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The Good Wife Recap: Welcome to the Thunderdome

Last week’s season premiere mixed a tiny bit of triumph (Go Zach! Will’s back!) with what was mostly a portrait of impending doom involving lawyers, guns, and money — plus a Governor’s race that’s starting to get ugly. This week, the yay/nay breakdown is roughly the same: There’s an exciting L&G triumph in court, some cozy times on the Florrick homefront, and Alicia may have made her first new friend in years, but those nasty storm clouds (named bankruptcy, Nick, and Mike Kresteva) are still on the horizon. “Where are we heading?” asks a mooney-eyed Alicia to Peter at the end of the episode. Only time will tell …

The opening montage is a clever mash-up of the fourth-year associates speaking straight to an off-camera Clarke Hayden in a tense evaluation to determine who’ll get the ax. The juxtaposition of confident, world-weary Cary and Alicia sandwiched around Miss “I’m married to my work” and a smarmy, dark suited also-ran only serves to highlight how these two are clearly in a different league. After all, Cary already lost his job to Alicia back in season one and he did fine, and Alicia’s been through even bigger life shake-ups, so they ain’t afraid of no trustee. That’s hammered home with Alicia’s coolly awesome line, “I’m not playing that game, Mr. Hayden,” when asked her opinion on whom to let go. What game? “Thunderdome.”

Cheers also go to Will, who’s bright-eyed and just a tad fidgety on his first day back in the courtroom after that long, cold suspension. Diane’s around to give a little playful/flirty moral support before proceedings get started, but the stakes are raised further when we see opposing counsel. It’s Lionel Deerfield (Ed Herrmann), the same prosecutor who headed up the bar association’s disciplinary board that voted to suspend Will. “How’s this for ironies,” he says. “I was there at the end, now I’m here at the beginning.”

The team’s representing the family of Tyler Beacham, a young man who died after being shot by police with a stun gun at an anti-NATO demonstration. They’re suing the city of Chicago for wrongful death, and a wily, Harvard-supremacist Judge Temple (James Urbaniak) is presiding. With graphic video of the event, Tyler’s bereaved mother in the courtroom, and a squirmy jury, this one looks like a slam dunk for L&G. Back at the office, they’re offered a settlement of $800K by the city and Diane is thrilled, but Will wants to go bigger, to the naysaying of a constipated-looking Mr. Hayden. “This is how you got into this hole, placing passion over pragmatism.” If only Hayden knew how right he was … (Remember the Voice Mail of Love?)

If that weren’t trouble enough, Hayden’s been downsizing more than just staff: He’s also forcing L&G to give up a floor of office space. Diane thinks there’s hope, however, since their building’s new landlord is (new character alert!) Maddie Hayward, a high-rolling semi-conductor exec and member of Emily’s List. Troops are mobilized to deal with this pesky real-estate issue and to double down with the Beacham case. Meanwhile … where’s Kalinda?

Easy, folks, she’s just taking a cone break with her sweetie. Tabling what happens later (oh, we’ll get to it, don’t worry!), the beginning of this scene was quite witty and unexpected. It felt like the Kings were practically teasing us with a portrait of Kalinda and Nick looking like some junior high couple on a trip to the ice-cream shop, just days out — or maybe even less? — from trying to break each others’ necks. What, you think just because someone’s a gun-toting thug or a shifty, tough-as-nails investigator that they don’t like soft-serve? Psha. (Sidebar: They both go for vanilla — really?) I also love the idea that biting exchanges like this one could be going on at the next table in the local Dairy Queen:

Nick: Two years inside. I get out. I expect my loving wife to be there. Instead, you take my money and you burn my clothes.
Kalinda:
Did you cry? Seriously; did it make you cry?
Nick:
I don’t remember you being such a bitch.
Kalinda: You have a bad memory.

What happens next — henceforward to be referred to as the Soft-Serve Incident — is just about the dirtiest thing I’ve seen on network television (and hopefully the dirtiest thing to have ever happened in this hamburger joint, health code violations aside). This whole asserting-dominance-over-women-by-sneak-attack-fingering is something we’ve seen before, and frankly, it’s getting a little old. Hell, it’s even a move Kalinda used herself last season, but the way it was treated here left me feeling a little queasy and disappointed in both of these characters. Commenters: Many of you last week were pointedly disturbed by the Kalinda-Nick dynamic, and this week, I’m inclined to agree with you, especially given the broken mirror bedroom scene later on in the episode. A little (safe) power play is all well and good, but things have clearly crossed the line into a mutually self-destructive mess. Permission to redirect?

Laughable as it was, I was practically relieved to be dropped next into what I assume was an Emily’s List event with Maddie Hayward (Maura Tierney) giving the keynote. “Sheryl Sandberg thinks we can have it all, Anne-Marie Savage thinks we can’t have it all. All I can think is, um, what the hell?” (Sidebar: Kings, you meant Anne-Marie Slaughter, right?) Cue clapping and knowing nods from the shoulder-padded, all female audience, many of whom had tasteful gray coifs. While the references here are (relatively) current, the setup felt decidedly stale, like a Hollywood parody circa 1984 of what some Women in Power luncheon might look like. (Sidebar: How great would it have been for Naomi Wolf to make a cameo hawking copies of Vagina in the corner?) Message received: Maddie Hayward is a Woman in Power. So what does that mean for the L&G crew?

Diane catches her on her way out —Women in Power: always someplace to be! — and tries to talk lease renegotiation, but it turns out Maddie’s more interested in Alicia, except she refers to her as, “that woman? That stood by her husband? Have her call me.” Uh-oh.

Round two in the courtroom in the wrongful death suit has Will putting Tyler Beacham’s fiancée on the stand. She’s weepy and sympathetic, and all looks to be going as planned until Judge Harvard enacts a newly instated rule allowing jurors to submit written questions to the witness. Someone noticed the fiancée didn’t have her engagement ring on in the protest video, though she was wearing it in an earlier photo and in the courtroom. That sure complicates things, especially after the fiancée reveals to Alicia that she had broken things off with Tyler at the protest.

It’s a canny move on the part of the writers to introduce a real and quite timely bit of new legal protocol into the mix that adds both unpredictability and dramatic intrigue as both sides scramble to re-frame their cases. After a couple of dips through antidepressants and suicidal ideation, the L&G team pulls out a win — because, c’mon, it’s Will’s first case back! — thanks to some deft attention to detail on the part of Kalinda, who noticed that a red circle on Tyler’s backpack was not placed there by an undercover cop marking him as a troublemaker after all; it was his own happy-face button, and the cop who shot him secretly removed it after he realized his mistake. Scary and sad. (Sidebar: Another favorite comedic moment: Kalinda’s Sexy Boots stepping over those protestors playing dead).

Amid all that, Alicia meets Maddie Hayward — ER reunion! Can Clooney (please) be next!? — and she must have done something right, because suddenly Maddie is donating to Peter’s campaign and asking Alicia on a friend date. But wait, this is Alicia we’re talking about, so there has to be some catch, right?

It’s interesting that the director of this episode is Rosemary Rodriguez, whom we last heard from on “Blue Ribbon Panel” in season three, that tricky number where we first met Mike Kresteva and Jada noted in her recap that, “nothing good can happen to Alicia without her being struck down by some lightning bolt.” There seems to be the same sense of checks and balances at play here this week: Alicia may have a budding new friendship with Maddie, but that also means she has to bear the brunt of Diane’s disappointment when they learn that Maddie has turned down the firm’s proposal to renegotiate their lease, while at the same time donating to Peter. Next, Alicia reacts with compassion and professionalism when Kalinda shows vulnerability and reveals that the shady tow truck company operator from last week is actually her husband and asks L&G to drop the case, but at the end of the episode, she’s put in a bind when Hayden says the firm’s too broke to turn away clients and she must bring him back. Will she need to betray Kalinda’s trust to protect her?

And what about Will? Has he learned anything from his suspension? Sure, his risky move to reject the first settlement paid off this time in court, but how about next time? Is his penchant for putting “passion over pragmatism” going to come back to bite him in the ass? Either way, in starting over after his embarrassing public fall, it strikes me that Will has a lot more in common with Peter now than when the series started (which makes the two of them even more intriguing as romantic rivals) and Will might do well to take a few notes from Peter 2.0’s humbled attitude. If Peter’s journey over the past few seasons is any indication, we’ve seen that while great second acts may be possible, the past still becomes present again and again, and there’s no use trying to fight it. “I don’t believe people can change,” Maddie Hayward says, while grilling Peter about his prostitute dalliances. “I didn’t either,” replied Peter. “But then I went to prison.” This race is heating up, indeed.

Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS