Sunday, March 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Fight' - The Firm Takes on Internet Trolls in 'Social Media and Its Discontents'

CBS All Access' The Good Fight - Episode 1.06 "Social Media and Its Discontents"

After landing tech mogul Neil Gross as a new client, the firm is tasked with figuring out a way to combat hate speech on his social media platform. Maia's suspicions about her father grow after Uncle Jax pays an unwelcome visit. Lucca and Colin's romance heats up.

"Social Media and Its Discontents" feels like an episode produced to answer the serious question of "Why don't social media platforms do a better job handling abuse and harassment?" It gets into the complicated ethics of this issue. It's also a nice continuation for the season with Neil Gross bringing this concern to the firm. Diane landed him as a client last week. And now, he's the one bringing the case-of-the-week to the forefront. This is a major issue for him and he wants to see how Diane, Barbara and Adrian would go about helping him. However, most of it ultimately boils down to characters simply arguing with each other over politics. That's still very fascinating. This creative team always has its pulse on the mood and opinions of the nation. It's able to have a multi-faceted conversation on complicated issues. But too much of this story felt like it was hitting the same plot beat of "trolls on the internet being hard to silence" over and over again. It had a nice ending with Diane possibly losing her standing with Neil at the firm. But the show also could have trimmed the story up a little bit without losing any of the major developments.

Of course, this is also a story that the creative team could never get away with on regular CBS. Being on the new streaming platform has come with less restrictions than being on broadcast television. At first, it seemed like the show was hesitant to embrace those changes. It still wanted to appeal to the same audience that loyally watched The Good Wife. It didn't want to be radically different and potentially alienate people. It's largely just amounted to Diane and Adrian swearing a couple times per episode. Enough to notice that it's a thing while never being overwhelming to the characters, audience or story. With a story like this, the show needed to embrace all the awful things that are said on the internet. More than that, it also gives a face to these comments. The power of the internet and trolling comes from anonymity. It's not face-to-face interactions. So, that gives people the license to be meaner and more cruel than they would be in person. But the show gives power to these comments by having cutaways to the authors saying it out loud. It's one thing to have Diane and company simply reading the offensive comments made on ChumHum. It's another thing completely to see it from the people who actually mean it. It puts a face to this culture and world that is necessary. There can't be an in-depth take on this issue without trying to understand the people behind the words.

And then, John Cameron Mitchell shows up as Felix Staples, who is seemingly this show's stand-in for Milo Yiannopoulos. It's an interesting performance. He is an over-the-top character who is capable of making valid points while also being completely ridiculous and crass as well. Of course, it also feels completely like an act. A performance he puts on because he enjoys it more so than actually believing the things he says. He enjoys the conflict and the fight. He believes himself as a necessary and crucial part of society because he's a physical reminder of the first amendment right of free speech. There's a very fine line between free speech and hate speech. That's what makes this issue so complicated. It's great that Diane, Adrian and Barbara don't come up with an easy fix for it. In fact, they only alienating the people around them even more. Diane just makes Neil Gross more angry because the trolls use his name against him and she believes he leaked some information just to bring attention to all of this. Meanwhile, Barbara and Adrian look at Julius with suspicion and ultimately push him out of the firm. Opinions are high and the situation is tense. That's exactly the kind of mood that defines the world right now. In that sense, the show does a solid job depicting this story. Plus, it's great to see Diane put Felix in his place by saying the world just has to tolerate him. But overall, it just didn't work for me as well as some of the other cases this season.

Elsewhere, it continues to get more and more frustrating that Maia's entire purpose on the show is defined by her family and the scandal. Why can't she just be a lawyer? In the second episode of the season, she threw herself into her work as a distraction. But ever since then, whenever she appears onscreen it's just to slowly inch this story forward. And frankly, the Rindell scandal just isn't that interesting. It's hard to connect to the mystery of it all. Henry and Lenore are these over-the-top elitists. They could be guilty of this Ponzi scheme. Uncle Jax could be in the right for turning evidence in to the FBI against them. Maia's struggle to get to the bottom of that though just doesn't feel that earned. She's trusting of her father even though she shouldn't. But more importantly, this seems like a distraction from her work. The main story has a strong connection to her because she's been the victim of abuse and harassment for this entire season. And yet, she's in one scene with the rest of the partners and that's it. The rest of the time she's agonizing over whether her father is wearing a wire while talking to her. It's great that Elsbeth coaches her through what to do if that's the case. Plus, it's ultimately revealed to be true. Henry is working with Mike Kresteva to take down the firm. It's still just hard to connect with any of this when Maia could be off doing better things that feel connected to the other main characters.

Even Lucca's story in this hour seems weird. Everything just feels a little off in this hour which is disappointing following last week's stellar episode and in an episode penned by the Kings. It's just hard to make sense of what she does in her handling of her romance with Colin. She doesn't want to go out on an actual date with him. And then, she's the one playing games with him to make him jealous and make the sex even more hot and passionate. It's great that he doesn't fall for those tricks. It's just questionable why Lucca is doing them in the first place. She's said before that she doesn't let relationships with boys affect her. She said she didn't want to act crazy because of this. And yet, she is and it's just awkward and weird. Yes, that scene in the car is tense and hot. They are making out while he is driving. The fear that they'll crash is extremely high. But it's also great to see them pull off the road and have sex as well. The spark is still clearly there. And then, it's revealed that Colin has money. That's an important reveal because it will better define his backstory. It just would have been better if the episode explored that side of this romance instead of the weird games. How does money affect things? It has the potential to change things a lot. So does the fact that Lucca is kept out of the loop about the trap Elsbeth set for Mike. She's the one who gets the warning about the potential illegal doings at the firm. That's the confirmation that Henry is working with Mike. So everything is connected somehow and has the potential to have big personal consequences for the characters. But again, most of that would get cleared up as soon as Lucca figures out what's going on by talking to one of the partners.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Social Media and Its Discontents" was written by Robert King & Michelle King and directed by Jim McKay.
  • As soon as it was revealed that Julius voted for Trump, it seemed like setup for his inevitable exit from the firm. Unsurprisingly, that's what happens here. He's targeted unfairly by Adrian and Barbara. He then chooses to leave for the other firm that offered him a job. It was predictable. It just shows that Julius came aboard the spinoff to provide some transition to this new world.
  • Marissa learning how to be an investigator is pretty interesting. It gives her purpose outside of just being Diane's assistant (whose name Adrian can never remember). She and Jay have a nice dynamic too. He recognizes that he can only get so much information out of people because he's a black man. That's why he needs Marissa's help sometimes.
  • Diane, Barbara, Adrian, Julius and Lucca were the appeal board for banned users just to prove the system worked, right? There was no way they would continue in that capacity if it ultimately worked for Neil and became standard operating procedure. They're too busy for that.
  • I'm still waiting to see what Barbara is like as an actual lawyer. She's still just the partner present in the meetings but focused on keeping everyone happy and in their lanes. Of course, the side eye she gives Diane after Neil asks for her help is pretty great.
  • It is a huge risk for Maia to give her father false information. It confirms that he can't be trusted. But it could also open the firm up to additional attacks from Mike. Elsbeth is aware of all of that. But she's also confident with what she's doing because it's the kind of strategy that will be effective to use against Mike because he lies so frequently.