Sunday, March 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Good Fight' - A Series of Deaths Force Diane to Reflect on What She Wants in 'Day 408'

CBS All Access' The Good Fight - Episode 2.01 "Day 408"

An unfortunate event brings the firm together, along with the prospect of a new name partner, Liz Reddick-Lawrence. Diane struggles to grapple with the insanity of the world. Maia is confronted with another hurdle in her parents' scandal.

"Day 408" is a solid return episode of The Good Fight that does mostly feel like a piece-moving episode. It's yet another episode that shakes up the partnership at the central firm. That was a narrative device this creative team loved utilizing during the later seasons of The Good Wife. They felt the need to always change up the foundation of the show every ten episodes or so. That mentality seems to have transitioned over to the spinoff as well. And so, the show starts off its second season by kicking out one name partner and bringing in another. Of course, it's unfortunate to see Erica Tazel go as Barbara Kolstad. And yet, the show never really knew what to do with her either. She was just the partner whose relationship with Adrian changed once Diane joined the firm. There was interesting story to tell there. The finale even offered a hint of the animosity between the two lawyers. And yet, that doesn't lead to some dramatic moment where Diane and Barbara are pitted against each other to force the other out of their firm. They both believe they have a hold on this firm and its vision for the future. Maintaining the culture was important to Barbara. Meanwhile, Diane sought to bring in as many top clients as possible. That entire story seems to culminate here with Barbara's exit being yet another competition between the two of them that Diane didn't even know about until it was over. It is a pretty lackluster way to write off the character. Does it make sense? Not really. Barbara delivers this eulogy that sends the rest of her partners spinning. She is putting in the work too to maintain the working relationships. And then, the ending comes around that reveals Barbara is moving over to a larger firm as their head of litigation. It mostly feels like the show forcing this exit because they couldn't make the character work instead of it being a natural exit for the character. It doesn't make sense and the show doesn't want it to because it has much larger things on its mind as it sets up the new season.

The biggest development is Barbara's apparent replacement in the firm: Liz Reddick-Lawrence. Now, Audra McDonald appeared in one episode of The Good Wife as this character. As such, it's important for the show to acknowledge that connection while forming this new backstory for her as well. On The Good Wife, she worked for the Department of Justice and was the college roommate of Alicia Florrick. Here, she is the daughter of the firm's founding partner, Carl Reddick, who dies just as she sent out a tweet calling President Trump a white supremacist. All it takes is something simple like that to motivate her departure from that world. It's all a little silly. And yet, that's the precise world the audience and the characters live in. The show is completely aware of the work Trump is doing as president. We know the uphill battle these characters will have to fight. It prides itself on having its pulse on reality. And in 2018, what someone writes on Twitter can ultimately get them fired even if they are speaking the truth. It just highlights the ugliness of these veteran government jobs that serve under multiple administrations. The culture of the world changed but the nature of the work did not. Liz couldn't make that transition because she thinks it's silly to take a few weeks off because of this tweet. As such, she basically becomes a free agent over the course of this premiere. It's inevitable that she'll end up working at the firm. But the show needs to create a story so that it's not as simple as that because she has a past history with Adrian as well.

Liz seems to replace Barbara in being a woman in Adrian's life who knows him extremely well because of the amount of time they've spent together. With Barbara, it was a business partnership that flourished until Diane arrived. With Liz, it was a marriage that ended badly. The two of them can talk openly about the past. But there's still clearly some animosity and pent up feelings about that relationship as well. It's clear to see why they didn't work as a married couple. Liz apparently has a much better marriage to a husband who isn't seen at all here - despite the repast happening in Liz's home. All of this is meant to make it more dramatic when Diane has the brilliant idea to lure Liz to the firm. She believes they'll lose their top client - the Obama presidential library - if Liz doesn't join the firm as a name partner. She's bold in her actions as well. She feels the need to act quickly. She does so without the support of Adrian. The only person she talks to about approaching Liz is Julius. He's there to be supportive but Diane is the one driving the conversation forward. They believe they have the votes to push through this addition to the firm whether Adrian likes it or not. However, not a lot of time is actually spent on Adrian's reaction to his ex-wife potentially joining the firm. He just wanted the client as well as the name for the business. He didn't want to form some new relationship with Liz. He just sees her as a new complication in his life once more. He's angry and upset when Julius finally tells him what he and Diane are up to. But it seems like such an inevitable conclusion that Liz will join the firm that it's better not to spend too much time on Adrian fighting it and struggling to work alongside her.

Elsewhere, death hangs over this entire episode. It's the story that most catches Diane off guard. She's already living in a crazy and insane world. She goes to court hoping to get a continuance so she can attend Carl Reddick's funeral. And yet, she's stuck in court because the new judge happens to be Howard Lyman. That's a completely insane reveal. Howard should not be a judge. The original show always said that he was a competent lawyer who would just rather sleep in his office all day. But here, it's amusing to see just how out-of-his-depth he really is in this new job. He doesn't know how to move quickly and efficiently through his docket. He keeps Diane and Colin there because he didn't like Carl. Then, he keeps asking questions to the potential jury members even when Diane and Colin have already agreed. It's a pointed commentary on how this presidential administration has frequently nominated judges who don't know what they're doing. It's subtle but powerful commentary. But everything else revolving around death is very blunt and direct. Three funerals are happening during this day. The episode is framed by the various events surrounding Carl's service. His cause of death isn't disclosed. It just forces all of the plot mechanics into motion. Meanwhile, the other deaths create a feeling of dread that is closing in on Diane. Everywhere she looks she is confronted by death. One lawyer is run over by a vengeful client. Another lawyer had a stroke while horseback riding. And the bailiff in court has a heart attack. It's enough for her to call it a pandemic. It's also enough for her to seriously consider what she wants out of her career right now. Does she enjoy the hustle of this firm? Or would she rather go be the head of a department for a much larger one? In the end, she doesn't have much of a choice because her "friend" Renee didn't keep her promise. But by then, Diane had already made her choice to stay. She wants to stay and fight even though she's no longer toxic as a potential hire. And yet, she's still evolving as well. She's learning new things about herself because of this world. She is open to microdosing now. That's strange and unusual. But it also plays as a freeing and relaxing experiencing for Diane by the end of this chaotic premiere as well. As such, it should be interesting to see if this is an ongoing thing for her.

Elsewhere, Maia is on the eve of her trail for fraud. She is facing five years in prison because her father decided to flee instead of turning himself in to the feds. Now, Maia was never the most engaging character on the show. In fact, most of the energy and excitement went away as soon as she popped up on the screen. She was billed as the co-lead alongside Diane and Lucca. But she was never as engaging or nuanced as them. That still mostly holds true here. With the trial looming soon, perhaps this ongoing story with her family's scandal will be over shortly. Of course, it's also amusing to see how quiet Maia is whenever Madeline Starkey shows up. It's again a delightful performance by Jane Lynch. It's a character type this creative team loves. And yet, it still manages to work. It's fun seeing Madeline lay her trap and Lucca launch her countermove. They are both competent and smart lawyers. Maia is the one susceptible to emotional feelings. She's still young and naive. She's been forced to grow up because of this scandal. She's had her eyes opened because of the truth about her parents. She's grown hard because of it. But that mostly feels like the writers course-correcting the character. Of course, she's still prone to misremembering details about her past. The show attempts to continue a conversation about how memory works. Those flourishes were great when used on The Good Wife. But here, it's all wrapped up in a story the audience really has no patience for. As such, it's annoying to see how dragged out it is with Maia becoming convinced of this affair her tennis instructor had with her father. The only tangible proof is the surveillance photo. That could still suggest an intimate relationship that could lead to his capture. But mostly, this story becomes fun as soon as Lucca and Jay start playing with the technology and coming up with their own individuals in this sexual story. Hearing Trump and Mike Pence's voices having that conversation shows the playful side of the show while still being very bitting and appropriate political commentary in the current environment. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Day 408" was written by Robert King & Michelle King and directed by Brooke Kennedy.
  • All of the deaths of this premiere are thematic and set the mood for the new season. It's a dire and destructive mood. But that's the energy the show is going for at the moment. It's showing the brutality of this world. It's framing it through the death of multiple lawyers. Of course, none of these deaths hit the audience in a personal way. Yes, Carl Reddick was in an episode last year. But he wasn't all that important. As such, it seems likely that a major character may be killed off at some point this season. The speculation should start now on whom.
  • If Diane continues microdosing, is it the show putting her in an addiction storyline? That could be fascinating. When she talks about it with Marissa ahead of time, she warns her that she has friends who use it for the focus while recognizing that may just be an excuse to fuel the addiction. It's a minor moment but it could be very indicative of what's coming next as well.
  • Marissa also struggles to speak up to Adrian and get him to take her seriously as a new investigator for the firm. Quite a bit of this story has happened in between seasons. She has gotten her license and is ready to put in the work officially. And in the end, she does get that promotion from Adrian - even though it doesn't come with a raise. As such, it should be interesting to see her continue to flourish in that world.
  • The show doesn't even bother telling the audience what the case actually is that Diane and Colin get stuck working on. It's just important that they are held up in court by Howard. It's also the only place Colin appears in the premiere. Though he does ask Diane about Lucca. So, it's clear that that relationship still burns brightly in his mind. Meanwhile, Lucca has been too busy with Maia's case.
  • It's a little strange how Julius just pops up as one of the many familiar and supportive faces from the firm at Carl's funeral. The last time he was seen he was joining a rival firm because of his more conservative politics. But the show includes him here and then explains why later in a throwaway line that the new firm was much more dysfunctional than the one Adrian, Diane and Barbara have been running.