I blame AMC for bandwagoning on HBO's "Sunday night = Emmy night" programming schedule, causing an avalanche of other networks and cable channels to follow. How are we supposed to choose when there are six or more great shows all on at the same time across several networks? This is why the Nielsen ratings are bogus and why my Mondays are a deluge of feelings and why "The Good Wife" suffers from my "Game of Thrones" and "Mad Men" hangover this week. Was it a terrible episode? No, but could it contend with shadow babies and Roger taking LSD? Not quite.
This was the penultimate episode of a very drawn out and very inconsistent season for "The Good Wife," which held some of its best and some of its most worthless episodes and stories of the series. I feel strongly, after watching last night's lackluster "The Penalty Box" that the order of these final episodes should have been shifted. Alicia standing behind Peter at the podium would have been a fantastic and tantalizing ending to a season that saw Alicia come almost full circle from the show's opening scene three years ago. Instead, the whole story seemed to gear down into neutral and focus on some of the ancillary characters - like Howard - that provided a few chuckles but slowed the thrust of the show to idle.
The Case of the Week, which has often been a low point in episodes this season, did set the theme of "conflict of interest," which permeated "Penalty Box." As Diane said to Will early on, "we face 50 conflicts of interest from here to the elevator every day," but for once they seemed to matter. Will pulled away from his budding romance with Callie because he feared it would be an unfortunate repeating pattern for him, but she didn't take the job not because of Will but because there was a better one out there. Kalinda's ill-fated romance with FBI agent Lana interfered with a fragile relationship with the Avon Barksdale of "The Good Wife," Lamont Bishop, while the judge Cuesta held out for a long time to testify or implicate his prosecutorial co-counsel from a 20 year old case because of loyalty, something that Cary and Peter are always working through as Cary moves to Lockhart Gardner.
"The Good Wife" is never one to shy away from the darker side of trial lawyering, as the former prosecutor and now judge Cuesta says he is "disgusted" by how the defense plays games with the truth. He then asks Diane if she believes in hell. She says no. He replies, "I don't either, but then I meet lawyers and I change my mind." Zing! Later, as Alicia and Cary share a moment together over their beers, Cary says "but your client was innocent." "Was he?" Alicia counters. "Does it matter?" It doesn't, not in Lockhart Gardner's world. It has been interesting to see how those imperfect ethics have shaped Alicia's character over the years and taken some of the halo away from her sainthood, but it also shows the great truth and sincerity the series brings to its stories.
Much of "The Penalty Box" was spent on the Cuesta trial, but it did take a few breaks to give a nod to ongoing office politics. Even though I felt that the comedic use of Howard could have been better served earlier in the season (he really was killing it last night), I did like the callback to Eli and Julius' plans to dethrone Will. Just because those two were neutralized by the Howard appointment certainly didn't mean they were out for the count. Already Eli is stirring things up, trying to get Howard on their side to turn against Will. But as Will wisely says to Diane, "it will work itself out." Howard is a volatile compound. You might can use him to your advantage, or he might do something so bizarre that you realize he can't be controlled and could in fact sabotage your entire operation. By the end of "Penalty Box," Eli had gotten his own taste of the other side of Howard, the side that wants to get rid of Diane as well as Will "while they're at it." Later, Will gets back at Cary by pawning him off on Howard, who has some great ideas like a discretionary fund to get the clients laid. Wrong era, Howard, but you and Roger Sterling would have definitely gotten along.
After the cliffhanger scene of Alicia at the podium with Peter, I expected some kind of comment or follow-up on the matter, but there was no mention of it to the point of the two Florricks not communicating at all. While there are many (myself included) who would like to see Alicia and Peter find some common ground on which to reconcile, Peter's phone call to Cary and Cary's remark that he was "cheating" with Alicia makes me wonder if Peter is using Cary as a plant or spy. Or maybe he just likes the kid and wants to chat. Stranger things have happened, including Kalinda taking a break from following through completely with her seduction of Lana and instead just being honest. She's scared, and she needs Lana to stop investigating her and Lamont Bishop. Even though Alicia neutralized the situation with Lana by "playing with the truth" as Cuesta would say, it's unlikely that story is over. And I hope it's not, because I realized how fun it might be if, for once, Kalinda is the one who needs to out-maneuver someone following her. (I am not giving any lip service to that ridiculous plot last season with Blake. Erased from my memory).
This has been a fractured review of a fractured episode in a fractured season. There are always good moments and great characters that keep me involved with "The Good Wife," but I'm expecting some major posturing in next week's finale to prove that there is a direction for next season, and that it will be one that will prove itself worthy of this intensely competitive Sunday night slot.
Next Week: Alicia receives a dangerous phone call, and the "dream team" of lawyers are planning a takedown!
Musings and Miscellanea:
— "The Good Wife" once again has reached into the casting pot from "The Wire" and pulled forth ... Mr Prezbo! Or Jim True-Frost, as he is known in real life.
— Kleinberg: "I volunteered." Cuesta: "Yes, just like Brutus volunteered to govern Gaul."
— Lamont Bishop is scary. When he confronted Kalinda I wrote in my notes, "awww here go the hell come!"
— Howard: "Is Cary gay? Because he only wanted to take men on the desert island." Diane: "Thurgood Marshall and Keith Richards?"
— "Can you please keep your pants zipped??" - Diane to Will. Here here! Also, mopey Will is not a fun Will.
— Today I learned that a weave is an occupational necessity in real estate.
— "I'm still stupid" - Cary. Bless him.
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