Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Good Fight’s season 5 premiere takes a wild stab at recapping 2020

Historical hallucinations, empty elevator shafts, and Zoom mishaps abound

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Image: The Good Fight

Early on in The Good Fight season five’s frenetic, dizzying, 2020-spoofing premiere, Adrian Boseman and Diane Lockhart nearly accidentally step into an empty elevator shaft. That sense of jittery horror permeates the episode, which lives deep in the trenches of the political and societal realities of late-stage Trump presidency, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the nationwide protests in response to rampant police brutality that defined the past year of American life. The Good Fight adds a surrealist kaleidoscope lens to all this—to mixed effect. But if the premiere aims to harness the chaos, anxiety, and uncertainty of the past year, it’s unnervingly successful. Sometimes the character development and personal narratives get lost in all that mood-setting, but the premiere is propulsive. It’s a maximalist example of how The Good Fight crafts an operatic farce.

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The first sign of the pandemic hits when Jay Dipersia wakes up drenched in sweat and babbling nonsense. He’s an early victim of COVID, hooked up to tubes at the hospital where the healthcare workers move around in a frenzy. The zombie apocalypse-esque nature of spring 2020 comes through in some of these scenes, but they give way to something more intellectually surreal. Instead of the most common symptoms associated with COVID, Jay ends up developing some sort of hallucinatory condition where he sees...Frederick Douglass. To make things even more surreal, he’s specifically hallucinating the ghost of Frederick Douglass featured in retro Afro Sheen commercials.

Then he’s suddenly hallucinating Jesus, Malcolm X, and Karl Marx, seeking guidance from them on what to do about the George Floyd protests spreading around the country. It indeed feels absurd just typing that out. The Good Fight is presumably going for satire here, but there’s not enough there to really make it work on a satirical level, so it runs the risk of coming off as overly idealized and philosophical, flattening the complex and meaningful mass response to police brutality and systemic racism into a literal roundtable discussion—made even more vapid by the fact that it’s these renderings of historical figures having that discussion instead of actual characters who we know. That Jay is the vehicle used for this device further perplexes. It’s an odd and ill-fitting use of the character, whose COVID journey ends up swept under the rug. Rather than really see what it’s like for him to be an early contractor of the virus, we just get lost in this hallucination tangent that, again, doesn’t have enough meat to it to really pull off being satire.

The episode moves chronologically, starting with early stages of the pandemic, through George Floyd’s death, through the election, to the insurrection in January 2021. Along the way, characters are pulled in different directions. Luca escapes for London just before the pandemic hits, summoned there by her rich pal Bianca. Adrian is trying to get his political career on its feet, advised by recurring character Ruth Eastman to write a fluffy book about white people and Black people coming together. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Adrian throws that idea out the window and pivots to a new life direction entirely, deciding to move to Atlanta and work on the ground there to make political change. For all the chaos it’s mired in—and honestly thrives in—The Good Fight makes some of these stories too neatly packaged. The scene where Adrian tells off Ruth is more soapbox than story. Because the premiere’s timeline and scope is vast, so many narratives have to be distilled down to their simplest parts.

The presidential election unfolds at the periphery of scenes but also becomes a way to explore the intricate marriage between Kurt and Diane. There’s some humor here, as seen in Diane’s many superstitions about election results and refusal to assure Kurt that the two of them will still be good no matter the outcome. Kurt also helps Diane prep to argue a gun control case in front of the Supreme Court. Her excitement and passion for the case is quickly met by the blow of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, which Kurt breaks to her and then comforts her through—despite their ideological differences. The Good Fight still plays it a little too safe with Kurt and Diane’s marriage though, always returning to their differences for conflict but then quickly moving on.

Sometimes the episode gets a little carried away with its winks to the viewer, like when Adrian and Diane keep telling the employees to download “Zoom dot com” while closing down the office. Lots of Zoom shenanigans occur, including Liz, Adrian, and Diane mistakenly thinking they’re having a private sidebar in the chat when conferencing with Luca who has just received a job offer from Bianca. Later, Luca fakes technical difficulties in order to call up Bianca and give her a chance to counter the offer made by the firm to try to get her to stay. Contract and salary negotiations have been a surprisingly deep well of entertainment for The Good Fight and its predecessor The Good Wife. This universe excels at adding flourishes to the mundane.

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Glimpses at more personal, zoomed-in ripple effects of everything happening in these characters’ environments are few but potent. The 2020 news cycle provides the rollercoaster of emotions and constant changes these characters move through, but when we get to look a little closer at those emotions and changes, the stakes are more meaningful. For many, the pandemic inspired a re-examination of priorities and relationships. We see that in Adrian’s decision to still leave the firm and move to Atlanta, in Marissa’s decision to pursue law school, in Liz wondering if Diane really should remain a named partner or if the firm should return to all-Black leadership. It’s also telling that Diane is more motivated and affected by election results than by the protests. She’s the kind of white woman who is ready to pop champagne bottles for a Biden victory without much thought for how the status quo will continue.

The episode is jam-packed and runs without a breath for the full hour. It really is primarily driven by tone and movement rather than story and character. The framing of Julius Cain continues from last season, and it gets personal when Adrian ends up crossing his lover, Judge Hazelwood, who he ends up sheltering in place with. The complications of their relationship as well as the fraught nature of sharing space with little privacy while cohabitating during the pandemic come to a head when he overhears her talking about Memo 618. Just as Kurt and Diane—who are used to having very separate lives—find themselves more enmeshed in the pandemic, Adrian and Judge Hazelwood’s supposedly casual relationship is made more urgent and boundary-blurring by their proximity to one another. They can’t really keep things separate. And then Adrian ends up choosing Julius over her, prompting both to question each other’s motives. At the core of this particular subplot is one of the ongoing thematic throughlines for the show: What really is the good fight? Are right and wrong really that simple?

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But again, we don’t get to sit with this for too long. The premiere zips along, ping-ponging between its characters so that it simultaneously feels fast-paced and overlong which is, it turns out, a fitting frame of reference for the subject matter. What was 2020 if not both the longest year ever and a year that seemed to pass in a blur? The characters’ choices throughout the episode track with their pasts, and the series has long reveled in a dizzying combination of chaos, instability, and ever-changing stakes and circumstances that keep these characters on their toes. But ultimately, season five starts from a place of surrealism and tonal cacophony meant to theatricalize the year 2020. The over-the-top approach doesn’t always land—especially when it comes to Jay’s hallucinations—but it largely avoids the self-seriousness that could have made the episode a too-close-to-reality slog. Like a nightmare sequence in a ballet, The Good Fight throws away restraint and brings its themes and tensions roiling to the surface. Recapping 2020 in the span of a one-hour episode of streaming TV isn’t just a lofty goal—it’s borderline unhinged. But if any show is going to take that plunge, The Good Fight is set up well to do so, especially when it’s at its most surreal. The premiere is at its best—if most bonkers—when it leans into horror and farce. When it tries to go too sincere, it falters.


Stray observations

  • Housekeeping note: I will only be recapping this premiere, the midseason episode, and the finale. Excited for all the new guest stars joining!
  • The premiere inverts the credits sequence in two ways: It comes at the end instead of the beginning, and instead of explosions we get a bunch of cute animals.
  • Luca and Marissa’s friendship is one of my favorite relationships on the show, and we get a lot of great moments on that front in this premiere. Their goodbye is genuinely sad. But at least Marissa gets a Birkin out of it.
  • It’s so very Marissa to think she can just skip law school and become a lawyer because she has decided to do so.
  • When Diane’s watching the election results come in and the electoral map turns into a graphic of her heart on the brink of a coronary event, it’s funny for a beat. But the gag lasts too long.
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