The Good Wife chose an appropriately blood-curdling, spine-tingling subject matter for this holiday weekend's episode: student-loan repayment! Lucca's found Maggie, a young woman who's being harassed by threatening calls from a loan-repayment center on a loan she says she's already paid. It turns out that she actually hasn't repaid the loan — she'd sent the money to a scammer, who'd hacked or illegally obtained her contact information, then called to tell her that her payment-remittance address had changed. Happy Halloween!
There's no easy way for Maggie to get her money back via litigation (more on the myriad methods Alicia and Lucca try in a second), but that doesn't bother Jason much — he spends almost the entire episode in a merry pursuit of the scammer, who he then either beats or threatens to beat with a tire iron until he hands over $8,000 in cash, which Jason then cheerfully passes on to Alicia to give to Maggie. On the one hand, it's some rakishly charming vigilante justice. On the other, it's a dangerously unhinged man in a truck going around beating people half to death, which makes me unsure of whether we're meant to cheer or cringe when Alicia flirtatiously invites Jason in for a drink at the end of his long work day.
While Jason is doing things his way, Lucca and Alicia decide to sue Maggie's for-profit college, but Maggie's enrollment agreement had a non-litigation clause, and so they're forced to take the matter to arbitration, where they have to try to prove that Maggie's teachers were under-qualified and the school's admissions strategies were predatory. It's a fascinating look into the problems with for-profit education, one that I wish The Good Wife could spend several episodes exploring. Maggie's case falls apart when the school's lawyers get her to admit that she didn't buy her textbooks and often missed class, both of which are understandable given the punitive cost of books and the fact that she was juggling school and work — in one scene, which tidily sums up some of the major barriers to getting a higher education in America. Because Maggie's admission means the arbitration falls apart, the case ends in an unexpected way — a debt strike. Lucca and Alicia convince Maggie and 349 of her closest classmates to consciously default on their loans, an ingenious solution … that backfires once the school countersues the pair of them for tortious interference.
Meanwhile, back at the firm, the situation between Howard and Cary has become so untenable that Howard threatens to file his ageism lawsuit immediately unless he and Cary can undergo mediation. Diane tells Cary they have to comply. After all, Howard is a protected class ("old white dude" rather than "white dude"), and the firm needs to watch its step. Howard trots out all of his complaints: He's taunted for napping; he gets called names like "Flaccid-o Domingo," an affront to both his love of opera and his sexual prowess; he finds adult diapers in his office, left there by unfeeling associates. Cary claims Howard planted the diapers himself to make his case, but it doesn't matter — the firm is sentenced to sensitivity training, and a brilliantly twee counselor invites the partners and associates to stick cotton in their noses, put popcorn kernels in their shoes, wear gauzy glasses, and experience what it's like to be 80 years old. Howard pretends to cry, and the associates, who reported him to Cary a few short weeks ago for being a creep, pile on for hugs.
It all works far better than this story line has in other episodes — both because it has a little space to breathe, and because, while Howard's claims of ageism are overblown (no slight to Howard's sexual prowess intended, of course), the broader point The Good Wife is making about ageism isn't imaginary at all. Howard's kind of a bastard, but the points he's making about how he deserves to be treated in the workplace despite his age are fair. All of that said: I'm curious as to where the Cary/Howard story is going, as it seems unlikely that either man will have a change of heart toward the other anytime soon. I'm not particularly interested in seeing this stalemate continue to play out (especially because it boxes Diane into hall-monitor mode), but I'm not convinced that what we saw last night was resolution, either.
And then there's Eli, still trapped in his tiny office; again, The Good Wife continues to get far more mileage out of the physical comedy invented by that small space than it seems like it should be able to. Marissa (who I hoped would be back this season!) comes to intervene in Eli's professional life, asking him why he's posted up in a closet to get revenge on his former boss. Even though she doesn’t put it in those exact terms, it's a valid point — I wholly believe in Eli's ability to get revenge, but he's running an awfully long con. Eli's entire scheme seems to be "wait around until Ruth completely screws over Peter and the campaign," which I guess, having typed it, doesn't seem like an egregiously bad scheme — it's just not surefire. There are so many variables!
Marissa offers him the opportunity to manage a political campaign in Israel, then goes to Alicia to ask her to talk Eli into taking it. She tells him it's time to part ways, but on his way out of the apartment, Eli suggests the debt-strike strategy, which immediately puts Alicia at odds with the "light on unions" stance Peter's new campaign has taken. Ruth beautifully loses her mind when she finds out Eli's instantly undone everything she did to get Peter to number two in the polls — it's the first we've seen Eli truly, truly rattle her, and you can see him suck energy from her rage, vampire-style. And so Eli comes back to Alicia's apartment, just before the episode ends, and tells her that actually, no, he isn't fired, and he'll be staying on. "Okay," says Alicia, with no questions asked. "Sounds good." Indeed.