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Warning: The following contains spoilers about Thursday's The Good Fight.
Since recovering from COVID-19 in The Good Fight's clever season 5 premiere, Nyambi Nyambi's Jay has been hallucinating conversations with historical figures like Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, and Jesus. But he's not the only character receiving visits from the Great Beyond.
Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart turned to late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, played by Elaine May, for advice in the Paramount+ legal drama's latest episode, titled "And the two partners had a fight..."
"We've had the usual highlights in our life: getting married, selling a first script, voting out Donald Trump, but now our life is perfect because Elaine May is playing Ruth Bader Ginsberg," co-creator Robert King tells EW, with co-creator Michelle King adding, "There is no writer/director/actor we admire more, and her portrayal in this episode is near perfection."
The liberal icon, who passed away last fall, comes to Diane in the middle of the night as she contemplates whether it's appropriate for her to lead a historically Black firm, especially in the wake of Jan. 6 and rising criticism from the Black lawyers at Reddick Lockhart. (Spoiler alert: It's not.) As you can see in the exclusive clip above, Diane's vision of Ginsburg advises her not to step down and to fight for her place at the top.
So, Diane does something very questionable and cynical to secure her position: She meets with her wealthy white clients and tells them she's stepping back as a named partner so one of the firm's Black lawyers will become their main point of contact for cases. In other words, she's using their racism to her advantage. Naturally, all of them complain to David Lee (Zach Grenier), who forbids any kind of leadership change at the firm. Sure, Diane's safe at the top, but she's also turned Liz (Audra McDonald), a friend and ally, — and possibly the audience, too — against her.
Below, EW speaks with the Kings about Diane's fireside conversation with RBG, risking turning the audience against Diane, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired you to dramatize Diane's struggle through a fireside chat with RBG?
MICHELLE KING: It did play a little bit into the fact that icons have been popping up all season, not for Diane, but for Jay.
ROBERT KING: And I think we ran into a real problem with this episode. It went through script, we were already in prep and it was not good. Well, just because some scripts don't turn out and others do. And we thought it would be a tough script about Diane finally having to face how to deal with it not really being appropriate for her to be a named partner at this firm.
And it was a tough script, but it wasn't a lot of fun. The problem is you can be very honest and very direct, but there aren't many laughs… So it was like, "Let's go back to the drawing board." And then Michelle and I were just thinking, who would she respect if they told her, "You got to fight this?" And the only person we could think of was someone who was deceased, who was RBG. So having this fireside chat in the midnight hour seemed like a really good way to kind of sympathize with Diane's choices while understanding the basis for them, while still having some comedy attached to it.
[UPDATE: After publishing, Robert King sent the following to clarify the answer above: "We would be remiss, and we were remiss, if we didn't mention the fantastic writer, Aurin Squire, who wrote the episode. This season, he was the one who pitched the idea of a self-appointed judge who works out of the backroom of a Kinkos. When we talk about this episode originally not working, it's not because of Aurin's script. It's because the build of the episode went in a darker direction. We had originally wanted to do a sort of Scenes from a Marriage-like look at Kurt and Diane's marriage, and it was the wrong way to go (I'll take credit for that). So Aurin and the room pitched going in a new direction. And that led to the RBG addition and what follows. Thanks for letting us clarify. "]
I'll admit that I'm struggling with Diane because this is very much a case when she's in the wrong. What reaction to Diane's choices are you trying to elicit from the audience?
MK: You nailed it. Or we nailed it. Because that's exactly what I would hope: some sympathy, but also an awareness of, okay, this is not what she really needs to be doing.
RK: Liz is right when she says "You're a good person," and Diane saying, "No, I'm not, but you are." So, should she be going down this kind of scummy route of using the racism of her clients against the firm? Even though it's clever and Machiavellian, it puts her on the wrong side of the issue. So the struggle there should be in the viewer too because I think they like her, but—
MK: That's certainly the hope, which is why it theoretically works. Because it's so easy to see this in a villain. But if it's in a heroine that we all like, then the issue seems more real.
Did you find it hard to take this character in such a, for lack of a better word, unlikable direction and test the audience's feelings for her?
RK: It was hard only in that we didn't know whether the viewer would follow us there. Because the original script was much tougher about it. She was just thinking of starting her own firm and using Julius Cain [to do so]. And it was... oh my God, we were looking at each other after one of these Zoom calls about it, going, "This is not a good version of it. This is not." So we did pull back from I think the toughest version, but you never know. Here's the thing: the show works best when it tries to be frank about issues that otherwise are kind of swept under the rug with easy solutions, as I often think TV does with race. At least race when there are some questions of white and Black getting along in some kind of work situation. So anyway, it felt interesting to us. Whether we were worried about likability, we've often thought, "That's tomorrow's problem. Let's go for what's interesting now. And we'll worry about likability later."
MK: But that said, I think more than most seasons, I've felt aware of, "Okay, what are we doing to these characters?" And I don't think it's that easy on the actors either, you know? So you have to be sensitive to that as well.
RK: Audra and Christina have, I think, struggled with it because they're good friends and there's this slopping-over effect of the emotion you bring to the character slopping over into just this discomfort that you have, I think, afterward. I don't know enough about acting, but it always felt like whatever show we do, whatever the difficulties you put your characters through, they're always struggling to get out of that emotional state afterward.
Did Christine and Audra come to you after reading the script or shooting this episode?
MK: I would say this season throughout there have been a fair number of check-ins [with] both actors, just about comfort level and direction. Is that fair?
RK: Yeah, not even fair. This script probably got the most impact of that because Christine and Audra both expressed concerns about the script and that's why everybody rewrote it so much and put in RBG and everything, just to kind of get a little more into the mental space, which would allow "What is the next move that Diane can make that doesn't make her a hateable character?" Hopefully our use of RBG gets us somewhat there.
RK: So the Evil episode was written before this episode of Good Fight. And I think we were very aware of the white privilege stuff that came out of Evil and how it impacts, especially the argument between Liz and Diane, which spills over into the next episode too. You'll probably see even more of that in episode 7 — this argument about, there's an entitlement that comes with Diane's position that makes it very hard to sympathize with, except for the fact it's played by Christine Baranski. That's what's always great about [an] actress that you start with a kind of a base level of affection for because you can actually push them. With Katja, she's a killer who was let off by the cops. And if it weren't for Katja being such a good actress, you'd go, "Why am I watching this? I didn't turn on The Sopranos." And then here, Diane is in this very awkward position. She's got a husband who trained some of the January Sixers, and that none of that is a laughing matter. [The question became] how much could you push the envelope and get the audience to challenge themselves about it and not always come to the easy answers?
MK: But it is supposed to be murky in that when Diane talks about the fact that she has struggled for decades as a woman in a man's field, that's real. So there should be some awareness [that] she has not been skating through like Don Draper, always put at the top of the pyramid.
Given their major political differences, how sustainable is Diane and Kurt's [Gary Cole] relationship?
MK: We have that conversation every year in the writers' room, more than once.
RK: Kurt's only saving grace is he's not one of the bomb-throwers in the Republican party. He's probably someone who will — at least Michelle and I wouldn't, and the room wouldn't agree with on most things — but he's not someone who is saying the January Sixers were tourists and all the bulls--- going on now where they're trying to make black is white and white is black. Look, how do people who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum survive after Jan. 6 is a mystery to us. How does that relationship keep going?
But I do think that the RBG scene about Scalia, I find interesting because they did have this friendship and there were not two people more at the extreme end of the political spectrum than those two. So it was very good to have RBG, at least in our and Elaine May's version of it, kind of express "What are the ways... is there someone who makes you laugh even though you don't agree with them politically? And is that a sustainable relationship?" It's different maybe with a friend than with a lover or spouse, but it's still probably the same questions.
New episodes of The Good Fight debut every Thursday on Paramount+.
This post has been updated with an additional statement from Robert King clarifying his initial quote.