The Good Fight bosses break down the Jeffrey Epstein-focused season 4 finale
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the season 4 finale of The Good Fight.
Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and company didn't actually get to the bottom of sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein's death in The Good Fight's early season 4 finale, despite what the episode's title, "The Gang Discovers Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein" suggested.
In the season-ender, U.S. Attorney Wilbur Dincon (Adam Heller) hired Liz (Audra McDonald) and the firm to investigate the financier's death and determine what actually happened (Epstein died by suicide in his jail cell while awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges last August; however, there are some who believe it wasn't suicide). Unfortunately, this case sends Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart down a deep conspiracy theory-filled rabbit hole that includes: a mysterious envelope that contained a key and message Epstein wrote about something called BUD (the writers made this up for the episode); a very real '70s sci-fi novel called Space Relations, written by Attorney General William Barr's father, Donald Barr; and Epstein's real interest in eugenics and cryonics.
Eventually, Marissa (Sarah Steele) and Jay (Nyambi Nyambi) followed the mystery to Epstein's private island in the Virgin Islands where they found, well, nothing. This led Marissa to realize that the firm got so caught up chasing a whoddunit that it forgot to think about the many victims of Epstein's crimes (As Marissa and Jay left the island, the camera dove deep into the island's temple and revealed that Epstein's penis and brain were frozen and preserved there).
Meanwhile, Julius Cain (Michael Boatman) gave a statement about Memo 618 to the Inspector General, which led to him being arrested for judicial bribery as a form of retribution. Elsewhere, Diane, Adrian, and Liz tried and failed to buy their way out of the firm's deal with STR Laurie.
Below, EW chats with The Good Fight co-creators Michelle and Robert King about this unplanned finale, how the Epstein story related to season 4's Memo 618 conspiracy, and whether or not they want to tackle the pandemic on Good Fight or Evil.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you found out episode 7 would be the season finale, did you go back in and re-edit to make it function as one?
ROBERT KING: We had shot four days of episode 8. We went through the episode 8 footage, seeing what would create more definition around the main thread of the year, which was this Memo 618. So, the Julius Cain scenes — there’s three of them — were taken from episode 8 and put into episode 7. For example, the meeting with the Inspector General and then Julius’ arrest, and then his arraignment with Diane. Those were three scenes taken from episode 8. In fact, if you look closely, the wardrobe doesn’t match [Laughs]. Which we just lived with because we thought it was more resonant for what the season was with that.
In moving those scenes over, did you end up cutting something else out of 407 to make those fit?
ROBERT: No, but episode 7 was always supposed to be fast plotting — like too much information coming in and then near the end, as everyone’s racing through all these possibilities, it was all supposed to be cut faster. So we may have cut it a little faster for that reason, but I don’t remember that we dropped any scenes.
MICHELLE KING: This was the benefit of being streaming — that you have some flexibility on episode length. It would’ve been far more difficult if it were on a network show.
ROBERT: I think our shortest episode this year was 41 minutes or 40 minutes, and our longest was 57 or 55 or something.
MICHELLE: Yeah, ironic.
ROBERT: We didn’t intentionally do that.
MICHELLE: I didn’t even know they were doing a documentary when we started talking about the episode.
How did The Powers That Be react when you told them you wanted to do an episode about Epstein’s death? Was there any pushback?
MICHELLE: The Powers That Be were fine. We’re not idiots. When we’re coming up with an episode that seems like it may make somebody’s head explode, we do call them ahead of time and mention it to them and ask, "Are there any areas that may be problematic legally?" And we were fine.
ROBERT: I think the biggest issue was the documentary footage we got from NBC, which shows the meeting of Trump and Epstein. We had to be very careful. Originally, there was a scene where we had a lip reader interpret what was going on. If it all comes down to interpretation, that would’ve been fine legally, but NBC had issues with that, so we went back to the drawing board and created this cheerleader who was there that now is in her late 50s.
Speaking of that cheerleader: I’m currently rewatching The Good Wife and noticed that Donna Lynne Champlin, who plays the cheerleader in this episode, popped up in season 6 as another character.
ROBERT: [Laughs] I think you’re right! We’ve done that a few times. There’s a great actor [Devan Ratray] who we’ve used as a computer programmer [in The Good Wife’s “Two Girls, One Code”] and then used more recently as a comic book store owner.
MICHELLE: I take exception to the comic book owner. I assume he just changed positions.
ROBERT: Yeah, there’s sometimes you just go, “This is just too perfect. We have to go with it.”
MICHELLE: But we’re very typically very, very aware.
The only reason I noticed was because I remember you didn’t like to cast the same actor in different roles on The Good Wife and Good Fight at TCAs last year.
MICHELLE: Yeah, and we almost never do. That one got past us.
With this episode, how did you handle exploring Epstein’s death, and the conspiracy theories surrounding it, while also trying be sensitive to his many accusers?
ROBERT: We had a lot of conversations about that in the writers room. I think the real guide here was using Citizen Kane kind of as this metaphor for it and show how often the left can go down its own pizzagate hole. Even though there were mentions of the victims, and I think probably what my and Michelle’s opinion is, is Marissa’s at the end — that a lot of the conspiracy mongering is trying to turn a tragedy into a whodunnit. What we wanted to do was show that our characters, who we all hopefully like and respect, you follow their logic and race through these strange permutations of Epstein’s life and you’re kinda left adrift thinking: Is it a conspiracy or is it not? But is that even the point? We kind of wanted to combine a lot of thoughts together, but probably the biggest metaphor guide was Citizen Kane.
Liz and company do go down quite a long rabbit hole. How much of that episode is based on fact versus things you came up with?
MICHELLE: Very much more on fact than is comfortable.
ROBERT: The strangest things are fact.
MICHELLE: The Donald Barr book [Space Relations] is fact.
ROBERT: The real fictional addition is the hair dresser and the envelope with the key, because everything involved with the envelope is created and sends people down tracks. But 4chan being the first one to mention that Epstein is dead is true. The conspiracy mongering that his tomb is empty is all part of the conspiracy mongering going on on Reddit and 4chan. Even things that are fictions, which is the final reveal, are based on Epstein’s desire. He was looking for ways to do exactly what is revealed at the very end.
At first I couldn’t believe that the final shot, but then I read the New York Times article that outlined his awful interest in eugenics and cryonics, specifically wanting to freeze his penis and brain.
ROBERT: It’s a comment on a lot of rich people. I mean, they want to live forever, but they really only want to live forever if they can have two of their organs.
MICHELLE: And a lot of beautiful young women.
This case does feel like it’s built for The Good Fight. It seems far-fetched, but then you look at reality ends up being just as messed up, if not more so, than the fiction.
ROBERT: What we want to do, one per year, is something that is absurdist and kind of like, “Are they really going there?” You know, the “Pee pee tape” in the second season and the Melania divorce in the third? They’re just these episodes that are kind of standalones, “Oh my god.” Then this seemed to dovetail more with the Memo 618 stuff about someone who had no real skills being given the most expense real estate in New York. Clearly, there are fast passes for the rich, but also legally, as you saw in the 2007 incident in Florida. Those, to me, are the outrages that play into what the season is about.
In the past, you’ve talked about not letting theme drive plot. With this episode, what came first: Did you set out to do the season about Memo 618, or did you want to do an episode on Epstein and realized it easily fit into the season’s theme?
MICHELLE: The latter.
ROBERT: We were in the writers room doing something about tort reform [Laughs].
MICHELLE: I was going to say: Either it was about tort reform or something almost as interesting as tort reform.
ROBERT: And we were halfway through the build on it and we realized, “Oh my god, we’re so bored. We’re putting ourselves to sleep even pursuing this,” even though it was a meaningful episode. So we threw it out and [were] going around the room, “What interests people?” Obviously, one of the things that interests, this was pre-pandemic, was what had happened with either Epstein’s suicide or, some thought, murder. That became: Is there something you can do with the investigative format, the procedural format of TV, to show our characters turning themselves inside out and insane in pursuit of it? That just seemed kind of worthy, but also part of the structure of what TV can do well, which is use formats that have often been used, and often on CBS, to be bland and status-quo repetitive and kind of make a point.
Since the pandemic started, people have joked about how they can’t wait you guys to tackle it either on The Good Fight and/or Evil. Do you think you’ll do something on it in some way?
MICHELLE: That’s a question we’re sort of asking ourselves.
ROBERT: On The Good Fight, the problem is I think there will be a second-wave [of the COVID-19 virus] unfortunately, so we’d have to see where we landed as a country because you don’t want something that seems like it’s out of the time capsule. [We’ll] have to see what everybody’s reactions are to a second wave. Also, it probably will depend on who’s president come January. I think we’ll be starting to write the next season right around October, so some of that will have to be guesswork and some of that can be decided pretty quickly. We’ll be finishing this season, but in a new world. Given the absurdity of a lot of the show, that won’t be as strange probably as it sounds.
The Good Fight’s seasons tend to be close-ended and you don’t carry storylines over to new seasons, but you have this time around because season 4 ended early. How has that affected your plan for season 5?
MICHELLE: You know, it’s a little too early to say. Typically, we don’t formulate the plan, really, until we get closer to getting into the writers room. Now the world is in such flux, including the way we ended this season, we really don’t know for certain what it’s going to be.
ROBERT: But I would say we’d have to address Julius Cain. [What] will be interesting is that you’ll want to have a continuation of this year but in a very new environment. So, I do think maybe they’ll climb into a time machine and go forward a few months or half year. Given how the show can play with reality, it doesn’t seem that unusual.
The Good Fight was renewed for a fifth season on CBS All Access.