A scattershot outing leans hard on the funny, with mostly-good results.
The Good Wife is a show that exists constantly with about a dozen different balls in the air, seemingly figuring out midstream which will work and which are better discarded. The show’s fifth season is among its best in part because it quickly figured out which stories to discard (Marilyn and her baby, Damian and his crime ties, etc.) and because it started to more regularly work that juggling into Alicia’s life, as she struggled to keep control of work, her personal life, and all of the political machinations she gets caught up in. She never lost control, because Alicia Florrick never loses control, but season five danced her closer to the edge than ever before. And in the process, she learned to like, at least a little bit, the idea of letting go. More than that, though, she liked feeling like she was finally, at least a little bit, in control.
Entering into season five, the writers on The Good Wife had a plan. This has likely always been true on the show but especially going into this year, when it was clear they were going to lose Josh Charles and need to fundamentally transform the show in some ways, it seems likely that more than a few discussions were had about how to make all of this fit together. Which is why an episode like “All Tapped Out,” which wraps up the NSA subplot in a way that makes it an open question whether there was ever a point to the arc at all, can be a bit frustrating.
Death closes off the greatest venture we can ever undertake with another human being: the effort to know them fully. In life, a person’s true self is elusive, but we convince ourselves it is somehow attainable, dancing just out of our reach. But in death, all ellipses become periods, all question marks are left to dangle. There is no person left to know. There are no answers left to find. There’s just the seeking, and the void.
Ah, The Good Wife. You’re always good for a thinly veiled riff on a relevant piece of internet culture, aren’t you? “Whack-a-Mole” focuses on Scabbit, a website that is distinctly not Reddit (just kidding. It totally is.) which the FBI uses to crowd source an investigation of a terrorist attack, leading them to suspect Alicia’s kindly professor, who is writing a book on jihad, but not that kind of jihad.
The show’s interest in social media and internet culture occasionally leads to it being silly and obtuse in a vain attempt to be hip and relevant, but it returns to these issues again and again for a reason. Say what you will about it, but The Good Wife is incredibly skilled at keeping tabs on salient legal issues and building episodes around them. And the old refrain that privacy will be the issue of the twenty-first century means the show will look again and again at these debates. The internet is a fascinating place from a legal perspective, a playground where anonymity is theoretically guaranteed, where law can be subverted or ignored, and where regulation is either nonexistent or completely ineffective. Alicia’s efforts to get an injunction tonight are a perfect example: everyone agrees the legal system is woefully inadequate to deal with the situation, which makes it easy for Scabbit to exploit the law for its own benefit.
Since “Hitting the Fan”, The Good Wife’s approach has been a slow, steady, calculated examination of the days, weeks, and now month following the Florrick/Agos defection and the beginning of their rivalry with Lockhart/Gardner (which will never be referred to as “LG” in this space, lest the review be paused for a period of retching). We have watched “The Next Day”, then “The Next Week”, and now “The Next Month” as the characters adjust to their new positions, their new alignments towards former allies, and a whole new game they’re playing. The departure of Alicia in particular from Lockhart/Gardner is a massive event in this show’s history, and it is playing out as such. Things have changed for everyone. Forever. Now it’s time to see how the pieces shake out.
The game’s afoot this week as Lockhart/Gardner and Florrick/Agos actively compete over a case, Marilyn Garbanza trails Peter’s ethical lapses, and Will works to undermine a potential partnership deal for the firm that walked out from under him. “The Next Day” plays out the early days of the aftermath from “Hitting the Fan” and while it is extremely effective at depicting the next steps, it is often clear this is an episode more committed to establishing a new status quo than one that has an agenda all its own.
When this season of The Good Wife began with Alicia still working at Lockhart Gardner, it seemed the show had missed an opportunity to leap forward, to start its fifth season with a bold new status quo in place. Yet this is not the type of show we are watching. The Good Wife is a show about how institutions get built, and how they can become slowly corrupted over time.
The Good Wife continues its strong fifth season this week with “A Precious Commodity”. While the court case of the week doesn’t go to the show’s most entertainingly reliable well, bizarre quirks of the law, it does embrace another- moral murkiness. Alicia is wholly in the clear, doing her best to represent the wishes of her client, no matter her personal thoughts on the issue, but the case itself is deliciously tricky. Abortion is an incredibly complex issue, both intellectually and morally, and its quandaries are frequently reduced or dismissed simplistically by arguments from both sides.