The Good Wife
It was perhaps the meatiest and most emotionally fraught episode of The Good Wife since everyone went their separate ways. Last night’s episode was the show’s hundredth, so it’s only fitting that they pulled out all the stops with favorite returning guest stars and famous new faces. But at the end of the day, we’re here to see the deeply personal drama between Lockhart/Gardner and Florrick/Agos. We weren’t disappointed. So crank the Bach up to 11, here’s what we learned from last night’s episode of The Good Wife.
The hundredth episode of The Good Wife started out with a pretty adorable little meta nod, the needle of Kalinda’s speedometer flirting dangerously with 100 mph as she chases new Lockhart/Gardner partner Damian Boyle around the streets of Chicago to the tune of some jaunty Holiday (not Christmas, Jackie) song. Kalinda, in her no-nonsense sunglasses and driving gloves, kicking ass and literally chewing bubble gum, looked the best she’s looked all season behind that wheel. But though the scene was obviously filmed a while ago, it’s unfortunate that it aired so soon after Paul Walker’s death. This weekend, high-speed chases couldn’t help but make me cringe.
Playing the Fox
Knowing that it was the hundredth episode, we’re encouraged to look even more closely than usual at all the decisions that went into putting “The Decision Tree” together. One imagines that the showrunners wanted everything just so for the milestone episode. So it’s no wonder they brought back the fantastic John Noble as flashback guest star Matthew Ashbaugh. Noble, of course, has experience playing eccentric after five seasons on Fringe, and he does so here with both flair and his native Australian accent. I also loved the return of the musical cue as flashback frame. This allows us to just have a shot of Alicia or Will with Ashbaugh’s ever-present Bach. As with Noble’s previous appearance (last season’s “Death of a Client”), he serves as a reminder to both Will and Alicia of a rosier time in their relationship.
Of course, the present-day context of those flashbacks are even more fraught now; whereas before Will was on hand to comfort and support Alicia, here the memories only stoke the fires of their antagonism. I love the bleeding edge of memory and fantasy that the show plays with here. When Alicia recalls the meeting in Ashbaugh’s apartment, she’s wearing a sensible blue dress. When it’s Will’s turn to remember, she’s in a plungier red number. It’s not a cartoonish or dramatic difference, but it does speak to the way our emotions color facts. If Will misremembers what Alicia was wearing, what else is he getting wrong? It’s heartbreaking enough to watch him remember her saying “this is the happiest I’ve ever been.” How much worse if she never actually said it at all?
Negotiating With the Devil
That Will and Alicia dynamic is, of course, the meat of the Case of the Week. The bones pertain to a will (witnessed by a charming sex worker) in which Ashbaugh left half of his estate to Alicia. So, once again, it’s L/G versus Florrick/Agos, but this time, Alicia stands to inherit millions. Unfortunately for Alicia and Cary, the judge is Peter Dunaway (Kurt Fuller) who, given their previous interactions, has a lot of reason to show bias against Alicia. At first, it’s Boyle and Will on the other side of the aisle, but Diane quickly steps in as co-chair. Possibly because Boyle is outmaneuvered by Hayden, of all people. Why Cary and Alicia let Hayden handle the cross on such a high-stakes case is beyond me, but the gamble paid off in that particular skirmish. Unfortunately, it’s the little Florrick/Agos victories that set off the war between Alicia and Will.
Is This How Lawyers Do Revenge Fantasies?
The centerpiece and lynchpin of the entire episode is this protracted sequence where Will, working from the comfort of home, sets about preparing to question Alicia. As before with the flashbacks, we are firmly in Will’s head here. This was an almost perfect sequence that was, sadly, carried one step too far. The flashes between Alicia (clad all in white in Will’s head) on the stand and Will at his desk were pretty masterful. But I think we were doing a fine job as an audience understanding the parallels between Alicia’s supposed emotional manipulation of Ashbaugh and Will’s paranoia that she did the same to him. We got it. We didn’t need the turn in this scene where Will’s in the courtroom as well, leaning into Alicia and making it all about him.
What that detour into Melodramaland did is undercut the magnificent job both Juliana Margulies and Josh Charles did in this sequence. Margulies played Fantasy Alicia perfectly. She captured Will’s projection and his desire to see her vulnerable. Eyes filled with unshed tears. Charles did some of the best acting he’s ever done. Because of the initial structure of the sequence, we have to rely on Will’s face to track his emotions, his pain at the memory of their intimacy, his rage at feeling taken advantage of and abandoned and his reluctance to take it that far in court. Like I said, I think he was killing it. We didn’t need those sentiments voiced for us. The scene was still great, but it could have been exquisite. Stop it, show, I don’t like it when you’re weak.
Do You Want Me to Finish?
I’ve heard some people criticize that Gardner fantasy sequence as misogynistic. Not so. I think it was a very human and relatable response to rejection that either gender is capable of. You’ve never wished to have power over someone who wronged you? Also, the show didn’t allow Will’s fantasy to play out. The reality of Alicia (in a much more sensible, dark suit) is that she has steel in her spine. Will thought he could anticipate her response (the titular “Decision Tree”), but she outmaneuvered and not only anticipated his questions but implicated David Lee and L/G while she was at it. I very much loved the way Diane tried to step in to make things easier on Will and I think we were all a little disappointed with him for “going there.” Alicia most of all.
Stuck in Holding Over Night
That brings us back to the C-plot of the episode, which introduces a new love interest/sexual conquest for Kalinda. If you want to draw a parallel between both Alicia and Kalinda getting the upper hand on the men who tried to put them in their place, you’re more than welcome to. I’m delighted Kalinda has someone to flirt and talk guns with who isn’t her deeply dysfunctional ex-husband. Enter Detective Jenna Villette (Jordana Spiro of My Boys fame). Though the ladies did enjoy a rather steamy kiss, I’m not entirely delighted by the fact that the flashback sex between Will and Alicia was more explicit. Doesn’t seem fair for those who prefer their sexual encounters Kalinda-shaped.
That Garbanza Woman Is Growing on Me
I don’t know what it is, but the whole pregnancy plot was working for me this week. I still think it’s a shame that this woman isn’t allowed to be shown to be competent at her job and pregnant without also being a walking What to Expect When You’re Expecting joke. But at least the joke tied very neatly into the larger plot. First you have the baby sound system triggering Alicia’s Bach-induced memories and then you have it functioning as a conversation starter between Marilyn and Alicia’s mother, Veronica. I also liked that Marilyn tried to exert the boundaries of her job when she told Eli this was a publicity issue, not an ethical one. It means she’s not interested in controlling everything that has to do with Peter. Not that Peter, anyway.
Playing the Governor Card
This isn’t the first time The Good Wife has employed a real-life political figure to play themselves. Past guests include Joe Trippi, Bill Maher, Erica Hill, Lou Dobbs, and Vernon Jordan. But their choice for the 100th episode is fascinating. Donna Brazile pops up to test the waters to see if Peter is interested in the 2016 presidential race. Or, to use her language, to see “who’s suiting up and who’s sitting on the sidelines.” Brazile, the Vice Chairwoman of the DNC, effectively plants the seed in our brains. Do we want this show to leave Chicago and go presidential? Could that be a good end to the series? A Florrick in the White House? The best part, by far, of the Brazile guest spot, was the way in which Peter flirted with her. I feel like Chris Noth was in full Mr. Big mode. Eyebrow waggle and all.
The Best Party of the Year
The B-plot in this hundredth episode was, fittingly, a celebration — namely, the Florrick/Agos holiday party. The party served as a perfect metaphor for the show’s entire premise: Alicia and her ability to balance, blend, carry, and separate her demanding work life from her demanding personal life. It was perfect, then, that not only was Peter in attendance, but also the kids, Jackie, and Veronica.
Poor Carey Zepps was noticeably absent, but I did love seeing Cary Agos and Robyn kick up their heels. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see more of the failed L/G holiday party that took place on the same night. I’m assuming it was a failure; anyone who was anyone was crammed in the charmingly bohemian Florrick/Agos offices. The only indication that anything was going on at L/G was the lone Champagne flute on Will’s desk as he called Alicia to give her the news about her inheritance. We saw the beginnings of some trouble between Alicia and Cary over the question of whether to invite the governor. But, of course, the highlight of the evening was Alan Cumming. Ain’t no Eli like a flustered Eli because a flustered Eli does spit-takes.