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The Good Fight became its best self in a nihilistic liberal fever dream of a second season

The Good Fight got great when it abandoned any attempt to be The Good Wife.

The Good Fight
The Good Fight.
CBS

Every week, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for May 27 through June 3 is “Day 492,” the season finale of CBS’s The Good Fight.

As a devout Good Wife fan, it took me a while to appreciate and then fully endorse The Good Fight. I was expecting and wanted it to be a continuation of what I fully believe is one of the best television shows of my lifetime. And The Good Fight clearly wasn’t.

Beneath the show — which looked a lot like The Good Wife and functioned within the world established by that series — was something both far angrier and far sillier than its predecessor could ever be.

Those qualities begin and end with its heroine, the blistering, excitable Diane Lockhart (played by the inimitable Christine Baranski), who takes over the series’ lead role from The Good Wife’s achingly melancholic Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). Florrick was a tornado of rage, grief, and joy strapped into sleek suits and pencil skirts. Lockhart is flanked in big necklaces and purses, and is bolder, fiery, and nowhere near in control of all those swirling emotions — not that anyone could blame her, after she lost her fortune in The Good Fight’s first season.

And that evolution of Diane fits the evolution of The Good Fight. Now in its second season on CBS All Access, the show has completely leaned into the ridiculousness of real-life Trump administration scandals and fleeting pop culture fads. This season alone has featured a Bernie Madoff-esque storyline with an international twist, an exploration into microdosing, a pee tape scandal, and a case mirroring Bachelor in Paradise’s sexual assault controversy (complete with a terribly catchy EDM song).

But the villain in The Good Fight’s second season is, without a doubt, the president of the United States. Each of the episode titles this season correspond to the number of days Trump has occupied the presidency, suggesting that everyone involved with this show feels like prisoners counting down the days of their sentence. Throughout the season, there have been satirical stabs at Fox & Friends, Trump’s tweets, his real-life anti-immigration policies, his treatment of women, Russia, and, in this season finale, a Stormy Daniels character.

At times, The Good Fight can feel like the brainchild of liberal baby boomers who took a huge bong rip, scanned Vice headlines, and then decided to go down a #resistance Twitter hole, all the while giggling at themselves and the frustratingly helpless situation they think we’re all in. That feeling was especially evident in the season finale, which sees Lockhart and her motley crew taking on the FBI, gun violence, and a grand jury indictment, all in the midst of Lucca Quinn’s (Cush Jumbo) premature labor.

The Good Fight thinks we’re all screwed, and the only way to survive is to play the game

The Good Fight.
CBS

If there’s one thing that The Good Fight has carried on from The Good Wife, it’s the worldview that strategy trumps good and evil alike. Innocent people could end up in jail because of a legal mistake, and many times, the shows’ lawyer characters would do anything in their power (dig up dirt on witnesses, cram their cases through loopholes, exploit vulnerable parties) to win cases for their clients, some of whom were murderers.

Because so much of this season focuses so much on Trump, and because it’s so blazingly political, The Good Fight feels even more chaotically nihilistic as it watches institutions crumble to political motives. Journalists aren’t safe from the cynicism; neither is the Democratic National Committee, which you’d assume a show so intent on dragging Trump would position as the better alternative. And neither is the FBI, which, we find out in the finale, is in a roundabout way cobbling together an indictment against Diane Lockhart for plotting to assassinate the president.

Everyone, including the audience, knows Lockhart is innocent. But it doesn’t matter, as the only people who matter can’t be convinced otherwise. And to get out of this mess, Lockhart can’t rely on being more moral or more “right” than her nemeses — she has to fight dirty.

In keeping with this worldview that the only way to get by is by playing the game better, not being the better person, The Good Fight keeps itself from turning into hardcore liberal fanfic. No one could ever mistake The Good Fight for being a politically ambivalent show, or a show that sees liberals and conservatives as equal (as evidenced by this episode’s lampooning of the cast of Fox & Friends). But it never strays into being preachy or self-congratulatory, either. Rather, it laughs maniacally at both sides, cynically acknowledging that all the people we trust to save us have abandoned this ship.

But that cynicism doesn’t mean the show has become dour or depressing — far from it. In fact, as The Good Fight’s worldview has become increasingly more anarchic, it’s been able to tap into a vein that’s made it more enjoyable than it seemingly has any right to be.

The Good Fight became its silly, self-aware best self in season two

My favorite small moment in this episode was the throwaway legal case that doubles as a gleeful moment of smirky self-awareness. Lucca Quinn is arguing on behalf of a television show and showrunner that filmed in Chicago, received tax credits, and then was accused of manipulating the game because it proceeded with post-production in Los Angeles. That parallels a running criticism about The Good Wife, a show that’s supposedly set in Chicago but filmed in New York, something the show’s made less and less effort to hide. (I’m positive I saw the Empire State Building in one shot.)

That self-awareness extends to the scenes featuring Lucca’s impending birth, where Lucca and several characters start chant-yelling words like “fuck,” “cocksucker,” and “motherfucker” like witches with Tourette syndrome. A former colleague of mine and I used to laugh about how The Good Fight will never pass up the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that it’s a digital-only series that doesn’t air on network television by reveling in copious swears and partial nudity.

The result often feels like the show’s writers are elementary school kids learning how to cuss for the very first time, inserting fucks here, there, and everywhere, as if said fucks were going to be taken from them.

Thus, this cuss-filled moment felt like the writers had heard every silly thing I’ve said about the show and simultaneously helped unlock the series for me. It’s as if the writers and producers recognized that the first season’s drama — the Madoff-like scandal that stole all of Diane’s money — dulled Baranski’s charismatic snap and crackle by centering that scandal on other characters.

As a parallel to The Good Wife, a story that begins with a woman seemingly losing everything, the Madoff storyline made sense. But it held the show back, keeping it from fully establishing its own rhythm and identity independent of The Good Wife.

With the Madoff storyline wrapped this season, the show was freed up to give more time and attention to Diane Lockhart, and found its self-aware, silly heart in the process. The Good Fight was able to lean into its comedy, including Diane hallucinating (or not) about two people in Trump masks fornicating in the building across from hers, the infamous pee tape — which is on a thumb drive impishly named “p.p” — and the absurd confrontation between Diane and a Deep Throat-like character who’s revealed to be a literal porn actress who may actually list intense oral sex as one of her defining talents.

There is no television show, aside from perhaps The Real Housewives of New York, that is having as much fun as The Good Fight had this past season. No comedy has been funnier, no “political” show more entertaining.

And yes, I’m fully aware that combination of words makes me sound like I, like Diane, am dabbling in microdosing or playing two truths and a lie. But I’m sure that all the Good Fight nonsense I just typed out really happened, just as I’m sure I enjoyed every ridiculous minute of it.