"Your honor, that's a car commercial!"

By Darren Franich
May 16, 2019 at 06:00 PM EDT
Patrick Harbron/CBS
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Typical week, all calamity and injustice. The Good Fight ended its jubilant third season with another overstuffed episode. In the season 3 finale, the incidents were topical, the legality pretzel-shaped, the fate of our characters (and our species) left ambiguous. I’ll be spoiling it all, but suffice to say this was exciting, funny, moving television — and the ending sent a chill down my spine. Thank goodness we all subscribe to CBS All Access. Can you imagine missing this wonder?

There was a strange electrical phenomenon in the skies around Goodverse Chicago, caused by highly excited atoms, maybe, or by chemical pollutants in the air. It was “lightning balls,” swore the newscasters. Lightning. Balls. The city went dark, and then distant evening redness burned the skyline. Could this be the Revelation foretold in the scriptures? Was it a power plant, Chernobyl gone midwestern? Or a government conspiracy, some experimental weapon?

Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) watched the great fire on her laptop. The walls around her lit up the color of her hair. And she had her feet up on her desk. When the end of the world arrives, pray you have a corner office with a nice view.

I could make this whole review just about Maia, and she used to be the show’s tenth most compelling character, tops. This year, she was broken, and breaking bad. Her fallrise, in short: She lost her job, landed at a call center full of law degrees sunk into cubicles, founded a firm for scoundrels with walking American nightmare Roland Blum (Michael Sheen), betrayed her best friend, betrayed her former mentor. She was last seen triumphantly sucking on a fentanyl lollipop on the road to Washington, D.C., a good (or anyhow, not terrible) person giving in to the madness of our age.

Inside the law offices of Reddick, Boseman, & Lockhart, all the atoms were highly excited. The finale started with the kind of scene that might end lesser shows. Julius (Michael Boatman) was off to his federal judgeship. His pals wished him well, even baked some cookies shaped like his smiling face. “Despite ourselves, we’re family,” Julius said.

And then the remaining partners got into an immediate shouting match, one side supporting Lucca (Cush Jumbo) as the replacement for Julius, the other side declaring that Rosalyn (Christina Jackson) would be a better choice for the company’s image.

“Does everything have to be an argument, you guys?” asked Adrian (Delroy Lindo), behind his desk in his usual besieged-king pose. Lindo’s so perfect on Good Fight, providing an essential counterweight to the show’s increasingly loopy surrealities. He doesn’t talk to the camera. He doesn’t sing off-the-cuff solos. He’s not all serious — Lindo’s performance can be very funny when he’s double-taking the absurdity around him — but he’s trying to maintain sanity. And he’s protecting his life’s work, in a year when it’s conventional wisdom to fear for one’s work and one’s life.

At one point in the finale, Adrian explained his career for the benefit of the courtroom:

I’ve had offices in storefronts, and in the back row of bond court. I’ve met with clients seven nights a week in housing projects that you wouldn’t walk into without a police escort and a camera crew. I won’t be held to account because the firm that I helped to build doesn’t conform to your idea of a black law firm. I’m a black man. Reddick Boseman Lockhart is MY firm. And I apologize for nothing.

And yet. Later, in his Ragnarok-darkened office, he sounded despondent. He sipped the whiskey, listened to the sirens, told Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) his whole perspective on the world was declining. “The guard rails are gone, Diane, and I can’t see the road,” he said. “I used to think that something would save us: The law, personal conscience. Now, I don’t see anything.” (As my learned colleague Chancellor Agard points out in his latest excellent recap, this is actually a bleak callback to the end of season 1.)

Good Fight‘s third season didn’t seem to have any guard rails. Showrunners Michelle and Robert King continued to find new ways to honor and explode the sacred virtues of TV storytelling. This was still a very good procedural, crafting solid episodic plots zipping along with lawyerly abandon. The cases were intriguing, could reform your own perspective on current events. The guest stars were always having a ball.

I worry sometimes that, this decade, TV creators have boldly invented new ways for television to be terrible. Certainly, the average drama has never felt more humorless, more bloated, more desperate, more “serialized” in a way that sprinkles less story across longer running times. That big battle of Winterfell episode on Game of Thrones looked like some kind of apex: A showdown between clearcut good and obvious evil, filmed with lots of money in the style of dolorous grit-realism that prevents basic visibility. Good Fight would be a curio if it were just a smart show full of good actors dedicated to a case-of-the-week structure. Its feverish normality would look unusual right now, when the most mainstream entertainment requires apocalyptic superpowers.

But season 3 also saw this show move closer into the territory of NBC’s Community, Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, and even the further-flung episodes of HBO’s The Sopranos, TV shows about TV itself, a self-critical drama torn between religious dedication to the medium’s possibilities and fearful paranoia about what television has done to our world. In the finale, Blum hired a studio audience for the courtroom, a loudmouth bunch of dudes offering gladiatorial yays and boos. A funny enough gag — and, Blum noted, a variation on the Brooks Brothers Riot, an actual piece of ruinous political theater from the Bush-Gore hijacking.

The Kings are TV pros, and so part of the fun of Good Fight is watching them experiment, burning up their own rulebook. The opening credits played later and later every week, sometimes surprising you around the 17-minute mark. The fourth wall was broken. There were those weekly breakaway shorts, Jonathan Coulton songs animated by Steve Angel, lighthearted folk music for Armageddon. Major plots launched out of happenstance. Lucca found out about the partner-promotion talk because Marisa (Sarah Steele) tried to FaceTime Diane, and there’s a bug in iPhones with FaceTime, and while Marisa was explaining that some text rolled onscreen noting that Apple had since fixed the bug.

We’re living through television’s decadent period lately, big shows full of aggro-epic showdowns, the kind of explosion budgets you used to only see in movies (back before the explosions were digital.) Whereas The Good Fight is, more than anything, droll. “So, one more thing to deal with,” Lucca said midway through the finale, a single mom slash workaholic lawyer discovering that some of her colleagues don’t think she’s black enough.

The climactic court subplot of this season was very fun, twisty, and loopy. A new Trumpling judge (played with blank-headed confidence by This Is Us star Chris Sullivan) seemed to be learning the definition of the law in realtime, presiding over a hearing between Blum and RBL. The twists involved some plot payoffs from throughout the season. Judge Hazlewood (Tamberla Perry) revealed herself as another official in Blum’s back pocket, inadvertently complicating things for kinda-boyfriend Adrian. Diane made a partnership offer to Maia, a fig leaf that would’ve promoted another white lawyer above African American colleagues. (The bad feelings have not dissipated from after a year of righteous debates about the office’s internal culture. In the briefest of shots, we saw all the new white employees in the mailroom.)

A bit of hope here, maybe. With the Blum case going south, Diane committed to Operation Simplicity. Brilliant people explained the whole economic nature of the legal profession via cute pictures of a giraffe and a possum. “We’re not asking you to change the facts, just the delivery,” Diane promised her experts — though certainly Diane, and the Kings, are smart enough to remember Marcuse’s warning about the medium and the message. The Trump appointee made the smart decision for one very dumb reason. He just couldn’t stop thinking about Judy Giraffe.

Everyone’s a star on The Good Fight, and the ensemble keeps swelling. Rosalyn had a couple intriguing scenes, suggesting Jackson might have more to do next season. And I loved how the episode’s final act found everyone staring into some kind of abyss. Last season wrapped with Lucca bringing home her newborn son alongside her baby daddy, being greeted by Marisa and Maia. Now her fella’s long-gone, Maia’s off the reservation, and Lucca and Marisa were left staring into the crimson night.

Will Lucca get to be partner? “I don’t care anymore,” Lucca said. “This whole year, I realized the best thing is not to care.” Marisa offered some acid. “The end times are beautiful,” Lucca concluded — which almost sounds like caring.

Jumbo was delightful at the center of some of season 3’s most riotous arcs. Her performance is so smart and surprising, always half-comedic as if Lucca is already amused by the miserable events of the day. Lucca was there when the Kings broke the fifth or sixth wall, casting British actor Gary Carr as British actor Gary Carr, known around the office for his role in Downton Abbey — though Marisa loved him best for The Deuce.

“I don’t like TV,” said Lucca, a TV character. “It’s a lie.”

“Yeah,” said Gary, “But what isn’t a lie these days, though? Politics, art, science. Everything is TV.”

“And that’s a good thing?”

“No, it’s an important thing to know.”

Is everything on television a lie? Is everything television? Season 3’s most openly provocative plot cast Diane and Liz (the great Audra McDonald) as members of an underground anti-Trump group, meeting in a medieval-looking sub-basement somewhere in the city. Every week, the #Resistance subplot threatened to be just too much — too allegorical, too on-the-nose.

But I think it was the Kings’ most brainteasing experiment. In a stealth superteam of righteously angry women, Diane found new strength. The Book Club offered the promise that she could take back control — that her life could, in fact, become a little more like Game of Thrones, shadowy plots in throne room-looking hideouts, metaphorical axe-throwing that in some roundabout way gets some dumbo Nazis punched.

And then everything started to change, slowly, suddenly. They began adopting the weaponry of the other side, doxxing and hacking, attempting to outright rig the election machines. You could say: Their facts weren’t changing, just their delivery. And then their delivery turned fatal, a Swatting prank that left one politician dead.

Baranski played Diane’s crisis of conscience in every direction, with soliloquies and with her singing voice, with good humor and exhaustion. Throw awards at the actress — and weep a little for the character. Diane found hope in this finale thanks to her husband Kurt (ever-stupendous Gary Cole), who got memed frowning through a Presidential speech. Diane wound up in bed with him, declaring her happiness, asking him to promise that everything would be okay.

It was, in fact, the scene that started this season. At the beginning of season 3, the tone felt like a warning that this season would be all about Diane’s fall from grace. In a devastating twist, the Kings revealed quite the opposite: This year, Diane was gradually discovering happiness, rising toward a heavenly moment of light and love.

And outside their door, the SWAT team arrived. Tragic irony, you could say. Diane helped to start the revolutionary Book Club, turning the lies of a con woman into an ode to fighting the good fight. Now her allies are her enemies. Will Kurt survive? He’s the kind of guy who keeps a gun close by, remember, and accidents will happen. The countdown has started: for Kurt, for Diane, for everyone on The Good Fight, for everybody everywhere. 3. 2. 1.

Season Grade: A

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