Emmy spotlight: Christine Baranski is deliriously good in ‘Good Fight’ fever dream of a Hillary presidency

Last year, Christine Baranski celebrated her tenth season portraying lawyer Diane Lockhart on “The Good Wife” and its spin-off “The Good Fight,” a milestone that brought her within striking distance of her first-ever Drama Actress Emmy nomination. Though she missed out on that richly-earned accolade, Baranski raised her game even further to mark the start of her second decade in the role with her hilarious and emotionally-raw gamut-running turn in the “Good Fight” season four premiere.

Penned by series creators Michelle King and Robert King, the season-opener “The Gang Deals with Alternate Reality” very cheekily returns to the show’s origins, recreating the opening scene of the pilot episode in which Baranski’s Diane watched the 2017 inauguration in horror as President Donald J. Trump gets sworn into the highest office in the land. This time, though, Diane watches on with glee as Hillary Clinton gets inaugurated instead. Baranski beams, lets out a joyous guttural scream, pumps her fist in the air, and pops a bottle of champagne to toast the occasion.

The Kings wisely chose this episode as their Emmy writing contender, which stands out not because it relishes in the joy of a Clinton presidency, but rather because it highlights––in blistering fashion––the negative consequences that might have ensued. The daring episode received plaudits from critics, with Tambay Obenson (IndieWire) calling it “smart, penetrating TV” and Angelica Jade Bastién (Vulture) saying it’s the series’ “most scathing episode yet” and “especially incendiary” for “skewering corporate feminism.” These kudos rightly credit the Kings for their brilliant script, but few give enough credit to Baranski’s nuanced performance.

SEE Emmy spotlight: It’s a crime that voters haven’t rewarded the brazenly brilliant ‘The Good Fight’

The whole first act of the episode plays to Baranski’s supreme comedic gifts––her only Emmy win was for comedy series “Cybill,” after all––as her confusion about who won the 2016 election gives way to sheer giddiness when she learns of all the accomplishments of a Clinton presidency. The close-up shots of Baranski struggling to contain her glee are as hilarious as they are cathartic, whether she’s literally shaking the Trump presidency out of her head, dancing while watching cable news, or letting loose that iconic, full-throated laugh when Adrian (Delroy Lindo) mentions that the Benghazi scandal still follows Hillary.

Those 11 minutes of liberal joy immediately turn sour, though, when Diane learns that she’s landed the firm a new, highly-coveted client in Harvey Weinstein. Wide-eyed, Diane realizes that no women’s march ever occurred and the #MeToo movement never materialized. Baranski’s infectious joy quickly turns into scorn and outright disgust when her partners disbelieve three of Weinstein’s first accusers and Hillary’s staff forces her to shut down her attempts to amplify Tarana Burke and the grassroots #MeToo movement. Baranski’s rage is palpable, and nothing on television is more satisfying than hearing her drop an emphatic f-bomb.

WATCH our interview with ‘Good Fight’ costume designer Dan Lawson

Baranski is at her absolute best as the episode reaches its climax, when Diane realizes that she hasn’t seen her husband Kurt (Gary Cole) in days. Diane tracks Kurt down in the woods, where he’s hiding for fear that Hillary and Eric Holder will confiscate his guns. As Kurt helps Diane remember what’s happened in the real world––a SWAT raid on their house that concluded the third season––Baranski becomes heartbreakingly vulnerable, especially when she pronounces in anguish that Kurt has died. The episode nonetheless ends on a note of levity as Diane finds Kurt alive and well when she wakes up from unconsciousness and gives one last, glorious laugh when SWAT asks her the name of the current President.

SEE Could Michael J. Fox help ‘The Good Fight’ score a long-overdue Guest Acting nomination?

Though “The Good Fight” has struggled to gain traction with the television academy in the past, a standalone episode like this one is the perfect introduction to the series and to the new heights that Baranski has taken this once Emmy-favorite role, which landed her six consecutive nominations in Drama Supporting Actress for “Good Wife.” Baranski herself has said in numerous interviews that “The Gang Deals with Alternate Reality” is her favorite episode that she’s made with the Kings across the eleven years of their creative partnership, and it shows in her bravura performance.

And while the competition in Drama Actress is more crowded this year than last, Baranski might be on voters’ minds for another reason: her epic, trio performance of Stephen Sondheim‘s “The Ladies Who Lunch” with “Good Fight” co-star Audra McDonald and her cinematic chum Meryl Streep. Their smashing rendition went viral after the quarantine-produced 90th birthday concert, which has 2.2 million views on YouTube, and their segment alone has been watched over 400,000 times. Since academy members can select an unlimited number of performers in the nomination round, Baranski could find herself an incredibly deserving surprise nominee this year.

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