In 2020, Amazon announced that its legal drama Goliath starring Billy Bob Thornton as troubled lawyer Billy McBride had been renewed for one final season, then coronavirus arrived.
This article was written to fill the void while we waited through the pandemic for Season 4 to arrive. It provides a recap (precap) of what you need to know about Goliath Seasons 1, 2 and 3 before watching Season 4 and remains relevant even after Season 4 has been released.
Before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, rumour had it that Goliath Season 4 would focus on Big Parma, with executive producer and director Lawrence Trilling being quoted in various sources on 14 November 2019 as saying that the story would tackle “a timely global crisis that impacts an entire generation.”
It sounded like a premonition, but he didn’t mean the COVID-19 pandemic, he meant another crisis, referring to the opioid crisis in the United States. But what else is known about Goliath Season 4?
In February 2020, Entertainment Weekly reported that Bruce Dern (Nebraska; Silent Running) and J.K. Simmonds (The Closer; Law & Order) were joining the cast of Season 4 as the Zax brothers, one playing the head of a family-owned pharmaceutical giant and the other playing a brilliant scientist. Either character could be this season’s chief antagonist.
Shortly after that, Deadline informed us that Brandon Scott (Dead To Me) and Geoffrey Arend (Madam Secretary) were joining the cast as regulars, with Elias Koteas (Chicago P.D.) and Obba Babatundé (S.W.A.T.) joining in recurring roles. Both play lawyers, with Arend reported to be playing a defence lawyer representing parties in a series of cases and Scott playing a lawyer at a white-shoe law firm called Margolis & True. (For those who like explanations, ‘white-shoe’ here means one of the largest and longest-established law firms representing some of the largest and longest-established corporates in the world.)
Soon Variety reported that Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense), Clara Wong (Billions) and Jena Malone (The Hunger Games—and my old favourite, Contact) were joining the cast, with Osment and Wong playing younger generation Zax siblings working for the family company, and Malone playing a partner at Margolis & True.
An interview in Forbes with Bruce Dern in August 2020 revealed that William Hurt was also set to return. Hurt plays Donald Cooperman, Billy McBride’s long-time adversary. He was chief bad guy in Season 1 but had only scattered apparitions in Season 2 that didn’t add up to much. In Season 3, although he reappeared only briefly, his influence was sufficient to almost scupper McBride’s class action before it had begun.
The original streaming date for Season 4 on Amazon was expected to be early 2021, but then the world changed and production was halted on everything, everywhere, all at once—and Goliath was shut down on 12 March 2020.
Production restarted in the autumn of 2020, but fans would have to wait until the autumn of 2021 to watch the final season.
So then there was the question of whether the Goliath writers saw the enforced delay as an opportunity to refocus the story for Season 4 and instead of (or as well as) drug use as the timely global crisis, might they include vaccine development and the potential minefield of vaccine trials—that’s trial as in testing, not as in legal, but ultimately legal since legal is what most fans of Goliath seem to want, if you study the ratings.
Based on the cliffhanger ending of Goliath Season 3 (no spoiler in this post), rehabilitation drug use might be a viable link to get Billy McBride entwined in a pharmaceutical storyline. And, of course, his old adversary Donald Cooperman has had a long and troubled medical history from his time in the military that may well have seen him steeped in drug use, too.
Still, there must always be some personal link for McBride to maintain any real interest in following through on a case, otherwise he probably won’t even bother to remember his client’s name, as we saw in the Season 1 pilot episode back in 2016.
In Season 1, it was a low-key criminal lawyer who spotted McBride being dropped by a disgruntled client in the local legal services center. She told him about a case too big for her to handle alone that was being defended by the legal giant Cooperman McBride—knowing it was Billy McBride’s former firm and that he might take it on as revenge on Donald Cooperman.
In Season 2, it was McBride’s bartender who asked him to represent his son who had been arrested on a put-up drugs charge.
In Season 3, it was an old girlfriend who approached McBride about a land issue, a case which McBride only took on after the land in question caved in and killed her—with McBride taking on the case out of guilt.
If the writers did take the opportunity to refocus their Big Pharma story during the coronavirus lockdown, it wouldn’t be the first time that Goliath has undergone a story re-arc. There were umpteen character changes, role switches and name changes in Season 1 before the show hit the screen—and what was originally planned as ten episodes was cut down to eight with the third episode becoming episode one. Season 2 underwent a similar fate with the opening episode reportedly being scrapped at the editing stage, rewritten and reshot and three other episodes also scrapped.
Seasons 1, 2 and 3
It won’t be necessary to watch all of the previous episodes of Goliath to understand Season 4 because each season is, for the most part, a self-contained story, but presumably there will be an official recap at the start of the opening episode—although how far back in seasons it goes, we’ll have to wait and see.
However, I doubt there’s an editor on the planet who would be able to reduce three diverse seasons of Goliath into a two-minute sequence that would convey the trust, mistrust, passion, horror, intrigue, disappointment, hope, joy and despair that we watched and experienced during the journey so far, as well as recap all those loose ends (but having typed that sentence, I am tempted to give it a go myself, at least on paper).
Many characters and their stories have weaved their way through the three seasons of Goliath. There are, of course, the main characters of Billy McBride and his legal team, but some we thought were confined to one season have popped up in conversation or in person in a later season. Sometimes I think it’s done to test that we are paying attention, like when Peter “the broker” Oakland from Season 2 appeared briefly on stage at the casino in Season 3 with his rebranded band Nöt Pöyzyn, before spotting McBride at the bar and scurrying off like a weasel. That scene was a particular favourite of mine.
So, to avoid missing out on the subtleties, I recommend watching Goliath from start to finish to understand who crossed paths with whom, when and why. Not to mention that Goliath might, in its entirety, be one of the best drama series you will ever watch on Amazon, although opinions differ per season. For many of us, the three seasons have been as addictive as the drug-related story being rumoured for Season 4.
I have already posted a lengthy commentary on each of Seasons 1, 2 and 3, so will give the gist of the storylines below, with links to read the full reviews.
The main cast of Goliath is Billy Bob Thornton as the seemingly dispirited, underdog lawyer Billy McBride (for which Thornton won a Golden Globe for Season 1) and his legal team, which consists of DUI lawyer and real estate agent Patty Solis-Papagian (Nina Arianda), paralegal Brittany Gold (Tania Raymonde) whom he met when she worked as a prostitute, and Billy’s marvellous legal secretary Marva Jefferson (Julie Brister).
McBride is also supported by former colleague and now off-the-grid investigative lawyer J.T. (Paul Williams) and McBride’s daughter Denise (Diana Hopper). Also in the main cast is McBride’s former partner Donald Cooperman (William Hurt) with whom he has battled in some way each season.
As far as ratings go, it is clear that a lengthy legal drama is what Goliath fans have wanted since Season 1, which received an average 4.7/5 rating on Amazon. It was jam-packed with gripping legal and courtroom action, unlike Season 2 which received 2.8/5 and had almost none. Season 3 received a rating of 3.6/5 and provided a well-balanced dose of investigative and courtroom action embedded in an altogether trippy tale. Personally, I rather enjoyed Season 2, despite the underlying horror.
Goliath Season 1 (released October 2016) saw Billy McBride take on a global military tech giant in a negligence and wrongful death claim being brought against the company by the family of an employee who was killed in a mysterious explosion at sea involving a secret, illegal missile propulsion system. The firm of defence lawyers against whom McBride is pitted is the mighty Cooperman McBride, the firm he co-founded and from which he was dismissed some years before. Chief antagonist Donald Cooperman is supported by his young protégé Lucy Kittridge (Olivia Thirlby). It’s a gripping story that maintains the suspense right to the end, but I’ll spoil it now by telling you that McBride wins the case and the damages are huge. Interestingly, only when the case is over do we find out what really happened. Read the review
Goliath Season 2 (released June 2018) took an altogether darker turn as a gruesome organised crime drama with limited courtroom action. McBride briefly defends his bartender’s son who has been set up as a patsy in a drug-ring murder case by some corrupt LAPD officials who are unaware that this particular kid is a close friend of LA mayoral candidate Marisol Silva (Ana de la Reguera). She is McBride’s chief adversary this season, as well as his limited love interest. Almost everyone is unaware that this future mayor of LA has a sinister alta-ego with links to a violent drug cartel run by her sadistic brother Gabriel Ortega (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) whose actions make for some deeply disturbing viewing throughout. Be prepared to cover your eyes a lot. Read the review
Goliath Season 3 (released October 2019) had us baffled as to what on earth was going on, but think Chinatown meets Twin Peaks meets Erin Brockovich meets…er…Goop, as Billy McBride takes a trip down a rabbit hole as well as along a giant water pipeline. There’s a class action against wealthy California almond grower Wade Blackwood (Dennis Quaid) who is part of a consortium of corporate farmers, who together have surreptitiously acquired control of Blackwood County’s water supply and are depriving the other businesses and residents of water in order to keep their almond plantations fully hydrated. Although McBride wins the class action, things don’t end well for him. Read the review
Although Goliath fans seemingly prefer Season 1 with its triumphant legal victory for Billy McBride, it’s Season 2 with its dark storyline and unfortunate fate for many of its characters that excites Billy Bob Thornton. In an interview on The Rich Eisen Show in 2019, he said he prefers the loose ends that Season 2 leaves behind. “Bogart didn’t get on the plane with Ingrid Bergman in Casabanca,” he said, “and a lot of the classic movies didn’t end with everything all tied up neatly. Sometimes it ended kind of dark.”
The end of the road
It is a shame that this gritty drama isn’t continuing after Season 4, because the Billy McBride character is particularly compelling—being deep, damaged, determined and quietly discerning. And Billy Bob Thornton makes him easy to watch, being believably low key, whilst being easy on the eye, and easy on the ear with that smooth southern twang. Nothing seems to be forced or fake (not now anyway, since cutting back on the overuse of the word “honey“).
We believe in the McBride character as he methodically investigates his cases. It’s like Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict meets Columbo, to use Billy Bob Thornton’s own comparison.
Thornton has also said in interviews that he absolutely loves playing the role. Talking about his character in an interview on Popcorn with Peter Travers in 2019, he said, “If I were a lawyer in California, that’s probably how I would be,” adding about the show, “I just go there every day and be myself, in a lot of ways. I’ve been playing the character long enough now where I really feel like the things are happening to me.”
And Thornton has gradually managed to tweak his namesake character’s traits and lines over the three seasons so they are more like him—and, goddammit, why the hell not, he is after all the star of the show and the main reason many of us tuned in to start with (yes, we’ve all got a crush on Billy Bob Thornton—just like that song says).
Judging by the run of actors who have joined the cast of Goliath who have worked with Billy Bob Thornton in his own film projects—for example, Bruce Dern in All the Pretty Horses, J.K. Simmons in The Gift and Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade—as well as long-time buddies Dennis Quaid and Paul Williams, it seems Thornton also has a not insignificant amount of influence over who joins the cast.
And back to work
In an interview with Forbes back in August 2020, Bruce Dern said that when they do get back to work on Season 4, it will be “under unbelievably strict conditions”.
By October 2020, it was announced that the Goliath team were using the SafeSet COVID-19 Compliance System (an app created in response to the reopening of film and TV production) to meet COVID-19 protocols and minimise the risk of virus transmission among cast and crew on set.
Despite the strict safety measures, things were going well, with Geoffrey Arend tweeting on 21 October 2020, “Sometimes you go to work and it turns into a masterclass in acting, performing, and daring. Thanks @BruceDern, for everything. This was an excellent day at work.”
Sources of information about the Season 4 production:
14 November 2019 – ‘Goliath’ Renewed for Fourth and Final Season at Amazon – Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.
3 February 2020 – It’s Billy Bob Thornton versus J.K. Simmons and Bruce Dern in Goliath final season – Entertainment Weekly.
21 February 2020 – ‘Goliath’ Adds Geoffrey Arend & Brandon Scott As Series Regulars, Two Recurring For Season 4 – Deadline.
27 February 2020 – Haley Joel Osment, ‘Hunger Games’ Alum Jena Malone and Clara Wong Join ‘Goliath’ Final Season – Variety.
18 August 2020 – King Of The ‘Dernsie’ Bruce Dern Plays Abolitionist In ‘Emperor’ Drama –Forbes.
21 October 2020 – Amazon’s Goliath Safely Returns to Shooting with SafeSet – SafeSet.
Fair Use Notice: All images from Goliath shown in this article are credited to Amazon Studios. The images have been chosen to support the commentary and hopefully constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material, but if the copyright holder would like them taken down, just ask.