I think the New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum has been secretly reading the Televangelist, because in last week's issue she brought up everything about "The Good Wife" that I have been preaching all season long. And last night, "The Good Wife" proved us both right by showcasing all of its best elements in one fantastic episode. "After the Fall" had a familiar gimmicky attorney (Mamie Gummer as the faux-ditz), a quirky judge (Josh Hamilton as a lover of ditzy blondes), a Case of the Week ripped from the headlines that had a focus on technology, plus The Secret Life of Will, Donna Brazile, Peter and Alicia's future and, best of all, Eli Gold versus David Lee. If ever there was a week for new viewers to turn in and get hooked, surely this is it.
I'll start with the Case of the Week, which was overshadowed by much of the other drama last night but still held its own as both comic relief and a dark commentary on art (a weird but interesting juxtaposition). The suicide documentary (whose directer you may recognize as Rudy from "Dexter") is based on a real video call Golden Gate, which documented suicides off of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Though I haven't personally seen the film, the verdict from those who have seems to be a resounding "that was the most disturbing thing I've ever witnessed." Does it nearly qualify as a snuff film? Lockhart Gardner was not taking the position of whether the films should exist, but rather proving that they did not cause additional suicides, and whether the director was culpable in the death of his subject.
The case fishtailed around until an ending that seemed to put blame on the unfortunate shoulders of the grieving parents who had been a little too stern with their financial punishment for their daughter breaking her promise to keep up a certain GPA. It was unfair and also unexplored - once the firm could point the finger away from their client and get a settlement that required a mere disclaimer and a share in profits to a prevention group, it didn't matter who was harmed from the fallout (or that the telephone at the bridge didn't work and that it takes the police three-quarters of an hour to respond). It's something that Emily Nussbaum brought up in her article - "The Good Wife" is never black and white. Lockhart Gardner is not an altruistic law firm fighting for good. It's a law firm fighting for wins. The ethics aren't always paramount.
The bright spot in the trial was of course the Blonde on Blonde. Alicia cleverly leverages Caitlin's attractiveness and true naiveté in court to gain the attention and sympathy of the judge who, before, was falling for the other blonde attorney's fake "I'm just a cute small-town girl" act. Caitlin out-cuted her and used some actual smarts to win the case. Diane, always looking for women to mentor, snatched the opportunity to promote Caitlin and take her under her wing.
Alicia's response to this series of events was explosive in its silence. In earlier seasons, it was Alicia who played the role of the sexy attorney, wheeled out in front of judges who were partial to women. But early in this episode, Alicia realizes that her charms are not enough for some men who look to younger women, and so she brought in a younger woman. In doing so, Alicia seemed to spawn a clone of herself. Does she feel threatened?
What's more is that she spurned Diane's mentoring wing in the past because she knew that Will always had her interests - career-wise and otherwise - in mind. But Will is gone, at least for now, and Diane still reigns supreme. It is Diane who is promoting this new Bright Young Thing, and there's nothing shady or ethically questionable about it. It's an interesting commentary as well about women in the workplace, and Alicia's final pause watching Caitlin move her things into a new office makes for some extremely interesting subtext I hope will be explored more in future episodes.
Like all of the best "Good Wife" episodes, Alicia was not the center of attention. Her side-lined story was powerful without needing to take the front of the stage. In addition to her Caitlin Issue, Alicia was also forced to make a quick decision about her future as it affects Peter. Is she getting a divorce? Possibly, but she's put the breaks on things for now, at least regarding her partnership with David Lee. Furthermore, she heard a female in the background while she spoke to Will, and seemed to think that perhaps he had finally moved on after all, so shouldn't she?
For his part, Will hasn't moved on (since, as his sister pointed out, he was using his "sweet voice" with Alicia on the phone), but we did get to see more of a man who has remained largely mysterious regarding his background and personal life. In fact, we really don't know much background with any of the characters on the show aside from Alicia, and it was another nice bit of comic relief to have Will's meddling sisters come to town and drive him so crazy (who can blame him?) that he left his beautiful Chicago apartment, his guitar and his book-in-progress to run back into the arms of the firm, where Diane had been saving a seat for him.
The most delicious moments of "The Good Wife" come at the hands of the firm's vultures. Julius, David Lee and Eli all swarmed around Will's empty office and Diane's desk to plead their cases to take his place, not even because they wanted it (except in Julius' case) but because they didn't want one of the others to have it. The way Diane played everything was flawless, and the tension among the three that lead to David Lee pulling up a chair outside Eli's office was pure ... dare I say gold? The office politics and in-fighting are always a pleasure when not overwrought or too dramatic, and Will reappearing at the end of the episode was a nice way to cap any further mutiny among the ranks.
"The Good Wife" has had a terribly uneven third season, and with all of CBS' hiatuses it has lost some of its trajectory. Before last night, I have hesitated to tell people to tune in because some of the subplots had become so dense and insider-y that a new viewer would likely have trouble picking up on some of the best looks, cutting glances and references of the show that make it more than a law procedural. "After the Fall" had plenty of that, don't get me wrong, but it was also an episode that was interesting and accessible as a stand-alone. If you're trying to get a friend into the show, I would point to last night's fare as a good gateway drug, which is about as much praise as can be given for it. And it is certainly and aboslutely due.
Next Week: Oh that naughty murderer man who has a crush on Alicia is back, and she does not look happy. Plus, the fantastic Bebe Neuworth! Should be a good one.
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Holy Casting! I spoke at length a few weeks about about "The Good Wife's" excellent casting department, but they really pulled in people from my TV and movie viewing past this week: Josh Hamilton (Kicking and Screaming, "Sex and the City," Broken English and a bunch of other stuff), Merritt Weaver ("Nurse Jackie," "The Wire"), Nadia Dajani ("Sex and the City," "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), and of course Christian Camargo ("Dexter," The Hurt Locker) … and I'm pretty sure all of them have been on "Law and Order" at some point (but who hasn't?)
— "Aw, you're no longer the last kid picked for the mutiny!" - Diane to Eli
— Has Donna Brazile lost weight? Also, she needs to take some tips from Monica Kaufman about hairstyles.
— I didn't mention Peter's story at all, but it was another great arc. Peter has tried very, very hard to run a "clean ship," but is that even possible in politics? Is it possible if you want to advance in politics, anyway? Apparently not, and in the end Peter gives in to the age-old practice of patronage, bumping my fave, Geneva, from her post. Cary seemed particularly miffed about things, but when did he become such an idealist? His position is safe. And does he really think that Lockhart Gardner is any more ethical? Give me a break! Cary needs to cheer up and go back to be smarmy, it's a better look on him.
— David Lee may be eclipsing Eli has my favorite character, possibly because he doesn't get so overused.
— I really, really want to live in Will's apartment. Will living there too is optional.
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