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The Good Wife Recap: The Law Is a Strange, Sex-Addled Thing

"Long Way Home"--Alicia (Julianna Margulies, seated) and Caitlin (Anna Camp, standing) defend Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker, center right ) against paternity allegations as he attempts to win back control of his company as David Lee (Zach Grenier, far right) observes, on THE GOOD WIFE, Sunday, March 11 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: David M. Russell/CBS √?¬©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Forget Colin Sweeney and his lovechild with Brody’s wife from Homeland (Morena Baccarin, who seems to be reprising her role as the crazy-eyed girl from the coffee shop Marshall dates in his brief hiatus from Lily on How I Met Your Mother, circa 2006. Yes, I have watched every episode of that show, and so can you, thanks to Netflix streaming. Enjoy.). The biggest shock of the night was Caitlin pulling an Alicia and deciding to leave the law to get married and have a kid. Only on The Good Wife would that decision come off as more of a scandal than a woman performing oral sex on a wife killer in a restaurant bathroom, then holding his sperm in her mouth just long enough to artificially inseminate herself with a turkey baster. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After last week’s transitional, lackadaisical trip into Will’s family life, this episode’s thrill ride felt like a welcome return to form, as good as any of the show’s other time bomb episodes (hello, Moo Cow!); this series does its best work when everyone is scrambling for their lives. It’s also always better when the incomparable Dylan Baker returns as creepy Colin Sweeney, being “weird” with Alicia, as Eli so aptly puts it. Give him an Emmy, STAT!

But beyond Sweeney and heart-pumping deadlines and the inherent luridness of the sexual harassment claims, what made this episode so good were its varied explorations of perception versus reality, particularly regarding semantics and discrimination. Battles between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law come up again and again. There’s Will’s struggle to be valuable at the firm and consult on cases without technically offering legal advice. There’s Alicia’s battle with her building, which says it’s going condo, but is actually threatening her with eviction. (In a particularly slimy movie, the head of the board gives her 90 days to make a decision, claiming that he’d told Peter about the conversion a year ago. Lies!) There’s Peter’s struggle to keep a clean office when his ASAs are literally dirtying up his office by having sex on his couch — and the perception among his minority staff that only minorities at the SA's office get punished for transgressions. There’s the case of the week, which is a classic he said/she said in which it becomes unclear who was sexually harassing whom, the man or the woman. And there’s Caitlin’s perceived sharkiness (and Alicia’s perceived/actual bitchiness toward her, as observed by David Lee) that is in fact the result of her trying to obfuscate her exit from the firm.

We begin with Sweeney trying to wrest back control of Herald Equity, the company he lost when he maybe killed his wife or definitely killed that woman he was having bondage sex with last season (in self defense). I can barely remember his crimes, and have no clue what it is that Herald Equity does, except make enough money to keep Lockhart & Gardner at Sweeney’s beck and call. In a deft bit of writing, the firm finds itself with ten minutes to win the proxy fight, while an errant, powerful shareholder may have just decided to vote against Sweeney.

Eli and Kalinda are at the shareholders’ meeting with Sweeney, as is Alicia, who’s doing domestic crisis management on the side when the buy or get out news about her apartment comes down. Diane is schmoozing the errant shareholder, whom she doesn’t yet know is lying to her. And Caitlin (really?!) is running the show back at the office while Will meets with Grandpa Gilmore about the nuts and bolts of his suspension. Just then Caitlin rushes in, needing to know if Will can identify the shareholder that defected. They have a discussion over the formulation of questions she may or may not ask him that is as tense and as perfect a piece of writing as anything you’ll find on cable television. Will, cocky bastard, pauses for a precious minute to talk semantics, even as the metaphorical metronome beats loudly in the background. Can I answer that question? Not if it’s pertaining to legal matters. What about that one? Perhaps, but she has to formulate the question. And so forth. It’s beautiful. They skirt a fine line and solve the crisis. But because we’re dealing with Sweeney, there is always a far juicier crisis waiting in the wings.

The errant shareholder will only vote with Sweeney if there’s no more drama. We know this to be impossible when it comes to Sweeney. “Can you guarantee that he won’t kill anyone in the next five minutes?” Diane asks Alicia. Alicia can guarantee that. But she can’t guaranteed that crazy-eyed Chloe from HIMYM (The Good Wife character is named Isobel) won’t stand up and announce both that she plans to sue Sweeney of sexual harassment, and that she’s the mother of his son.

Now we have a new deadline. This episode is so good! L&G has 72 hours to win an emergency injunction against the proxy vote by proving that the vote was thrown because of Isobel’s dramatic accusation, which she made because she’s in cahoots with Mr. Drescher, the CEO Sweeney is trying to oust. Obstacles to making this happen abound. Will still can’t answer questions, due to his suspension. And now Caitlin is getting uppity, telling a boardroom full of lawyers that she’s going to court to fight the injunction, when in fact it is Alicia who is first chair. (Kalinda: “Watch out for that one.” Alicia: “I’m tired of being paranoid. She’s just hungry.” Kalinda: “Like a piranha. She’s hiding something.”) Later, she passes Alicia’s idea off as her own, and gets super shady and hides something she was working on when Alicia comes over to give her a mean girl lecture about never undermining her mentor again.

The biggest obstacle to helping Sweeney, of course, is Sweeney, that wildly entertaining weirdo liar. On the stand, he tries to gain common ground with the awesome lady judge (BEBE NEUWIRTH!!!!) by trying to get her to admit that she, too, loves sex. He says he clearly never had an affair with Isobel. “She’s not my taste. Much too obvious.” It turns out she’s a soft-core porn star he hired as an event manager to entertain clients, “Sort of like Fredo, but prettier.”

The fact is that Sweeney fired her and Drescher re-hired her. And that’s where the truth in both of their claims ends. Sweeney says he was just clearing house to make room for Drescher’s appointments when he took over as CEO. Isobel claims she was fired because she was having sex with Sweeney and then stopped. Sweeney testifies that he never had sex with Isobel. Kalinda, naturally, follows a trail of receipts to a waitress who flirts with her and gossips that Sweeney and Isobel used to come to dinner together a lot, and then go into the bathroom and emerge 20 minutes later and half-dressed.

And here again we’ve come to an issue of semantics. When Sweeney said he and Isobel never had sex, he meant vaginal sex. She did, however, perform oral sex on him, rather perfunctorily, five times. So he basically perjured himself. Alicia goes to Will for advice, though she can only ask him about perjury in general. Basically, it’s up to Alicia to question Isobel on Sweeney’s on-the-record testimony as if it were the truth — after all, he did say it under oath — even if Alicia, personally, knows it’s not true. “The law is a strange thing,” says Alicia. Am I the only one who found their rapid-fire discussion about wording very exciting? Talk to me, Will, baby. Talk to me.

Then they have to prep Sweeney not to perjure himself while hiding his previous perjury, which the firm has to pretend they don’t know about. “Thank you for telling me what NOT to do,” says Sweeney, before launching into more blatant perjury. He says that he never had vaginal sex or any other kind of sex with Isobel, and anyway had a skin disorder so couldn’t have sex at all. It’s such bullshit Alicia has to tell the court she knows he’s lying, without saying she knows it: “Pursuant to the code of professional responsibility, I have no further questions.”

When the paternity test comes back positive as Sweeney’s kid, it seems that he’s now not only lying on the stand but also to his lawyers. But he insists there was no vaginal sex, which means that Sweeney has finally met his match in manipulation. Cue the love connection soon to come! The only way he could have fathered the boy is if Isobel saved his sperm and used a turkey baster to artificially inseminate herself. Her lawyer argues that the sperm was a gift, hers to do with what she wanted, while L&G argues that she committed contraceptive fraud by using Sweeney’s property in a manner for which it was not intended. Jesus, I love how complicated this episode was. Plus, she was getting payouts from Drescher via a shell company in the Cayman Islands, and she took a class on artificial insemination in which she asked the teacher how long sperm could last in a turkey baster. She’s so clearly lying about everything that Victoria has no choice but ape Alicia: “Pursuant to the code of professional responsibility, I have no further questions.”

The shocking ending is Isobel dropping her suit and shacking up with Sweeney, who’s now ready to be a dad. Bless that poor child. One should probably assume that he gave her a bunch of money to screw over Drescher.  But since this is Colin Sweeney, I’d rather believe that he got so turned on by Isobel’s manipulative ways that she no longer seemed “too obvious.” And as for why Isobel would choose to shack up with a man who has a history of killing women and getting away with it, well, she’s obviously crazy.

Another battle of technicalities is going on over at the State’s Attorney’s office. In enforcing the zero-tolerance policy for fraternization among employees, Peter has assigned Cary, of all people, head up an investigation into which ASAs had sex in his office. The press has gotten word of the couch romp and it’s threatening Peter’s run for governor. Cary uncovers the culprits: Two gay men, one of them black. Peter fires them both, despite how bad that looks. For one thing, it makes him look like he has it out for the gays. And as a vengeful Geneva points out, Peter only seems to punish minorities: He fired this guy and Wendy Scott-Carr, he demoted Geneva and Dana Lodge, he promoted Cary over Matan and Geneva, despite them being much more qualified. Does anyone smell a racial bias suit coming? Then Geneva guilts Cary into confessing his own fraternization with Dana. Peter seems reluctant to punish him; maybe the only white person he’s biased toward is Cary. It’s actually kind of cute how Cary has to come up with his own punishment — temporary leave — like a favored son trying to get his pops to be hard on him for appearance’s sake.

Meanwhile, back at the L&G office, Caitlin resigns out of the blue. We’re meant to believe that it’s because Alicia mildly yelled at her. David Lee certainly holds her responsible, and I have a feeling he and Alicia are going to be bitter enemies through the end of the season. At first, Alicia is horrified, thinking she drove this sweet girl from the law. Soon, she and Diane are even more horrified to learn that Caitlin is giving up the law to become a wife and mother. The looks on their faces…surely, they think, she can be reasoned with. Alicia is dispatched to talk with her and tell her what potential she has and how she’ll regret giving up the law for someone else. But Caitlin doesn’t want to be reasoned with. She likes the law, but she loves her fiancé, and she doesn’t feel like she has to prove anything. And even if she did have something to prove, she doesn’t want to. That shady moment when she was hiding her work? She was doing her wedding invitations.

Earlier in the episode, Victoria Adler had accused Alicia of subtle sexism for referring to men in courtroom as “Mister” and reducing women by calling them by their Christian names. But again, this is a case of the letter being held in higher regard than intent. Caitlin’s resignation isn’t the most shocking thing to happen to the show in weeks because it comes out of nowhere and because we didn’t even know she had a boyfriend prior to this. It’s shocking because it seems so… sensible. All the women on this show live for their work: Diane, Alicia, Kalinda, Wendy Scott-Carr, Nancy Crozier. Diane can’t even fathom making that choice, lamenting, “I’m not sure the glass ceiling was broken for this.” But as Alicia points out, maybe this is exactly why the glass ceiling was broken. Why shouldn’t smart, capable women be able to make unpopular life choices without regrets or judgments? After all, Alicia made the same decision 15 years ago.

So what is it about that decision that causes Alicia to break down when she visits her old house in Highland Park? She’s gone back because the people who bought it when Peter went to prison are now trying to get rid of it on the cheap, and Alicia isn’t sure she can afford to buy her apartment for $1.2 million, plus pay for private school and $5,500 a month in parking and condo association fees. Wandering through the house where she spent fifteen happy years, she finds that the old broken doorknob is still broken, and the kids’ heights are still marked on the wall. But it’s her and Peter’s heights, marked “Mom” and “Dad,” that really send her over the edge. Her real estate friend had posited that we’re all like salmon, spending our whole lives swimming upstream to get back home. Is Alicia upset because now that coming back home is an option, she realizes it’s not her home anymore, that she and Peter will never again have what they lost? Or is it because, unlike Caitlin, none of her decisions, to leave the law to raise her children, to leave her children to come back to it, or to finally come back home, were ever her own?

Photo: David M. Russell/CBS