The Good Wife, Season 5, Episode 17, “A Material World”
Written by Craig Turk
Directed by Griffin Dunne
Airs Sundays at 9pm on CBS
“A Material World” opens with a scene that is basically right out of any true The Good Wife fan’s dreams: Alicia Florrick and Diane Lockhart getting plastered together on martinis. The two commemorate their friend Will, confess to their insecurities, share a few secrets, and shake hands, coming away with a vague notion that they will begin work on merging Lockhart Gardner and Florrick Agos.
This is the sort of plot movement Will’s death obviously foreshadowed, and while its inception over several empty glasses is a fantastic moment, it feels a little rushed. The Good Wife’s new status quo was hard-earned, built up over years so that when Cary and Alicia decided to leave Lockhart Gardner, it had been a long time coming. That Alicia and Diane would be looking to mend fences after both lost Will makes sense to me, but the show quickly abandoning its new format would be disappointing. Fortunately, it seems like things will not be easy between the two firms for a while yet. Alicia and Diane may truly want to calm the waters, but there are still rough seas separating the two firms, and the occasional David Lee-shaped sea monster prowling their depths.
Alicia finally breaks down tonight, in a way she had to in order for Will’s death to truly resonate, and it is very hard to watch. She admits an existential crisis to a virtual stranger, collapses into bed to binge watch a terrible murder procedural (that feels very much like a spot-on parody of True Detective), and shuts out the world for a little while, ignoring Diane’s increasing desperation and ignoring Finn Polmar’s cry for help. Matthew Goode is still doing solid work as Polmar, but the character increasingly feels like a White Knight the show can’t wait to throw down into the mud. The Good Wife doesn’t have much room for moral absolutism; this is at heart a cynical show that excels at ambiguity. So it’s no surprise when Finn’s optimism and faith in humanity is already being chipped away at before the credits roll on tonight’s episode. Nobody stays clean on this show for long. Nobody can close their eyes to the grime of this profession in this city forever.
“A Material World” is an absolute showcase for the series’ two female leads, and both Juliana Margulies and Christine Baranski are in top form, playing their characters drunk, grieving, hyper-competent, terrified, weary, and righteous all within the span of forty-five minutes. These are two of the best performances on television right now and both actors are at the top of their game throughout the episode.
Grief is messy, and Alicia Florrick lives a tightly controlled, almost hermetically sealed life. She likes things neat and isn’t quite sure how to deal with all of the emotional loose ends thrown her way. Most of The Good Wife so far has arguably been a series of attempts by Alicia Florrick to keep her life neat. She cleaned up the scandal by staying with Peter. She cleaned up her family’s financial troubles by getting a job at Lockhart Gardner. She cleaned up the strife between her and Will by accepting a partnership at that firm. But the deeper we get into the series, the more Alicia has started coloring outside the lines, letting herself feel again, allowing her life to get a little messy. She left Lockhart Gardner, taking clients with her to start a new firm. She shuts the world out for a little while, creating messes in her professional life. She is effectively ending her marriage with Peter. When Alicia gets drunk with Diane, she mentions that her mother wants her to “loosen up and get laid,” and while that has often actually been pretty good advice for Alicia, it seems almost irrelevant now. In her own way, at her own pace, Alicia is letting her life get messier. She is loosening up and finding herself beyond the boundaries of the roles she’s been told to play in the process.
A few of this week’s best moments:
-“If I die before you, please don’t let them read ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ at my funeral.” “Who knew it had so many verses?”
-“We were like the two mistresses at the Irish funeral.”
-“I’m so alone there. The partners look at me like I’m a gazelle on the savannah.” “They always looked at you like that.”
-“David, I have some advice for you: whenever you are tempted to bring up Will’s death and credit my behavior to it, resist.” “Diane, I have some advice for you: when in mourning, don’t make big decisions, at least for a year.”
-“I’m here for you, Peter. What do you want?” “I want my wife back.” “I’m here.”
-“That’s a very simplistic view of it.” “Give me a non-simplistic view.” “Do you have three hours?” “Yes.”
-“So when he dies, what remains of him?” “He’s gone.” “So when someone dies, there’s nothing left of them?” “That’s why I plan to value every moment with my son. I will hold him, and love him, and teach him.” “But to what end? Why?”
-“I think I made a mistake.” “What mistake?” “Being a lawyer.” “You don’t like it?” “I don’t know. Sometimes I do.” “What would you do instead?” “I have no idea. Sometimes I wish I did.”
-“You’re no Will Gardner, Diane. You’ll only hurt yourself trying to be.” “Well then fasten your seat belt. We’re headed for a lot of hurt.”
-“How many times do I have to tell you? When I cheated, it didn’t mean anything!” “Well then that was a waste. Because when I cheated, it did.”
-“You’re a bastard.” “And you’re a selfish bitch. But you know what? We’re all that we have.” “No. Not anymore. Don’t worry, I’m not going to divorce you. You’re too valuable to me professionally, just like I am to you. But we’re not going to see each other any more. Not unless we have to.”