Midway through Sunday’s new episode of The Good Fight, Christine Baranski’s typically regal lawyer Diane Lockhart receives a package containing a flash drive with one simple, explosive, and grotesque label on it: “P.P.”
Diane Lockhart is holding the pee-pee tape.
Just weeks after producing a series-standout episode centering on President Trump’s impeachment and how the Democratic National Committee could hypothetically go about prosecuting it, The Good Fight tackled the existence of the infamous tape in which Trump allegedly paid Russian hookers to urinate on a hotel bed in Moscow.
It’s brought to them through a Russian woman who claims to have been one of the, um, “stars” of the tape. She’s now in America on a student visa and claims she’s being deported on unfounded grounds. It’s a cover-up, she says, for the real reason Trump wants her gone: She knows about the pee tape. She goes to Lockhart’s firm for help seeking last-minute asylum, putting the firm in a position it never could have imagined: investigating whether the golden showers tape is real.
While it’s become part and parcel of producing pop culture in 2018 to incorporate the head-spinning headlines of today’s political climate, The Good Fight is among the only TV dramas to do so using the actual players and controversies (i.e., Trump and the pee tape) rather than merely related themes in fictional storylines.
It allows the show to channel our collective anxieties and outrage (and plummets into exasperated madness) better than most other series that grapple with our new political reality. And, sure, it allows the show to titillate a bit, too. Enter the pee-pee tape.
When the Russian woman claims she was involved in the Moscow urination incident—a typing of words that never fails to be surreal—the firm is skeptical of her claims, assuming she works for Project Veritas, a group that had attempted to dupe The Washington Post with a false story as part of a sting operation. But the more they investigate the woman’s claims, the more convinced they are that what they are looking at is real.
Oh yeah, they look at the tape.
We, the audience, don’t actually see what might be on the tape. Whatever our imagination conjures is surely more scandalous than what The Good Fight could recreate. But we see the firm’s lawyers watch it, each in various stages of recoil, disgust, and mischievous delight, bathed in cheeky lime-green light emanating from the laptop.
It’s one thing, of course, to bring the pee-pee tape to network TV. But it’s another to use it to spark actual discourse. We won’t spoil how the case shakes out, but we’ll say that The Good Fight didn’t introduce the storyline merely to tantalize and make headlines—OK, maybe that was part of it—but also to talk about the craven rabidity with which those on the left salivate at a chance to embarrass or discredit the president, no matter the optics or responsibility of doing so.
When we interviewed Good Fight creators Robert and Michelle King ahead of the show’s second season, Robert King spoke to that idea. “There is comedy in satirizing these liberals who are all going after Trump,” he said.
He pointed not only to this most recent episode, but also an earlier one in which the DNC approached the firm about prosecuting impeachment. “There’s a real sense that the Democrats are licking their chops,” he said. “I think the more you satirize both sides, the more you will be seen as evenhanded.”
The liberal treasure hunt for the pee tape certainly speaks to that. There is an awareness in the episode that finding it and leaking it might not actually benefit the left, but paint them as opportunists resorting to low blows.
“It’s a little bit like Raiders of the Lost Ark, where you’re chasing this tape like it’s the holy grail,” King said. “It’s satirizing the Democrats’ instinct of if we just got that one piece of evidence, like The Apprentice tape that had him saying the N-word, then we’d be winning. But you already have a [situation of] paying off a porn star three weeks after the birth of your son. I don’t know if there is a tape that will take down this president.”
While The Good Fight might be alone in tackling these issues so literally, there seems to be an influx of storylines on TV involving the idea of impeachment—albeit typically with fictional presidents and characters.
In other words, the hottest thing on TV right now seems to be the 25th Amendment.
The 25th Amendment was ratified in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination to outline the transition of power and the line of succession. Included, however, is the amendment’s fourth stipulation, which outlines that if a 14-person body including the vice president and Cabinet members declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” then he is deposed and replaced by the vice president.
The implication is that if a president’s physical or mental faculties are in question, the section can be invoked. That latter bit explains why there has been such piqued interest in the amendment since Trump’s inauguration.
As chronicled recently by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the provision has made its way to TV on ABC’s Designated Survivor, on which Kiefer Sutherland’s President Tom Kirkman was threatened with impeachment after tapes of conversations with his therapist leaked. It was used in a bit of coup on Showtime’s Homeland to remove Elizabeth Marvel’s President Elizabeth Keane in retaliation for her attempt to fire Cabinet members.
And in addition to recent The Good Fight storylines, the series finale of Scandal saw a crusade to have Bellamy Young’s President Mellie Grant impeached, while a January episode of Madam Secretary on CBS invoked the 25th Amendment to expunge Keith Carradine’s President Conrad Dalton, after he began acting erratically and impulsively ordering nuclear strikes. (Gee, sound familiar?)
There’s a poignant moment near the end of this week’s The Good Fight episode in which Diane, exhausted, wonders whether the firm should just drop the whole pursuit of the tape’s veracity entirely. She begins a story about how her father used to say you could measure a man by the strength and character of his foes.
“Well, I look at our foe, and I wonder how people will measure,” she says. “We’re hoping that a golden-shower tape brings down an idiot. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein.”