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The Good Wife Recap: Suburgatory

"Blue Ribbon Panel" -- When Alicia (Julianna Margulies, right) is assigned to be on a panel investigating a police shooting, she begins to question the motivations behind the actions of  Mike Kresteva (Matthew Perry, left), the panel chairman, on THE GOOD WIFE, Sunday, March 25 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: David M. Russell/CBS √?¬©2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I’m so confused by this show. In an earlier recap, I compared punishment on The Good Wife to that on Mad Men and on Lost. On Mad Men, most transgressions are marked by something terrible happening to the transgressor. It’s an eye for an eye in a morally black-and-white (though rather unjust) universe: Sleep with engaged Pete, get pregnant and have his baby; lie about your identity, have your marriage implode and your brother kill himself; continue to obscure your true self, destroy the one relationship with a smart woman who’s your equal (Faye) that could bring you lifelong fulfillment. I’d thought that The Good Wife resembled Lost, in that characters get to behave in a murky fashion until they’re swept off the Island or some mighty, cumulative punishment comes down on them fifteen years after the fact, like Will’s suspension, or even Diane having to deal with the fallout from Will’s suspension.

Now I’m starting to wonder if this theory is flawed, because none of this seems to hold true for Alicia. She may have been bitchy to Caitlin and used Canning to her own advantage, but she’s not a sinner. She’s a good person who could never wade through enough muck to justify the amount of shit that’s gotten heaped upon her, particularly after all those years of sacrificing her own ambitions to be a loving wife and mother. She’s the innocent human at the center of a Greek tragedy. Or maybe she’s Job. Nothing good can happen to Alicia without her being struck down by some lightening bolt. She got her raise, but loses her house. She’s gotten Peter in line, only to be blindsided by Jackie. This week she asserts herself amid powerful judges, only to have to sacrifice her principles (and justice at large) to save her family.

Why are Alicia’s motives and thought processes such an enigma? How is it that after three seasons she still has no friends? Like, none? How is it that she doesn’t see how regressive and depressing it would be to move back into her old house? How is she even considering moving back to the suburbs when, as commenters have pointed out, the commute is terrible and she’ll be stuck in that big empty house without her kids in just a couple of years? Why is she being so friendly to Peter, as if they never had that fight in the kitchen where he went off on her for sleeping with Will, as if it were a bigger blow to their marriage than him sleeping with a prostitute? How is she still married to that manipulative prick? Is it because she’s worried about damaging their public appearance? I mean, he already slept with the prostitute and everyone knows it. There’s not much to salvage.

This show is supposed to be about Alicia’s journey toward empowerment. Every episode I get excited thinking I’m watching the moment when Alicia really finds her voice. And every time that happens, she does something to revert backwards. This episode is no different. She lands a prestigious assignment sitting on a Blue Ribbon Panel to do a civilian review of an IPRA (Independent Police Review Authority) of a police shooting. She rocks the boat … And then she backtracks completely to protect Peter. It’s as if the boat had never been rocked at all.

When is she going to grow a pair that stays grown? When is she going to tell Peter that the separation is sticking, and that the kids are old enough to handle it? When is she going to admit that the sex with Will was the best of her life and just enjoy that? I wish she were empowered or self-aware enough to see a shrink, because he’d probably point out her trust issues with Peter were what destroyed her friendship with Kalinda. Yes, Kalinda lied to her. But she hasn’t warranted a freeze-out of this magnitude. I’m glad Alicia recognizes she needs a friend and that Kalinda is a true friend. But I’d be even happier if she’d realize that her freezing out Kalinda was yet another instance of her allowing Peter’s bad behavior to control her life.

Last week, Alicia asserted herself with Kalinda, saying she was willing to give friendship another go as long as Kalinda could stop being shady. This proposal makes me sad, (1) because Alicia is making demands of the one person who’s already proven she’d walk to the ends of the earth for her, and (2) because we all know that Kalinda only has one channel setting, and that is being shady. And that’s why we love her!

This episode cleverly begins with an echo of that confrontation, with Alicia trying to pull information out of Kalinda about her tax case and Kalinda refusing to offer specifics. Basically, not offering specifics is why Kalinda is in trouble. She’s gotten a bunch of freelance income from accounts that the IRS thinks may be dummy accounts. This doesn’t make sense to me, because if you were going to do criminal, under-the-table work, wouldn’t you (a) get paid in cash and (b) not report the income to the IRS?

We don’t revisit the tax case until much later in the episode, when Alicia has lost her bid on the house and has endured enough roadblocks on the panel to be in a very punchy mood. Then she has to deal with the IRS, and we all know there is no greater hell. The IRS, in typical IRS fashion, wants greater specificity from Kalinda (the exact names of her employers and the exact nature of the employment), but won’t specify why. Plus, they’re questioning Kalinda in front of a mysterious third party who’s viewing through a computer cam. Alicia gets riled up when she thinks the IRS is trying to shake Kalinda down for more information in a fishing expedition. But she’s positively livid when she finds out about the spy cam, and yells to the coward behind it to stop going through intermediaries and come to her office to see her.

Said coward is none other than Lana Delaney (Jill Flint), Kalinda’s onetime FBI officer lover, who apparently found it easier to launch a federal investigation of Kalinda than call. She’s on a mission to connect Kalinda to Lamond Bishop (claiming he’s her mysterious freelance employer) and get back into her pants. The joy of this story line is finally getting to see Archie Panjabi let loose as the sex goddess we know she is. She meets Lana at what seems to be an FBI cafeteria and Lana suggest they go to an intimate restaurant. Kalinda gets close, strokes her hand, and suggests they get intimate right then and there. Lana storms off in a haze of hormones and discomfort. The best part is the guy at the next table giving Kalinda an “I’d hit that” once-over.

Back at the office, our heroes are entering into two other bureaucratic nightmares. The first being Alicia’s appointment to the Blue Ribbon Panel. The second being the endless fight for Will’s seat.

I’d thought that Alicia’s calculated maneuvering for a raise would have eroded her relationship with Diane, but they seem on good terms and Diane is in a great mood. Is she getting laid, as her HUGE HAIR would suggest? It’s a good chance for Alicia to mingle with powerful judges and lawyers. But she’s aware she’s only on the panel because she’s a woman, and having already been a doormat to her husband’s political career, she’s not inclined to sit passively by as the token girl in a boys’ club.

The panel is a boys' club, or, more accurately, a privileged-white-man’s club. They’re talking about courtside seats when Alicia shows up. One friendly voice breaks through the male chumminess: “So you’re the woman,” says the wonderful Charles S. Dutton as Pastor Damon Yarrow. “I’m the black.” Pastor Damon, though, is just as mired in bureaucracy and laziness as the rest of the panel of fogies, which includes judges Dunaway and Winter, both of whom were named by WSC as suspected of taking bribes from Will during pickup basketball.

The most alpha of the alpha dogs is Mike Kresteva, a hotshot lawyer who’s pals with the corrupt judges and who looks suspiciously like Chandler from Friends. Matthew Perry is wonderfully ruthless, and I hope he comes back not only to rival Alicia but wreak hell on Peter’s run for governor.  

Kresteva seems to be purposefully moving the panel too fast. Alicia has barely gotten her hands on the police report before she’s agreeing to motions that limit the number of witnesses and the amount of questioning she may do. It’s clear the fogies think they can bulldoze her, since she’s both green to the panel and green-ish to the law. Oh, and she’s female. Also interesting to note: She doesn’t join in on the pastor’s prayer. Was she always this ambivalent about religion, or does she have a renewed aversion after Grace’s baptism?

Here’s the cops’ version of the shooting: There had been a series of holdups of female passengers on a north side L-train platform. Two undercover cops, a male (Zimmerman) and a female (Coffey), had been sent to act as decoys. They encountered a two-time felon who attempted to hold up Officer Coffey. But a bystander, Roland Masters, thought the cops (because they were out of uniform) were trying to hold up the perp and tried to be a Good Samaritan. He advanced on them with a gun, so says Zimmerman, and Coffey shot him.

The shooting is, of course, more complicated than that. Though the cops claim they identified themselves and that Master didn’t hear them because of a passing express train, there was actually a stopped train in the station that would have blocked out the sound of the passing train. Plus, the cops have plenty of reason to lie (or be coached into lying) since Masters was black and it wouldn’t look too good for a couple of white officers to shoot an unarmed black man. Masters’s son, Ronnie, has been telling everyone that the cops never identified themselves, but no one will listen. That is, until mama Alicia comes along. With her soft touch, she gets more out of Ronnie than even the token black can.

Soon, Alicia is breaking all the panel rules. She has the temerity to question witnesses, much to Dunaway’s condescending chagrin: “Everyone new to the panel thinks they’re going to reinvent the wheel. They don’t have to. It’s a wheel! It works fine.” Oh, Dunaway, Alicia’s just getting started reinventing the wheel. She also does her own investigating work by accidentally on purpose driving by the L stop to see for herself if a stopped train blocks the sound of a passing train. Oooh, does that get the fogies up in arms! They’re like a jury, says Dunaway, they’re only supposed to review the evidence at hand. Alicia pleads being ignorant and female and escapes official censure.

As the questioning goes on, Alicia grows bolder. She discovers that Masters’s gun was used in a jewelry store robbery two years prior. Zimmerman was the investigating cop, who noted there was a gun but never checked it into evidence. Could the gun be a drop gun, meaning an unregistered gun carried by cops to drop at the scene where they’ve shot an unarmed suspect? Most of the fogies want to hear nothing of it, but Pastor Damon is intrigued. He gives his five minutes to Alicia. And just like on a jury, the lone dissenting juror finds her first convert.

Soon Kresteva is threatening Alicia with consequences for pissing off judges and “people” (meaning himself) “like this.” Someone even goes so far as to leak the proceedings of the confidential panel to Diane, hoping she’ll get Alicia in line. More evidence supporting a drop gun comes in, and this time, Winter and Dunaway get onboard (in the name of justice … ha!) and Kresteva can’t stop it from being introduced. The jury has come over to Alicia’s side! But that’s not a good thing. It turns out that the SA’s office had looked into the drop gun and buried the case. Is that because Peter couldn’t risk having a racially charged police shooting n the eve of his running for governor? Cary, who’s been called in for questioning, has a great response: “I can’t answer that, but I can be offended by that.” Kresteva has a point, however. The only other person in the meeting when Peter decided not to pursue the drop gun possibility was Eli Gold. Alicia’s left with two choices: Either she can go along with a lying report that says the gun was an unfortunate coincidence, and deny Ronnie the justice he deserves, or she can go along with the full report, which will implicate Peter. She has to recuse herself. It seems the Pastor was right when he joked, “Chicago, to my mind, has the best justice money can buy.” My guess is that Alicia never gets invited to serve on a Blue Ribbon Panel again.

The epic battle of crazies at the L&G office mirrors the panel, though there it’s just a repeat of the David Lee-Eli-Julius squabble for power that’s been going on ever since Will got suspended. Will tries to appease them by temporarily giving up his portion of profit sharing, but they want more blood, and they’ve learned they need to team up. Eli and Julius flip a coin and agree to support Julius. David Lee is all like, “Please, you just flipped a coin.” Diane assures Will that she’s not protecting his seat out of loyalty; she just can’t in good conscience hand it over to those children. The greatest joy comes from the return of Howard (one of the dinosaurs Diane resurrected to vote out Derrick Bond). In a brilliant move, Will and Diane nominate Howard to take over Will’s seat. He’s technically the most senior person at the firm, and the only reasons he wants a corner office are because it’s closest to the bathroom (actually don’t we know from Will and Alicia’s nooners that it has a private bathroom?) and it’s a nice, quiet place to watch porn. And luckily, because Julius, Eli, and David Lee have done such a good job making themselves look like asses, the rest of the equity partners agree.

The final bit to wrap up is that house in the suburbs Alicia inexplicably wants back. She can’t pay the asking price, so she sends a handwritten letter to the owner explaining what it means to her. It’s where she saw her children walk for the first time, and where she and Peter built forts in their living room for sexy time (where she played a bad, bad Girl Scout). She leaves out that it’s also where she encountered Grace coming home crying after getting confronted by news cameras in their driveway. The owner is so moved she says she’ll gladly give Alicia the house … if she can just top the previous offer. Alicia can’t. But she gets a call from her Realtor congratulating her on winning the house. Alicia is confused. The Realtor has a sales contract that says Florrick on it. Alicia marches down to the ice-cream parlor to confront Peter. How could he do this to her? He’s confused, too. Then she realizes there’s a third Florrick … JACKIE. Duh-duh-duh-duh. Alicia is livid and says she’s off to buy a gun, then heads off to the beauty parlor where Jackie is getting her Bram Stoker streaks put in. Oh, Alicia. This is Jackie. Even you know that only a wooden stake will do.

Photo: David M. Russell/CBS