The Good Wife lives to rip from the headlines (having itself been born from the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal). So when the news of NSA leaker Edward Snowden broke in June, soon after the writers room had reconvened for season five, they instantly jumped on it, turning it into the framework for last Sunday’s episode. “It has a lot of elements we’re attracted to,” series executive producer Robert King told Vulture. “Top of the list is the lack of moral compass demonstrated by purveyors of new technologies. And also, the way social networking has invaded our lives, for good and bad.”
The episode, titled “The Bit Bucket,” opened on a pair of NSA employees listening in on the calls of Diane and Alicia. Two years ago, they represented terrorist sympathizer Danny Marwat, and they’ve been surveilled ever since. As depicted, the NSA listeners are Big Bang Theory T-shirt wearing, screaming-goat-video-watching, Thai-porn-loving kids. “We loved the idea of a staid bureaucracy relying on young hackers,” King said. “It seemed to make comic sense that our new hacker overlords see no difference between the voyeurism involved with YouTube videos and the voyeurism involved with listening to every private call we make. The recent revelations about the NSA listeners digging through the phone calls of lovers seems very germane.”
When it comes up that Alicia’s husband is the governor-elect of Illinois, the NSA bosses ask the listeners, who they refer to as Frick and Frack, to come up with a more recent terrorist connection in order to keep their surveillance viable. Frick and Frack do as instructed.
“It seemed suitably Kafka-esque,” King said. “The worker bees in bureaucracies are happy when they meet a certain goal without any awareness of the bigger picture. They are just checking boxes.” They land on metadata in the form of several calls to Alicia’s house from her son Zach’s weepy ex, whose Somalian father is a Hamas sympathizer (“What was the call about?” “I don’t know.”) “It seemed comic to us that details we’ve built up over five seasons of these characters are now darkly misinterpreted by the NSA powers that be — just as all the oddities in our lives are open to being misunderstood,” King said.
And while the show seems to get a kick out of mocking the young hacker type, King has real contempt for Snowden. “I didn’t like that he ran,” he said. “It felt like the opposite of Daniel Ellsberg. But I especially thought his comments about having more speech freedom in Hong Kong were particularly moronic. It seemed to derive from a very odd new illiteracy: Internet-based illiteracy,” he said. “There is a strange sort of hacker utopian spirit that sees no borders and boundaries and therefore loses all sense of logic.”
“Having said that, the substance of Snowden’s leak is horrendous and very welcome. It’s frightening how thorough is the undercutting of our rights.”