Have you ever found yourself thinking about someone just at the moment when that person suddenly and inexplicably pops up in your life? Because weird as it sounds, I was JUST thinking, Whatever happened to that amazing military lawyer from the second episode of season two? Then, boom, there he was, walking off the elevator at Lockhart Gardner. I will admit, I squealed. By the time opening credits rolled, I’d squealed two more times. It’s a three-squealer, folks! Best episode all season? I’d say yes, if only because the series has been so uneven I can’t remember what happened in the last episode I truly liked (though I know there were a few).
Before we get into the recapping, here’s how I randomly happened to have mild-mannered Captain Terrence Hicks (Patrick Breen) on the brain: I refer you to an insanely absorbing true-crime story from a very recent issue of The New Yorker. It’s about an Army sergeant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, who got convicted and sentenced to death for raping and murdering a mother and her two young children, then got that conviction overturned in criminal court, and THEN got retried and found guilty in military court. It’s pretty much the same legal issue explored in “Double Jeopardy,” when vengeful Cary retried Alicia’s acquitted client in military court because the rules of double jeopardy don’t apply there. In that episode, it had been a real pleasure watching Alicia’s respect for the nerd military lawyer grow and to see him gain confidence while working with her. And as I read the article, I thought, maybe (maybe!) it would be super hot if he walked back into Alicia’s life and became her third man? Him or nerd pollster. Where have you gone from my life, Jeremy Strong? Anyway, I digress.
Squeals two and three came courtesy of Amy Sedaris (!) as a turncoat cheese lobbyist having an affair with fruit (I will be helpless against making puns about this … the imagery is just too much), and Wendy frickin’ Scott-Carr, as the Special Prosecutor brought in by Peter to go after Will Gardner. She’s just as condescending and awful as she always was; her hair is full of secrets and meanness.
Nerd officer has come to Will and Alicia because he’s representing Sergeant Elkins, a female who operates Predator drones in Afghanistan from a remote base in Nevada. Through what is clearly a missile launcher, we watch a picture of a truck parked on a street somewhere in a Middle East war zone. Red handwriting flashes up on the screen indicating that there are civilian adults and children nearby. Elkins fires anyway and we watch as the truck explodes and the innocents fall to the ground in flames. The next day, she’s charged with twelve counts of murder, and because she has family money, she wants civilian representation.
Civilian lawyers don’t make a whole lot of sense, except for being a plot device that allows Alicia to be reunited with nerd officer and the prickly female judge from last time. My hopes for Hicks are dashed as all his intellect and budding confidence get smashed in Will’s bulldozer line of defense. Unwisely, they pursue the angle of saying Elkins was scapegoated because she’s female — drones accidentally kill civilians all the time, so why prosecute this one unless it’s because of sexism? Hicks knows that the panel will consider that defense whining, and that they’ll be offended by the implication that these charges have a basis in anything other than gender-blind justice. Would an all-military counsel have worked better for Elkins? Maybe. It seemed pretty clear that Will and Alicia had no proper place there.
The trial, as usual, went badly at first, with Will, as usual, grating on Judge Lenora Kuhn. Here’s where this show’s writing separates itself from the rest of the pack: Before we’re even thinking, Hey, wasn’t that the judge from the last military trial? Will is whispering to Alicia, “Don’t they have any other judges in the military?” The judge makes him repeat that out loud for the record, as well as his next snide remark to Alicia: “You take it. She hates me.” At least in military court the lawyers and witnesses are quite nice to look at, particularly cute theater actor Joe Paulik as a guy who uses a Kill Algorithm to calculate the benefit of taking out targets to the cost of civilian casualties. And the ending, too, was beautifully done, even if Lockhart Gardner and Elkins lost on all twelve counts. The moral seems to have been that just because something was an accident or not pre-meditated doesn’t mean it should go unpunished. Elkins hadn’t gone into work with some blood thirst for civilians, but she was high on a prescription stimulant that she’d obtained illegally from someone else in her unit. She acted on her own when she pressed the trigger on an unsanctioned target and killed twelve people, six of them children, many of whom burned to death. As the judge pointing out to Saint Alicia, their defense never evoked or apologized for the human loss that came out of that choice. They’d gotten so caught up in technicalities that they failed to convey to the jury that Elkins was sorry for the tragedy at hand (why didn’t she testify?), nor did they account for the straightforward moral code of a military jury made up of men and women who don’t have a tolerance for the nuances of the law. In their eyes, lives were lost that didn’t need to be lost and Elkins had to be held accountable. And the idea that Elkins would be treated differently because of her sex was an insult to the thousands of women in service who didn’t use being female as an excuse for their wrong actions.
Back to Amy Sedaris as Stacie Hall, a lobbyist even more manipulative and cutthroat than Eli. She emerges like a Cracker Jack prize out of nowhere, passing Kalinda in a hallway in D.C. and saying hi to her, even though the two of them have never met. Eli and Diane are desperate to hold onto the cheese account; they lose them and they lose their quarter. LG’s strategy is to argue for the reinstatement of the food pyramid; the Dairy Council has lost $2 million a year owing to the USDA switching to the “My Plate” diagram, which relegates dairy to a cup on the side of the plate. It’s bad for dairy and terrible for cheese. You can’t drink cheese from a cup! Unless it’s Velveeta. And that’s gross. For weeks now, I’d humored the cheese plotline; it was funny just because Eli was fighting for the right to go cuckoo for Jarlsberg or to eat Beaufort on a boat with a nice Bordeaux. But taking the game to D.C. and adding Sedaris makes this whole lobbying business infinitely more tolerable. Stacie assures the LG team that Congress is bringing the pyramid back and they have nothing to worry about. But as Kalinda soon discovers, Stacie has already switched sides to the Fruit Association. And there’s a basket of bananas sitting on her desk as a symbol of how Eli just got screwed.
“This lady,” as Eli angrily calls her, is vicious, with her charm and her cackling laugh and her prerecorded voice. Eli tries to be clever/passive aggressive by ordering cheese and fruit during a lunch meeting. He wants to strike up an alliance between the two lobbying groups against their natural enemy: vegetables. Broo-hah-hah. Eli knows that Stacie is saying one thing to his face and getting in bed with a turnip the minute he turns his back, so he decides to cozy up with bread. Baguettes immediately spring to mind. Make it stop! Then he realizes that in order to win what he wants, he needs to get corn to ally with grains instead of vegetables and create an incredibly confusing new diagram in the shape of a human body with corn at the heart. It doesn’t work; fruit/Stacie has already won over corn. The cheese people fire Eli and hire Stacie, which means that he’s a loser for maybe the first time in his life. So is LG, now out the $4 to $5 million that account brings into the firm.
The loss of cheese does have the wonderful effect of turning Diane and Eli into pals, though. They’re great together, and I can see things getting thorny as Diane works with Eli to keep the firm afloat just as Will’s problems and his bad judgement with Alicia threatens to crumble everything Diane has worked for. She’s loyal to Will, but she’s more loyal to herself, and allying with Eli may down the line mean facing off with him and Peter against Alicia and Will. But for now, we get to see Diane’s no-bullshit approach to Eli being a sore loser. She lets him wallow, but makes sure he knows he’s kind of pathetic for doing so. Favorite barbs: “Do men really have that much success in their life that the first setback that comes along they get all weepy?” and “You’re brilliant, but you’re not God’s gift.” We learn that Eli is this high-strung all the time because he’s just waiting for the moment when everything starts to go South. Where did he come from? Did Eli grow up poor? In any case, Diane indulges him and they settle in to drink an entire bottle of scotch while scheming on how to bring Stacie Hall down and win back the cheese folks. This means Sedaris is coming back for sure, which is awesome.
The third shock of the night, of course, was Anika Noni Rose, returning as Wendy Scott-Carr. Cary, Dana, Will, and Kalinda are all under the impression that Peter is backing off the investigation of Will, or that if he does pursue it, it’s to use Will to get to Lamond Bishop. Will thinks that if the firm gets out of the Lamond Bishop business, they’re probably safe. Instead, Peter brings in Wendy as a special prosecutor; he thinks that picking his political opponent, who lost to him, is the best person to handle a case that involves his wife. Cary points out that, technically, this case doesn’t involve Peter’s wife; that both Peter and Wendy see the case as such destroys any doubt that this is not purely about revenge. Wendy’s approach is to drop the pursuit of Bishop and go straight for Will, whom the SA’s office believes to be at the center of a trio of judges who are taking bribes. They believe that Will uses his Wednesday night pickup games to introduce judges to bookies. The judges fall into debt and then the bookies relieve the debt in exchange for favorable sentences. It doesn’t matter that both Diane and Will know the charges are bogus; the investigation alone is enough to bring down the firm.
Diane also knows that this investigation will only get worse if Will continues his affair with Alicia. She confronts him for the first time: “It’s wrong. You are her boss. He is the State’s Attorney. Even if it weren’t wrong, it’s not smart.” The latter blow really hurts; both Will and Alicia have confronted the morality issue and decided to work around it. But two people who’ve built their lives around being the smartest people in the room may rethink their actions when forced to wrestle with the reckless stupidity of what they’re doing. Will knows he has no choice but to end it. Punching a metal pole seems to be exactly the right reaction.
This episode, too, was great, for having returned Sexy Boots back to her rightful place of prominence. She’s integral to all the main story lines: feeding information to Eli about Stacie, feeding information to Will about the SA’s investigation, becoming a catalyst for Dana and Cary hopping into bed together, and even getting Will to take the military case; when he thinks the investigation is dying down at the beginning of the episode, he decides he can afford to be nice and take the case.
Also, we now have at least four distinct villains to hate for the rest of the season. They’re great enough that I’m not going to quibble about how they’re all females; we had Blake and Derrick Bond last season and they kind of sucked. First is delicious Amy Sedaris. And there’s Dana, who is now single ethnic female-ing Kalinda, buying a jacket just like hers and sleeping with Cary, who’s still very much hung up on Kalinda. Dana is a kind of baby villain. She’s bad because she doesn’t see Cary’s reluctance to pursue the case against Will, or how her gung-ho approach is clashing with his coming to peace with the firm. I suspect that Cary will eventually find this witch hunt distasteful and have his loyalties and his job severely tested. Also, Dana’s whole lesbian vibe with Kalinda isn’t quite working. It’s annoying that the show keeps teasing that possibility, since Dana is so completely straight and Kalinda is so far out of her league; the way Kalinda talked about getting women excited makes you realize that Dana could never be worthy of her. Plus, I respectfully request no more scenes with Dana and Kalinda that take place over tequila shots; that was some of the worst acting drunk I’ve ever seen.
The two best villains are obviously going to be Jackie and Wendy. Jackie is persistent, though inept. It’s hilarious that the way Alicia finds out she was snooping on her computer is because Jackie accidentally shot a video of herself snooping on Alicia’s computer. Alicia thinks Jackie is looking for evidence that will allow Peter to get sole custody of the kids. She’s able to change the locks on her, and both win over Zach and cut out Jackie as middle man by buying him a car. But she also has no idea what Jackie found when she was snooping around. Does she know enough about the Will affair to give her an issue in court? And is Jackie right that she’s being a bad mom by being home so little she doesn’t know that Grace and her green-faced subway-dancing tutor are doing who knows what behind closed doors? I, for one, would love it if Grace ended up having a religious crisis over her budding feelings for weirdo tutor. She won me over by taking command and telling Zach that from then on, they were going to be on full grandma surveillance. Who among us didn’t applaud when she called Jackie a bitch?
But it’s Wendy who makes my skin crawl most of all. She is so incredibly smug and self-righteous, and Diane’s obvious contempt for her makes me love our steely leader even more. They play off each other so well:
Wendy: I tried being a defense attorney, but I realized I didn’t like guilty people. Not that you do. [Fake smile.]
Diane: Oh no, I do. I love them. That’s why I work here.
Wendy: Do you have children, Diane?
Diane: I don’t.
Wendy: Well, I learned that the best way to raise mine was to tell them exactly what is expected of them, how they misbehaved, and what they have to do to get back in my good graces.
Diane: I didn’t know you had graces, and suddenly I seem to be out of them.
Wendy is even condescending when she tries to assure Diane that they’re not investigating her: “We know your hands are clean.” It’s so insulting that she would come into Diane’s office and essentially ask her to turn on her partner that Diane basically challenges Wendy to put her under investigation, too. If they’re so sure about Will’s guilt, how can they be so sure about her innocence? It’s a bluff, of course. Any investigation is going to hurt the firm. But can Will untangle himself in time or will Diane have to demonstrate her innocence by cooperating with the SA. It seems unfathomable that she would ever do that, but Will and Alicia have really screwed her over. I fear that the mess will become too great for Diane to do anything but reach for Wendy’s particular brand of Purell and wash those germs away.