Last night’s episode of The Good Wife, which I like to believe CBS aired to spare us from the “comedic” styles of Ricky Gervais and the Golden Globes, picks up where the winter finale left off: Eli admits to deleting a message that Will left on Alicia’s voicemail years ago, Alicia hisses at him to get out, and he doesn’t listen.
Furious, Alicia all but hurls a table at him. Then she opens her china cabinet, sorts aside her best dishes, and chucks them at Eli until he finally scampers out the door. (Throughout the scene, he talks about how good he feels to be unburdened of his secret, and how they ought to settle this so that it won’t be awkward on the campaign bus.) She winds up back in her bedroom, where she throws her already-packed suitcase for the Iowa caucus to the floor, sobbing, and then methodically repacks.
The sequence is intended to be a three-minute-long emotional sucker punch, but it doesn’t land the way it’s supposed to; instead, it highlights a growing problem with the show. Julianna Margulies excels at a certain type of subtle acting. That was true during her tenure on ER, and it’s true now. For its first six seasons, The Good Wife played to that strength, but the show’s material and dialogue have gotten far broader. Alan Cumming doesn’t hesitate to chew the scenery (and that’s a compliment), but it’s clear that many of the show’s other performers aren’t wired for over-the-top acting. I certainly believe Alicia would have an over-the-top reaction to learning that she’d missed a real chance at a life with Will, but this just feels like melodrama. (The same goes for Alicia standing around in oversized sunglasses, telling Ruth, “I used to think I knew what life was about, but I don’t have a clue.”)
There’s something more compelling about the Alicia we see on the campaign trail, though. At first, she’s essentially her Stepford self, the titular Good Wife on steroids. She sits on the campaign bus, ear buds in and sunglasses on, reading Jane Eyre and agreeing to whatever Ruth asks of her. Meanwhile, Peter attempts “the full Grassley,” which requires him to visit a seemingly impossible number of Iowa counties in a single day to drum up support before the caucus. Alicia is equally listless when Lucca calls with questions about Jackie and Howard Lyman’s prenup — I’ll get to this in a minute, but yes, somehow Howard remains at the forefront of this season.
Ruth finally gets Alicia to open up a little, although she’s probably sorry once she does. Alicia tells her about a boy in her criminal-law class from years ago, and how she wishes she could go back in time because she “would have said yes.” Ruth has to know Alicia is talking about Will, right? Their affair was one of the first things Alicia’s own opposition research drummed up last year, so given her extensive background on Peter, she must have turned up the same information.
Ruth tries to soothe Alicia’s fretting with an anecdote of her own: She was in love once, they split because she didn’t want kids, and she wondered what might have been … until she learned he’d been arrested for mail fraud. That’s when she stopped wondering. As pep talks go, it’s unhelpful. And besides, the two situations don’t really compare, not when Alicia knows there’s something she could have done differently, had she only heard Will’s message.
Meanwhile, Peter’s eating loose-meat sandwiches and being trailed around the state by his most enthusiastic supporter, who wears a revolutionary war-style uniform and raps (a nod to Hamilton, perhaps?). There’s a series of gaffes — Alicia gets caught on camera calling the whole affair a nightmare, Peter spits out his bite of sandwich while cameras are rolling — but after a swelling of support at the caucus, buoyed by Alicia, Zach, and Grace’s efforts, Peter’s chances almost look promising. He falls short regardless, winning only four counties, and finishes in a distant fourth.
Eli castigates Ruth for overlooking Alicia, saying, “Peter’s not number one. Not nationally. She is.” (We’ve likely seen the last of Ruth, and I’m very sad about that.) I’m very interested to see where all of Eli’s “ALICIA FLORRICK HUNG THE MOON” showboating will go, and, while I know there was no way The Good Wife could feasibly carry this campaign story much further, I’m legitimately bummed on Peter’s behalf. Watching Jackie sniffle at the television and fume about how Iowa has too much power in the electoral process is particularly sad. And also a little bit hilarious, to be fair.
Back at the firm, Cary and Diane are dealing with an investigation into their discriminatory hiring practices, based on a complaint from Monica … who they’ve since hired. Monica tries to withdraw the complaint, but you can’t un-ring that particular bell, so the investigation moves forward. Diane tells Cary to publicly apologize for any racist behavior at the firm, and he does her one better: He moves Howard to emeritus status to appease the investigator — and to finally get what he’s been pushing for all season. Well played.
There’s also a kerfuffle around Howard and Jackie’s prenuptial agreement, which involves, among other things: Accusations of senility, Howard napping with his pants off, David Lee embezzling (or “selectively depositing”) money in Howard’s accounts to defraud Alicia, furtive calls to Jason, and, finally, a sweet moment between Jackie and Howard where she reveals that her fear isn’t financial. She’s worried that the two of them won’t have much time together. Now that Peter won’t be the president — or, more accurately, the vice-president — their prenup doesn’t really matter to her anyway. (There’s no way he still stands a chance, right?)
Jackie’s shoulder shrug felt a bit like the way The Good Wife’s showrunners seem to approaching narratives these days. They toss a problem into the show, resolve it, then pretend it never mattered. It’s an inevitable flaw — television has to keep moving forward — but now that Peter’s shot at the White House seems to be over, we’re left with a big question: What comes next?