Sunday, March 25, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Good Fight' - The Firm Throws a Party While Liz and Lucca Work Separate Cases in 'Day 429'

CBS All Access' The Good Fight - Episode 2.04 "Day 429"

Liz decides to represent her son's favorite teacher after she senses the school fired him for illegitimate reasons. Lucca enlists the help of Elsbeth Tascioni when an unanticipated lawsuit hits close to home. Despite the recent chemical scare, the firm throws a party to celebrate their new offices.

Over the years, this creative team has experimented a lot with the way it should present its stories. That experimentation has oftentimes produced some of the best episodes of this show and its predecessor. The limited amount of episodes here compared to The Good Wife does threaten to limit the amount of time just playing around with tone and structure. But it's still nice to see the show produce an episode different from the norm while still being a compelling hour. "Day 429" probably won't inspire the show to drastically change itself - like "Red Team/Blue Team" did to the original show. But it's still a fine experiment that opts to split itself into two separate halves. The first focuses entirely on a case Liz is working on. The second centers entirely on a case Lucca is involved in. It shows that in these environments there are always multiple cases being worked on at the same time. In legal procedurals, it's mostly reduced down to one case per week. Even in the shows that do multiple legal stories in every episode typically have one that stands out as the A-plot while the others are just very minor or simple. Here, the show presents two complex cases that are in depositions. They are made complicated because of the ongoing consequences as well. Liz's case is affected by her client deciding to take another job. Lucca's case is more complicated because her brother is the one being sued by the government. The show has a lot of fun just teasing the connections between the two cases be showing that they are happening in the background of each other. But it's also just the latest example of this show knowing the law and how it is being practiced in the present day. It is challenging its lawyers with the kinds of cases that are being argued at this very moment.

It's also fascinating that the show chose Liz and Lucca for the split focus this week. They are two characters who are still being defined in the new season. For Liz, that's because she is still new to the cast. The season so far has spent a lot of time with her. It's been fleshing out her dynamic with Adrian and Diane. It's the show knowing that it has to give a much more active story to Barbara's replacement than what ultimately happened last season with Barbara. As such, it can feel like there is an overabundance of Liz in these opening episodes of the season. At times, it has taken screentime away from the rest of the ensemble. It would be great to spend more time with Lucca, Marissa or Jay. Michael Boatman was promoted to a series regular this season and he hasn't really done anything so far. That's strange. And that's why it's so important for Lucca to get the focus in the second half of this hour. She needs a story this year as well. So far, the show has been more focused on Diane no longer giving a fuck, Maia's trial and Liz joining the firm. But the show needed to make way for a story with Lucca as well because she has always been billed as the co-lead of the series. Four episodes into the season may seem a little long. But the story itself is quite strong while providing new depths with the character that have never been seen before. It sets up some really interesting dynamics for the future.

Liz's story introduces her 8-year-old son who has ADHD. That's a key introduction because it's clear that parenting plays a role in both of these stories. Liz's actions are informed by her being a mother and fighting to ensure that her child gets the best education he can receive. She believes in the public school system. And yet, he's enrolled in a charter school which is something completely different. It basically operates as a private school while still being seen as public. At first, it seems like this teacher was fired because he was gay and that contradicted the morals this school is trying to teach its students. That's a very timely issue - especially for schools with specific religious affiliations. It's definitely something to be aware of. This show does bring attention to that before making a pivot to this algorithm that actually determines job performance for this school. It's a flawed system because the teachers know exactly how they are being graded and evaluated. It's a system that places the bulk of the score on standardized testing. That's another topical issue in the educational system of this country. Just how standard are these tests throughout the country? Is every school being graded according to the same system? Or should they because every school has its different ideals and goals? It's a conversation that has sparked a number of debates. This school largely wants to look at the test scores. And yet, that presents a way for the teachers to beat the system. Liz's client let the grades speak for themselves. But he was apparently the only teacher at this school who resisted the temptation to value job security over the futures of his students. At times, it feels like a somewhat truncated story to fit in all of these plot points. It's fun because Liz needs to bring in an eraser expert to testify. But it's also a case of the story being more significant after seeing what's going on with Lucca and her personal life.

Lucca's family was never once mentioned during her season of The Good Wife. In the first season of this show, it was just teased very briefly. She was growing more intimate with Colin. She had to open up to him slightly. But she still kept things really close. She met his parents but broke up with him quickly after that. And now, the show introduces her brother whom she has an estranged relationship with. It feels very similar to the way The Good Wife first introduced Alicia's brother. It was never previously mentioned that she had a brother. Then, Owen showed up and quickly became a recurring presence in her life with lots of thoughts about what she should do in any given situation. It was a good relationship. There is the tease of that here. It doesn't start off strong. It feels like these siblings are always in competition with one another. Lucca is a lawyer and her brother is not because their parents couldn't afford to send him to law school. He went to prison and she always sees him as a con man working on some new scheme. That's what she believes  when two federal agents come asking questions. But it's not that at all. He has developed an app to provide legal assistant and paperwork for those who cannot afford a lawyer. It's a place that is trying to be the WebMD of the legal world. He is being sued for falsely advertising as a lawyer. It's a case the government takes very seriously because the people making these decisions are lawyers who value their jobs and don't to lose them to automation. That's the way they see this. Lucca's brother just sees it as him providing a service for people to have access to the proper paperwork. He's not telling them what to do with it. He's just making it available. He advertises as such. Despite Lucca and Elsbeth's best efforts though, this story ends with the firm buying the app to get rid of this case without any intention of keeping it going. It's a somewhat tragic ending. But it does bring Lucca and her brother close just as Lucca shares that she is pregnant. It's the show writing in Cush Jumbo's real-life pregnancy. But it should be very fascinating to see how this affects her life because it wasn't planned nor does she want to be in a relationship with Colin - the baby's father.

That appears to be a central theme of this season. The lives of many of the main characters are in chaos. They once knew what they wanted out of life. They had solid ideas of what the future holds. And now, all of their plans are going awry. Lucca is pregnant and hasn't told anyone. Liz is working with her ex-husband after quitting a job she devoted a decade of her life to. Maia's family has imploded and her life of luxury is gone. And Diane no longer has any fucks to give. So far, it's been a freeing storyline for Diane. She sees a world that has gone completely insane. As such, she has become comfortable with saying and doing whatever she wants. It's been freeing for her. She's tried micro-dosing and no longer wishes to play games with her fellow partners. She speaks what she's feeling and is surprisingly candid in her interactions. And yet, it's this new cavalier approach to life that threatens to ruin everything she still loves in this world. She still loves the law. She is mad at the world but still happy with this job despite what Liz is saying. She enjoys contemplating the idea that she is the hero of her own story and everyone else is just a background player. But pondering that question is exactly what leads her to go home and sleep with a sexy, older bartender. Diane and guest star Tim Matheson do have a fair amount of charm and chemistry in that interaction. But Diane is still wearing her wedding ring. She is still choosing to work on that marriage despite her and Kurt needing time to work through their separation. Kurt is ready to come home and be a couple again. But this action is so destructive to Diane. It's crushing to her. She sleeps with someone else. She is mortified because she feels caught by Kurt surprising her at the office the same day. She is embarrassed that this happened. She wants to tell Kurt. But she's also afraid to because of how he'll react. She wants this marriage to work as well. They've dealt with cheating in the past. It's what led to their separation. And yet, Diane is still afraid to tell the truth because of the unknown of what might happened. But the longer she keeps this secret and her current attitude the more destructive her life will become.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Day 429" was written by Jonathan Tolins and directed by Ron Underwood.
  • This episode must be good if it takes me until the bullet points of the review to talk about Carrie Preston's return as Elsbeth Tascioni. She is one of my favorite characters on the show. It's always so delightful when she pops up. This episode is very smart in not overusing her. That has been a problem in the past because she's just a wonderful and eccentric character. But here, it's great to see her be a solid lawyer for Lucca and her brother while also having that conversation with Diane about seeing the world from other people's perspectives.
  • I'm also a little worried about Elsbeth because of one small detail that happens here. She openly states what her retainer fee is for her clients. Adrian promises Lucca's brother to cover all of his legal expenses in order to put an end to this app and the case. In doing so, Elsbeth drops this detail. But the show openly talking about what lawyers charge people in a season where lawyers have been killed because they "over-billed" clients is certainly ominous. 
  • It's fascinating how Lucca doesn't want anyone to know about her brother and his current problems but she decides to use the firm's offices for the depositions. It's a professional setting that is beneficial to all. It makes it seem like Lucca's brother has a solid firm backing his case. But it's also a shock when Adrian and Diane hear about the case and have no clue it's being fought by them.
  • The firm throws an office party in order to send a message to the legal community that they are strong despite the various setbacks they've encountered - including the death of their founding partner, the loss of another partner, the promotion of two individuals to name partner, the ricin scare, etc. And yet, it's still poorly attended which further showcases that this firm is still the underdog despite their growth.
  • There's a throwaway line about Maia approaching Liz to be her new mentor. It's a fascinating character pairing that is mostly professional. They work on the teacher's case together. But there really isn't a moment of Liz mentoring Maia. Plus, it's interesting that Liz is fulfilling this role despite Diane being Maia's godmother. It further highlights how Diane really isn't that great at mentoring new legal minds.