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The Good Wife Recap: Say Cheese

It’s hard to believe that any episode that begins with a close-up of the great Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s face could wind up being the worst of perhaps the series’ entire three season run, but that is what happened last night. Between this and the middling season premiere, is The Good Wife in need of Eli Gold crisis management?

This week, the show took us inside the riveting world of … patent law mediation. While I admire the show’s dedication to teaching us viewers about every facet of the law, I’m going to side with my best friend the patent lawyer who said no one should ever, ever make a show about what she does at her job. The case had something to do with a renegade doctor who’d implanted a non-FDA-approved spinal cord stimulator of his own invention unknowingly in the back of a patient who thought she was getting an FDA-approved device. He used her as a human guinea pig and … zzzzz. Bueller!

It was basically a dressed-up excuse to introduce Lisa Edelstein as a new lawyer at the firm and a possible rival for Will’s affections. Apparently this show, no longer satisfied with providing a home for alumni of The Wire, must now take on all refugees from House; at least maybe we’ll have a moment when Edelstein’s Celeste goes toe to toe with Taub 2.0. She spent the entire episode “gambling” with Will, which consisted of batting numbers and Cheerios back and forth and making not-so-subtle references to their past “adult” negotiating techniques. She also senses a “strong possessive sense” that Will has around Alicia, which Alicia confirms by playing jealous as a negotiating technique. Her knowledge of the affair will become key when she comes back for the rest of the season. At the end of the episode, she told Will that her firm is shutting its door and that she’ll need a new firm. Oh my, what might happen next?!

As for the amazing Whitlock, he was utterly wasted as a go-between for Will and Celeste. His only great moment came in the hallway with Kalinda, who is now the only character who remains as interesting as she was in the previous two seasons. (Kalinda: “Are you all right?” Whitlock: “No.” Kalinda: “Okay.” [keeps walking]) Later, in her continuing quest to pull this episode back from total tedium, Kalinda has a telling Sexy Boots moment with Cary in which he tells her to try plying another SA for information. She says she can’t. “Because he doesn’t want to sleep with you,” says Cary. “And you do?” Kalinda asks, knowing the answer. Then Cary points out, “You tend to use people’s feelings to further your investigations,” and ends the conversation. So, we’ve now learned that the kiss and all his helpfulness last season was the result of Cary wanting not only to get in Kalinda’s pants but also to actually be with her. Could Cary be the Giddish replacement we’ve all been hoping for? That can only happen if Kalinda lets down her guard and allows herself to be truly vulnerable. Is she even capable of that?

Back at the firm of dull and duller, Eli’s presence at Lockhart Gardner is dragging down the entire show, though it is of course no fault of the wonderful Alan Cumming, who can do no wrong. Here’s the problem with Eli not being on a campaign. It used to be that this show was a great drama dressed up as a procedural, with the law cases allowing the show to explore a new subject every week while still providing character development within that context. The rest of the show was divided between long arcs about home life and political intrigue. Now this show has become a double procedural, with a crisis of the week taking over the political intrigue slot, meaning that there are two episodic story lines going on at any moment and only one series through line. And given how many times the case of the week is a dud worth suffering through just to follow the series-long arcs, this crisis-of-the-week syndrome has now doubled the chances of two thirds of the show possibly sucking.

Sure, it was fun watching Eli scream out the word cheese with varying degrees of panic and anger, and to unleash his high-functioning neurosis on the CEO of a particular cheese manufacturer accused of poisoning schoolchildren with the bacteria listeria. Particular highlights included learning that his retainer is $60,000 a month plus hourly rates, as well as watching him compare a crisis in dairy products to what happened with BP: “The first rule of managing a crisis: The top man answers the questions. That is the only reason you are here. That is the only reason I am talking to you. So in ten minutes’ time, you are giving a press conference where you will order all your cheese products off the shelf. We need a split screen of that image with you looking strong and … wrong tie. Get him a red tie! And then you’ll apologize for any missteps and say, ‘The buck stops here.’” But ultimately, who cares? The crisis, about an outbreak of the bacteria listeria in cheese, provided a chance for The Good Wife production team to make those cute cell phone videos they love making about despondent kindergartners puking up chunks of orange. And it put Diane and Eli together as future sparring partners when she got retained by the cheese interests and had to temper Eli’s burnt-earth PR strategy in order to legally protect them.

At home, Grace’s future lesbian relationship with her street-dancing University of Chicago physics tutor continued; they’re now making viral videos in which the tutor humps random businessmen and scares passersby. Owen, sadly, has been relegated to sassy babysitter, reporting back to Alicia about the home life that she’s missing with all her time spent banging Will at work. Now she knows that Peter told Zach that he slept with another woman and that’s why Alicia kicked him out, which will probably play out in some way or another later on. I love Owen, but when he complained about having become boring, there was no argument here. At least Jackie looks like she’s going to be back in the picture, perhaps as a tea partner for Owen and his tantric-sex-espousing boyfriend. It’s very against character for Alicia not to have changed the locks to her place when she kicked Peter out, but at least now we know that Jackie has been sneaking in and tidying up the place.

As for Will and Alicia, they’re still playful and hot for each other, but both Celeste and new reporter Gretchen Battista (played by Win Win scene stealer Nina Arianda) have been brought on to test Will’s, um, will. Can he be trusted with Alicia’s affections? He’s certainly not trustworthy at work. He leaked inside information about Eli’s cheese crisis to Gretchen in order to get her to hold off writing an article that would be detrimental to the patent case and … Zzzzz. Bueller! But Eli, sharp tac that is he, knows Will is behind the betrayal. We can look forward to those two going down a spiral of back-stabbing in future episodes that are hopefully better than this one. Owen, serving his second function as Alicia’s only confidant, can smell the affair from miles away. In the only glimpse of the old sassy Owen we see, he teases, “You are the most prudish wanton woman I know.” His theory is that she is now enacting the high-school rebellion she never had. Then he asks her point blank if this thing with Will is love. When Alicia says, “No,” I believe her. So is the show setting up the idea of Will potentially breaking Alicia’s heart only to have her do the unexpected and break his?

Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS