[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Good Fight” Season 5 finale, Episode 10, “And the violence spread…”]
Like many other shows stuck in production limbo last spring, “The Good Fight” didn’t end last season quite the way it intended. The show certainly left on a memorable note, but to describe the details for the uninitiated is to spoil one of the great reveals in recent history.
If anything, navigating the void left by three unfinished episodes made series co-creators Robert and Michelle King more determined than ever to tell a full, complete arc in Season 5. And for a show that often draws its thematic material directly from the prevailing stories on a national scale, this latest finale made one the show’s clearest connections to the very real events that kicked off this calendar year.
It all centers around the dissolution of the Wackner Court, the legal island overseen by its namesake arbiter Hal Wackner (Mandy Patinkin) within the confines of a copy shop back room. After a season of auspicious beginnings, all the way through an attempted TV pilot and various machinations by a professed libertarian financier, the courtroom ended in ruins. With everything short of an explosion, the various remnants left of the Wackner Court are not too different from the pieces left over in the show’s opening credits.
Not least among the hints of what was about to come? The finale episode’s title: “And the Violence Spread.”
“The whole point was to get people by the end of the story to understand how folks could get lured into vigilante justice,” Michelle King said. “How it could feel like a comfortable, truly just thing and then suddenly, you realize, ‘Oh, no. This is, in fact, a dangerous business.'”
“I do think you’re at a certain point embracing the performance too, not just Wackner as written,” Robert King said, when talking about Patinkin’s contributions. “Part of that was trying to, obviously, draw the audience along so they don’t reject someone out of hand. But I think you see, as Michelle was saying, the slow creeping hands of fascism when the police start embracing it. I think around Episode 9, people should start getting where this is going.”
With that in mind, one of the goals of the show’s writers’ room was to find a healthy balance between making this unstable experiment seem appealing at first, and then showing how it could easily slide into something more destructive.
“The writers room’ is a very politically active place. We were all probably leaning too much toward a place where we wanted to criticize Wackner early on. The problem we realized is, if you did that, why would you watch eight more episodes? You’d spill your dynamite right up front,” Robert King said. “I do think our concept for this year in the writers’ room was to start with a character that came from Frank Capra, like ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’ or ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ and then end up in ‘Network.’ It’s satire that folds in on itself in a way.”
That nested satire approach combusts in the finale with chaos directly paralleling the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, an event that’s loomed large over the entire season. Diane Lockhart’s (Christine Baranski) husband Kurt (Gary Cole) was caught up in a resultant FBI investigation. The attack and its aftermath, particularly in the way it showed certain attitudes toward the rule of law and law enforcement from those who otherwise feign absolute support, has its own ripples throughout Season 5 as well.
So it’s no surprise that one of the season’s final sequences is that same attack in miniature. As far as depicting the actual climactic scene itself, Robert King (who also directed the finale) went in with a handful of visual markers from the Capitol attack to make some of the parallels even more explicit.
“There were three or four things that we said, ‘We need this.’ It was up to the stuntmen how to bring that about. One is when he jumps up on the bench, waving the flag. Another was throwing the chair — we had like four breakaway chairs — and the other was tipping over the bench. The last was this ‘Lord of the Flies’ thing, where they’re putting on the animal masks and running around this semi-bonfire. We just wanted a little bit of insanity,” Robert King said.
Tapping into that particular energy proved to be even more potent than expected when it came time to film the actual sequence.
“We had eight stunt men. They were so into it, they did not react to ‘Cut.’ I kept screaming, ‘Cut! Cut!’ and they were so into it. They were supposed to bang on the door, but not break the door down. It was kind of amazing how that level of violence kind of perpetuates itself. And it’s hard to call off even with people who are professionals and who don’t want it to get out of hand,” Robert King said.
With the show getting an early Season 6 pickup, The Kings and the rest of the team have the luxury of already thinking about new episodes. While Wackner may not be a part of the equation going forward (Patinkin’s part in the show was always planned as a single-season arc), there are plenty of other Season 5 pieces that are still very much in play. Perhaps chief among them is Carmen Moyo (Charmaine Bingwa), the newest attorney rising quickly through the ranks at Reddick Lockhart.
“I do think the idea of novices being disruptors is interesting. We had that this year with Carmen’s character and I think we want to continue that now that Marissa will be an actual lawyer and not just playing one in Wackner’s court. Is there a way that you want to hold onto being a novice in order to disrupt more? That’s what’s happening with Carmen’s character. All these bad men and bad people are kind of grabbing her because she hasn’t learned about the ethics of what she’s doing, too,” Robert King said.
“The Liz and Diane conversations are very interesting. And what makes them interesting for me personally, is that I love both of these characters. Hopefully the audience does as well, so that you can see where both of them are thinking that they’re right, even while judging that Diane is not behaving as well as she might want to in other circumstances,” Michelle King said. “None of this would work if the actors weren’t spectacular. If you didn’t have actors as talented as a Christine Baranski or an Audra McDonald or Sarah Steele or Charmaine Bingwa, none of this flies at all. It becomes embarrassing and on the nose and it can be really catastrophic. So it really only works because these actors are extraordinary.”
“The Good Fight” Season 5 is now available to stream in its entirety on Paramount+.