The Good Wife, Ep. 6.09: “Sticky Content” sticks mostly to the series’ strengths

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The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 9: “Sticky Content”
Written by Robert King and Michelle King
Directed by Michael Zinberg
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on CBS

As with “Oppo Research” a few weeks back, “Sticky Content” comes to us with a teleplay credit that always elicits a raised eyebrow from yours truly: it’s time for the Kings. (In recent seasons, they’ve tended to be credited with writing or co-writing eight episodes per season.) While the former episode brought ample sass and style but came up a little short on substance, “Sticky Content” is content to more quietly deal with some considerably weightier subject matter. This is a subtly important episode, even if not all of the details are note-perfect.

I bring up the Kings and their writing credits not just as an excuse for geekery, but because this level of creator authorship is rare on a network drama, especially one in its sixth season, and their very distinct sense of worldbuilding and tonal consistency is what keeps the series afloat even when it’s not operating at full strength. What “Sticky Content” really nails is the satisfying way that The Good Wife, at its best, is capable of operating in a sweet spot that no other series can seem to locate the intersection where cynicism, humor and heartbreak meet.

Nearly all of these singular moments come via the campaign this week, which isn’t surprising, given that it has been the season’s strongest throughline so far. Julianna Margulies has already bagged two Emmys for playing Alicia and would hardly seem in need of another praise chorus, but “Sticky Content” gives her a wide variety of great material to work with just to serve as a reminder of how versatile she is. It helps that she gets to spar with David Hyde Pierce, whose Frank Prady is proving to be a very welcome presence; all of their scenes together are a delight. As I was hoping, it seems as though Prady is being earnest in both his actions and his motives; in one of the best lines of the episode, he reveals exactly what he’s up to and why: “I’m not a martyr. I just think I can win a fair fight.” With Prady as the opponent – but not the enemy – the race is much more compelling.

The game of cat-and-mouse between Prady’s handlers and Alicia’s team provides a ton of great comic material, particularly when it’s revealed that Alicia shares a dress with Prady’s mother and will need to reshoot a labored ad as a result. Thanks to the box of oppo research Prady hands Alicia, however, it also provides some strong dramatic beats as well, albeit familiar ones. After Alicia discovers Peter is in fact sleeping with his attorney Ramona (Connie Nielsen), a claim he lamely denies in a devastating scene – the way Margulies plunges into her rage register is something to behold – she heads to Finn’s office to…do what, exactly? After nearly half a season of foreplay, “Sticky Content” finally makes clear that Finn and Alicia are aware of their chemistry, or at least won’t be able to deny it now, and it will be up to the Kings to find a way to make that story a compelling one without making it feel like Alicia and Will 2.0. What may aid in this is the idea of Finn as the anti-Peter, a genuinely nice guy with an interest in real public service, or perhaps simply Peter in his uncorrupted, less ambitious form. I still can’t shake the feeling that the best move for the story would be for Alicia to finally give up the sham marriage and serve Peter with divorce papers; it’s becoming less and less difficult to imagine, and could supply enough frisson to power another full season.

Speculation or hopes aside, the Alicia material is so strong this week that Cary and co. barely even needed to show up, but thankfully there are signs of life here too. “Sticky Business” leans more heavily on the Lemond/Cary dynamic than the Cary/Kalinda one, which is a good thing, because that well has gotten awfully dry. Cary’s Sopranos-y visions of “one to the head” are a bit much, but Cary’s paranoia is nicely encapsulated by his long, pre-bodyguard hallway approach to his apartment, and Czuchry is good at capturing Cary’s restlessness. “My worry is that my fear is creating my reason to be afraid.” Ever analytical, he takes the chance that a face to face meet with Bishop is the best option in the wake of threat on his life, and the gambit pays off – for now. It’s tough to wrangle suspense out of threats to Cary because we know full well that Czuchry’s not going anywhere, but Bishop and Cary’s exchange in the kitchen is still somehow the most suspenseful scene of the season. That’s the strength of good writing, friends.

As per usual, Kalinda’s corner of the series is the least interesting, but at least the capper suggests we may be done with the Kalinda/Fed romance for a while. With Cary’s actual trial on the way, there’s reason to believe that this particular plot might be winding down at the season’s midway point rather than taking up the whole 22, which would be a welcome development, given how little the non-Cary and Kalinda second-tier characters have gotten to do this time around. It’s hard to shake the feeling, watching scenes like the ones at the Florrick campaign’s editing bay, that The Good Wife is much better at picking apart (and more interested in) the minutae of political communication than in crafting a broadly accessible “high-stakes” story about crooks and lawyers. It feels very much as though the season is primed to embrace the former as a more consistent way forward while more or less jettisoning the latter, but that may just be wishful thinking.

Other thoughts:

  • Lots of bon mots this week, befitting a Kings episode, but for some reason Peter and Ramona’s simple final exchange resonates: “We’re bad people.” “I know.” That’s just about the sum of it!
  • Chris Noth makes, as always, a fantastic douche, and never moreso than when he’s lying, because he understands that the best liars are able to convince themselves they’re telling the truth on a moment-to-moment basis.
  • Has The Good Wife undergone a budget reduction? I can’t prove it, but I get the sense we’re seeing fewer recurring guests and even regulars onscreen per episode than in seasons past.
  • “Child services said I had to!” Alicia’s second take of the canned interview is one of the funniest sequences in recent memory.
  • “OK, I’m gonna go now.” Finn Polmar, smart human.
  • Can we ban characters talking about how they want something to “go viral” next year, on every series? Political ads don’t go viral, unless they’re spectacularly terrible.
  • The Kings are back again next week for the last Good Wife of 2014.
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