Dylan Baker returns as Colin Sweeney and Jane Lynch enters the 'Good Fight' guest star hall of fame
This recap contains spoilers from Sunday’s The Good Fight, which is available on CBS All Access now.
One of the things I’ve found rather annoying about The Good Fight‘s first season is that we’ve only seen Maia in court once because she’s been caught up with her parents’ Ponzi scheme drama. Often, it feels like Rose Leslie is isolated in a separate show from everyone else and just crosses over occasionally to visit the other characters. While the drama’s penultimate episode didn’t entirely fix this shortcoming, it did remind me that Leslie has been turning in a strong performance throughout the season. In “Self Condemned,” Leslie delivers a heartbreaking performance — her best one to date — as Maia takes an emotional trip down memory lane.
The episode opens with Maia and Lucca seated an empty waiting room, waiting to meet with FBI Agent Madeline Starkey — played by Jane Lynch, who is already one of my favorite guest stars after only one episode — for a proffer session, which is basically an opportunity for Maia to answer questions relating to the investigation. It’s mostly in Maia’s best interest to answer truthfully because it’s a felony to lie to a federal agent, and the agreement signed before the meeting won’t protect her from that. As always, the show adds some amusing quirks to the FBI: Maia and Lucca have to walk through an interrogation room filled with agents to get to Starkey’s office because the hallway is being painted, and birds periodically fly into the window of Starkey’s cramped and messy office, making the conversation feel claustrophobic as the tension grows.
As I mentioned above, Lynch is brilliant as Starkey. At the beginning of the meeting, she presents this folksy façade that’s meant to disarm Maia and Lucca, who’s representing her. For example, when Maia and Lucca first enter her office, she makes a joke about the NSA sending over some of their emails, which is funny because it could actually happen in the Good Wife-Good Fight universe. (Let’s not forget parallel construction.) Starkey’s shtick kind of works on Maia, but it doesn’t for Lucca, who grows increasingly annoyed with her as the episode progresses. What’s great about Lynch’s performance is that you can tell from the outset that there’s some antagonism lying just beneath of the surface of her informality.
The tension in the proffer session slowly builds over the course of the episode as Starkey’s invasive questions force Maia to reconsider how much she actually knew about, well, everything going on in her family. Memories from the past nine years come to Maia in flashes, which is a pretty effective device since it mimics how we tend to remember things — not in long flashbacks but snippets seen in bursts. Through the questioning, Maia realizes she subconsciously knew about Lenore’s affair with Jax when she was younger because she has this blurry memory of them making out in the hallway of doctor’s office. Starkey reveals that Lenore used to lie about taking Maia to the doctor every two weeks so she could sneak off to meet with Jax, which breaks Maia’s heart. Maia barely manages to keep her composure, and there’s a subtle quiver in Leslie’s lip that’s particularly affecting.
Unfortunately, the revelations don’t end there. Starkey pushes further and turns her attention to the Rindell Foundation, which was supposed to raise money to fight malaria in Africa, and Maia’s relationship with Amy. Maia joined the foundation’s board at her 18th birthday party, which was also around the time that she first started questioning her sexuality. (She had a boyfriend at the time but spent half the party making out with Amy outside.) Starkey’s probing forces Maia to realize two more things: First, she definitely suspected something was not right in the foundation, because she was very inquisitive about the books. Second, she also suspected her parents were up to something illegal, because she didn’t ask Henry to let Amy’s parents join the fund even though she lied to Amy and said she did.
Because Lucca is a good lawyer, she takes Maia outside and suggests that Maia lied because she didn’t want to mix business and love, but Maia knows that’s not the case. Nevertheless, that’s the explanation she gives Starkey for not fighting for Amy’s parents to invest their money in the fund. But Starkey doesn’t buy it and says she’s going to recommend the U.S. attorney prosecute because she thinks Maia lied and committed a crime. The camera closes in on Maia’s face as she fights to hold back tears. I honestly didn’t care about the Rindell stuff until this episode, but now it finally feels like Maia has an actual stake in it, as opposed to just reacting to the latest development.
It still feels like Maia is stuck in her own show, since, outside of the flashbacks, Lucca and Starkey are the only characters she interacts with in the entire episode. However, that wasn’t as frustrating here because Lucca — whose relationship with Colin has made her feel isolated, too, though not to the same extent as Maia — is there with her, and it’s another opportunity to see her be both a good lawyer and friend. The show planted the seeds for this partnership in the premiere when Lucca followed Maia into the bathroom to share some advice on how to deal with the scandal, and I like that Lucca’s role as Maia’s ally and supporter continues here.
This episode also evokes the premiere by pairing up Adrian and Diane. Like Lucca with Maia, Adrian was there for Diane in the pilot. It’s nice that the show is revisiting these relationships as it heads into the finale, and I particularly enjoyed a scene between Diane and Adrian that ends with Adrian suggesting they get dinner sometime, after they discuss whether or not they’re happy at the firm. Both of them admit that they enjoy the fight and the pressure of the work they’re doing.
I guess I should probably talk about the case, too, which was actually pretty entertaining and somewhat cynical. While Maia and Lucca are dealing with the FBI, Adrian and Diane take on accused wife murderer Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker), whom we met in The Good Wife season 1, as a client in a case that surprisingly relates to Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad’s crusade to curb police brutality. The night before, Sweeney was pulled over and subsequently unjustly beaten by Officer Andrew Thoreau — the cop who was involved in the brutality case from the premiere. Despite the client, Adrian jumps at taking the case because he believes it’ll be their opportunity to finally get Throeau kicked off the force.
Yes, the show and characters are both aware of the irony in the fact that the best way to achieve this goal is for Adrian and Diane to represent a white client in a police brutality case; however, the show doesn’t harp on that, which is probably why I enjoyed the case so much. The case isn’t nearly as didactic as some of the others we’ve seen this season, and it lets the social justice issues and commentary on real-life politics remain as subtext. For example, it comes out that Sweeney was somehow in the running for the German ambassadorship position. That seems ridiculous at first, but then you remember the current state of things and the fact that Sweeney is a rich white man, which means some transgressions can be overlooked after some time. That distinction, too, is what undercuts Sweeney’s glib statement that accused wife killers are just as misunderstood and vulnerable to police brutality as black people.
Anyway, Adrian and Diane manage to get Sweeney off and Thoreau kicked off the force. Diane assumes Sweeney will work with them to sue the county, but he says no because even though another billionaire got the German ambassadorship, he’s now being considered for the same position in Vatican City, and suing Cook County over police brutality won’t look good. And thus the episode ends.
The Good Fight‘s season finale airs next week, and I’m very curious to see how everything turns out, especially since I’m finally invested in the Rindell drama. Here are a few things I want to see in the finale: Diane and Adrian getting dinner, and, more importantly, Barbara and Maia kicking butt in court.