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The Good Wife Recap: Competitive Edge

"Going for the Gold"-- AUSA Josh Perrotti (Kyle MachLachlan, left) and Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston, right) face off in two separate courtrooms, on THE GOOD WIFE, Sunday March 3 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT)

Every Good Wife character has his or her comfort zone, and it’s a credit to the writers that in strong episodes like this one, we get to see nearly all of our major players operating both within theirs and having their boundaries challenged, punctured, and even expanded.

For Peter, his comfort zone is being the aggressor, the capo, the bully. That’s why Jordan’s strategy advising him to hang back against Maddie in the televised gubernatorial primary debate is so hard for him to stomach, and suits him like an ill-fitting sweater. “Like Obama in his first debate?” Peter gripes. Er, sort of? “If you go angry,” Jordan says, “you’re gonna remind women of their first husbands.” Peter’s noticeably unsure with this, but without Eli around to urge him to go for the jugular, he’s forced to comply. When it comes to the real thing, the tactic doesn’t serve him, and in true after-school-special spirit, it takes aligning with his authentic nature — thanks to a game-time assist from Eli — to turn things around.

For St. Alicia, her favored persona is clearly the political wife/good girl, a mantle she knows well and retreats to almost by default, even if it has spurned her in the past: Witness the flawless MObama-esque red sheath dress she dons for debate day and the heavily invested “C’mon, c’mon” she mouths to herself when Peter’s flagging against Maddie. Even bus sex (ew) and the self-satisfied smirk she flashes when Peter asks her on a date show that this is the arena in which she feels most control. (Sidebar: Time and again, we’ve seen how Alicia initiating sex with Peter is a direct response to her feeling ruffled in other parts of her life.)

Give her 30 seconds in the elevator with Will — or with her new management responsibilities at L&G — and all that composure comes undone in a second.

Will: Alicia, it’s okay. We’re not going to act on it.

Alicia: Again. (Frozen, staring straight ahead.)

Will: Yes, again. It was a mistake; it happened. But that’s it. We can’t avoid each other.

Alicia: You’re right.

How quickly she shifts into tentative, insecure, approval-seeking mode around Will! And same goes for the way she acts initially in her supervising role as the partner on the Lemond Bishop defense. When Diane tells her she needs to cut the billable hours lest Bishop think they’re padding things, she tries two indirect, convoluted ways first — awkwardly suggesting to Cary that their multiple strategies might be redundant, and then cutting her own hours — before finally going the direct route and assuming the status of boss lady. And it takes yet another talking-to from Diane before any of this happens. “You cannot dress up as a peasant here, so stop it,” Diane says. “It’s galling to them [the associates], and it’s galling to me.” Well put. We’ll chalk it up to the growing pains that inevitably come with a promotion — for now — but it has to be noted that in the few glimpses we get of Cary managing his team effectively, sensitively, and politically, we have to imagine he might have taken a little more quickly to partner-status if given the chance. Sigh. (Sidebar: What’s with Cary and Alicia still appearing to share an office?)

And then there’s Eli. Obviously, being accused of fraud by the DOJ is no one’s comfort zone, but it’s especially unsettling for Eli, who’s used to playing the puppetmaster in most situations, and here he has to sit back and leave his fate in the hands of the brilliantly unhinged Elsbeth Tascioni. It’s his plight that forms the case of the week, and given that opposing counsel Josh Perrotti (Kyle MacLachlan) is a perfect match for Elsbeth in the kooky and squirrely departments, the story manages to be fragmented into both a civil and federal case at once. Josh is not going down without a fight, even though Elsbeth cleverly got his wire-tapping evidence thrown out last week, so he’s forced to come up with another way to lobby the same charges. “I’m competitive, like you,” he says to Elsbeth, before offering her onion naan at one of the more hilarious Indian restaurant working lunches we’ve ever seen. Between Josh’s pillowy lips come on and the eighteen dozen dishes of food they have, Elsbeth tries to get the scoop on his strategy and what’s behind this unnamed source alleging fraud in a gossip column. (Sidebar: How a journalist with a bias like Petra Moretz would be tasked to moderate Peter’s debate seems more than a bit unrealistic.)

Seems Josh is trying for a conspiracy angle this time, and it takes just a tiny bit of sleuthing from a more heavily accented than usual Kalinda to learn that Democratic Party chief Frank Landau’s been flipped. There is a lot of complicated back-and-forth plus two guest-star judges (S. Epatha Merkenson and the return of Uncle Junior) and, of course, Jackie, but in the end, the charges are dropped and Eli gets to return to where he belongs: running the show over at Florrick HQ. When Peter goes all soft at the end and asks him back, despite knowing Kresteva might end up using Eli’s scandal against him, we’re right there with him (plus we’ve finally got four new episodes in a row ahead of us!). “Unpack all that crap and let’s get to work,” he says. Done and done.  

 Loose Threads:

  •  This whole former-JAG-lawyer-to-ASA-sex-bomb transition that Hellinger’s gone through sure has been rapid (is it the bangs?), but we’ll take it, given the chemistry she has with Will and the romantic complications this is no doubt setting up. Better then that L&G did not win the state’s attorney business — there’s enough to work with already. Will dipping his pen in the proverbial company ink twice in a row feels a little too on-the-nose.
  •  Diane’s been killing it across the board these past few episodes as a model of a commanding, sexy woman in power — on the stand for Eli, quasi-mentoring Alicia, and debate prepping with Peter. Who else got excited to see how great she was working the floor as a faux Maddie?
  • It felt good to root for Jackie again! Even as Eli likened her to a blind donkey, she knew enough to play up her Stepford mother post-stroke battiness for effect without being told.

Key Quotes:

  • Cary to Alicia, upon learning that she cut his hours: “I prefer not to have the rug yanked from under me a second time.” Ouch.
  • Alicia to Maddie, before the debate: “They’re always wondering, Can men and women really be friends, but the real question is, Can women?” Strange grammar aside, there’s clearly multiple female betrayals on Alicia’s mind here with this one.
Photo: David M. Russell/CBS