Good Girls Introduces The Woman Who Might Nail Our Heroes

Last night's ersatz season finale left us longing for more.
  • Retta and Lauren Lapkus in Sunday night's Good Girls. (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC)
    Retta and Lauren Lapkus in Sunday night's Good Girls. (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC)

    Like countless other series this spring, Good Girls isn't giving viewers the season finale its producers planned. Because production was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, its third season is now 11 episodes long, rather than the 16 that NBC ordered. Since we're ending in what would have been the last third of the season, we can only guess which stories would have reached their climax in the intended finale. The possibilities include escalating tension between Ruby and Stan, escalating sexual tension between Annie and her sort-of therapist Josh (Rob Heaps), and Dean's increasing resentment of Beth's work with Rio — although that might be resolved if Beth can actually pull off Rio's assassination via her admirably efficient and methodical hit man, James (Andrew McCarthy). But one of the most intriguing additions of the third season is the one this quasi-finale leaves us on: FBI agent Phoebe Donnegan (Lauren Lapkus). While she is, of course, not the first employee of the Bureau to pursue the Good Girls — RIP Agent Turner, we miss your extremely sexy threats against both Beth and Rio — Phoebe may be best suited to take them down for the same reason they have, thus far, eluded capture: she has mastered the art of being invisible.

    Since embarking upon their life of crime, Beth, Annie, and Ruby have generally run scams that proceed from their specific experience as relatively privileged suburban moms. They need to pass a large amount of counterfeit bills? They're going to spend them at big box stores, then exchange those purchases for real cash. Can't get through their fraudulent money fast enough? Why not subcontract the work out by enlisting a platoon of other moms as "secret shoppers"? It's even easy for them to move goods through border crossings because their sex and age make them so anonymous. When Annie steals a Tesla to sell for parts and then finds out that's not really possible, Beth and Ruby just check it at a valet and then fake cracking up at the idea that either of them would use such a fancy vehicle to drive car pool, smoothly taking possession of a humble black Honda instead. In real life, these three memorably attractive women would make an impression on the various harried minimum wage earners who cross their paths, but this is TV, so we can suspend our disbelief and pretend they could be instantly forgotten.

    In the third season, the Good Girls have been counterfeiting cash themselves, a complex process that involved the labor of another talented woman: Lucy (Charlyne Yi), a graphic designer at the stationery store where Beth now works (and which she's co-opted as an unofficial branch of the U.S. Mint). Embroiling Lucy in their scheme got her killed once she'd successfully replicated the $10 bill designs and Rio no longer needed her. (The plan to kill him is, in part, to avenge Lucy's murder.) But continuing the work of counterfeiting since Lucy's death has been a (traditionally) feminine enterprise, encompassing acetone purloined from Ruby's new job in a nail salon, now used to strip the ink from the $1 bills she and Annie (now a part-time valet) collect in tips so that they can be pulped and reused, and Creamsicle Sunset nail polish, which Ruby airbrushes onto their bills to give them that distinctive peachy hue. At the end of "Nana," the season's eighth episode, we see two FBI agents examining the third counterfeit bill out of Detroit and reciting the chemical compounds used in their manufacture. Henry (Rodney To) thinks they might be from car paint. But his partner, Phoebe, has a hunch that it's nail polish: "It's a woman." If Henry's partner were a man, the two of them might never have considered nail polish as a possible ingredient, and the Good Girls would have remained invisible. Phoebe sees them.

    As the viewer spends more time with Phoebe, we find out how little she cares to make herself at all alluring — including in private, as we see what a sty she's made of her motel room. A montage of her getting ready for work in the morning (ironically set to "I Feel Pretty") contrasts the lack of effort Phoebe takes with her appearance to that of Beth, who perks up her breasts just to drop cash off to Rio. Henry, who is gay, has to tell Phoebe how dumpy her gigantic parka is. But we who are expected to adhere to patriarchal standards of beauty would do well to learn from Phoebe's example, because apparently every second she doesn't spend applying eyeliner or showering is devoted to fighting crime. Not only does she figure out the secret sauce for the phony Detroit $10s is nail polish; she identifies the shade and has it recalled. Unsuspecting of the reason, Ruby hatches a plan to gift mani-pedis to needy women, and robs a ritzy salon of its whole supply of Creamsicle Sunset, unwittingly putting herself in Phoebe's crosshairs. Before long, Phoebe's brought her grubby fingernail nubs to Ruby's manicure station, and is so convincing as a hapless mess that Ruby not only walks her through how to check a $10 for signs that it's counterfeit; she leaves her purse unattended on her table to go get Phoebe's change. Never once, when Ruby can't locate her phone over the next several days, does she think back to the client she painted Go Red Or Go Home.

    Once Henry has cracked Ruby's phone for her, Phoebe apparently spends hours going through her photos, despite his warning that, given how she obtained it, none of the evidence on the phone will be admissible in eventual legal proceedings. "Don't need it for court," she tells him. Phoebe learns a lot from Ruby's camera roll: That Ruby hangs out with her two best friends more than most adults are able to, along with where they go, and what they do. Though Phoebe herself seems indifferent to human company, she knows about female friendships: these three women will know everything about each other's lives, and whatever Ruby's involved in, she's not doing it alone. The episode, and now the season, ends with the Good Girls on their favorite park bench, drinking a champagne toast to the acquisition of the home spa dealership where Dean will, unbeknownst to him, be washing their cash; up bounds Phoebe, out for a jog, delighted by the "coincidence" of running into her nail tech like this and brightly asking what they're celebrating. Given how things were left with both Mary Pat (Allison Tolman) in earlier seasons and, more recently, with Lucy, it seems unlikely our protagonists will be letting Phoebe in on their operation, no matter how eager she seems to be to join their crew. But is Phoebe lonely enough that spending time around them for the purposes of building a case (as I assume she will contrive reasons to do) actually makes her develop real feelings of friendship for them? Will she never budge from thinking of them as her Bin Laden(s)? Will the Good Girls catch on to what she's doing? Or will Phoebe beat them at their own game?

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    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Good Girls, NBC, Lauren Lapkus