"The Good Fight" gets ruthless: Now when they go low, the gloves come off

Screw going high. In this new season Diane Lockhart and company get subterranean. But at what cost?

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published March 13, 2019 6:10PM (EDT)

 (Patrick Harbron/CBS)
(Patrick Harbron/CBS)

The Good Fight” has the most gorgeous, cathartic, and symbolic opening credits sequences in all of television. This is a minor entry on the list of the reasons more people should subscribe to CBS All Access, if only to enjoy the operatic, slow-motion explosion of luxury goods and flat-screen televisions airing scenes of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin preaching to the masses.

With each burst, symphonic drums crescendo and a chorus of sopranos cry out in perfectly rehearsed shock as bottles of expensive wine and luxury items shred, before our eyes. Marking season three, which kicks off on Thursday, is the ballet of a doomed tea set; pieces of bone china shatter on command, sending sprays of cream and caffeine into the air.

It’s a beautiful sight doubling as a visual representation of this season’s multi-pronged battle royale pitting Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) against Donald Trump and his ilk, her fellow partners Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Liz Reddick-Lawrence (Audra McDonald) against their shared sense of rectitude, and associate Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) against the better angels of her nature when a new lawyer forces her over to the dark side.

This new world in which we’re joining “The Good Fight” finds everyone in full Resistance mode, and it's grimmer and more ruthless — and even more fun.

Sometimes season 3 of a top-tier series empowers creators to swing hard for the fences, a play that doesn’t always turn out well. These new episodes of “The Good Fight” do, thank god.

Each of the four new hours provided to critics display creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King connecting to the ball with awe-inspiring power, covering a vast swath of current events without overly stuffing each episode with didactic, do-gooder fury. Worth noting, too, is that although the series is unapologetically liberal in tone — even the firm’s lone conservative Julius Cain, played by Michael Boatman, is a moderate —  this new season takes an unsparing look the left as the writers sharpen their scalpels and cut into the vulnerabilities and divisions existing among progressives.

One of the smartest decisions the Kings made was to bring on Michael Sheen as Roland Blum, a feral loose-cannon sculpted in the mold of master manipulator and all-around amoral scumbag Roy Cohn.

Blum is a terror nobody can explain but, like a stubborn wart, there’s no getting rid of him. He’s also tremendous fun. Shoot, I’d vote for him. Sheen is obviously having a riot playing a lout with no filter so assured in his untouchability that he says what he wants and drops his pants mid-conversation to shove opiates up his exhaust pipe.

At times, I’ll grant you, he’s almost too much. But there’s a reason for this. The message in these new episodes is that to get through the madness of an era, you have to be willing to get a little mad yourself. Not angry — mad. Only by going crazy do we have a prayer of someday going sane again.

Sure, that’s the opposite of uplifting. But it’s also terribly, terribly honest.

Liberals, Blum tells Diane, “think the arc of history tends toward justice….Not to blow your mind, but where does Mr. Trump fit in on that arc of history? Was he tending toward justice? Oh that’s right: he’s a temporary speed bump. When he’s gone, we’ll just keep speeding on toward that Susan Sarandon nirvana!”

Soon after, he adds, “Here’s the thing, Diane: Trump wins because he sees life as a battle, not a cause. He uses your strength against you. Liberals never get that.”

What’s funny, in this brutal turn of truth and non-reconciliation, is that it occurs as a thunderstorm is raging outside. During his speech there’s a flash as electricity rips through the clouds.

“Was that lightning or a psychotic reaction?” Blum asks her, eyes growing wide. And Diane, ever so cool, continues what she’s doing and tells him she didn’t see anything. She learning from her enemies, and fast.

In the second season, “The Good Fight” turned its cannons squarely on the Trump administration as Diane and her colleagues struggled, and failed, to keep the corruptive tendrils of authoritarian malice out of their immediate ecosystem. Now that Diane recognizes how impossible that is, she and everyone around her are grappling with a new truth, that in order to fight the evil that’s already inside the house, they have to be even more savage.

There’s a lot of “against” slamming the walls at Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart, an historically African-American law firm that finds itself in expansion mode, which makes these new episodes feel more urgent, exciting, tumultuous, and humorous too.

Helpfully these are lawyers we’re talking about, which makes the moral reversals and personality shifts in this new season frequently delectable.

What makes “The Good Fight” consistently great is its easy marriage of law and politics, the intricacies of social movements and the dirty, underhanded tactics being exploited to crumble our democracy, with the sheer of absurdity of all.

Instead of hand-wringing over serious and inflammatory arcs — this season, #MeToo and race divisions steer several subplots — it dances with them, and furiously. The show leans into the idea that horrible behavior has been going on right under our noses all along, even in places that pride themselves on stellar legacies and clean consciences.

When the plot calls for a bit of exposition in this new season, the episode pauses to dive into animated music sequences inspired by “Schoolhouse Rock” that explain such things as non-disclosure agreements and troll farms. One of the darker (but nevertheless entertaining) surprises proves that Diane may have reason to be paranoid on top of being angry. At the moment, though, she's blindly motivated by the latter.

The brilliance rests in “The Good Fight” considerately conveying the shock and horror of society's decline, refusing to excuse the awful (and at times villainous) lengths to which Diane and others must go not merely to win,  but survive, while amplifying its comedy.

Some of this comes across in the editing and the uptick in fantasy elements — a musical sequence involving a character covering a Jackson 5 hit is particularly inspired. But the dialogue and taut performances take all this and transform what could be a thriller-cum-legal soap opera into a sublimely entertaining political polemic against the degradation of Western democracy.

Cush Jumbo, who plays new mother and ambitious associate Lucca Quinn, has devastating material to work with this season, and an alliance between Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold and Maya blossoms in ways great and terrible in season 3’s opening hours. But this alliance and others eventually come back to bite them in way both predictable and unexpected.

Thus those opening scenes of concussive vibrations shattering fine white china, spilling the black beverage within. Those visuals tell us the center is not only not holding, it’s gone. It says: no more traditions of civility. In fact, f**k civility completely.

What a mess it makes, and what fun it is to watch the craziness of this crash.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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