You can see the original plan for The Good Fight in the DNA of the show when it first launched. White lawyer of privilege, the socially liberal Diane Lockhart, was suddenly thrust into a new law firm and out of her comfort zone. Stripped of all her money, she was now working with a scrappy firm staffed predominantly by African-American lawyers. Their primary focus was on police brutality cases that impacted on the African-American community.
That is a premise loaded with story potential and the opportunity to tell interesting stories about race within a legal context. But then Trump got elected and the show, which still had the politically-charged blood of The Good Wife flowing through it, became less interested in police brutality cases and instead headed off in all sorts of strange and unexpected directions.
But this week’s episode feels like a throwback to the original mandate for the show: Challenge the viewers with bold conversations about race. [Warning - spoilers follow]
These conversations may not exactly be bold to anyone spending time on platforms like Twitter or listening in to progressive podcasts, but for a lot of viewers this episode likely comes as a surprise as the show challenges head-on two provocative ideas:
- Are modern-day African Americans entitled to reparations following the slave ownership of generations past?
- What are the boundaries and ownership qualifiers of African-Americans using the n-word?
The episode opens with Frank Landau, a familiar face from The Good Wife days. He’s the head of the Chicago DNC and he’s looking to hire the firm to develop strategies to prosecute in the court of public opinion that can re-engage African American voters. As he explains, the Democrats want to win hearts and bring out voters at numbers not seen since the 2008 election that saw Obama win.
Adrian and Liz convene a working group of African-American lawyers to consider ideas that enthuse them as voters.
The firm's investigator, Jay DiPersia, speaks up. Addressing the group, he changes the game and says: “There's one issue that is splashy, covers the economy, and addresses black folks directly. Reparations.” In an unusual move never really seen on a scripted US TV show, the episode takes some time to discuss the arguments for and against reparations.
Arguments are made that African Americans don’t need handouts, while others argue that this is money stolen from families through generational wealth building. The question is asked by one staffer: Do reparations allow white people to feel a sense of absolution, giving them the ability to say black people can't complain about racism again? Later, the staffer says “I say, keep the reparations. I’d rather have White Guilt. That I can leverage.”
In typical The Good Fight fashion, the show twists in two directions. First, Frank Landau pops his head back in and asks for greater diversity of voices. Translation: Frank wants some white people in the room. This then raises the level of hostility in the room as the conversation moves from the academic to the very personal. And then name partner Adrian Boseman drops the n-word.
Boseman is recounting a story supposedly told to him by real-world civil rights activist and icon Vernon Johnson about growing up in Georgia. The story touches upon emotion and necessitates the use of the n-word to tell the story with the impact required.
And that prompts one of the staff complains to HR.
The conversation then shifts into a debate about the ownership of the n-word and when its use is acceptable. One African-American lawyer, who was seemingly the staffer who complained to HR, says: Every black person has the right not to hear the word in the workplace.
Jay DiPersia again speaks up: “It's a violent word with a violent history. But black people reckon with it every day. It's our word. If we use it... if we don't use it... when we use it... where we use it... you don't get to have an opinion…
“Autonomy over that word is our reparations.”
Again - when is this ever discussed on a scripted TV show at such depth?
The storyline regarding the use of the n-word also appears to be a very sly dig at the involvement of HR in the writers’ room of the CBS All Access drama Star Trek: Discovery. Respected African-American author Walter Mosley had been part of the writing team on that show’s third season. After recounting a story in which he used the n-word, he was called in to see HR. In a piece he wrote for The New York Times, Mosley wrote:
“I replied, ‘I am the N-word in the writers’ room.’ He said, very nicely, that I could not use that word except in a script. I could write it, but I could not say it. Me. A man whose people in America have been, among other things, slandered by many words. But I could no longer use that particular word to describe the environs of my experience.”
Debating racial politics and commenting on the HR practices of the show’s corporate parents isn’t the only thing on the docket on The Good Fight this week. Diane is back in court fighting over the diner bulldozed at the end of last week’s episode.
Throughout the episode Diane is facing brick walls as she tries to relitigate the case in court. It is through her investigation that she learns of the mysterious Memo 618 and its influence over judges. She also discovers that the work wi-fi has been set-up to block all research conducted on the memo.
The gang may be having honest conversations about race and identity in the board room this week, but there are hidden conspiracies afoot and next week Diane investigates her own law firm's involvement with the liberty-quashing Memo 618.
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):