The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 3: “Dear God”
Written by Luke Schelhaas
Directed by Brooke Kennedy
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on CBS
Remember its early seasons, when The Good Wife was a smart, but often pretty formulaic legal procedural that delighted in exploring odd, archaic, or simply rare avenues of legal practice just for the sheer novel kick of it? Long stretches of “Dear God” feel like a throwback to that simpler, less ethically fraught time, albeit with a much heftier dose of series memory. The episode’s relatively breezy tone makes for a nice tonal break in what is shaping up to be a heavy season, but some of the attempts to keep the broader season-arc pieces moving in the other parts of the episode are markedly less successful.
In the case of “Dear God,” the odd legal avenue of the week is arbitrary Christian arbitration, wherein an impartial Christian third party (played here by a very welcome and typically low-key Robert Sean Leonard) listens to the arguments presented by both sides in a much more direct, almost conversational manner that makes both sets of lawyers visibly uncomfortable. The details of the case, as usual in these episodes, are incidental,here involving a possible theft of genetically modified seeds. Episodes like these tend to follow a certain arc: one or both legal teams feel out their unorthodox new situation, regroup, then attempt to exploit loopholes using existing knowledge, usually cynically. “Dear God” follows the template pretty closely, but it’s been quite a while since The Good Wife has pulled this move, so it’s hard to hold the familiarity against it. Additionally, the genial representation of Christian arbitration in “Dear God” clashes amusingly with both the cutthroat nature of the show and the version of Alicia that we’ve come to know over these last couple of seasons. When Alicia calls on Grace to help find Bible passages that suit her case, it provides the comically cynical jolt one expects (“What can I use?”), but it also produces a moment of unexpected tenderness as Alicia actually comes to admire her daughter’s facility with language and spirituality. Not that it alters Alicia’s atheism, which she reaffirms late in the episode, in case anyone was curious.
While the episode isn’t lacking for recognizable guests (Leonard, Christian Borle, Richard Thomas of The Americans), the major scene-stealer this week is Cary’s pretrial services officer, Joy Grupnik, played by TV lifer Linda Lavin. (This rarely-depicted part of the judicial process is another novel angle for the seires to add to its arsenal.) It might be the judge in charge of Cary’s case this week who observes Kafka in all things, but it’s Grupnik who best embodies the absurdist spirit of The Trial in her minute examination of Cary and those closest to him. Through extremely brief flashbacks that punctuate these interviews, we get a sense of the roiling chaos at Florrick Agos and the tender but ethically tricky relationship that remains between Cary and Kalinda. “Dear God” throws in another unexpected little curveball in the form of Grupnik’s totally fair assessment of Cary and the likelihood of his being a flight risk. The system works!
More problematic: the circumstances that lead Alicia to finally seriously consider running for State’s Attorney. Yes, the scenes in which an imaginary Gloria Steinem (in the series’ best-ever cameo by a notable figure playing “themselves”) appeals to Alicia’s vanity are hilarious, but the major inciting incident – Castro’s relentless, cruel taunting – is way overdone. Michael Cerveris is an incredible actor who has no trouble bringing out on-a-dime bully tactics in a generally reserved character, but the intensity level of Castro’s insults are downright cartoonish in their villainy, to the point where Alicia should suspect he’s trying to goad her into the race on purpose. (Maybe he is, and maybe she senses it and doesn’t care, but that’s not at all clear in the scope of this episode.) It’s the job of just a handful of scenes to get us from “I have absolutely no interest in running” to “if I ran, what’s the plan?”, and “Dear God” just doesn’t do heavy enough lifting to believably get us there.
Next week brings the Kings-penned “Oppo Research,” a process that Castro suggests Alicia’s candidacy will not survive. It should be a crucial outing in terms of selling us on the State’s Attorney race as a major plot element worthy of the series’ astonishing recent run. If they do their job, I will wind up eating this week’s complaints.
The title for this review was nicked from the website for Christian Arbitration Mediation Solutions. I’m hoping they’re too pious to sue.
Judge of the Week: while Robert Sean Leonard’s arbitrator Del Paul gets more screentime, he’s not technically a judge. The true JotW is Judge Ilya Petrov, played by Tibor Feldman. Petrov’s last episode: Season 2’s “Nine Hours.” Is that a new record?
The cut from a silly scene in Christian arbitration to the In God We Trust signage in court was more than a little cheeky.
“It’s good to see you’ve all become Biblical scholars overnight.” Robert Sean Leonard is a master of gentle snark.