With twists involving Harvey Weinstein and Hillary Clinton, the series’ fourth-season premiere pushes its critique of aspirational white feminism to brilliantly loony new heights.
by Inkoo Kang
(This article contains spoilers for the season four premiere of CBS All Access’ The Good Fight.)
Is the #Resistance still relevant in 2020? I don’t mean opposition to Donald Trump, which seems to have intensified in recent weeks with the White House’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic. By «the #Resistance,» I’m referring to that first round of organized dissent: the Women’s March, the mantras of «this is not normal,» the shock — were we ever so naive? — that the president would refer to the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, as «very fine people.»
CBS All Access’ The Good Fight returned Thursday for its fourth season asking that same question, which for the series isn’t just timely, but soul-searching. Debuting a month after Trump’s inauguration, The Good Fight was designed to be #Resistance TV, with its lawyer protagonist, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), opting to battle more on the side of the deserving than of the rich (as she had done almost exclusively on The Good Wife). Diane’s initial reaction to the 2016 election was to retire to an Italian vineyard, but when she realized she’d lost her life savings in a Ponzi scheme, the dyed-in-the-wool liberal decided to do something more productive with her anger.
The Good Wife was chock full of quirky characters, but with its spinoff, creators Michelle and Robert King and Phil Alden Robinson have given themselves license to indulge their wildest impulses. That’s likely the key ingredient in The Good Fight’s magic sauce: It manages to out-crazy the Trump years — an era during which many cultural critics, at least during the #Resistance, deemed political satire dead, because no caricature of Trump was more ridiculous than the man himself. The Kings, long praised for the topical freshness of The Good Wife’s storylines, seemed to take out-surrealizing our surreal times as a personal challenge. The result, happily, is the most bonkers TV show this side of Atlanta.
Last season alone, The Good Fight killed off a Stephen Miller stand-in via swatting; featured a potential client who may or may not be a Melania Trump ready to flee the White House; and introduced a Roy Cohn acolyte munching on crackers while injecting his forehead with Botox…and receiving a blowjob. (Played by a thoroughly game Michael Sheen, the character is later revealed to have a back tattoo of Roger Stone where the actual Stone has a tattoo of Richard Nixon.)
And yet the show’s season four premiere might be its most bonkers episode yet, as well as one of its funniest and most introspective.
Titled «The Gang Deals With Alternate Reality» and written by the Kings, the premiere opens with Diane watching Hillary Clinton’s inauguration in January 2017, a big grin plastered over her face. At the office the next day, it’s 2020, and Diane chalks up her memories of the Trump presidency to a strange and unusually detailed dream she had the night before. The Kings’ initially utopian vision of a Clinton-led America restores a much-needed sense of «normal,» pre-2016 politics (the scandal du jour is Clinton’s $500 haircut and a misuse of $35,000 in funds by a minor White House department), which then gives way to some brilliant satire.
The Kings satisfyingly aim their jabs in every direction they can think of. When the Clinton administration announces that it’s cured cancer (in a dig at Hillary supporters’ overconfidence in her technocratic abilities), conspiracy-minded conservatives grouse that the panacea was probably discovered the previous year but that she withheld its revelation to boost her reelection chances in 2020. A right-wing troll (John Cameron Mitchell, playing a version of Milo Yiannopoulos) sings, «This wall is my wall, this wall is your wall» with a guitar that reads, «This machine thrills fascists.»
And in the episode’s most cutting line, Diane, when asked what the Obamas were doing in her dream as Trump praised Nazis, put children in cages and endorsed a pedophilic Senate candidate, shrugs, «They had an overall deal at Netflix.»
But Diane’s glee is soon punctured when she realizes that she had poached Harvey Weinstein, still detested most for his «Harvey Scissorhands» reputation in this universe, as a client from (the ex-producer’s real-life counsel) Lisa Bloom and David Boies. One of The Good Fight’s most compelling throughlines is Diane’s grappling with her own complicity in unjust systems as a senior attorney who wants to see justice done but also needs to attract wealthy clients to keep her firm in the black. In court, Diane can’t bring herself to say anything on her client’s behalf, but she also doesn’t protest when the judge, who hopes that his college-age daughter might get an internship at Weinstein’s company, rules in the producer’s favor.
But the episode’s biggest challenge to its anti-Trump audience is in asking if a symbolic feminist victory like Clinton’s election to the White House would give even more cover to the kind of aspirational, corporate-friendly feminism that has little to no impact on the lives of ordinary or vulnerable women — and has no use for righteous female rage. Diane tries to reverse-engineer the launch of the #MeToo movement on Twitter — bonkers! — and finds herself chided by an ally that the airing of women’s raw emotions will threaten men, and thus hinder Clinton’s reelection campaign. The episode doesn’t exactly thank the Trump presidency for shredding voters’ political complacency (or for sparking #MeToo), but it does celebrate the righteous if flabbergasted fury that’s been the only logical reaction to the current administration.
As 2020 allows us to imagine a political future beyond Trump, The Good Fight, it seems, is also moving forward by bidding its own farewell to the #Resistance 1.0, with all its fantasies of the first woman president lifting the fates of all women. As goofy as those pussyhats were in retrospect, they’ve got nothing on the daring whimsies — or raving defiance — of The Good Fight.