What if the rules no longer matter?
This is the very simple theme that governs The Good Fight throughout the new season. Last week the show threw its entire reality out the window for a dream episode showing what might have happened if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 US election. The episode applied logic to its wish-fulfilment premise and explored “What if…”.
But what happens if rules of logic – and order, and the law – cannot be applied anymore?
The Good Fight is a series that firmly has both feet planted in Trump’s America, with the lead characters struggling for the release of both of those feet. That has been the case from the very first episode, but you’ve probably noticed that as each season has passed, the show has commented on the evolving cultural shift underway – norms have been shattered and the ridiculous is ever-increasingly permissible. As seen in the show, Trump’s America is quicksand and attempts to escape seems futile.
This is where The Good Fight is in an interesting position - it’s a law show, so the facts of a case can be argued, but the law is there to provide a framework to structure those facts. What happens when facts are now so bendy that the framework of the law no longer offers that structure? Was Kellyanne Conway right? Is this now a post-truth world governed by alternative facts?
Co-creator and co-showrunner of The Good Fight Robert King has leaned into this idea. About season four, he said: “There’s a tendency that people have now of thinking subpoenas can be ignored, and we wanted to look at how it played out, because so much of courtroom drama requires people following the rules. But what kind of courtroom drama do you have if [the rules don’t matter]?”
As this week’s episode starts (warning: spoilers follow!), we are in what seems to be familiar territory. The rules still seem intact. It’s kind-of the start of a new season of TV, so we’re catching up with what’s been going on while the show has been off the air. We find out Diane has taken nine months off from work – part holiday, part getting her and her husband’s life back in order after the stress of being raided by the Feds.
It is revealed that the firm has been sold to STR Laurie, the 7th largest law firm in the world. With that cash injection the firm is still operating independently, but there are cultural changes and pressures being applied by management (who are now located upstairs).
Diane is invited to meet with one of the new owners - Gavin Firth (played by TV legend John Larroquette). He has her on edge from the very beginning. Firth appears to be a benevolent force for Diane, offering her the opportunity to lead the firm's pro bono work with no need to focus on revenue-making corporate cases. As he tells her: “You make our firm a good corporate citizen no matter what it costs”.
Keep this moment in mind - Firth doesn’t exactly seem like an advocate for good.
With the season now set up, we’re off to our first court case with Diane representing the owners of a diner which is at threat of demolition by property developers. She brings the case to court, where former colleague Julius Cain is now the presiding judge.
And it is here that the rules are out the window.
Opposing counsel Louis Canning advises that his client, property developer Tucker Nugent, has decided not to turn up to court. Instead he will be finishing his game of golf. It’s unthinkable to Judge Cain that someone would just ignore a subpoena to appear in court and so he sends out bailiffs (twice - the first time was met with equal disdain for the court) to bring Nugent into court, where he is soon jailed for failing to abide by the court’s rules.
It’s interesting that Nugent’s counsel is Louis Canning. While this is Canning’s first appearance on The Good Fight, guest-actor Michael J Fox appeared as Canning 26 times through The Good Wife. Throughout that preceding series, he played Canning as an unscrupulous lawyer who manipulated people and the law to enable his clients to engage in reprehensible activities. It’s not a coincidence that he’s appearing in the show again at a time where the series is exploring the relationship between the structure of the law and truth.
Julius is soon introduced to the mysterious Memo 618 by way of an envelope left on his desk. Who has sent it and what its purpose is remains to be revealed to Judge Cain. But very quickly he is taught a lesson: If Memo 618 appears on his desk, he’s to act on any demands made. Cain meets a former Federal Judge who hewed to the law and ignored the demands of Memo 618. He’s now driving an Uber with no pension. Is Cain prepared to be governed by ethics or by a desire to protect his quality of life?
Nugent is soon released from his holding cell and given an apology on his way out.
At the end of the episode we hear Diane asking Judge Julius Cain: “If the Federal Court ignores the law - what’s left?”. The episode closes with a shot of the diner, destroyed by the property developers, now lying in ruin. There’s no more clear metaphor than that.
And that’s the foundation laid for the rest of this season’s The Good Fight. This won’t be the last time we hear about Memo 618. Over the rest of the season the show will explore the fractured relationship between justice and the courts - now presided over not by lawyers and judges, but instead by the wealthy and the powerful.
Season 4 of The Good Fight is screening exclusively on SBS, airing Wednesdays at 9.30pm. Episodes are available at SBS On Demand after they go to air. Watch episode 1 now (available until 4 December 2020):