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The Good Wife Recap: Classic C-Student

Over the past five weeks, loving The Good Wife has felt like loving the Cubs, or perhaps the Cardinals in any year but this one: great hope followed by crushing disappointment. We’re so overly invested in the lives of these fictional lawyers and politicians that it’s too stressful also to be overly invested in whether the show depicting those loves will, without warning, crumble under pressure. So, after the second decent episode in a row — the triumphant return of Colin Sweeney, Alicia and Celeste as unlikely friends, Eli finding out that everyone else has found out about Peter’s separation — I’m choosing to believe that The Good Wife just whiffed a few games. Maybe we’re still on track for a good season.

Let’s start with the chilling and elegant opener. Diane is speaking to the court about an airline tragedy as we see a mysterious man prepping a gun for fire. Our brains, conditioned by Homeland Security, immediately wonder if we’re seeing a flashback to a hijacking. Instead, the man shoots himself.

He was a whistle-blower who was about to testify on how his company knowingly sent a plane into the air that had a de-icing flaw. The plane dropped from the sky, killing all 35 passengers and five crew members onboard. The whistle-blower was their entire case, and Diane’s reaction to his death was exactly the same as her reaction to that old guy croaking before he’d helped her overthrow Bond. Diane Lockhart doesn’t do sentimentality, but she does get ticked off when people aren’t considerate enough to stay alive. At least they have the whistle-blower’s video deposition.

Baby-faced lawyer Ken Cosgrove is back representing the airline, arguing before a hot but underused new judge that he can’t cross-examine a corpse. Cuddy 2.0 is there, too, working for her own firm but representing the crew in a joint lawsuit with Diane, who represents the passengers. It’s a way to force Celeste and Alicia to spend a lot of time in the same room. But by the time it was over, something odd had happened; Celeste, with her straight-talk and meddling ways, had become not just tolerable but welcome.

Why the change in tune about Celeste? Because she’s filling the giant Kalinda-size hole in Alicia’s nonexistent social life. How is it possible that a grown, smart, non-pariah female like Alicia has zero friends? We know Alicia’s fellow housewives abandoned her when Peter got arrested, but was there really not a single one who came by to bring her casseroles? Did she really emerge from college having met only Will (a guy she didn’t talk to for fifteen years)? Has she really not found a single fellow lawyer or even a bailiff to get tequila shots with after court? Sure, it makes the Kalinda breakup even more devastating to know that she was Alicia’s sole friend (and that Alicia was Kalinda’s sole friend, too). It’s also a little hard to believe.

What makes this odd-couple friendship a good addition to the show is that around Celeste, Alicia can’t get away with only alluding to things. Celeste has a way of getting Alicia to open up. When Alicia refuses to answer direct questions about Will, Celeste just starts talking about the affair as if Alicia had already confirmed it, and by responding to Celeste, Alicia is, indeed, confirming. They’re friends by default, since Celeste has no other female friends (she finds women “uninteresting” and in constant competition with her), and because Alicia has neither female nor male friends — sad and sadly true. But Alicia “I’m not a good person” Florrick is more honest with Celeste than she’s been with anyone besides Owen. It helps that she doesn’t care what Celeste thinks, and knows that she can’t rely on Celeste for anything, even staying with her at the bar to finish a drink instead of ditching her the second a cute guy walks by. And Celeste is honest back. She says she can’t be Alicia’s friend because she wants to break her and Will up — she thinks he’s smitten and boring in Alicia’s arms — so she tries slipping Alicia a little hint about Will’s past corruption. Alicia doesn’t care that he took $45,000 in Baltimore, and gave it back. Maybe it just turns New Alicia on more.

Before the bar, their friendship began to build over the course of trying to wrangle none other than Colin Sweeney (the wonderful, wonderful Dylan Baer) as a witness in their airline case. Sweeney, if you’ll recall, is the Claus von Bülow–like wife killer with rarefied tastes in fine wine and S&M that Alicia managed to get off in season one, but who went to prison in season two for being “the defensive killer of his stalker.” He has an almost sweet, though definitely deranged, affection for Alicia from all their time together. He also happens to be the guy whose company provided the airplane manufacturer financial backing for their IPO. As such, he was in on the meeting where the whistle-blower told them their plane was dangerously faulty. Diane sends Alicia and Celeste to prison to get him to testify. Sweeney isn’t one to just give out help without getting something back. He fakes being sick in the middle of his video testimony and, after Celeste has forcibly ripped the cord out of the wall, says he’ll undermine their case unless he can get an early release from his manslaughter sentence, which won’t be over for another two years.

As they walk through the prison halls to visit Sweeney, Celeste refers to Alicia as “Clarice Starling” (nice Silence of the Lambs reference) and drops lines to Alicia like, “You and I should get drinks, trade whore stories.” Alicia: “Horror?” Celeste: “Yeah. What did I say?” She doesn’t have quite the finesse with Sweeney that Alicia has, but she amuses him by telling him she and Alicia are having an affair. (Like a psychotic bloodhound, Sweeney has smelled the tension between the two of them.)

Sweeney is a little hardened from his prison time. He seems to have been forced to get a tattoo; he wanted William Blake’s The Ancient of Days, but it sounds like he didn’t have much choice in the matter. And he’s befriended Donny Pike, head of a gang of neo-Nazis. Sweeney gives him investment tips and Pike gives him protection. Pike has arranged the deaths of five state’s witnesses from within prison and the state's attorney’s office wants him convicted of those murders before his upcoming release. So Cary strikes a deal with Sweeney: He wears a wire and gets Pike to confess to the latest killing of a witness and Sweeney gets to go free. Once Sweeney is free, he can testify for Lockhart Gardner and win their case.

The only problem is that Pike is the most dangerous man in the Illinois State Corrections department, and the last witness the state turned got killed. Sweeney is a smart guy, and he gets his confession and his freedom and the win for Alicia. It’s a little hard to swallow that a guy that smart wouldn’t realize that once Pike’s people find out about the wire, he’ll also be free and dead.

It’s great to see Baker back in action as Sweeney, who I’m hoping turns up as a regular consultant now that he’s out of prison, but the real reveal is how much Cary has changed. Originally, Sweeney was offering to bring Cary information about heroin smuggling within the prison, but Cary is the one who personally upped the stakes to a mission on which Sweeney would most likely die. In fact, he didn’t even run the release deal by Peter; he just stood in a hallway with Imani STONEHOUSE chatting about college and her family until he’d stalled long enough to return with the Pike proposal. He comes off seeming power-drunk and callous about human life. Is this part of his merciless crusader of justice act or has he really stopped caring about people in general?

Making a deal to release a guy that the public all knows has killed his wife isn’t going to be good press for Peter. As the underused Renee tells him, “It’s like releasing O.J.” But trading this guy who’s almost done with an involuntary manslaughter charge for a neo-Nazi who’s killed five people, if more, is the right thing to do, so New Peter is onboard, much to Eli’s disappointment: “This ethical thing is for real?” The Sweeney deal is partially derails Eli’s plans to get Peter the Obama-kingmaker keynote speech slot at the next Democratic Convention. Full derailment comes by way of his separation from Alicia, which Peter and Alicia are so bad at keeping a secret that even Donna Brazile, played by actual Donna Brazile, knows about it. If Peter’s marriage is his secret weapon, then the separation, or “the fiction of separation,” as David Lee calls it, is his kryptonite.

Also in this episode, Kalinda refuses to do any Eli work if it’s for Peter, not because she hates Peter, but because she really seems to want to salvage her friendship with Alicia. Eli takes note but doesn’t know enough yet to draw conclusions. It’s only a matter of time before he finds out, though. Can’t wait for the Alan Cumming Overacts moment when he finds out that his star investigator just ruined his golden boy’s chance at the governorship.

Terrific David Lee is back, having sprouted a Bluetooth-shaped growth on his ear. He starts off friendly, telling Alicia that she’ll need to get Peter to pay for half of their kids’ private tuition if she doesn’t want him coming after her for spousal support since she makes more than he does as state’s attorney. A state’s attorney must make over $100,000 a year, right? Jesus, how much do third-year associates at corporate law firms make? Are they still part of the 99 percent?

In another friendly gesture, David Lee gives Alicia the “you’ve made it, kid!” task of hiring the firm’s next first-year associate. We’re just going to ignore for now how Lockhart Gardner seems to have spent a miraculous three years without ever hiring any summer associates or additional first-years other than Cary and Alicia. And because they don’t have a crop of summer associates to choose from, Alicia will be interviewing top University of Chicago students who spent their summers elsewhere and then didn’t get jobs. This could be a commentary on an economic climate in which law students sue their universities for not telling them how there are no job prospects. But instead it’s just a way to introduce a new foil for Alicia. I’m okay with that.

Her top two candidates are Caitlin and Martha, both of whom seem perfectly competent. Alicia is of course drawn to sweet Martha. She likes Lockhart Gardner’s “family” feel. She spends her spare time watching Goddard and Truffaut. She’s good enough that she already has a job offer from Louis Canning’s firm waiting for her. Caitlin is a bit of a blonde ditz who didn’t get offered a first-year position at the place where she was a summer associate — ostensibly for budget reasons, but we all know the code. She gets “turned on” by litigation and spends her spare time “tramp boarding,” which is doing tricks on a skateboard without wheels atop a trampoline. Caitlin can do a double somersault from a “full-blown ollie,” which sounds like nothing any real tramp boarder would actually say, but nonetheless has Alicia completely flummoxed. She doesn’t know what to do with this girl, particularly since the actress, Anna Camp, tends to talk, as she did on True Blood as Jason Stackhouse’s Jesus freak girlfriend, as if she’s giving oral sex while forming her sentences. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Alicia has made up her mind to hire Martha when David Lee drops by to let her know that Caitlin is his niece. Thinking that David Lee doesn’t want nepotism and she actually has power, Alicia goes ahead with trying to hire Martha only to have the wrath of David Lee rain down on her in front of Celeste, which drives her to drink with her new confidante (see above). And, oh, what wrath! David Lee: “You are a third-year associate. You were given this task because you are unimportant and you can take a hint. So take a hint or we’ll take it out of your hands.” This can’t be good for whenever they have to work out her divorce settlement.

The result is that Alicia screws over Martha, who gave up her offer at Canning’s firm thinking that she’d gotten the job at Lockhart Gardner. (Hopefully, she gets that job back and goes up against Alicia in court.) And now Alicia has to mentor this “classic C student” who happens to be the niece of the guy she hates most in the office. Celeste’s advice is to just hire Caitlin and make her life hell. That’s complicated, given that David Lee will be able to intervene on his niece’s behalf whenever he wants, and because she soon learns she’s not allowed to hate him completely. It turns out that Caitlin won out in the hiring committee because of Will’s vote, and she got Will’s vote because Will owed David Lee for having voted to hire Alicia when she was the Caitlin among the first-year candidates and there was a more qualified Martha whom Alicia’s very existence screwed out of a job. It’s going to be pretty exciting to see that dynamic play out between classic A-student Alicia and classic C-student Caitlin. Will thinks Caitlin might surprise her: “You know what they say, ‘A students make great professors, B students make great judges, C students make partner.’”

The introduction of Caitlin is also exciting because it seems to hint at a slow-burn theme of Alicia trying to come to terms with women of different perspectives and from different generations. She’s got Celeste’s brazen over-40 sexuality and frankness; Caitlin’s hunger mixed with the likely skill of using her sexuality to win cases; and Grace and her odd-duck tutor Jennifer seeking validation through YouTube hits since they have trouble with real-life socialization. Alicia’s affair with Will may be racy, but it’s being carried out as if we’re in a Michael Douglas–Demi Moore movie from 1994. (When she got called into Will’s office to meet about hiring the first-year, she clearly thought she was being summoned for some nookie in the bathroom.) She doesn’t understand other women, and she definitely doesn’t understand younger women, and she really, really doesn’t understand her daughter.

Since Peter isn’t running for office, there isn’t any real need for Alicia to stop Grace from appearing on the Internet with her friend. It’s just that she doesn’t get why this generation, or her daughter in particular, feels like putting herself out there that way. She doesn’t get why Grace would want to do this just because she thinks it’s cool. She doesn’t believe that Jennifer, a 22-year-old voluntarily hanging out with a 14 year-old, has no other motivation than fun and actually liking Grace’s company (or possibly taking her on as a lover). What had been feeling like a tacked-on story line in previous episodes may be what makes this season find its focus again. Instead of cramming all their deep thoughts into one-off cases about the Arab Spring and The News of the World, the Kings have found a through line for the season. Watching Alicia grapple with different versions of female liberation outside of marriage may not be the only thing this season is about. But it’s at least some kind of direction, and for now that’s enough

Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS