The Good Wife
This episode of The Good Wife was strange from the outset. Remember those live-action segments that used to air on Sesame Street? The ones about building a playground in the Bronx, or visiting a bottle factory? The opening of “Discovery” felt like one of those, only instead of learning how glass bottles get made, we were exploring … well, I’m not exactly sure what we were meant to take away from a montage of ones and zeros, cell-phone apps, GPS systems, and computer solitaire. Technology is all around us, but does an audience watching television in 2015 really need that fact to be proven?
Also, the entire thing was backed by a cheesy (but catchy) “la la la” melody, which was awkward in its own right.
That awkwardness unfortunately spilled over into the rest of the episode. After six seasons and change, The Good Wife has found yet another way to tell a story about technology. Every time an episode centers around computers or the internet, though, viewers are constantly distracted from the story by how unrealistic everything looks. From the cheesy ChumHum mascot to the poorly designed pop-up ads to the oversized icons, each scene that involves a screen feels like it’s straight out of 2007. At best. And it’s hard to make an exchange feel fresh when characters huddle around a computer and point things out on a monitor. Even aside from the technology story line, “Discovery” just didn’t feel like a regular episode of The Good Wife, right down to the dialogue, as evidenced by this exchange between Eli and Nora:
Eli: I have a mission for you.
Nora: Really? That sounds very … missionlike.
Eli: It is.
I can’t tell if that’s a joke that didn’t land or a lazily written exchange, but either way, the fact that it stuck out enough to notice is a problem.
Enough about what felt off, though. Let’s get to the meat of the story. Cary and Diane represent Divya Feldman, an African-American owner of a small restaurant. She claims her restaurant was shut down after ChumHum released a version of their mapping program that categorized streets and neighborhoods as safe or unsafe, with non-white neighborhoods most frequently deemed “unsafe.” After Divya’s street was designated “unsafe” (a.k.a. “primarily African-American”), her business folded, so she’s suing ChumHum. Incidentally, Divya is brought in by the young African-American attorney who, after the firm turned her down for a summer position, leaked unflattering video of their hiring processes.
It’s sort of funny that, by the end of the episode, it turns out Divya’s business tanked before the maps and she’s going after ChumHum regardless. A lot of ground is covered trying to support her baseless claim. Actually, scratch that — her claim isn’t baseless, it’s just not the reason why her restaurant closed. Racism was germane to the team at ChumHum that designed the program — and also the designed photo-sorting software that identified a photo of an African-American woman as an “animal.” This isn’t the loud, hateful racism that’s easy to identify and criticize, but a far more commonplace type of subtle, insidious, internalized racism.
This is an interesting and important topic for The Good Wife to tackle, but the episode is so stuffed with the discovery process that it doesn’t get the focus it deserves. Also, there’s a really troubling scene where Alicia and Lucca search ChumHum executives’ inboxes for terms like “negro,” “spic,” and “coon.” It almost seems to be played for laughs or levity — it’s underscored by the same type of inappropriately jaunty music that’s in the opening of the episode.
While I’m not thrilled that Cary spends a large portion of the episode trying to claim that reverse racism exists as a real and insidious thing — such a classic white dude move — I’m glad we actually get to see him practice some law, something he hasn’t done much of so far this season. I’m also intrigued by the new chemistry between him and Lucca, if only because it’ll be a chance to learn more about who Lucca is as a person. Through nine episodes, so far we only have details like “enjoys color-blocked dresses” and “practices law.” Watching her and Cary dance together at the club she chooses — hell, watching Cary dance at all — was a really fun moment.
Meanwhile, Ruth sees Alicia casually touching Jason’s arm (and wearing his reading glasses) and loses her mind. She hauls Eli into her office to ask whether they’re having an affair. Eli says he’ll handle it, though I was a little surprised to not hear him offer up, “No, it’s cool, I walked in on the Florricks doing it like a week ago,” as an easy appeasement. To be fair, Ruth has a right to be concerned. Jason’s sole action on this show appears to be lolling around Alicia’s apartment, sucking on his glasses, and exuding sex appeal. This is an observation, not a complaint.
Eli’s concerned too, but for his own reasons. He confides in Courtney that he’s still actively trying to rehabilitate Alicia not for Peter’s campaign, but for one of her own some day. Courtney’s impressed, and writes a $50,000 check to Eli on the spot for a focus group to see whether he’s “resurrected St. Alicia.” The focus group goes well, although it made me wonder whether Alicia even wants to run for public office. And seriously, would a guy-on-the-street picked for a focus group really know that Alicia sits on the election board?
This leads to a showdown between Eli and Jason, where Eli confronts him with a file of research from Peter’s campaign. Jason tells Eli that he’s been honest with Alicia about his past, and Eli asks whether Alicia knows “what’s on the last page” of the file he’s handed over. “Why are you investigating Alicia?” Jason’s explanation seems legitimate: He wanted to know who he was working for before he took the job, and investigators investigate. It’s what they do. Eli tries to bring the same file to Alicia, but she slams the door in his face.
With one last little gasp of surreality, that dippy music starts up again, pulling us through Alicia’s peep hole and into her kitchen. She’s standing there, hand on hip, absolutely exasperated. After this episode, so am I.