In its past two seasons, “The Good Fight” has risen to critical prominence for its searingly topical, cathartic, and richly absurdist take on present-day politics. While many of its banner episodes have focused on Donald Trump, one of the best installments of its recently-concluded third season, if not of its entire run, mostly sidesteps politics altogether. Submitted on the Emmy ballots for Performer, Writing and Directing, the season premiere “The One About The Recent Troubles” powerfully and sensitively tackles sexual assault in the workplace and draws on its brilliant actors and previous seasons of character development to deliver a gripping and gut-wrenching hour of television.
Written by Robert King and Michelle King and directed by Robert, “Recent Troubles” focuses on Audra McDonald’s Liz Reddick as she grapples with accusations of sexual assault made by two employees against her father and civil right’s icon Carl (portrayed in season one by Louis Gossett Jr.). Regina Taylor guest stars as Carl’s former secretary Cynthia Cromley who makes the revelation while attempting to film a testimonial celebrating the late activist’s life. In the immediate aftermath, partners Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) keep the news from Liz as they weigh their legal options, but Liz ultimately comes into the fold to help sort out her father’s legacy in light of his misdeeds.
McDonald delivers a career-best small screen performance in the episode, which would serve as an incredible Emmy submission if she earns her first Supporting Actress nomination for “Good Fight.” When Adrian first plays Liz the tape of Cynthia’s testimony, McDonald conveys a cavalcade of emotions only through her widening, blinking, and tearful eyes. Initially shellshocked and withdrawn, Liz’s anger emerges when she thinks Adrian may have known about her father’s behavior for all of these years. McDonald astonishingly plays Liz’s competing resentment and resilience as she personally handles the non-disclosure agreements with Cynthia and a second woman in an attempt to atone for her father’s sins.
Opposite McDonald for most of her scenes, Taylor also delivers a stunning and raw performance as Cynthia. Taylor first appears in the testimonial video, playing Cynthia’s reticence to talk about Carl before breaking down in uncontrollable sobs on camera. Although devastated by Carl’s actions, Cynthia admits to Liz that she has developed sympathy for people who cannot express love the way they should, a response that shocks Liz. At the end of the episode, Taylor and McDonald share a moving scene in which Cynthia signs a non-disclosure agreement as she and Liz reach a certain level of understanding.
Taylor appears on the Emmy ballot for Drama Guest Actress and richly deserves a nomination for her heartbreaking performance. She previously received two Emmy nominations in Drama Lead Actress for “I’ll Fly Away” in 1992 and 1993. Now a quarter century since her last bid, Taylor should make a triumphant return to the awards for this performance. Keesha Sharp also appears on the Emmy ballot for this episode for her smart and charming portrayal of reporter Naomi Nivola, who receives a vague tip from Cynthia’s daughter about sexual abuse at the law firm.
In addition to these performances, the Kings’ script should also contend for Emmy attention. The episode certainly stands out for its moving and nuanced handling of workplace sexual assault, the ethics of non-disclosure agreements and hush-money payments, and the desire to bury misdeeds in order to protect the legacy of important and beloved figures. The script also shines because of the wonderful monologues Baranski gets to deliver throughout the hour, including one lamenting the death of “real men” of yore and the rise of “snide” and “aggrieved” “little creatures” in their place. Strategically, “The Good Fight” very wisely submitted only this episode for consideration in the Writing category, ensuring that no other script from the series will divide support for the show. For “The Good Wife,” the predecessor series to “Good Fight,” the Kings received nominations in 2010 for the series premiere and 2016 for the series finale. This track record and their wise submission strategy could spell an Emmy nomination for this stellar episode.
Perhaps even better than his writing, Robert King’s directorial effort on “Recent Troubles” further elevates the incredible material. As Adrian talks about keeping Carl’s abuse secret from Liz, for example, King shoots McDonald furtively through the narrow glass panes of conference room walls. Later, King employs an effective tracking shot of empty offices before revealing Liz sitting alone in hers, which coupled with the earlier technique heighten Liz’s sense of isolation before she hears the news. In one particularly effective establishing shot, King tilts down from a brewing storm to Cynthia’s house just before cutting inside to her meeting with Adrian and Diane to discuss a settlement. Unlike in Writing, “The Good Fight” submitted this and two other episodes for consideration in Directing (“The One With The Celebrity Divorce,” “The One About The End Of The World”), which could impact its chances at a nomination. In addition, “The Good Wife” never broke through in Directing, even in the two years when it landed Best Drama Series nominations (2010, 2011).
Although “The Good Fight” has yet to find the same level of success at the Emmy Awards as its predecessor series, “The One About The Recent Troubles” deserves a handful of nominations for its on-screen and behind-the-scenes talent and may prove the series’s best bet to finally secure major Emmy bids.
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