Back when Good Trouble premiered, I issued a warning in my initial review:
There is, admittedly, some nervousness about Good Trouble falling into the same trap as The Fosters: endeavoring to tell more stories than the show has time to tell well which led to characters, storylines and the audience being shortchanged. It was clear that the writers had a lot of great stories to tell — many from communities whose stories often go unheard — and that’s laudable; but maybe let’s not try to shoehorn all those stories in at once.
And while, over three seasons, Good Trouble has done a good job of assuaging me of that fear, it all came rushing back during “Closing Arguments” cold open. The show found a unique way to showcase all of this season’s questions for all its main characters and I began to worry. Even with an extra 30 minutes of runtime, it seemed impossible that the show would be able to address them all in a way that felt satisfactory. I was right to be worried. There are issues brought up in the cold open — whether Alice got into the CBTV program because she was sleeping with Ruby or whether Malika is actually poly — that aren’t dealt with at all in the season finale. There are others — like Mariana’s resolution with the Fight Club girls and Alice’s decision about Sumi — that are shortchanged so much that the conclusion feels unearned.
But what makes last night’s Good Trouble finale particularly frustrating is that, instead of finding a way to tighten the storytelling — by excluding, for instance, the comedy showcase or Davia’s imagined performance of Sara Bareilles’ “Breathe Again” — the writers made a different narrative choice: cliffhangers for everybody! Storylines that the audience has invested in over the season simply go unresolved. What happened to Tommy Sung? I don’t know. Did he kill his boyfriend? I don’t know. Is Kathleen going to jail? I don’t know. Will Davia choose Matt or Dennis? I don’t know. The show sees some utility in stringing those stories out, I do not. To be clear: I don’t mind a good cliffhanger but the overuse here distracts from the legit cliffhangers — the return of Malika’s ex-boyfriend, Isaac, and Callie’s proclamation that she’s leaving, most notably — and, ultimately, feels manipulatve.
“Closing Arguments” was not Good Trouble‘s finest hour (and 30 minutes) but I’m grateful that it’ll get another season to right this wrong.
When “Closing Arguments” picks up with Alice, she’s rehearsing for the CBTV showcase under Margaret Cho’s watchful eye. Nearby, Sumi and Ruby are sewing the sketch’s costumes and Sumi expresses her happiness for her and Alice. Ruby corrects Sumi: she and Alice are just friends, contrary to what Alice led her to believe. I worry for a half a second that Sumi will hit on Ruby — in part because she’s always found Ruby attractive but also to get back at Alice for lying — but before anything can happen, Magda interrupts to tell her fellow comedians about a leaked e-mail exchange between CBTV’s network executives and the head of Human Resources. In the e-mail, the powers that be make it clear: Alice will win this year’s talent deal.
“It’s been a few years since an Asian has won the deal,” the exchange reads.
“Asians are hot this year,” it continues, adding, “Plus with Margaret Cho directing, best to reward another female Asian comic.”
Embarrassed that the decision’s been made before they can even perform their showcase, Alice apologizes to the group. Surprisingly, most of the group is supportive of Alice taking the deal. Magda reminds a skeptical Derek that if it weren’t for Alice, the entire program would’ve been called off. Alice demurs, saying that everyone deserves a shot at the deal, but Lindsay urges her not to be a martyr. Sanjana reminds Alice that the other comedians will still be able to take advantage of the exposure from casting directors and agents. Still uncertain about what to do, Alice turns to Margaret Cho for advice.
“Well, in my experience, opportunities weren’t always offered for the purest reasons, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept it,” Margaret points out. But before I can cheer too much — I may have been yelling, “take the money Alice!” at my television screen — she adds, “sometimes it’s not worth it if it makes you feel shitty. You know, in my career, my biggest breaks didn’t come from networks or studios. It came from fellow artists, friends looking out for each other.”
Margaret’s advice only buttresses Alice’s instincts — she opts not to take the deal — and the other comedians finally band together and walk out on the CBTV program for good (Ruby’s left to deliver that news to the network’s HR director). Instead of letting all their hard work go to waste, the comedians gather their family and friends and perform their showcase before a friendly crowd. Alice resurrects her sketch about her mother — why she feels okay about performing her mother’s accent now, the show doesn’t bother to explain — and I gird myself for her mother’s reaction. First, she looks pained by the mimicking but eventually that gives way to the realization that she is funny. Grateful for Alice’s sacrifice, Alice’s fellow comedians retool the “Alice the Dumb Asian” sketch to be “Alice the Inspir-Asiaaaaan.”
After the show (and the afterparty), Sumi accompanies Alice back to the Coterie and Alice invites her into her loft for a nightcap. Sumi demurs, recalling what happened last time they had too much bijou, and Alice interjects that she and Ruby aren’t together. Sumi admits that she knew that already and questions why Alice wanted her to think they were back together. Alice confesses that she’s scared and doesn’t want to relive the heartache of their first break-up. She’s changed, Alice points out, but Sumi points out that she changed too. She’s not the person who took Alice on her first date with Meera — and, to her credit, she apologizes for having done that — but insists that she’s not that person anymore. She adds, “The only part of that person I want to be is the part that is still in love with you.”
Somehow Alice doesn’t swoon at Sumi’s overture, resisting the urge to fall back into old patterns. It’s too much of a risk for Alice and, instead, she tells Sumi that they’re better off as friends.
Meanwhile, Malika’s internship at Dignity & Power Now is approaching its end and DPN approaches her with an offer of a full-time position. She doesn’t accept right away, though: she’s been approached by Angelica’s ex, Councilwoman Lucia Morales, and offered a position on her staff. While Malika never imagined herself outside the activist space, the opportunity to bring lasting change through legislation and public funding is appealing and she wants time to consider it. She keeps the news of DPN’s job offer from Dyonte…who she wants to save from believing that he’s DPN’s second choice, in case she decides not to take the City Council job.
It’s a kind gesture, one far kinder than Dyonte deserves because when he hears about the job offer from Councilwoman Morales, he nearly accuses Malika of selling out. He believes that politicians play lip service to the important issues during their campaigns and then work to uphold the status quo once in office. And listen, Dyonte might be right — the fact that Councilwoman Lucia Morales is played by the actress that played Adele on from latter seasons of The L Word makes me immediately skeptical — but, after the conflict that he and Malika had about her not feeling supported, you’d think he’d silence his own misgivings and simply offer her his support, but apparently not.
Later, Malika’s out on a date with Angelica and talk of Malika’s job situation — and, by extension, Angelica’s ex and Malika’s boyfriend — dominates the conversation. Malika presses Angelica to find out if Councilwoman Morales is worth giving up her role as an activist for and Angelica admits that Lucia is passionate about changing the system. Angelica thinks they would work well together. Later, she pivots back to Dyonte and advises Malika to do what’s best for her and trust that Dyonte’s resilient enough to land on his own two feet. It is, in some ways, understandable to have conversations about your exes early in your relationship but here it feels like so heavy that it inadvertently tamps down the chemistry that’s been building between this pair. Between that and Angelica’s ambivalence about Malika’s polyamory: I’m not sure how long for this world their relationship is.
The next day at DPN, Imani tells Dyonte he’s earned the full-time position at DPN, which unbeknownst to him, Malika had already turned down. She’s going to work for the City Councilwoman and views it as an opportunity to continue the work she’s started at DPN. She promises not to compromise herself or her beliefs as she tries to change the system from within. Eventually, they just agree to disagree and settle back into their relationship…and one night, after the couple says goodnight, who would reappear at the Coterie but Isaac?!
Now that’s how a cliffhanger is supposed to work!
Good Trouble Coterie Sundries
+ Callie is confronted by her shortcomings this episode — with a special guest appearance by Judge Wilson — and is reminded that she doesn’t always have to take the most complicated way out. For years, she’s been adapting to the situations that she finds herself in and now she’s stuck in reaction mode. Wilson urges her to leave her safe cocoon and bet on herself.
Judge Wilson: It’s time for you to believe that you can be more than just the Callie Adams Foster that we all know…and love.
Callie: What if I can’t? What if this is the best I’ll ever be? As good as it gets
Judge Wilson: I don’t believe anything’s as good as it gets. You have the power to make every day better. To let go of everything and everyone who’s holding you down. You deserve the moon and the stars. You just have to have the courage to reach for them.
This exchange is, perhaps, Maia Mitchell’s best work of the series. Unfortunately, the whole thing is a figament of Callie’s imagination so who knows how much of this means anything — is Maia Mitchell leaving the Fosters-verse or is Callie leaving Kathleen Gale and Associates? — but one thing’s for sure: Callie Adams Foster most definitely needs to be in therapy.
+ Isabella and the baby are fine but her drop in blood pressure and the need to be rushed to the hospital pushes Gael to finally make the decisions he needs to make. He and Callie break up — he cares for her but admits she deserves more than what he can give right now — and Gael asserts himself in his relationship with Isabella and in his future child’s life.
+ Last we checked in on Mariana, things at Bulk Beauty had become untenable and she was looking for a way out, facillitated by her new BFF, Zelda Grant. But when she sits down at the interview with Revitalize Beauty, their pitch is identical to Bulk Beauty…and, coincidentally, it’s being funded by Jackie Morton at the Hallis Group…the same would-be investor that rejected the pitch from BB.
Tired of being Claire’s punching bag, she gives BB her notice. Claire fights back until finally Rachel and Gina stand up and say enough. They all acknowledge that they work better with Mariana than without her and even Claire concedes the point. Besides, she admits, holding a grudge is exhausting…and just like that, the fight is over. But before Mariana can rejoin the partners, she confesses that she interviewed elsewhere. They concoct a plan to infiltrate and destroy Revitalize Beauty: starting with getting Mariana that job as the project manager.
Mariana goes to Jackie directly and pitches herself for the job. Jackie assumes that she’s coming to threaten Hallis Group with a lawsuit because of the similarities between Revitalize and Bulk Beauty but Mariana overwhelms her with evidence that she’d be great for the job. She tells Jackie that she’s separated herself from her partners at Bulk Beauty because she didn’t want to continue to be tarnished by their bad reputations. Mariana even produces a glowing recommendation from Evan Speck to bolster her case. She gets the job so apparently Mariana’s going to be practicing corporate espionage next season?
But wait, there’s a plot twist: after confirming that he sent the recommendation, Evan asks Mariana to talk…but who would be sitting right over his shoulder as he awaits her answer? Jackie Morton.
+ In one of my favorite scenes of the season, Dennis shares the news of his success with Davia: he’s officially licensed to operate a food truck. None of it would be possible without Davia, Dennis tearfully acknowledges…not the license, not the food truck, not his life. She saved him. Later Davia watches Dennis and I think, finally, she’s going to recognize that Dennis has learned to deal with his grief without it eclipsing him. But when she sings “Breathe Again,” she thinks of Dennis and Matt and I have no idea who she’s going to choose.
+ Listen, y’all know I love a good musical performance…and Emma Hunton looked and sounded AMAZING…but did I need to hear that rendition of “Breathe Again?” No, I did not…especially at the expense of actually finding out if Davia chose Matt or Dennis!