The Good Wife Recap: Lies Make the World Go Round

The Good Wife

Pants on Fire
Season 3 Episode 20
Pants On Fire - THE GOOD WIFE

The Good Wife

Pants on Fire
Season 3 Episode 20
Photo: David M. Russell/CBS

Three episodes to go until the end of the season, and things are getting mighty juicy. But doesn’t this feel like déjà vu? That, for all the twists and turns, we’re heading straight back to season one? That what we’re working toward is rebooting in season four and forgetting that this season ever happened?

I want to start with the last shot of the episode. It’s a mirror of the shot that opened the series pilot — a zoom-in on Alicia’s furrowed face as she stands by Peter’s side at a press conference. She looks far more relaxed and confident this time around. Peter is announcing he’s running for governor, after all, not that he’s slept with a prostitute. But just because she’s moved past her anger and disgust doesn’t mean she’s unaware of the shit-storm she’s walking into. As Evil Chandler (a.k.a. Mike Kresteva, as played by the stunningly-good-at-playing-a-terrible-person Matthew Perry) says, Peter may not regret entering the race, but Alicia certainly will. Alicia seems to be thinking the same thing: Is she really right back where she started?

The answer, of course, is not quite. She’s powerful, combative, and willing to stand up for herself in a way that she wasn’t yet capable of as the mouse we saw at the beginning of the series. But the show is heading back, in a positive direction, toward one of its strongest themes: the struggle between one’s public and private lives. That she has to be the new and improved Alicia 2.0 under the public face of first-generation Alicia is what this show was based upon. Another strong recurring meme: Alicia’s struggles to be a moral, truthful person when her legal profession, the world of politics, and even certain members of her family (ahem, Jackie) often operate through manipulation and lies.

This episode picks up the Jackie confrontation as we’d left it in the previous episode, Alicia looming over her mother-in-law with a look that says everyone’s lucky there are no kitchen knives around. The looming comes mid-shampoo with an ego-stroking hairdresser who seems to be voicing Jackie’s inner monologue: Peter’s so tall and handsome he could be president! Alicia wants to know why Jackie put a down payment on the House of Sadness when she knew Alicia had put an offer on it. As Jackie glides across the hair salon toward her confrontation, her white tresses slicked back, she looks even more like Bram Stoker’s Dracula than usual.

Jackie’s answer, full of LIES, sets off the tone for the episode. She tells Alicia she did it because she didn’t want another family to get the house. POSSIBLE LIE. She also tells Alicia she found out it was for sale because she just happened to be in Highland Park and saw the sign. OUTRAGEOUS LIE! Alicia has never had a problem standing up to Jackie, but she’s guns ablazin’ today, calling her out at every turn. So Jackie just happened to be wandering through Highland Park and thought she needed a giant $1.9 million four-bedroom? Jackie says she bought the house as a present to Peter and the kids. Alicia wants to know why she didn’t buy them the house back when they lost it because, oh, Jackie’s son went to prison. It’s such great, biting dialogue I have to quote it:

Alicia: We struggled for three years. We lost our home. We took Zach and Grace out of school. Where was all this generosity then?
: Alicia, I offered you a place in my home, I offered you loans, and every time you said, “I want to do this on my own.” Well, I don’t have that many years left. I’d like to leave something for my children.
: [Realization creeping over her face.] And you’ll live there with them.
You’re giving Peter and the kids the house and you will live there with them.
I don’t know. I don’t want to presume.
Well, you’re finally getting what you wanted, Jackie.
And what is that?
Replacing me.

The music slips from muzak to ominous tones, and Alicia vows to Jackie that she’ll stop her. Jackie: “I don’t think that’s possible.” Bwuuuu-ha-ha! Alicia: “I’m a lawyer. Watch me.” Meee-owww! (Sound effects mine.)

The exchange is great because battling Jackie is the one part of Alicia’s life where she stands up for herself, no holds barred. If she burns bridges with Jackie, she really doesn’t care. What’s also telling is that Alicia doesn’t always have the moral high ground — she’s just determined to dig her heels in no matter what when it comes to Jackie. She probably really did stubbornly refuse to take money Jackie offered her to maintain her old lifestyle (not that she wanted to maintain it). And, as Peter points out when Alicia calls up to rage about how Jackie wanted to put him in that house with the kids so Alicia would be on the outs, Alicia didn’t even consider him when she put an offer on the house. Her ideal version of events would have meant her living in the House of Sadness with the kids, and him on the outs.

In the end, Peter basically chastises his mother for being the most immature person in the situation. “Alicia and I are trying very hard to act like adults,” he tells her, before threatening to cut her out of his life if she doesn’t back down. Does she? We don’t know. She has a stroke right after Peter yells at her.

Alicia can’t know this, so when she hears Jackie’s Psycho ringtone, she picks up and starts yelling at her for having dipped into Zach and Grace’s trust to finance the down payment. (She found out because she hired Kalinda to look into Jackie.) This brings up many questions, like how does Jackie have access to Zach and Grace’s trust? Didn’t Alicia just set that up a few months ago with David Lee? How is it that moneybags Jackie needed to siphon money out of a trust in the first place? And how is Jackie strong enough to make a whole bunch of phone calls while blood is pooling in her brain? (Answer: SHE’S A VAMPIRE!) Their enmity is so great Alicia doesn’t even believe Jackie had a stroke. And when Alicia arrives at the hospital, Jackie makes her lean down so Jackie can whisper in her ear an icy, condescending, “I forgive you,” just before feigning weakness as Peter runs in. Best. Evil Mother-in-law. Ever.

Back at work, we have the case of the slumber camp murders, a.k.a. The Good Wife’s take on the West Memphis Three. (Check out HBO’s Paradise Lost documentary trilogy and this great GQ article.) Like the West Memphis Three, the case deals with three teenagers, Lindsay, Megan, and Pamela, who may or may not be wrongly imprisoned for brutally killing another teen, Rosa Torres. Because of DNA crime lab screw-ups in the Childs era of the SA’s office (aw, I miss Childs!), the court vacates the conviction but still holds the girls for retrial. Cary and the SA’s office offer the girls an Alford plea, which essentially means they’re pleading guilty but they get to go free, which is what happened with the West Memphis Three.

The reason they’re being offered the plea is because the SA’s office is worried they’re going to sue for having been wrongly imprisoned. The last suit against the DNA lab resulted in a $10 million reward. But there’s no guarantee they’ll get exonerated the second time around, or win the suit. Some want out now. Some want the money. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Diane is pushing for the money.

So Super Kalinda has three days to solve a five-year-old murder those silly police and forensic experts messed up. She’s so cute when she gets all sleuth-y! She looks at a crime scene photo and somehow figures out Rosa was wearing a bike clip around her ankle to keep her pants from getting caught in the chain, which means she was on a bike that the police never found. Then she figures out that Rosa had abandoned the bike outside the summer camp property, which meant she was murdered there and then dragged back on campus. Then she goes around knocking on doors near where Rosa left the bike and discovers the photography teacher (Will Swenson) who was banging the underage girls at the camp. He has an alibi, but Kalinda notices in a photograph that the teacher and one of the defendants, Megan, are wearing matching friendship bracelets, which means that a jealous Megan was probably lying in wait for Rosa to kill her for getting with her much, much older man.

The girls take the Alford plea, which is a gift to the two — Lindsay and Pamela — who were innocent, and an epic travesty of justice regarding Megan, the one who did it and is getting away with not only murder, but taking away five years of her friends’ lives and making them forever convicted felons. The law is messy, if you hadn’t figured that out by now. It’s a poignant release that makes you realize how much of these girls’ lives were stolen from them. Lindsay’s only plan is to play volleyball, since it’s about the only thing she can remember liking before she went away.

In small part, the case also allows us to see that Cary is starting to get close with his L&G family again. He leaves her a Post-It on a crime file that seems to indicate he’s back on Team Kalinda: “Kalinda, one step ahead of you. Good luck, Cary.” And he and Alicia have an exchange where he hints that he doesn’t think he’s long for the SA’s office anymore. Cary seems to think he has not much of a job. Alicia: “You don’t seem happy here, Cary.” Cary: “Really? Here in my cubicle? I’ve got my Family Circus cartoons and my ficus. What more could I want?” We know from the promos that he’s heading back to L&G, so I forgive the show criminally under-using Matt Czuchry in the last half of the season. He better get a kick-ass story line in season four.

Also popping up through the case is a new love interest for Will: Callie (Julianne Nicholson), one of the lawyers for the other girls. They were supposed to go on a date three years earlier but she stood him up because she was in rehab for cocaine addiction. She asks Will out again and takes him to Behind the Bar, a support group for suspended lawyers. It’s the one true bit of comic relief in the episode, seeing them sitting in a circle of empty chairs with the one other attendee, who cannot stop bawling. So Callie tells Will to pretend they’re strangers and slips him her address. Sounds pretty hot.  

The real fireworks, though, happen when Mike Kresteva shows up unexpectedly at Alicia’s office and tells her that the Blue Ribbon Panel she was on last episode has changed its report. They’re now censuring the officers for not announcing themselves, for shooting an unarmed man, and for possibly placing a drop gun on him. And they’re censuring the State’s Attorney for possibly covering it up. You fine commenters picked up on the very obvious parallels to the Trayvon Martin case, which sort of ups the ante for how explosive and damaging this could be to Peter.

Kresteva tells Alicia he’s come to give her the opportunity to write a minority report, which he knows she won’t do since it just opens her up to criticism for ignoring the truth to defend her husband. Never mind that she was the only one on that panel who cared at all about the truth. He’s so awful, spouting manipulative lines like: “All tyranny need to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. So don’t remain silent.” I missed it the first time I viewed the episode, but it’s while Kresteva is bantering with Diane that he first drops the LIE that he plans to perpetuate throughout the episode: “Alicia just asked me in to discuss our Blue Ribbon Panel.” Alicia’s ears prick up, but she doesn’t interject, like, “Um, no, you came to see me.” She’s going to regret that.

She regrets it hours later when she sees that Kresteva has held a press conference in which he not only spills that the State’s Attorney’s wife was on the panel that censured the State’s Attorney, but also LIES and says that Alicia called him into her office and said she would only sign a report that exonerated her husband. AND THEN he has this whole heart-strings-baiting bit where he talks about his son’s acute leukemia. AND THEN he announces he’s running for governor.

Alicia is appalled, as she should be, but Eli assures her that she just doesn’t get the game: “People lie, and politicians are people.” It’s a 24-hour news story and if they ignore it, it will go away. “You have to let it go, Alicia,” Eli tells her. “It’s the big leagues. You foul a few off.”

But Alicia can’t ignore something that makes her look like a bad person, so of course she ignores Eli and goes to confront Kresteva on being a LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE. And Kresteva LIES again! “I was stunned when you asked me to change the report,” he says. LIAR. “I asked you if this was covered by confidentiality. You said no. Otherwise, I would never have mentioned it in my press conference.” And this: “I know a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has put his shoes on. But still.” He is the worst!

Eli is very good at his job (he says so and I believe him!), so he already knows how things went down when Alicia tells him, shamefacedly, that she couldn’t help herself from confronting Kresteva. “He said he wasn’t lying, you just misremembered.” Kresteva had hoped to get Alicia so upset she’d get Peter to pull out of the race, but little does he know that he’s dealing with Alicia 2.0. All this does is fuel her determination to take Kresteva down.

Unfortunately for Eli, he’s doing too well at his job, because the DCC comes by and tells him to stop helping out on Vanessa’s campaign. They already have a man in the race, but he only wins if he gets the women’s vote, and he only gets that if Vanessa disappears. So Eli’s stuck with the unenviable task of abandoning Vanessa just as they’re having an awesome time together and have just had sex. Ouch. It sucks because Eli has awesome taste in women — first Amy Sedaris, then Parker Posey. And getting laid regularly could really do him some good. Plus, his post-sex hair makes him look like Billy Zane when he’s trying to kill Leo DiCaprio as the ship is sinking in Titanic, which kind of seems appropriate.

Alicia tells Peter that he has her support; she’s going to don her good wife façade once again because she knows he’s a hell of a lot better than the other guy. Speaking of whom, Peter ambushes Kresteva in an elevator. It’s an awesome, tense scene. Love the moment when someone tries to get in and Kresteva makes them take the next one. Peter says he’s down for the gloves to come off, but wants their families kept out of it. Kresteva isn’t interested: “My one play here is to keep you out of the race. And how do you keep an ambitious man out of the race? Tell him you’ll go after his family with everything you’ve got.” Peter calls his bet. After all, his family already knows what hell feels like, and that’s one monster trump card.

The Good Wife Recap: Lies Make the World Go Round