The first season of Goliath was reported to be Amazon’s most binged show, and it’s not hard to see why. The series, which was put together by Ally McBeal and Boston Legal creator David E. Kelley along with George Shapiro, was a twisted tale of corporate murder, sexual power struggles, and, as the title suggests, little people taking down those with seemingly unassailable power and wealth. The cast was starry, and along with Billy Bob Thornton in the central role, included Molly Parker, Olivia Thirlby, Maria Bello and most memorably William Hurt as a Machiavellian burn victim who pulls everybody’s strings while slowly going mad. In short, it’s a hard act to follow. More so, because Kelley and Shapiro, who handled writing duties for all eight of season 1’s episodes have been superseded by an entirely new writing team.
Understandably, season 2 of Goliath, which drops on Amazon June 15th, opens as if it has a point to prove. DEA agents burst into a house full of drug cartel members and shoot them dead split seconds before the criminals can fire off their own guns. This is the kind of sudden, unexpected violence that gave the previous season its several genuinely gasp-inducing moments and ultimately made it so darn binge-able. The story then segues to the heroic, flawed underdog Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton), who is informed by a heart-broken Oscar (Lou Diamond Philips), the owner of Billy’s favourite bar, that his children have recently been murdered in an act of gang violence. To make matters worse, his youngest son is now in prison for killing the murderers in retaliation. He wants Billy to slide off his barstool once again and defend the little man. But Billy doesn’t defend murder cases. Of course, he takes the case in the end.
Billy McBride’s evolution as a character, having come into huge sums of money for winning his last case, is one of the most successful aspects of this season. McBride, who was once just about hottest trial lawyer around, threw it all away when his skills got a murderer set free, who then went on a brutal killing spree. From there on in the only bar that Billy was really interested in was the kind that you could slide a whiskey glass across. Having been dragged back onto the big stage in the previous season, however, one might assume that McBride would be in some way redeemed in his own eyes. This is not the case. Instead, Billy desperately tries to give his money and his belongings away. He is lonelier than ever and cajoles friends and acquaintances alike to have a drink with him. This cuts to the absolute heart of the character, and cleverly keeps him in the position of underdog which is a central part of the show’s premise, even though he has rolls of money about his person most of the time.
This time around the big bad for McBride to take on are the drug cartels, who have their own reasons for wanting Oscar’s young son, Julio, to go down for murder. Once again there is a sizeable conspiracy for the dogged lawyer to sink his teeth into and unravel, which includes politics, a man with a hook for a hand, and a sweat shop where people are sawn apart alive by men in surgical gowns and masks. Nasty! It must be said, however, that as intriguing and brutal as all this is, it never quite reaches the same gothic pitch as the previous season, with its faceless corporations murky with corruption, hot with ambitious young lawyers and steamy with barely appropriate sex. Still, there is one character with a highly unusual, possibly shocking peccadillo, which makes one aware that the new show-runners are deliberately preserving this aspect of the show’s identity. The effort is appreciated even if it does feel a little like one-upmanship.
There are many good reasons to return for this season of Goliath, but at the top of the list must surely be the chance to watch Billy Bob Thornton in one of his best roles. With his quiet, drawling delivery, and slow, yet gleaming smile, that appears like a bright bulb after the dimmer switch has been gradually turned up, he is unwaveringly compelling throughout. He manages to be equal parts hang-dog, genuinely humble, arrogant, considerate, focused to the exclusion of other people’s welfare, hopelessly damaged and supremely competent. McBride is a complex, deeply human character and Thornton plays him with a hypnotic ease.
The rest of the returning cast create perfect foils for him in different ways. Nina Arianda as part time lawyer, failing real estate agent, Pattie Solis-Papagian, provides many of the show’s lighter moments. The actress has considerable comic chops and makes good use of them, gabbing away with increasing irritation at McBride’s conduct, while he generally remains unfazed, with the occasional explosion. The two make a perfect double act and form the surprisingly charming core of the series. His legal assistant Brittany Gold, who happens to be an ex-prostitute and recovering drug addict, is also back for this season and Tania Raymonde once again plays the damaged tart with a heart role with considerable sensitivity. Her presence allows McBride to be soft and sympathetic as he refuses to use, or reject her. Although there are some grey areas in their relationship. Then there is his daughter, played by Diana Hopper, who loves him unconditionally, and who course corrects McBride when his drunken, depressive behaviour threatens to lead him astray. Hopper is a talented young actress, who more than holds her own and whose warm screen presence casts McBride in a more vulnerable light, as she acts at times almost as his caregiver.
The new cast members also acquit themselves excellently. Mark Duplass is memorable as Tom Wyatt, a wealthy political donor and one of the villains of the piece. The actor convincingly conveys a hyper-intelligent and jittery energy making Wyatt sinister before his many strange… foibles are revealed. Ana de la Reguera plays Marisol Silva, a mayoral candidate, who is morally conflicted. The actress has a playful quality and a soulfulness that makes it easy to care about the fate of her character. Notable mention should also go to Lou Diamond Phillips as the father of Julio, the boy accused of murder, whose brother’s themselves were murdered. He has several powerful scenes of grief, that are delivered with considerable dignity. It is nice too to see Alexandra Billings in the role of a judge. Billings is a transgender woman, and there’s something especially progressive about her being cast in a conventional female role.
While Goliath may have undergone a change in creative personnel, season 2 still manages to present us with a tightly wound, at times shocking, story of corruption and gradually unravelling conspiracy. Billy Bob Thornton’s tremendous lead performance continues to impress.
4 / 5