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The Good Wife Recap: Not Your Mother’s Lawyer Show

This was, simply put, one of the best hours of television we’ve seen all year. I felt as much stress watching security officers quietly escort lawyers from their offices as I ever felt watching Walter White’s meth empire crumble. So clear your calendar, clear your conscience, and clear your desk: Here’s what we learned from last night’s heart-racing episode of The Good Wife.

They’ve Simply Ruined Elevators
It was fourteen agonizing minutes from the top of the episode until we cut from Alicia in tears in the elevator to the opening credits. Out of those fourteen fast-paced minutes, the hardest moments to watch were the ones where Will Gardner reacted to Alicia’s betrayal. Josh Charles took ten full seconds to process before coming up with “she ... what?” This was the most vulnerable Will allowed himself to be before he set phasers to kill. Then came the moment we’ve all been waiting for — that is, if you’d allowed yourself to be spoiled by any of the “this season on The Good Wife" promos. I’d been excitedly looking forward to the moment when Will took his aggression out on Alicia’s office supplies and cleared her desk, but I found myself wishing I could have been surprised. If I hadn’t known it was coming, there would have been audible gasps.

What follows, before Alicia is escorted from the building, is a series of clever gambits involving a hitherto unknown IT guy, Robin, both Cary and Carey, and soon-to-be-Judas Beth. Alicia proves herself to be, as ever, the cleverest person in the room by covering herself (and Robin) and by standing her ground, buying time, and forcing Will to get both the executive committee and the full board of partners. Carey Zepps does a pretty good job, too, trying to hand the ball off to Cary Agos. Original Flavor Cary, on the other hand, sort of blows it in the face of an angry Diane. He tips his hand both about Chum Hum and the Fourth Years. Not smart. Then again, I’d be petrified, too, when facing down an irate Lockhart. Argos gets fired (for the second time) and, eventually, Will gets approval to escort Alicia from the building. That brings us back to the elevator. Will and Alicia’s most famous scene together took place in an elevator, under happier circumstances at the end of season two. Ever since that scene, both Margulies and Charles have played each ride Will and Alicia take in an elevator as crowded with those happier memories. Now there are new elevator memories, memories of Will basically giving Alicia the old Rhett Butler “I don’t give a damn” heave-ho.  And we hadn’t even gotten to the opening credits yet.

Just Short of a Triple Cross
Speaking of romantic histories and Cary Agos not being the brightest blonde in the building, Kalinda pulls one over on Cary by confirming both the Chum Hum info and the location of their new offices. Oh, and she did it so easily. I actually wasn’t sure where Kalinda’s loyalties were going to fall. We know she’s been covering for Cary out of affection for what they once very nearly had, and when Will approached her about what she knew, she initially lied to him. So it was plausible to me that she might jump ship. But it looks like the sting of Alicia’s secret involvement was too much for Kalinda to get over. At least that was my take. She told Will clearly I wasn’t friend enough,” and we can bid a fond farewell to Alicia and Kalinda enjoying drinks together. Which is a shame, because theirs was a female TV friendship I greatly enjoyed.

The Last Temptation of Diane Lockhart
I didn’t, at first, understand Diane’s hesitation in voting out Alicia. In fact, I didn’t understand her seemingly conflicted feelings about telling Will at the end of last week’s episode. I thought both moments were inspired by softer feelings: protectiveness of Will and affection for Alicia. While those may have been factors, it’s clear that the stronger motivator was her self-interest and concern over her judgeship. We can’t really blame her for refusing to testify. She read Peter exactly right, even before Eli did. But if her dreams of being a judge are dashed, then Diane will have even more cause to go to war and even more motivation to join Will in Commando Mode.

Don’t Shoot the Bike Messenger
Though there was an outside “case of the week” in this episode (Candace of “The Nurse Deposition” and “isn’t it true you fired my client because she was too pretty?” fame), the real case, of course, was Lockhart/Gardner vs. Florrick/Agos. Between battling restraining orders and accusations of “tortious interference,” the gloves were off. I appreciate the work the show had done in bringing up both David Lee and Carey Zepps this season so that there were three recognizable faces on either side of the aisle. Get used to that division; I have a feeling we’re going to see many versions of Alicia/Cary vs. Will/Diane in the future. But what have we seen from Alicia and Cary to support the Lockhart/Gardner claim of tortious interference? Was Beth’s testimony (“They said the partners didn’t have their best interest at heart, they pursued the clients for months and then when they left they said they were the only ones who could offer continuity of service on their cases”) accurate? I believe that Alicia would have been extremely careful not to cross that line. I can’t say I have that much faith in the rest of the Fourth Years.

The Kids Are All Right
First of all, if you get a chance to rewatch this episode, and I really recommend that you do, please note how much Angry Cell Phone Acting goes on. It’s a master class in one-sided scene work. The writers did an unspeakably clever thing in having Will confiscate Alicia’s cell phone. By putting the phone in Will’s office, we got both that adorable interaction with Grace and that enormously tense one with Peter. The Grace scene reminded all of us how not long ago, Will cherished the hope of being fully a part of Alicia’s life. Of knowing her kids. For a show that has sometimes struggled with keeping the kids involved in the plot, this episode integrated both Zach and Grace pretty effortlessly. I could have done without whatever was going on between Grace and Cary 2.0, but other than that, I give the show’s usage of the kids an A-plus. Which is more than Zach can expect to get on that missing Lincoln essay.

Is This What They Mean by Leaning In?
Rather than lick her wounds, Alicia counterattacks, and she’s definitely not the only one feeling the bloodlust. After that absolutely terrifying phone conversation between Will and Peter, Peter drops by Alicia’s place for, um, well, ah. Chris Noth was in full “Mr. Big” mode, all eyebrow waggles and lascivious grins. I have to give the writers so much credit for that reference to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In all the while giving us the quick and dirty Alicia/Peter sex we’ve come to know and love.

Mr. Big Stick
So now we know why the Garbanza woman and the Ethics Committee have been given so much airtime this season. Governor-elect Florrick's promise of “the most ethical administration in Illinois history” is broken before he’s even sworn in. Invigorated by the prospect of being, for the first time since his affair, completely on the same team as Alicia, Peter loses all sight of his ethical boundaries. As much as he reveled in calling Will a jackass (something he’s been refraining from doing lest he alienate Alicia), I think Peter enjoyed using his press conference to blackmail Chum Hum into picking Florrick/Agos even more. (By the way, do lawyers sit around and watch Chum Hum videos of governor-elect press conferences all day? They don’t watch cat videos?) When he started playing dirty and he, much to Eli’s shock, made steps toward rescinding Diane’s appointment to the state supreme court, Peter looked for all the world like a recovering alcoholic enjoying his first drink in a long while. Both Eli and Will warned Peter of the consequences of his “Big Stick” behavior, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this taste of corruption led to a complete ethical backslide. That is to say, Ms. Garbanza, I thought you were here to play temptress, but you might be the one to be tempted.

Commando Mode
What do we think of Will this episode? Was his response proportionate to the crime? Possibly not, but we have to be sympathetic to his hurt feelings and sense of self-preservation. That scene with Grace went a long way toward softening us to him, but what about that final scene with Kalinda? After Kalinda comes clean to Will, he allows himself to be completely vulnerable to her, wallowing in his self-pity and wounded heart. But what do we think about Will’s future? About his promise that he’s going to “destroy the competition”? How long can he feel sorry for him?

In Fact, Who Are We Rooting For?
This is one of the smartest bits of storytelling I’ve seen in ages. Let’s take our quartet of Good Guys — Alicia, Will, Diane, and Cary — and pit them against each other in a wholly believable and organic way. Then what do we do, as an audience? Who do we root for? I’m uncomfortable being on Peter’s side. Peter, who started this show as the villain of the piece. But he’s on Alicia’s Team, and we’ve always been on Alicia’s Team. As far as Argos/Florrick goes, Alicia proposed courting drug kingpin Lemond Bishop (even though Cary protests, “We said we’d never go there”). We’re used to David Lee making vile threats, but when Alicia answers him in kind, how do we adjust? Are we more sympathetic to Diane’s sense of betrayal (especially after she loses the judgeship) or Cary’s righteous indignation at being passed over? Let’s not forget that the reason Alicia decided to go with Cary was to get away from Will and all the temptations he represents. Would Will be more sympathetic to Alicia if she were honest with him about that? Honestly, I don’t know who to root for. I suppose we’ll have to see who ends up playing the dirtier pool. I do, however, know it’s going to be one hell of a ride.