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The Good Wife Recap: Witness to a Near-Execution

Did The Good Wife make you cry last night? Are you human? The sight of a death-row inmate being marched past his estranged daughter without getting to touch her or speak to her before his lethal injection was the most moving moment of what will likely go down as the best episode of the season, and certainly the best hour of television this week.

As with the controversial Moo Cow/Al Gore sex scandal episode, the writers shattered conventional structure to give the firm a deadline: Nine hours to save a man’s life. And while they eventually got the stay of execution we all knew was coming — yet again proving our biggest gripe with the show, that Lockhart/Gardner never loses a case — it’s hard to be mad with a man getting to live, or with a trip this rich and satisfying. Now if we could only petition the Kings to write 52 episodes a year so it didn’t seem like an eternity between each one, we’d be all set.

The first of many things to love about this episode was getting to spend the whole day in the Florrick household. We started off with Alicia waking up from a steamy sex dream about Will, only to find herself alone in the bed that she still hasn’t welcomed Peter back into. There’s the nifty device of a clogged toilet, which means that all day, the many kids around the house will have to come into Alicia’s bedroom, starting with Shannon the Proselytizer, who apparently spent the night and helped Grace make some epically good French toast, the epicness of which, like the toilet, becomes one of the running jokes of the day. Alicia to Peter: “Did you try the French toast?” Peter: “Seven times.”

By the end of the day, Grace will have gone from a kid who thinks it will be fun to go to a faith jamboree with Shannon even if she doesn’t believe in God to a kid who is actively praying, much to her mother and grandmother’s horror. Only on The Good Wife would a kid finding religion be a huge source of concern. Also, by the end of the day, Alicia will have managed to slip in a “we need a moment” during a conversation with Will. It looks like she may finally confront Will about the VM of love and what she overheard on the wiretaps. Though, with this show, we can expect to wait another ten episodes before that actually happens.

Peter is prepping for a televised debate, which means his team (minus Eli, sadly) is also over at the apartment, along with Jackie and both kids and their friends as Peter tries to figure out how he’s going to take a strong public stance on the death penalty while his wife is working furiously on behalf of a man condemned for allegedly having set fire to a building to kill his ex-wife and her lover. Fun! As Shannon says, “Oooh. I wish I lived here.”

That night, we watch the debate, along with the Florricks, from their apartment, and cheer along with them when Peter tells the nosy moderator: “My marriage is none of your fucking business.” It’s an awesome moment. “Dad swore on TV!” Zach crows to Alicia. It’ll be interesting to see if the swearing and the refusal to talk about his marriage will help or hurt the campaign. It seems almost certain that it will help things with Alicia. Chris Noth deserves that Golden Globe nomination just for having somehow turned Peter into a guy we’re rooting for, even though he cheated on his wife with prostitutes.

The clever writing devices continue with Alicia having left her home phone number with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, making her the default lead on the case when a clerk calls her out of the blue in the morning to hint that there may be an opportunity for a stay of execution. That initial phone call sums up everything that makes this show so great. You can picture the clerk, the never-seen Jason Kerrigan, sitting in his office, furtively checking around to see that he won’t be overheard, and trying to come up with a way to tell Alicia about the opportunity without telling her about the opportunity. In the end, he settles on asking her if she plans on filing an addendum to her brief. What we see is Julianna Margulies earning that Golden Globe nomination as Alicia’s lightning-fast comprehension of the situation flashes across her face and she smartly promises to call the clerk back in an hour so she can confer with the partners.

It’s a Saturday, so we catch Will in aviators, a flannel shirt, a hoodie, and a brown leather jacket, and driving a sea-green convertible with his arm stretched across the back of the passenger seat as if he’s rarely taken a drive without a female curled up by his side. Diane’s all-black, skintight getup for visiting her client looks like she’s trying to stage a prison break, but at least it’s more realistic than the backless dresses Juliette and Serena wear while visiting prisoners on Gossip Girl. (Note to the GG costume department: Those girls are stepping into a room of violent men who haven’t touched a woman in years. Anyone who’s ever visited a prison knows that bare skin and suggestive outfits are not allowed, let alone wise.)

Both Will and Diane are clearly nervous about having Alicia be the point person calling the clerk, but if they do anything out of the ordinary, the clerk will know that he’s been made and may stop with all this rule-breaking help. Alicia tries to get the clerk to tell her what section he thinks they’re missing, but he’s gone as far as he can go. “Look, I’m here till six. If you have an addendum to file, he needs it by then.” It’s not much, but like Veronica Mars in that first criminology class where she solved the Murder on the River Boat Queen puzzle in record time, Alicia picks up on the clerk’s slip of pronoun. There are two male judges on the court of appeals. Using Peter’s insider knowledge, she finds out that one of them got remarried to a religious anti-death-penalty type and has gone soft. And Diane knows that that means the judge won’t order a stay on a technicality; he’s looking for innocence and only that.

At the offices, an incredibly sexy Will is giving impassioned speeches and taking charge and shoving a file box across the conference table and onto the floor to silence the room. Later, he steals our heart by distracting the idiots down in legal aid with sandwich ordering — while Blake steals their files — and arguing for a stay owing to an expired drug in the lethal cocktail, all while wearing that same flannel shirt and a borrowed tie.

Back at the Florrick apartment, Kalinda is traipsing her Sexy Boots of Justice to very funny effect. From the second Zach opens the door and beholds Kalinda in her form-fitting leather jacket, being authoritative on her cell phone, he’s smitten. “You work with my mom?” he asks in disbelief, checking out her butt as she heads to Alicia’s room. And the great moments in ogling keep on coming. Who could blame the kid? He’s got great taste.

Kalinda is Alicia’s rock as she continues to make nerve-racking calls to the clerk, and as always, it’s great to see how their friendship has deepened throughout the series. Kalinda is the one who tells Diane and Will to stop coaching Alicia and let her play it by ear, but she’s also there with Alicia as she talks on the phone, giving her real-time guidance on the art of getting your way with anyone. Kalinda senses that something is different with Alicia lately. (It’s likely that she has sex with Will on the brain.) They share a beer on the bed and Alicia asks Kalinda point blank what Blake has on her. “I didn’t like my life before, so I changed it,” Kalinda says cryptically. The lack of information is frustrating, but here’s hoping that we’ll get some better hints soon.

Cary, too, figures prominently, for once. Turns out he worked at the Innocence Project with Kerrigan the clerk. He’s taking his cousin on a college tour (with the best tour guide ever: “That’s a dorm, I think. Um, that’s a bike rack.”), and Kalinda calls just as his cousin is confessing her crush on him: “I looked it up. It’s not incest!” Amazing. But again, who could blame the girl? Cary doesn’t agree to help, though, until he gets a call from Barry Scheck — the actual founder of the Innocence Project, playing himself. In the second unrealistic phone-answering moment in the episode, Cary assumes he’s talking to a buddy who’s pretending to be Barry Schleck (the first unrealistic moment is when Will snaps something about no calls on weekends before realizing he’s talking to Alicia). Ultimately, it’s a minor blip, but it seems weird for a show this technologically astute to screw up the basic principles of caller I.D..

Once on board, Cary delivers the crucial information that Kerrigan had written an unpublished paper about flawed science in death-row cases. Kalinda realizes that the hint has to do with the changes in the science of detecting arson over the past ten years and rushes off to O’Hare to catch the arson expert from the trial who has a layover there on his way to Orlando. It’s one of those only-seconds-to-catch-the-person-before-he-boards scenes we’ve seen in countless movies, but for once the extra security search that delays Kalinda seems pretty realistic. One can assume she’s fairly used to getting extra attention for being brown. Kalinda manages to catch the arson expert (Roger Rees, a.k.a. Lord John Marbury from The West Wing and Robin Colcord from Cheers!) at the gate, and gets him to admit that there’s a possibility the V-shaped burn and brown stains on the wall could be because of some kind of wire that burned that way in an accidental fire, rather than from an accelerant. She convinces him to write an affidavit and soon Alicia is on the phone with the judge, giving the impassioned plea that results in a new trial: “This has to be right. To do this to a man, this has to be right.”

Meanwhile, over in Indiana, Chad L. Coleman (Cutty the boxing coach from The Wire), gives a remarkable, restrained performance as a man who knows he will be dead at midnight. Even more remarkable is how this whole story line plays out without a single dramatic scene in which he bangs a table and screams about his innocence. In the end, we’re not sure of his innocence, just that it’s possible. What’s at stake here is less about justice for an innocent man than it is about ensuring his humanity and his right to die knowing he is loved. When Diane calls Carter’s daughter, Ruby, and begs her to come see him, Ruby’s reluctance is palpable. She’s three hours away, and she still isn’t convinced her father didn’t burn her mother to death. The mere act of coming will tell him that she forgives him, and she’s not sure if she does. Every minute she delays increases the chance that she will miss seeing him before he dies. Every hour brings her closer to the moment when she will have no more family in this world. And then when she arrives, the warden won’t let her in. Diane had eavesdropped on a conversation in which the warden learned that the anesthetist’s sodium thiopental for the drug cocktail had expired, and his punishment was to bar Ruby from seeing her father. Just thinking about her screaming at her dad — a wire door and a world of regret between them as he’s led in handcuffs and she sees him for what she thinks will be the last time, all as Josh Ritter’s “Here at the Right Time” plays — is enough to get us teary all over again.

Photo: CBS