You only have to watch the first two and a half minutes of The Good Wife’s premiere to understand just how different it is from other shows on network television. Most network shows would have a bombshell like Cary being forced down onto the ground with a gun at the back of his head as a season finale-ending moment — the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers, a way to keep people talking and guessing all summer long.
But that’s not what Michelle and Robert King chose to do. Rather than closing (and then reopening) the season with a gun, they end and begin with a question, as Eli asked Alicia whether she’d consider running for state’s attorney. It’s a show that has pageantry to spare, but chooses subtlety more often than not, and that’s a major reason why I’m so happy to have it back on my television again.
Eli’s question gets addressed, and we’ll get to that, but it’s Cary and the guns that occupy the bulk of the episode, as he’s taken into custody for allegedly advising Lemond Bishop and his crew about how to move $1.3 million worth of heroin without being detected. If your response to this news — and the eventual bombshell that he was apparently caught on tape doing so — was, “What in the actual fuck?” you’re not alone. Bishop’s not new to the series, but the idea that he and Cary have special ties, criminal or otherwise, certainly is. But while it’s a new direction for The Good Wife, shuttling a character off to prison in order to shake things up isn’t a new narrative technique.
Just this month, new seasons of both Boardwalk Empire and Bones open with major characters in prison (although my Bones intel comes entirely from a muted commercial that aired during Sunday afternoon football, so take that with a grain of salt). Couple those premieres with the proliferation of Orange Is the New Black over the summer, and the prison setting doesn’t feel especially novel, even if it’s an entirely new experience for Cary.
That said, the juxtaposition of the prison scenes against the scenes in the governor’s office and at Florrick/Agos is jarring in a really fascinating way. The Good Wife is all muted color pallettes and clean lines and gentle, classical musical accompaniment. Prison isn’t any of those things, and I was surprised by how mad that made me, both on Cary’s behalf (the scene when Kalinda doesn’t notice him walking in a group of other inmates is particularly hard to watch) and on my own behalf, as a viewer. I like that The Good Wife is nice and clean and easy (even when it’s not), and when Alicia mentioned that Cary could be in prison for as long as a year while he awaits trial, my heart sank a little. Cary being locked up makes the show (sorry, I’m a wimp) scary in a way that it hasn’t been before. But still, I’m interested in this story. I don’t want The Good Wife to become a prison series. We’ll have to wait and see.
Regardless of how I feel about the storyline as a whole, it’s undeniably great to see Matt Czuchry getting a bit more to do. (Stray observation: I continue to believe that Cary is fairly interchangeable with Czurchry’s Gilmore Girls character, Logan, and am interested to see that continue to play out throughout the season.) He gets to show off far more range here than The Good Wife typically allows him, and he plays Cary’s slow realization of just how powerless he is really beautifully. It’s equally fascinating to see Lemond Bishop once again; over the past five seasons, we’ve slowly gotten pieces of information about everyone’s favorite drug lord with the heart of gold, although none of those pieces provides an answer to why Cary would (did?) help him move drugs. Or why Bishop would show up with a duffel bag of cash to bail Cary out. Or why Bishop makes one of his men on the inside try to cut off Cary’s finger. I’m baffled, but I’m definitely intrigued.
Weirdly: Cary’s handcuff buddy at the jail he’s taken to first is played by musician Jonathan Coulton, perhaps in exchange for The Good Wife co-opting his life story for last season’s “Goliath and David”? Regardless of the reason, it’s a delight to see him as a gentleman who seems unsure whether he’s drunker or higher.
In the midst of the drama surrounding Cary’s arrest, Alicia continues to try to woo Diane into joining Florrick/Agos. This has seemed like an inevitability since Will’s death, but it’s an inevitability I’m very much on board with. When Diane said, “Alicia, we have a chance to make this the largest firm in the country run by women,” I got actual goosebumps. I’m in.
Meanwhile, Eli’s begun a dogged pursuit to convince Alicia to run for state’s attorney, assisted (or at least Greek chorus-ed) by his daughter Marissa, played by Sarah Steele, who originated the role all the way back in 2011. Shout out to The Good Wife’s impressively long memory. Alicia’s polling off the charts — eight percent ahead of the closest competitor in the field — but is all but refusing to run. Peter’s not on board either, until Eli informs him that it’s his job to protect Peter from the unknowns, and a state’s attorney who’s not a friendly face is a pretty massive unknown. That’s a revelation that comes at the heels of one of Eli’s more impressive tantrums, which is in large part sparked because Peter apparently has a special intern named Lauren who’s not afraid to show off her panties, or lack thereof. Things continue apace at the governor’s office, is my point.
It’s a heavy-handed hour of television — if the title of an episode is “The Line,” it’s probably not necessary to constantly zoom in on lines that separate inmates and non-inmates and judges and attorneys — but one that reaffirms The Good Wife’s identity as a show that’s unafraid to reinvent itself. I might be uncertain about the show taking on this particular form but as always, I’m awed by the fearlessness.