The Good Wife, Ep. 5.08, “The Next Month” deftly moves pieces into place

The Good Wife S05E08 promo pic 2

The Good Wife, Season 5, Episode 8, “The Next Month”
Written by Ted Humphrey
Directed by Josh Charles
Airs Sundays at 9pm EST on CBS

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 case-of-the-week this time out finds Alicia working to halt the deportation of a man who has death waiting for him on the other side of the border, at the behest of Natalie Flores (America Ferrera). Through the lens of this high-stakes case, The Good Wife gets to pull two of its greatest tricks: it reveals both the byzantine inner-workings of our legal bureaucracy and it gets to expose how Florrick/Agos works, even as its principles are still learning that themselves. “The Next Month” flings us from courtroom to courtroom, from cog to cog, and as the hours dwindle and the arguments develop, a man moves closer to death while the system operates in a constant state of dysfunction. Justice isn’t being served. Rules are being blindly followed by people who have lost sight of themselves in the maze. The game must be rigged because the law never comes close to serving the purpose it was designed for.

While Alicia and her clients struggle to keep their heads above water (and Cary yells nonsense about 1984 on the sidelines to give us the illusion that he is important in anything more than a functional sense at this point), Robin learns her place in the firm by visiting her guru, Kalinda. For years, we have seen Kalinda exploit weaknesses, bend rules, and flat-out commit crimes to get results, and the advice she offers Robin is consistent with that: your bosses will never value you personally; they will value you professionally. So deliver, and that’s the closest thing to job security you’re going to get. Robin, as she is wont to do, goes very far very quickly in service of the Kalinda ethos and her first taste of victory dovetails swiftly into planting evidence and lying to the government of Mexico. When Kalinda does things like this, she exudes such confidence and calm control there’s never any doubt she will come out of the situation on top. If Kalinda is a tactical surgeon, Robin is the very definition of a loose cannon, and while it’s fun to watch her play Kalinda Jr. this week, there is likely trouble on the horizon if she keeps going as she did tonight.

The Good Wife S05E08 promo pic 1

Over at Lockhart/Gardner, The Good Wife’s demons are out to play as Will is distracted by a woman, Howard is still a racist, and David Lee continues his devolution from ethically suspect snark-machine to mustache-twirling villain. Will’s love interests outside of Alicia always tend to be incredibly under-developed and at this point, all we know of his current conquest is that she has little regard for telephones, becomes surprisingly jealous at the drop of a hat because the plot needs her too, and probably likes pretzels (this last one isn’t clear. Maybe she was just peckish?). As for Howard, the character has but one note, and it has been played so frequently this season it’s beginning to sound like white noise (and it is, explicitly, white noise). We get it. Howard is an old white guy, so he’s racist and sexist and generally a problem for Lockhart/Gardner. Will and Diane give reasons for him remaining at the firm to clients this evening, but it never becomes clear why behind closed doors he hasn’t been pushed out. He is little but a liability at this point, and not even a particularly interesting one.

As for David Lee, he may be one of the few weak points in the main cast so far this season. He has been a perennial favorite on this show for seasons now for his caustic wit and his flexible relationship to morality, but so far this season, he has been less morally ambiguous and more outright evil. Is it a bad thing that Will lets some random woman sit in his office all day and suck on his ear lobe during client calls? Yes. But David Lee’s solution feels beneath him somehow. It isn’t that he wouldn’t be scheming to rid himself of the problem, it’s just that he would do it better. In a season that is presenting us with evolving, increasingly complex portraits of many of its central characters, David Lee seems more and more simplistic. At least he’s not Cary, but at this point if the two of them were to discuss the merits of Animal Farm at an actual animal farm next week, the relief from their mounting one-dimensionality might be welcome.

Speaking of characters who should be sent to a big farm upstate where they’ll have so much room to play, it is becoming clear the show has never had a good long term plan for Marilyn. The Good Wife needs an ethics Nazi watching Peter’s back this season, and making her a pretty blonde was a smart idea (though casting Melissa George, known mostly for being a roadblock of a character on Alias was perhaps a mistake), but at this point she is just pregnant. Rather than humanizing her, this plotline has effectively reduced her to one character trait, and when Eli snaps at her to stop playing the pregnancy card tonight, it’s both incredibly insensitive and exactly what I would tell the showrunners at this point.

“The Next Month” is mostly very good. The case has strong stakes and balances the legal maneuvering and extra-legal gamesmanship very well. The rivalry between the firms is mostly put on the back burner this week in favor of letting us watch Florrick/Agos develop as an entity and handle its first big, challenging case. The romantic rekindling between Eli and Natalie is really very sweet and a great reminder that Eli has depths his position rarely allows him to explore (unlike Will, Eli’s romantic interests tend to be interesting and well-developed, so more of this would be welcome). Mostly though, “The Next Month” invites us to just wait and see; things are developing, as they always are on The Good Wife. This show excels at the slow, steady accumulation of detail that eventually becomes momentous. For now, we are feeling our way over new terrain, as are the characters. Lockhart/Gardner is growing. Florrick/Agos is developing. This fight is just beginning.

Notes:

– This episode is directed by Josh Charles. He points the camera in the right direction the whole time. Beyond that, he doesn’t distinguish himself particularly.

– “I changed my mind. Have you never changed your mind?” “No.” “Well, this is what it looks like.””

– “I don’t normally do this. Run after people. I’m not the running after people sort.”

– Does Will’s new woman not understand what a phone is? Also, does she think “because I’m made of chocolate” is…erotic, somehow?

– “Have you noticed that everyone’s changing?”

– “They don’t hate him because his name’s Tomas Ruiz, they hate him because he…almost snitched.”

– “I’m sorry, Natalie. Peter needs me.” “He’s lucky to have you.”

– “You must be a good influence on me. I wanted to press every button on the way up here.”

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