A new year is upon us, and your humble recapper has resolved to be less grumpy and critical about what is undoubtedly the best show on network television. (It helps, too, that I’ve seen most of Downton Abbey season two already, because if I had to divide my loyalties over those two shows airing in the same time slot, it might get ugly.)
When we last saw our fair friends at Lockhart Gardner, in another lifetime before the holidays, Alicia had ended her affair with Will and thawed her feud with Kalinda — they’re now functioning colleagues if not yet friends again. Diane had hinted to Alicia that she needs to prioritize work before family (and sex) if she wants to be a partner, and stepped up as Alicia’s new companion for after-work tequila shots. Peter had proven he’s not as saintlike as he’s been trying to seem, threatening the headmistress of a private school in order to secure Grace and Zach’s admission. And Wendy Scott-Carr had approached Will on an empty basketball court (the investigation has scared off all the judge buddies who play with him), revealed that she’s really after Peter, and offered Will a deal, which he refused, if he would testify to Peter’s corruption in his first round as State’s Attorney.
This week, the firm is getting sued for $44 million by the ex-husband of a woman David Lee helped get divorced. The husband cheated with a stripper and David Lee got her a lot of money and full custody of their daughter. However, the couple has since got back together, and now they’re accusing Lockhart Gardner of “alienation of affection,” or for intentionally breaking them up. In the settlement two years prior, the wife won control of Bubble Elastic (whatever that is), a company her husband owned and that LG helped her sell at a loss, while of course pocketing some of that return. Now the company is worth $44 million, and the husband and wife think that money would be theirs if LG hadn’t meddled. The case managed to wring great tension out of paperwork and misfiling, but there was much, much more to be grateful for this episode. Below, a list:
Alienation of affection. Who knew such a thing existed? Or that it dates back to the late nineteenth century, when women were considered property of their husbands and the husband could then go after someone — usually his wife’s lover — for wresting his property from him (though priests or others who advised the couple to divorce were also at risk for being sued)? Or that this arcane tort law is still on the books in seven states: Illinois, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah? Or that it’s actually been employed in recent times? Fascinating.
“Maybe he just wants a piece of the $44 million.” The wife utters that on the phone to Will, before Will tells her anything about the suit, immediately clueing smarty-pants Gardner into the wife being against them in the suit, too. It’s an old narrative trick, but immensely satisfying.
Diane’s new sexy process server love interest, Jack Copeland, played by Bryan Brown, who actually starred in a 1987 Australian movie called The Good Wife. He and Diane meet cute in a museum. He approaches as she’s in front of an abstract painting and she asks if he wants “the spot” where she’s standing; it’s an X on the floor marking the exact spot from which you can see the artist’s signature on the inside top of the figure’s right thigh. Discussion of fleshy limbs and abstract painting disguised as flirtation! Love it! “That wasn’t a pickup line. I did think you wanted the spot,” she says, while Jack proceeds to pick her up.
Their meeting isn’t coincidence — Jack has tracked her down to hand her a summons in the $44 million suit — but their chemistry is unexpected; he asks her out to dinner just before handing her the manila envelope (and then heading out to issue summonses to Alicia, Will, and David Lee). Later he keeps coming up with excuses to see her, dropping off a poster of the painting at her office, taking another job to deliver a summons in her building lobby, returning again to give her the information that will ultimately win the suit for them — that the husband is still cheating on his wife — and finally showing up at the end of the episode to see Diane again, and to hand Will his grand jury indictment.
Christine Baranski. If this episode belongs to anyone, it’s her. First, it’s great to see Diane get another love interest, her first since the dearly departed Kurt McVeigh. How rare and refreshing is it to see a powerful woman in her late fifties being courted, without being made into a randy caricature or having a sexual awakening via some hot thirtysomething? Particularly wonderful was when Diane told Jack she wasn’t interested and then got visibly turned on watching him throw a man up against the wall and force him to take his subpoena. Second, she’s finally coming into her own as the support beam holding up all of her flailing colleagues. She’s a force of nature playing stern mother to feuding man-children David Lee and Eli Gold: “This is an office of expediency. That is its strength. So stop bickering and stop pretending you’re leaving. I won’t have it.” And she’s beautiful and supportive with Will, whom she loves unconditionally despite his mistakes. Diane: “Will, there’s nothing we’ll ever have to talk about. This is a State’s Attorney witch hunt, that’s all. We’re in this together.”
In this world of Chicago corporate lawyers, Mad Men excess is alive and well:
Will: “Is it too early for a drink?”
Diane: “Another two hours.”
F. Murray Abraham as Burl Preston, a Los Angeles lawyer who is apparently very good at suing people and winning. He’s wonderfully mean and convinced of his own righteousness, going so far as to intimate that it’s cold in January because Midwesterners have too much affection for the seasons. Not to read too much into CBS press releases, but he’s listed as “recurring cast,” which means he’s likely coming back.
David Lee in Gilbert and Sullivan costume. As we follow Jack around surprising LG staffers, we get a glimpse of what our friends at LG do in their off time — besides drink tequila or play pickup basketball. Diane is at a museum; Will is at a wedding being asked when he’ll settle down; Alicia is signing her kids up for private school; and David Lee is in full costume backstage at the Yale Club production of some Gilbert and Sullivan opera. (Probably H.M.S. Pinafore, since his look seems cribbed from the nineteenth-century British Navy.) When he comes to the office in his tassels and sword, Diane and Alicia can’t refrain from cracking up. Diane: “David, not to pry, but did you enlist?”
David Lee’s reactions to people’s reactions to his Gibert and Sullivan costume. It seems unlikely that David Lee wouldn’t keep a change of clothes at the office, so he’s probably keeping the costume on all day as a demonstration of his oversize self-confidence. When Will flashes him a curious look, he just says, “I thought I’d dress up for this lawyer.” Then he introduces himself to Burl Preston as “Captain David Lee.”
Learning a bunch about how perjury works. In order to help the wife gain full custody, David Lee went above and beyond and asked Kalinda to hire a stripper to get the husband drunk, then have her cop friend set up a highway checkpoint so the husband would get a DUI just before the custody hearing. He also slept with the stripper, though that wasn’t the plan. But when Burl Preston asks David Lee if he hired the stripper, he’s not perjuring himself when he says he didn’t because technically, Kalinda did.
Diane’s eloquent explanation to Alicia about the law’s protection of relative truths. This stems from the firm misplacing a rider to the wife’s retainer contract saying that she absolves them of anything that might seem like a conflict of interest from having David Lee handle her divorce and Julius her business affairs. Alicia had been assisting David Lee on the divorce two years earlier and had witnessed the signing of the rider and been in charge of filing it. The entire suit ends up hinging on that document; if it wasn’t signed, the firm might be guilty of fraud. Then suddenly it appears in Cary’s files deep in storage. Did it miraculously turn up, or did David Lee slip a post-dated agreement into a pile of papers he was having Alicia sign for her kids’ trust? As Diane explains to Alicia, “testimony is about your best memory.” It doesn’t matter if the document is in fact a forgery. Says Diane: “Testimony isn’t about right or wrong, Alicia. It’s about the facts as established by your best memory. Your memory is this: You saw the rider being signed. That’s the fact … It’s up to my opponent to poke holes in your testimony. You do not poke holes in your own.”
Julianna Margulies. Alicia is less intriguing to me these days than Diane, but Marguilies is, as ever, wonderful. Highlights included her great once-over of becostumed David Lee; her palpable panic when she can’t find the rider, and her steely staring-down of F. Murray Abraham when he accuses her of coercing the wife to give up on her marriage by proffering stories of her own cheating husband.
David Lee’s testimony: “He was schtuping a stripper!” At one point, Diane has to whisper to the stenographer, “Mr. Lee was speaking sarcastically.”
David Lee’s deepest truths, as told to the stenographer while trying to make a point when Burl Preston accuses him of perjury: “I did lose my virginity when I was 14. I do have a secret crush on Jacqueline Onassis. I did not cry when the Challenger exploded.”
Questions about David Lee’s sexuality induced by all of the above. Like Eli, he’s seemed mostly asexual and incapable of being enamored by anyone other than himself. We now know he both lost his virginity at 14 and is a man who spends his spare time performing Gilbert and Sullivan. Did he, like most of my gay friends, try to date women in high school? Is he, like a surprising number of guys I knew at Yale, merely a straight dude who loves opera and wearing period costume? (Though now that I think about it, I should probably check up on those guys and see if they’re still straight.) When Diane adjusted his costume and asked, “There’s nothing I need to know, is there, David?” she wasn’t just referring to his conduct during the divorce case.
“Who is he?”: What David Lee utters when Eli speaks up in the equity partner meeting after having worked at the firm long enough to become an equity partner.
David Lee’s feud with Julius. A bit weak and juvenile, but still fun. David thinks Julius is an idiot. Julius thinks David is a reckless prick. Neither wants to pay the $1.2 million each equity partner will owe if they lose the suit, especially if it turns out to have been because of the other guy’s mistake: David’s would-be hiring of that stripper and forcing his client to divorce; Julius’s would-be possibly defrauding the wife arranging it so LG owns 5 percent of the now-profitable Bubble Elastic, while the wife got a paltry, fixed amount from its sale at a loss. The bickering starts off with David Lee pretending not to remember Julius’s name, and becomes so heated he seems as if he’s on the verge of uttering a racial slur. They’re about two second away from a slap fight.
Eli’s feud with David Lee. With all disrespect to Julian, who hasn’t proved his awesomeness in quite some time, Eli is a much better match for David Lee. He’s also pissed off about possibly having to owe $1.2 million for David Lee’s mistake, particularly since he just signed the equity partner agreement a week earlier. He reads over the agreement and finds Clause 63, something David Lee had insisted be added, which says that in a malpractice suit, the partners can vote to hold only the negligent partner liable for the entirety of damages. To do so would of course ruin David Lee, which Diane is staunchly against.
The crème de la crème is the scene when David Lee confronts Eli in his office: “People have come after me, random people here and there, but you’re the first to do it so baldly.” He drops passive-aggressive dick-waving comments about the square footage of Eli’s office and how much money he brings in a year that seem to read as David Lee being curiously impressed with Eli’s chutzpah as the new guy trying to oust him. After all, he’s David Lee, the guy who brought in 30 percent of the firm’s budget this year (but also, as Eli points out, 100 percent of the malpractice suits). Favorite line, from David Lee: “You don’t Clause 63 me. I Clause 63 you!” In the end, they have to learn to coexist. See Christine Baranski above.
Richard Gilmore, a.k.a. Edward Hermann, making a brief appearance as the terrible lawyer who tells Will his best outcome from the SA’s investigation is to turn state’s evidence, spend two years in jail, and lose his law license.
Will cracking up, just before kicking Richard Gilmore out of his office.
Elsbeth Tascioni! Ever since Carrie Preston appeared as Alicia’s kooky lawyer in that awesome case involving treasury secretary Bob Balaban, I’ve been dying for her to come back. Will meets with her about Wendy Scott-Carr, after Alicia has warned him that she’s a bit “different” and not to pass quick judgment. They meet in Elsbeth’s office, which is being painted, and Elsbeth does Elsbeth-type things like trying to answer a tarp-covered phone with her foot. But she has the right attitude about Will’s case: That he needs to stop waiting for the grand jury and put the special prosecutor back on her heels. There’s probably no way to stop an indictment, but they can maybe force Wendy Scott-Carr to indict him before she’s ready.
Elsbeth’s brilliant tactic to force Wendy Scott-Carr to make her move. She leaks to the Chicago Tribune the names of the judges that Wendy is investigating for corruption: Howard, Spinelli, and Carter. Wendy isn’t actually investigating them. In fact, they’re the most honest and beloved judges in Chicago. Word that she’s going after those guys not only has the three judges up in arm, but also the entire bench, which is now convinced she’s on a witch hunt. Wendy needs to fire back at Elsbeth right away. She can’t sanction her on obstruction of justice (which is exactly what that leak was), because no judge in town is in the mood to grant her a favor. So the only choice is to call Will before the grand jury, probably before she’s sure she’ll be able to secure an indictment.
Elsbeth’s amazing tap-knockout technique when she’s trying to intimidate Scott-Carr. She approaches her timidly in line for a children’s play: “I know that you met with my client and I don’t think you should do that without me being there, okay? If you don’t mind.” Then she delivers her threat and STILL GOES TO SEE THE PLAY.
Cary and Alicia having sexual chemistry? Cary had been brought in to authenticate the rider, since it had been found in his files. He said he couldn’t do it; how is he supposed to remember a document from a case he assisted on two years ago? And then the way he took down Burl was just plain hot: “I can see that you’ve got a yarn you want to spin, Mr. Preston, so let me lay it out clearly for you. I have absolutely no reason to believe that document is a forgery. I knew Ms. Florrick and Mr. Lee to be outstanding, ethical attorneys throughout my time at the firm, and as for me, I have no vested interst in the outcome of this case. I don’t work here and I don’t intend to.” By the elevator, Alicia thanks him and asks why he was so kind. He tells her, “Things change,” but in a way that I’m pretty sure means, “Things change and I no longer resent you but find you an incredibly smart, capable, attractive woman and would like to give you some more babies.” Cary’s probably not stupid enough to go there, given that he wants to keep his job, but oh, what wouldn’t I pay to see that.
Next up, Will at the grand jury. Early-season-three–Good Wife, all is forgiven!