor in Paradise scandal. A female contestant on a sex-idiot reality franchise called Chicago Penthouse claims she was assaulted and sues the show. What follows is a spiral through legal gray areas, signed documents, the ambiguity of reality TV’s reality, the most difficult questions of consent. All this in an episode that also features an apparent assassination attempt involving freaking ricin.
Cerebral, freaky—and fun, too! Not every element of The Good Fight fully fits together. Maia spends the first few episodes wrapping up the uninvolving criminal-dad subplot. The final twist in the assassination subplot beggars belief. The series takes a few dramatic shortcuts that reflect the Goodverse’s old-school procedural roots. (Liz is the ex-wife of Adrian, and then her current husband is a policeman called to the firm during the ricin scare.)
But in its second season, Good Fight keeps complicating its own internal structure, wandering off-course into unexpected tangents. Baranski is doing incredible work here. Without ever making Diane look weak, she radiates a cosmic exhaustion. “I just don’t like hustling every day to keep this firm afloat,” she says. But it’s more than the firm. She’s hustling to stay sane in a world gone mad. Good luck, Diane. We’re right there with you. A-