The Good Wife, Season 5, Episode 2: “The Bit Bucket”
Written by Robert King and Ted Humphrey
Directed by Michael Zinberg
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on CBS
Only The Good Wife could take on the NSA with the near perfect mixture of dread and whimsy it manages in “The Bit Bucket.” It was inevitable the show would tackle the newly revealed reach of the National Security Agency this season—it is a perfect collection of so many of the show’s predilections. It heavily involves technology, casts a suspicious eye towards bureaucracy, hints at levels of apathy and corruption in the government, and allows the show to strut its quirky legal knowledge like the peacock it can be at its most ostentatious.
Opening with a zippy, funny sequence that follows two NSA trackers (Zach Woods and Tobias Segal), the episode spins out to pull in various disparate threads from the show’s history while pushing forward many of its current plotlines. Lockhart Gardner’s defense of Marwat way back in season three has allowed the NSA to keep tabs on Alicia and Diane, and Zack’s personal problems with Nisa now give them a window into the Governor’s Mansion. It’s all so highly suspect even the gleefully amoral trackers (who show shades of Dollhouse‘s Topher Brink) seem surprised by how far their authority stretches.
The episode is getting at the way the security state has grown into such a vast bureaucracy with so many pieces that virtually anything can be justified—or concealed—under the auspices of national security. The NSA dodges the question of whether it can overhear discussions about a pending lawsuit against it, but the implicit answer is they can do anything. Lawsuits are decided behind closed doors in the SCIF, with the other party not even allowed to know why they’ve lost. A hint of anything unlawful, whether related to the investigation being conducted or not, can lead to prosecution. This is the world we live in, and The Good Wife finds that deeply unsettling.
The legal mechanics of the case are actually several levels of brilliant this week, as a prior restraint claim shifts into a selective enforcement action and finally comes to hinge on economics (this is the Seventh Circuit, after all), but even for viewers for are not giant law nerds, this is fun stuff, as an objectionable gag order for ChumHum becomes a gag order that keeps the government from divulging just how little the company actually won in its action, and just how much of its customers’ privacy is still on the line.
While the legalese works this week, the slow-moving train that is the Florrick/Agos departure barely shifts at all. The Good Wife has a twenty-two episode order to fill, of course, and that occasionally means it has to stall before pulling the trigger on major upheavals, but that is exactly what their real estate problems feel like tonight. Fortunately, if you throw Stockard Channing into the middle of things, stalling suddenly becomes far more appealing. Though Channing doesn’t really make the scene where she has to hide her investment from David Lee work, her presence allows for an excellent drunken conversation between Alicia and her mother, where our heroine asks why her mom never liked her as a kid and the two admit they would be better at things if they could get a do over. The relationship between Alicia and Veronica has always been more of a simmer than a boil and the years of fraught interactions we’ve witnessed make this moment land all the harder, and make it easier to believe that Veronica might be willing to part with $140,000 to help her daughter start a new firm.
Finally, Diane is put in a pointlessly impossible situation as the Chief Justice’s “concerns” over her partnership with Will boil up again. This is the worst plotline “The Bit Bucket” has to offer, as Diane remains loyal until just the second her betrayal is no longer necessary. It will probably make for some fireworks in the hallways of Lockhart Gardner in the next few weeks, but this is a cheap stunt for the show to pull. Diane’s loyalty to Will is one of the best aspects of The Good Wife, and while its clear she wants to be a judge, the show hasn’t spend enough time establishing the stakes for her needless betrayal to feel earned.
“The Bit Bucket” throws out an exceedingly fun case of the week (spiced up, as was last week’s, by a guest appearance from Jeffrey Tambor as the judge) to distract from the fact that nothing of import happens in any of the continuing plotlines. What progression we get feels mostly like table setting for future developments, and the few stories containing actual incident mostly do harm to the plausibility of our characters. The Good Wife gets a little slack for being a network show with a large episode order to fulfill every year, but at some point, things have to start happening. Or honestly, the show could wheel out Tambor for a few more weeks, and if the cases are as fun and interesting as this one, it may be easier to pay no attention to what’s going on behind the curtain and forget that occasionally, the show’s procedural elements exist largely as cover for slow weeks on the serialized side.
-“The absence of bad news is not good news.”
-“Yeah. This firm’s all over the map.”
-“Let Justice Be Done, Though The Heavens Fall.”
-“What, you’re the only lawyer in town?” “No. We just had so much fun last time we thought we’d do it again.”
-“Jesus has no problem with Grace looking her best. That’s what he believed in.”
-“Am I going to approve of these?” “Perfectly appropriate evening attire for a young lady.” “I’m going to start drinking.” “Pour me one too.”