In Mic's TV club, senior arts writer Kevin O'Keeffe and arts writer Miles Surrey will watch an episode of a TV show with no regard to how familiar we are with it. The next morning, we'll dissect it in a conversation with one or two other Mic staffers. This week's show: CBS All Access' The Good Fight, with guest Anthony Smith.
Kevin O'Keeffe (KO): I feel like we're going to have a lot to say about this one, so let's just dive in. This week's episode was all about the alt-right and the ways it works on the Internet. We even got a Milo Yiannopoluos analogue in Felix Staples, as played by John Cameron Mitchell. Series protagonist Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski, faced him down in a battle of mental chess, as Felix and his minions avoided detection on the Google/Twitter-type site ChumHum and Diane and her firm, legal representation for ChumHum, tried to shut them down.
There is a ton to unpack in this one, and I'm not even sure where to open. How about we start with the most open-ended question of all: Did this episode work for you, Anthony?
Anthony Smith (AS): So, big picture: absolutely not. It belongs to this weird, ineffective genre of Good Wife/Fight episodes that are basically the creators Robert and Michelle King Debating Society — basically a think piece disguised as television. The Kings usually signal that this is about to happen when the issue isn't litigated inside a courtroom but behind closed doors — already a move that lowers the stakes significantly.
But the Kings will likely get the headlines they want from this — "The Good Fight Is the First Show on Television To Tackle Milo and the Alt-Right" or whatever. I just wish the audience got something from all that tedium.
KO: I do think it's an interesting concept that falls in line with the stuff they've done in the past. They were early to Anonymous, early to Bitcoin — but to your very good point, those episodes were handled in a courtroom.
AS: That's my biggest concern here: Why didn't they figure out a way to get this, well, in a courtroom? For me, rather than having Julius bloviate about this being a political witch hunt, getting him to argue against his personal beliefs in court feels more in keeping with how the Kings squeeze the most out of their characters in unlikely ways.
One of this show's most compelling theses for me is that the law is often incompatible with one's personal views, and you have to make your peace with that or sort of erode against it or both. Which is why I don't love the "debating society" approach to things — there's no subtext in those scenes. It's all just shouting. The contrast between those scenes and the best scene from the episode — Luca in that restaurant, Colin walking in on her, her inability to say what she felt and just communicating everything through her eyes — that's this show at its best.
KO: Totally agreed. It's shouting, and it's also ultimately kind of a pointless merry-go-round. It's the same reason I had a major problem with Diane's final monologue in this episode, but we can talk about that later.
Miles, since I know you don't watch the show regularly, nor did you watch The Good Wife like Anthony and I did, how did this work for you?
Miles Surrey (MS): So this is my fight experience of anything in the Good universe, aside from my understandable obsession with The Good Fight's opening credits, which may be God's greatest gift to man (seriously, I can't get enough of it and have seen it at least 20 times). So perhaps this was a strange episode to start off with, because, as both of you previously mentioned, we don't have any of the case taking place in a courtroom setting. It is, as you've said, mostly a lot of shouting with a Milo stand-in.
I will say, if this show was early to Anonymous and Bitcoin, it's interesting to see how timely the Milo-themed episode has become, not long after his fall from grace.
AS: Timely is an interesting word here! Because I think they are very timely to the alt-right and harassment campaigns, but this iteration of Milo — as someone on top of his game — feels, well, late. Not to keep "this is the story the Kings should be telling" the show to death, but so much of the safety of this episode came from everything being argued on Reddick, Boseman and Kolstad's home turf. None of the principle characters left their comfort zone. Nobody learned anything.
Not that anybody had to learn anything — this isn't an argument for, like, Diane realizing that the guy who said women didn't invent anything actually had a point. But everybody ends this episode in more or less the exact same place they began, with the minor exception of Diane's relationship with Neil Gross being a little worse for wear.
KO: Neil Gross is also, well, gross in this episode. While he was always kinda scummy back in the Good Wife days, I never saw him as someone who would say something so explicitly dumb as "When I look at your faces, I see hope" to a room of black lawyers who routinely work on police brutality cases.
AS: Exactly! This show has been really, really smart about tokenizing before. That was a caricature.
MS: I didn't realize Neil Gross is someone that's shown up before! Also, that scene at the beginning with the lawyers had me thinking of Get Out's liberal "I'd have voted for Obama a third time" family.
KO: The Good universe's record on race is notoriously sketchy — Anthony and I regularly have PTSD flashbacks to a terrible debate episode that doubled as a Ferguson analogue in season six of The Good Wife. But everything about this show so far has seemingly been pretty smart about race, with some minor pitfalls. (We still don't know why Julius Cain is conservative, nor do the Kings seem very invested in explaining.)
So this is a really disappointing installment to watch. Everything feels so theoretical, like a room of rich white liberals sitting around bantering about philosophy. I didn't believe that group of people would have the kinds of conversations they have when coming up with the rules of conduct for ChumHum's sites. (ChumHum, eight seasons into the Good universe, remains an absurd word.)
KO: Another question for you both: What did you think of the use of interstitial talking heads reading the alt-righters posts, complete with definitions of terminology like SJW?
AS: Lazy. This is a show that explains ballistics on the regular. Think about all of the complicated legal maneuvering this show has done in the past and explained really well. It also made the introduction of John Cameron Mitchell's Felix Staples all the more confusing. For me, that character only works if you're familiar with Milo, if you have that reference. But if you have that reference, odds are you don't need the definition of SJWs, cucks, etc.
MS: I agree with Anthony. I would imagine The Good Fight's core audience doesn't need its hand held for unnecessary descriptions of SJWs and the like.
All things considered, I wish my first foray into the Good Wife/Fight series would've been a stronger episode. I trust both of your tastes in shows, and I probably would've gotten more from it with some more familiarity outside of the opening credits. Sure, it was a bottle episode about a very testy subject, but for all the shouting, it didn't have much to say.
New episodes of The Good Fight hit CBS All Access Sundays. Mic has ongoing TV coverage. Follow our main TV hub here.