The Good Fight loves a grand reveal. Take the second episode of the show's sixth and final season, which premieres Sept. 8. The operatic opening credits don't arrive until the 14-minute mark. By then, a fan favorite from The Good Wife has returned, hysterical protests have overwhelmed the streets of Chicago, and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) has ended a medically sanctioned ketamine trip with a verse from West Side Story's "Something's Coming." Will that something be as great as the song's lyrics promise? Knowing how The Good Fight has wrested its characters from their various plights in the past, the answer is yes.
Diane's current plight involves a curious case of post-vacation déjà vu. Like many of us, she's plagued with the sense that every day generates as much bad news as the one before it, making each hard to distinguish. "I feel like I'm back where I was six years ago," she says upon returning to her law firm. She could stop doom-scrolling, but that's not easy. Diane needs something a bit more psychoactive, as she did in Season 2 when she briefly weathered the Trump presidency by microdosing psilocybin mushrooms. In her ketamine haze, she floats, sometimes literally. And so it's revealed to her, at long last, that life is small. The earth keeps spinning, but its events grow more and more absurd, her place within them fleeting. For a progressive who desperately wants to do good, the realization is comforting.
That's what The Good Fight has always reached for: comfort — but a barbed comfort firmly rooted in reality. Greenlit in May 2016 and forged in the fire of Donald Trump's shocking election that November, the show has captured the madness of the past several years better than anything else on TV. Married co-creators Robert and Michelle King use alternate realities, fanciful hallucinations, goofy musical interstitials, and ASMR to characterize our collective internet-addled condition. It's a tragicomedy served with a side of satire that most of today's reactive pop culture lacks.
That we got to spend this long on The Good Fight's zany Tilt-A-Whirl is a minor miracle. One of the first few originals to grace the newly launched CBS All Access (since retitled Paramount+), the show forfeited its predecessor's foundation — iron-willed lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) — in favor of serene, stylish Diane, who was always the more compelling character anyway. Forced to abandon her retirement plans in the wake of an investment gone wrong, Diane accepted a position at a Black law firm, providing fertile ground for the show to explore racial politics, office politics, and governmental politics. But unlike The Good Wife, a ratings juggernaut with five Emmys to its name, The Good Fight has been an underdog. Cast members came and went (most notably Delroy Lindo, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, and Bernadette Peters), and the show's cultural footprint never matched its ingenuity. (Baranski recently said in an interview that Paramount+ "did not want" The Good Fight anymore.)
And yet the Kings, who also created Evil and produced Showtime's Your Honor, didn't treat that impediment as an excuse to coast. With each season, The Good Fight has grown more singular, more experimental, and more purposeful. That might mean Elaine May playing the ghost of Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Mandy Patinkin showing up as an eccentric judge running fair-minded arbitration in the back room of a copy shop. Whether it's a eulogy for a Supreme Court vanguard or an examination of the justice-system imbalances that beg for alternate models, beneath the show's whimsy lies heft.
Beyond Diane's ketamine adventures, Season 6 regards chaos as a baseline. Demonstrators hurl tear gas outside while indoors the workday persists. On one of those days, in walks Ri'Chard Lane (a giddy Andre Braugher in a revolving slate of colorful eyewear), a new partner there to disrupt the harmony Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald) has finally achieved after many staffing upheavals. As the show's guest stars are wont to do, Braugher electrifies the season, further texturizing Diane and Liz's hot-and-cold relationship with his suspicious smile. What exactly does Ri'Chard, who wears $10,000 suits and won't stop initiating prayer circles, want with their firm?
Meanwhile, a pair of standout supporting players are given particularly well-rounded storylines. Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele, forever the stealth MVP) has graduated from Diane's assistant to trusted investigator to freshly credentialed lawyer. She fumbles her first case, and Marissa's dubiously motivated father (Alan Cumming, the aforementioned Good Wife fan favorite) swoops in to help. Later, her friend Jay DiPersia (Nyambi Nyambi), the firm's go-to guardian, gets recruited to join a shadowy activist network — familiar Good Fight territory — that aids Black people wrongly targeted by law enforcement. In the five episodes provided to critics ahead of the premiere, Marissa's and Jay's momentum suggests satisfying closure for two characters who deserve it.
It's another minor miracle that Baranski herself remains as inspired as ever. She was already in demand when The Good Fight debuted, but her star has only risen in the intervening years (see: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, The Gilded Age). Having portrayed Diane since 2009, Baranski could have jumped ship at any point. Instead, her performance in this final outing reads like a capstone, never more delightful and evocative than during a reunion with perennial scene-stealer Carrie Preston. Thanks to her hunky ketamine guru (John Slattery), Diane has gone woozy. When she giggles uncontrollably, Baranski's penetrating face sparkles. Her eyes enlarge, and a sense of wonder usurps Diane's overarching weariness. Baranski is, and always has been, a joy to watch.
Diane's paradox — simultaneous amusement and fatigue — has suffused the entirety of The Good Fight. Sometimes a dark comedy and sometimes a conspiracy thriller, the show feeds into the urban-liberal fantasy of remaking the world in Democrats' image. Still, it never casts Diane, Liz, and their colleagues as unremitting heroes. In fact, it sometimes mocks that exact savior complex. They represent wrongdoers, compromise their ethics, and enact self-serving agendas. The series that surrounds them is as much about murk as it is morality. But unlike most of their partisan adversaries, Diane and company have an irony radar and an ability to laugh. If she can't rescue humankind, maybe handing out flowers in the firm's hallways will brighten things. She treats it like a spiritual mission. Any sensible viewer is left to think, Sure, why not? How else should one cope?
Even without knowing how The Good Fight 's final episodes resolve, this much is clear: Among its devotees, the series leaves a gaping loss. Others will keep trying to make sense of the country's Trumpian aftershocks, but none can say they had the Kings' clear-eyed concurrence. This was the pinnacle of topical post-2016 art. Its brilliance has revealed so much.
Premieres: Thursday, Sept. 8 on Paramount+
Who's in it: Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, Andre Braugher, Sarah Steele, Nyambi Nyambi, Charmaine Bingwa
Who's behind it: Robert and Michelle King
For fans of: The Good Wife, sharp but fun political commentary
How many episodes we watched: 5 out of 10