'The Good Fight' Gets Its 'Good Wife' on in "First Week"

Colin McGuire
Lucca (Cush Jumbo) backs Maia (Rose Leslie) as she takes on her first case.

In "First Week", moral ambiguity, a Good Wife judge, and an affair pay tribute to the series that spawned it.

The Good Fight

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm
Cast: Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 2 - "First Week"
Network: CBS All Access
Air date: 2017-02-19
"People can lie and still be telling the truth. Nobody’s 100 percent of any one thing."

-- Diane Lockhart

As I wrote last week, if there’s one person who knows something about truth and lies, it's Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski).

"First Week", the second episode of CBS All Access’s The Good Fight, takes the reigns from the series’s strong debut and advances the narrative in style, all the way down to the surprisingly straightforward opening credits (it's odd to see a King production begin with theme music and names). It brings back old characters while continuing to develop new ones. In short, it's a home run after last week's solid triple.

We begin with Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) receiving an array of messages and threats from all the "user unknowns" in the universe, leading, again, to the Kings reminding us this isn't good old CBS anymore: a quick "Hi, fuck you" opens the hour. It isn't long before she runs into Julius Cain (welcome back, Michael Boatman), who just so happens to be a partner at Boseman and whomever else is on the name tag for the new firm du jour. Julius explains that as part of the firm’s retainer with the labor union, they must give free legal advice to union members at the local headquarters. This, of course, is the point where The Good Fight gets its The Good Wife on.

Maia stumbles into a case that the firm ultimately takes on: Frank Gwinn (James Martinez) has had his wages garnished for committing a crime he says he didn't commit -- stealing shoes, of all things -- even though he was forced to confess. Maia, with Lucca (Cush Jumbo) squarely behind her back, humors herself with an arbitration hearing, which -- surprise! -- leads to the entire firm going to court by way of a class action lawsuit against retail employers who use the Friedman method to get a confession out of employees when they believe said employees did something wrong.

The entire setup and subsequent execution -- cross-examination in court, the negotiation between lawyers, the return of Judge Charles Abernathy (Denis O'Hare) -- is so The Good Wife-ian that it makes me realize how much television has missed that series since it's been gone. Maia, with no help from Diane, ultimately loses the case when it turns out Frank didn't have nearly as innocent a past as he claimed to have. This is a good thing, though, of course. Maia shouldn't have walked away victorious the first time out; it's not the King way.

Another sign of who's running the show? Well, in the midst of all this, we discover that Maia's mother Lenore (Bernadette Peters) is boinking her disgraced husband’s brother, Jax, whom we can probably now safely assume set up Maia's dad. Speaking of Maia's dad, Diane goes to visit Henry (Paul Guilfoyle) after a heap of begging from Lenore; more begging ensues as the guy pleads with Diane to take his case and represent him in court. He maintains he was framed, he maintains he's innocent. After seeing what his wife's been up to, it's not hard to connect those dots.

Dots also worth connecting are the ones that pit Maia along with the never-forgotten Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). What’s making The Good Fight so juicy is precisely what made The Good Wife so damn brilliant: the parallels between scandal and profession. Both are unwaveringly intertwined in each other, so much so that ignoring those relationships significantly impacts the level of satisfaction one may be able to achieve while watching the series.

How so? Well, check this week's case. Maia is representing a man with financial troubles that revolve around his possible relationship with financial theft. She relates to it almost immediately, both because of how unfair the case feels, and, presumably, how murky her own personal life has become due to the allegations against her father, who has his own relationship with financial theft.

Sounds a bit like Alicia Florrick representing males who may or may not be enamored in scandals involving cheating husbands, murderous men, or corrupt politicians, doesn't it?

The moral ambiguity that must be confronted under this structure is a joy to watch intellectually, and downright provocative to consider on a sociological level, especially while living in such a contentious real world. That precise voice -- a voice that The Good Wife managed to confront with so much nuance and so much depth in its day -- is a voice that’s essential in what has become an overcrowded, watered-down television world. Choices aren't easy; ethical compasses are hard to come by and even harder to consistently adhere to.

Or, as Ms. Lockhart so gracefully noted earlier, people aren’t 100 percent of any one thing. To think someone's only skill is lying is almost as foolish as thinking someone's most prominent expertise is telling the truth. Welcome to The Good Fight, Maia.

Good luck.

How Nice to Be Able to Talk in Metaphors

It's so good to see Marissa (Sarah Steele) back! One tiny question: why is she so hell-bent on working for Diane, and why is it never quite explained beyond a mere, "David Lee demoted me"? I shouldn't say we shouldn't trust her, but she's making it difficult.

Is it me, or did Maia get away with a few too many leading questions in court?

"You're the door-close button in the elevator. Comforting, but not necessarily effective." That's some damn good writing, Julius.

I may be in the minority, but I loved the way Leslie played that first cross-examination in court: bumbling, nervous, naïve, and angry simultaneously. She wasn't nearly as fish-out-of-water as Alicia was that first season; this character leans more toward representing a millennial's view of feminism, and that's a refreshing thing. There was bite in her punch, and an assuredness that Alicia didn't acquire for at least two seasons; it was a fine bit of acting.

Still, it's hard to deny this: When Lucca tells Maia, "It's good when you can focus on someone else's problem", it sounds an awful lot like Lucca talking to Alicia throughout The Good Wife's final run, doesn't it?

The season seems to be shaping up as centered around one case: Diane defending her friend Henry. In the end, everyone gets their money back (unless if everyone doesn't, but you get it), Diane rides into her Italian countryside sunset, Maia emerges as a great lawyer, and the book on The Good Wife universe is closed forever. If it does play out like that, does this mean there will be no second season? Please say it isn't so.

What’s the deal with those investor dudes? Weird.

Don’t think I didn’t take note of that Hillary Clinton photo moment, Robert and Michelle King.

The Most-Missed Good Wife Character of the Week: No question it's Eli Gold (Alan Cummings). Getting his daughter back in the mix is the biggest tease in the Internet Television universe right now. Give us something to cling to, people!

Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.