This isn’t really about sex, is it? In the penultimate episode of this exceptional trip through the dissolution of Alicia and Peter’s marriage, Alicia and Kalinda’s friendship, and possibly Kalinda’s career, Alicia has turned positively Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, laying her vengeance upon anyone who has wronged her. And that list is getting pretty long. It’s both brutal and enthralling to watch.
The episode starts, very cleverly, with Will and the always-welcome Nancy Crozier (Mamie Gummer) performing rapid-fire voir dire in a civil case about a married guy who got murdered after hooking up with a possible femme fatale who severs her victims penises and puts them on ice, via a dating site called Side Encounters that helps people cheat on their spouses. Crozier wants to make the case all about the immorality of this site — run by openly non-monogamous Stephanie Engler (Sarah Silverman) — encouraging infidelity. Will insists it’s about contract law; his client isn’t responsible for what happens when people actually meet. The two sides nicely dovetail with Alicia and Peter’s dispute, with general societal mores (it’s wrong to cheat) on one side, and Peter’s position (technically, it’s not as bad as it looks) on the other. And before our eyes, the faces of the jurors change, a visual representation of the fact that most people, when asked point blank, just can’t separate sex from business.
But does either side represent Alicia? As seems abundantly clear, Alicia’s growing rage is not about the sex itself — she proved herself able to look past that when she took Peter back — it’s about honesty and pride. Both Kalinda and Peter have spent over a year looking Alicia straight in the face and allowing her to trust them and get close to them, while knowing this horrible secret of how they’d betrayed her. As Peter pointed out last episode, Kalinda was just one of a string of faceless women he slept with while acting out his dissatisfaction with their marriage. As Kalinda pointed out this episode, Alicia was just a faceless housewife whose husband she slept with once. “I do that,” she says. Not making this any better, guys. Just stop talking.
If last episode we felt sympathetic toward Peter for his two years of atoning being undone by something that happened long ago, this episode helped us understand that there are no statutes of limitations for this type of thing. Not disclosing the Kalinda affair, whether or not she and Alicia had ended up becoming friends, wasn’t just an act of deception. It negated all his apologies. You can’t be sorry for cheating on your wife sometimes and not other times. And to withhold information about an infidelity in the hope of getting away with it is just a boldly selfish move. You can’t say you’re doing it to avoid hurting her, when you’ve already hurt her enough for a lifetime.
Kalinda’s crime, though, is maybe worse: Becoming friends with Alicia knowing full well what she’d done with her husband, and then as the friendship deepened, neither confessing up to her part nor alerting Alicia to the extent of the scumbaggery she was getting back into. Kalinda deserved the absolutely brutal dressing-down she got from Alicia, a friendship breakup so thorough we feel compelled to print it in its entirety, even though on the page it lacks the determined, pained tremor of Julianna Margulies’s voice:
Kalinda: So what’s up?
Alicia: No, Kalinda, no. We both work here. We’re both going to continue to work here. So let’s not talk. No, you don’t explain anything. You do not put a single thing in context. You slept with my husband. You do not say anything after that. You do not. It is selfish to say anything after that. I work here and you work here, but that’s it. When you can find another case, do it. When you can walk the other way, do. Now get out of my office. Kalinda, there are so many people that can see us right now, but I swear that I will scream at the top of my lungs if you do not get out of my office now.
Kalinda shakingly walks to the elevator and breaks down. She knows she fucked up, and how. In a position of weakness, she heads over to an old friend from her state’s attorney’s office days, Sophia Russo (Kelli Giddish), to jump on an offer to get into corporate investigations. Sophia explains that she won’t be able to dress the way she does now — NO MORE SEXY BOOTS OF JUSTICE???!!! — but this doesn’t seem to bother her as much as it bothered us. This is Kalinda’s way, after all — running away and changing herself to avoid ever facing up to what she’s done.
As we’ve gone with Margulies on this nuanced trip through Alicia’s many conflicting emotions, we’ve become convinced that no other actress could take us there as well. Last night, we saw her fear of truly being on her own as she talks to David Lee about separation and divorce, her pain and blinding anger toward Kalinda, and her newfound sense of boldness and strength against lesser lawyer Nancy Crozier and with Will. Brava.
In the divorce, she fears public opinion and wants to protect herself financially. Given that she’s been the primary breadwinner lately and that Peter has a hefty $220,000 salary coming to him next year, David Lee advises her to wait. Not exactly what a woman who’s finally decided to move on with her life wants to hear. In her work, though, she’s become a total shark. When Diane asks her to take first chair in the Side Encounters website defense, she snaps back, “Why? Because my husband cheated on me?” The old Alicia would have just smiled and taken the task. With Nancy Crozier, she shows no mercy. When Stephanie Engler tells her there’s a porno devoted to the wives of cheating politicians and Alicia is in it (of course), Alicia doesn’t even pretend to find the humor or the honor, as Engler says, in men masturbating to the thought of her. It’s just so clear she’s not going to take it anymore.
Getting only slightly less of Alicia’s wrath is Jackie, who shows up at Alicia’s apartment while she’s gone, looking like the big bad wolf come to lure Grace and Zach away from their mother by means of lemon muffins. The kids — Zach in particular — rebuff Jackie’s advances, refusing to engage her in talking about why their mother would do something so rash and mean as kicking their father out. But some of it sinks in and Grace later asks her mom why she’s being so unreasonable.
If you thought Alicia’s first confrontation with Jackie was harsh, this one is a wasteland. In a calm, menacing, unwavering tone, Alicia instructs Jackie, “From now on, Jackie, when you want to come to my home, you will call me. If you can’t get me, call my assistant. If you can’t get her, try again … The next time you try to turn my children against me, I will keep them permanently off-limits to you.” Jackie knows she’s treading a fine line, but she thinks she’s within her rights as the person who looked after them for two years while Alicia was going back to work and that the children were owed an explanation. Alicia merely repeats herself and … oh, it’s just too good:
Alicia: Jackie, I have come to understand that you need to hear things two times to absorb them. So the next time you try to turn my children against me …
Jackie: So disrespectful. I watched over them.
Alicia: Yes, and thank you, which is why I’m not cutting them off immediately.
Jackie: They’re Peter’s children, too.
Alicia: Yes, but they’re not yours.
Jackie: He’ll get custody.
Alicia: That’s unlikely.
Jackie: He’s the state’s attorney.
Alicia: Who banged a hooker eighteen times.
Jackie: Oh my God, you’re awful.
Alicia: You don’t know the half of it. The next time you want see your grandchildren, you call first.
Jackie shouts out something about how she knows what happened at Alicia’s house. Was it Zach’s condoms she found and Peter found in Alicia’s drawer? Is she the reason Peter thinks Alicia and Will have been having an affair?
Meanwhile, Alicia’s discussions with her client Engler are dipping into dangerously personal territory. Engler believes monogamy is unnatural. She’s married with three kids, because her husband is the person she wants to spend more time with than any other man or woman, but she believes that true love is letting the other person free to explore other possibilities. As she says these things, you just know Alicia is thinking of Will. (It’s played out later with an utterly cheesy scene in which she stares longingly at his picture as one of Chicago’s “20 Most Eligible Bachelors.”) But Alicia isn’t buying it. Someone always gets hurt, no matter how consenting they may seem about an open relationship.
Alicia is right, the Kings want us to know. As this rather ridiculous case plays out, we find out that Stephanie’s supposedly free-spirited husband is the one who killed that guy and whacked his penis off out of jealousy over him sleeping with his wife. And Stephanie, upon learning her husband murdered because he wanted her all for himself, unexpectedly runs into the next room and practically mounts him right there on the Lockhart Gardner armchairs. The conclusion seems to be that monogamy is everyone’s first choice; cheaters just go the other way because they’re self-loathing and looking for a power trip or validation, or they’re afraid of getting rejected first.
Can Alicia find the faithful partner she wants in Will? We certainly seem to be headed that way. But will Alicia cheating right back at Peter sabotage any chance she has to feel happy with herself and happy with her relationship with Will? If she goes for it with Will right now in her vulnerable state, we have the feeling that they’ll never stand a chance.
The end of the episode sets up what looks to be two epic battles, one within Lockhart Gardner and one between the firm and the SA’s office. Outside the firm, Childs is going after an alleged judge-killing client of the firm’s, and Cary, it seems, will be the SA’s lead attack dog. He’s out for his own bout of vengeance against Lockhart Gardner for their insulting job offer. This episode he’d been meeting with Nancy Crozier and handing her evidence to help her civil case so he could turn up enough to charge Engler with a multi-state murder charge. (Some other man in Texas had his penis cut off, and the SAs wanted the murders linked.) Now that he knows that Peter doesn’t hold Cary’s rivalry with Alicia against him, Cary doesn’t care what bridges he burns.
Within the firm, Kalinda has decided to stay on after learning that her new corporate investigations job would have had her back working with Peter at the SA’s office. (At least she cracked up upon hearing this.) That means she’ll be in charge of a department full of investigators and working side by side with her now archenemy Alicia for the next two weeks straight. “Every step of the way you looked at me and you knew,” Alicia told her in another tense confrontation. “And I’m an idiot. I never once thought you were my friend out of guilt, out of some guilty welfare for poor little me … And you lied to me. You said that’s not true about being with him … How was my husband? Was he good?” A marriage may be able to bounce back (slowly) from betrayal, but a friendship never gets over something like this.