The Good Wife, Season 5, Episode 21, “The One Percent”
Written By Ted Humphrey
Directed by Rosemary Rodriguez
Airs Sundays at 9pm on CBS
Somewhere along the way, Alicia Florrick became a great politician. She probably always had some solid political instincts about her, but at some point, she moved to the next level. She can schmooze businessmen like James Paisley (Tom Skerritt), fight off accusation lobbed at her from any number of directions, and still manage to settle a case, all while keeping her sham of a marriage looking sparkly enough for outsiders to approve. Alicia can do many things well, but perhaps her best asset is also one we have seen her develop: The ability to walk the corridors of power like she owns the place, to convince the people at the top that she is the one to have on their side.
Her political acumen can bring Alicia great professional success, but it does not help her in her personal life, where authenticity carries the day. Professionally, Alicia exudes a cool confidence and remains unflappable. Personally, she finds those qualities have isolated her, placing her in a position where she has plenty of colleagues, but nary a close friend (Eli may honestly be the person she is most open with, and that is both awesome and more than a little sad).
“The One Percent” is about that sort of detachment, and the effect it can have over time. Paisley is hardly a monster, after all (ok, he’s a little bit of a monster); he’s just a man who has lost touch with not being obscenely rich, and whose political opinions reflect that obtuseness. Paisley likes Alicia because he sees both of them as “straight shooters,” but he is too busy counting his money to notice just how lonely it can be at the top. He’s too busy being afraid someone will take his stuff to understand why they might want to.
This is an episode that momentarily becomes a debate about the moral philosophy (or lack thereof) in the work of Ayn Rand, and while it isn’t surprising to hear Paisley cling to Rand in defense of his increasingly insane political opinions, the way Alicia responds to the citation is the far more interesting reaction. Ayn Rand is often cited not because of the strength of her arguments (though she has her moments, rhetorically if not logically), but because she allows people in power to justify why they have that power, why they should keep it, and why anyone trying to take it away from them is actually the bad guy. In a society that increasingly asks us to question our privilege, how we got it, how we maintain it, and what it means, Rand apologists are in a camp that is blindly refusing to engage with the question, instead arguing that because they already have the power, they clearly deserve it. To people like Paisley, privilege speaks for itself.
Alicia is part of the one percent, of course (she’s the Governor’s wife, and it sounds like she’ll be pulling down a multi-million dollar paycheck in her first year as a named partner at a law firm she started), but she is deeply skeptical of the idea that this should entitle her to anything. Alicia is questioning whether she wants to be a lawyer at this point, and conversations like this one probably aren’t helping her choose the profession. She can make millions charming people like James Paisley, but at the end of the day, what will be the moral cost? What will it do to her personality? What will it do to her soul? There are obviously types of legal practice Alicia could get into that would not put her in situations like this (or at least, not as often), but the adversarial system means dividing every legal case into winners and losers. It’s a division Ayn Rand would have been perfectly comfortable with, in law and in life. But Alicia Florrick seems increasingly less sure.
-“Didn’t I tell you this was going to be fun?”
-“I still can’t get used to this place. You need more walls…”
-“That was really crappy.” “I know.”
-“Diane, if you represent only the innocent, you go out of business real fast.”
-“Ok, if this were a normal conversation, at this point I would make fun of you for referring to Lauren the Intern as ‘people.’”
-“Is this about Will dying?” “This is about everything. I’m just tired, Eli. I’m just done.”
-“Are you sleeping with Finn Polmar?” “Ask me another question.” “I don’t have any other questions.” “Well, then go to Hell.”