Television

The Good Fight’s Showrunners on the Meaning of the Show’s Suitably Bananas Ending

Of course the finale had to circle back to where it all started.

Christine Baranski seen through an opening in a red box, with a tearaway reading "Exit Interview" on bottom right
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+.

If you had to explain to someone what it was like to live through the past half-decade, the best way—or at least the most entertaining—might be to show them The Good Fight. The Paramount+ series, which aired its final episode this week, began as a spinoff from the CBS drama The Good Wife, starring the latter’s Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, a powerhouse feminist lawyer who, devastated by Donald Trump’s victory and the loss of her job, becomes a partner at a Black law firm run by Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman. Over the course of six years, creators Robert and Michelle King took their audience on a wild and twisting ride, through abrupt cast shakeups and a season cut short by the pandemic, touching on kangaroo courts and bomb scares, microdosing and Jeffrey Epstein’s penis. Its final season, organized around the increasing threat of white supremacist violence and the dissolution of the Democratic Party—not to mention one loopy final subplot in which John Cameron Mitchell’s right-wing provocateur lies about being sexually assaulted by Ron DeSantis in order to bolster Trump’s electoral chances—seemed perfectly timed for a turbulent election season, which made talking to the Kings the day after the midterms seem only too fitting. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Sam Adams: This is a very different conversation than the one we could have been having the morning after midterm elections.

Robert King: It’s kind of amazing. The stars lined up for the last episode to kind of mean something more, because DeSantis did so well and Trump’s choices are going so poorly.

You end the series with Trump announcing he’s running for reelection in 2024, which could be happening in the real world as early as next Tuesday. Did you get to pick when the finale would air?

Michelle King: No, no. That was dictated by the platform. But then we were aware of that, and aimed for it.

Robert: We always thought that Trump would wait until after the midterms to announce, if he announces that at all now. But he will.

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You might have been five days off, but that’s pretty close.

Robert: And it’s better that it’s five days after than five days before, because for the lpst week it sounded like he was going to announce even before the midterms, which would’ve been insane.

Where did that final beat of the story come from? You start the episode with a 12-hour countdown, and we’re naturally assuming it’s the Nov. 10 attack you’ve been building toward all season. And in fact the offices of Reddick & Ri’Chard do get shot up by a group of white supremacists. But that’s somehow not the worst thing that happens.

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Robert: We had a very bad first episode this season that Michelle and I wrote and threw out, and it was really going to be kind of an intellectual exercise about how to stop a civil war. We realized it would bore everyone to death. The thing to do was have the season be a countdown. And you would think it’s a countdown to civil war, so pretty much in the first episode we realized we wanted to lead the audience to believe this date written on these fake hand grenades was really about: We’re coming for you, liberals. We’re going to kill you all. When in fact, no, it was a calling card for a presidential announcement.

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Michelle: You can say they’re synonymous.

Robert: So it was all kind of betting, and then we really did not have a plan B if it didn’t work in our direction. I think because of the rise in Russian apocalyptic talking, we thought another way we could go with this last episode was possibly firing off nuclear weapons that could have even been accidental. But I think always our hope was that we would end the way show began, with Trump, because the very beginning was Trump being inaugurated. The end would be: Here we are again right where we started.

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Michelle: More often than not, the show dealt with domestic issues, so it felt like the finale should focus on domestic issues.

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The Good Fight has always felt very loose and responsive, but with this season, you were working toward the end of a story that you’ve been telling—depending on how you look at it—for either six or 13 years. Did that lock you in more to certain storylines from the beginning?

Michelle: I don’t know that it locked us in more. I mean, there was more a sense of, we better get this right. It feels like there’s an obligation with the series finale to land the show safely. And so that was a bit of a wait.

Robert: I would say that we, again, did a bad draft. The bad draft was that because [Reddick & Ri’Chard’s owner] STR Laurie was a bigger company, they were sending everybody off to run Dubai and England and stuff. And so it was sort of a goodbye where everybody was hugging, hugging, hugging. But we realized there was just no plot. So that’s why we brought in John Cameron Mitchell with the Milo Yiannopoulos stuff, those shenanigans, because it really needed to seem like another one of the episodes that has a self-contained short story within it.

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Michelle: What we were hoping for was that the characters could have a happy ending even though the world would not be in a happy place. We needed to honor that while still hopefully feeling somewhat hopeful about our characters.

A major question in the finale is whom Diane is going to end up with: her husband, Kurt (Gary Cole), who works for the NRA and essentially represents everything she despises, politically, or her doctor Lyle (John Slattery), who loves “Verdi and Dante and Dahlia Lithwick.” You almost split up Diane and Kurt in Season 5, but Christine Baranski talked you out of it. Did you know she and Kurt would end up together at the end of this season?

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Robert: No.

Michelle: No. I would say that was one of the biggest discussions we had in the writers room. And it was not brief, and it was not a singular one. We had two great options for her in terms of men, and of course, there was also the option of her choosing neither man. So there was much discussion surrounding it.

Robert: That was an argument almost every day because it is really the battle in our hearts: politics versus a long-established love. Once you’ve done 13 years seasons with Gary Cole, it was very hard to say, “OK, we’ve reached the endpoint,” but that would’ve been powerful, too. We all kind of went back and forth.

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Needless to say, the past six years have strained and broken a lot of relationships, romantic and familial and otherwise. So it certainly would have been realistic for them to split apart. But then you run up against, is the show saying there’s no way for people with different political views to be together?

Michelle: I would say it’s an aspirational ending for the two of them. We want to believe that these two characters who love each other, and who both have a lot of integrity even though they don’t believe the same things, that they can find a reason to stay together.

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You’re also playing a bit with the idea that every story has to be resolved, because you’re ending the series. You have Marissa abruptly marrying her Krav Maga instructor, who’s barely even been a character up to that point. It’s like, you wanted an ending, you got one.

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Robert: You’re having a little fun with the audience, both pleasing their expectations but also kind of being a little meta, like, “You get a happy ending, you get a happy ending, you get a happy ending!” Because we’re all not going to get happy endings together. And by the way, I don’t even know if that is a happy ending for—

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Michelle: Yeah.

Robert: I think that’s a marriage that will last six months. I mean, he’s an actor—he’s not going to go with her to D.C. It’s a little bit crazy, but it felt crazy in the way that Marissa has always been, like, “Should I design purses, or should I become a lawyer, or should I work in a yogurt shop?” That’s always been the Marissa way, which is a little just kooky and unsure.

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One of the things that The Good Fight has been about is the limits of white liberalism. Diane is a big player in the Democratic Party, thinks Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a living saint, and so on. But joining a historically Black law firm really pointed up some of her blind spots. The ending of the show isn’t exactly pessimistic: The last scene is a very affectionate talk between Diane and her Black colleague Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald). But you do have the characters going their separate ways in some respects. Liz and Ri’Chard (Andre Braugher) run the world’s biggest Black law firm, Diane is off to take over an all-female firm, and their Black investigator, Jay (Nyambi Nyambi) leaves to join the all-Black underground resistance led by Phylicia Rashad. They’re still friendly, but they’re not entirely pursuing the same objectives anymore.

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Robert: Well first of all, it’s a very astute analysis. I think the key for us was probably last season, where Christine’s character, Diane, realized she really couldn’t be one of the two name partners of an all-Black firm. And at a certain point Diane does something she hasn’t done forever, which is give up the corner office, because she realizes that is not a goal to be achieved in this world. I think we really wrote ourselves into a corner where we had a dilemma we really couldn’t solve. And the only way to solve it was with, perhaps, someone to say, “I’m not going to compete,” because for Diane to compete was to engage with very racist actions. So she backs away. And then in the last season, what do you do with someone who’s given up that fight for prestige and the top position? That’s why she turns to the drug [treatments] and things, and the world is falling apart on her.

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Michelle: What’s been fun about seeing, as you say, the failure of white liberalism, at least some of the time, is that ideally audiences love Diane as much as we do. And so she gets much of it right, but not all of it right. And I would say that with most of the characters, frankly. To have characters that you love, theoretically, who still make missteps, make mistakes, I think that’s what makes it interesting as opposed to creating just villains. You can do the racist redneck who keeps a sheet in the trunk, but that’s not nearly as interesting.

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You really get to leverage that audience attachment to Diane in Season 5, which is when she and Liz really come into conflict about whether Diane’s name can be on a historically Black firm. You actually let Diane be kind of ugly in defending her privilege, although there’s also the danger that the audience loves her so much they will take her side no matter what. And I’m curious, as the white showrunners of a show about a Black law firm, how do you negotiate your own power in the writers room?

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Robert: I don’t know. I mean, here’s the thing. Can I just be honest? At a certain point, the world around the show changed, and so did Diane’s relationship with her workplace. That is one of the reasons, probably, that there was no satisfying out for Season 5. The only satisfying out was Diane saying, “OK, I’m not going to fight this, because I can’t fight this and maintain what I think my liberal ethics pushed me to.”

Throughout the series, you’ve gone back to the idea of whether it’s acceptable to work outside the law or compromise your ethics in what feels like an emergency. You had Diane’s all-female resistance group, the extralegal courtroom run by Mandy Patinkin. And in the last season you go even harder. The Collective, Phylicia Rashad’s group, is renditioning white supremacists to a private prison in Antarctica, and you have a tech billionaire effectively trying to take the Democratic Party private so Dwayne Johnson can run for office.

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Robert: I don’t want the Rock to be president. But here’s the thing. The show will create hyperbolic situations that Michelle and I aren’t supporting. It is fun to satirize liberal excitement and hope about things that are really awful, even if that’s not the way you fight. But on the other hand, the Collective is kind of breaking the concept of the show, which is that pragmatism is important, but when you run up to that line where you become your enemy, that’s where pragmatism has to stop.

The Collective is a little bit: “OK, well maybe not. If things are so extreme, the only way to fight is to create some kind of underworld operation.” The show’s in debate with itself. And obviously we did a “book group” one year where it became very clear the opposition to Trump was becoming Trump-like and awful. That was the feminist group. But the Collective is a little bit different.

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Michelle: I would say that, much like the Kurt-and-Diane marriage that stays together at the end, the Collective is the other aspirational part of the show. The Mandy Patinkin court is a little bit more of how we see these things actually going, which is people with good intentions end up creating systems that are fascistic.

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One of the things I loved about The Good Wife is that it was extremely clear on the idea that being just had nothing to do with who wins in a court of law. It was about who wielded power the best, and sometimes that wasn’t our heroes, and sometimes when they won, they were on the wrong side. But on The Good Fight, it feels like the underlying intentions did matter, perhaps because it comes out of a world where these issues feel much more pressing.

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Robert: I would say The Good Wife was always influenced by Janet Malcolm and her writing, about how telling the better story in court allows you to win. It felt like courtroom dramas, up till then, were just: Give a great speech and the jury will be moved and vote for you. I felt like that’s not really honest to the world. If anybody gives the better speech, I just want to turn them off. So a lot of it was treating the courtroom like a heist.

I would say The Good Fight is much more about, OK, what happens when the world throws out the law? What happens when everybody around you says, “Yeah, fuck the law. I don’t want to do that.” What do you do when you live in that world, which is a scarier world, where it’s a little more junglelike, where the rules don’t apply—up is down and gravity doesn’t exist. And I think that’s the difference between Good Wife and Good Fight for us.

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It’s like the lawyers are the masters of a system that increasingly doesn’t matter at all.

Robert: Right. It’s like you became very good at pickleball right at the time when pickleball stops mattering. People don’t give a shit about it anymore. We did one season that was interrupted by the pandemic, which was about something called Memo 618, this idea that certain VIPs would be beyond the reach of the law, which felt very real to us at the time.

Michelle: And still feels real to us.

Robert: And I think if we had finished that season, it would’ve been very clear that that’s kind of the heart of the concern of this new world, this new environment. Which, it was always there, but now the camouflage has been taken off it. You now see it for what it is.

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You end the season, and the series, with a simple caption on a black screen: “This all happened.” What does that mean?

Robert: A time capsule. I think there’s so much interest, especially in Republican circles, to redefine reality, the way the Reagan years were redefined by naming a lot of airports after him. And I think there will be this attempt to—as there already is—to change what Jan. 6 meant and so on. Obviously, the show’s all fictional, but to say at the end, this all happened, because as ridiculous as it sounds, we lived through these years. And if we are out of Trumpism as of 7 a.m. this morning, I do think we have to define it. At least for us, we did that with the show.

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