The Good Wife, Ep. 5.19, “Tying The Knot” is a twisty meditation on perception

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The Good Wife, Season 5, Episode 19, “Tying The Knot”
Written by Nichelle Tramble Spellman
Directed by Josh Charles
Airs Sundays at 9pm on CBS

The Good Wife is obsessed, especially lately, with memory, with subjective experience and the way it colors our entire perceptions of the world around us. We never get out of our heads, after all. Everything we ever experience is colored by this limitation. Our senses and our recollections are all we have to tie us to the past, and to help us pull ourselves forward. The world outside ourselves is something we can only do our best to conceive of. Anything but our own flawed memory is pure conjecture.

“Tying the Knot” is a marvelous episode that puts us in Alicia’s head as she is present for another death at Colin Sweeney’s residence. Sweeney is the closest this show ever treads to a lesser legal procedural like Boston Legal. He is a broad, over-the-top multiple-murderer whose plotlines always play out basically the same way—Sweeney has done something very bad, and Alicia helps him get away with it. The material is elevated by Dylan Baker’s stellar performance, but Sweeney episodes can still feel a little bit like The Good Wife-lite.

The wrinkle here, that Alicia, while juggling about a million different things (in a fantastic opening sequence that reminds us just how good this show is at keeping all these balls in the air, and just how good Alicia has become at living this high-stress life) becomes a key witness in the murder investigation. The episode flashes back to those opening moments, time and time again. It doesn’t show us what Alicia saw, though. It always shows us what she thinks she saw. And that is a much trickier thing. On first viewing, it seemed reasonably clear the victim had said Demetrius, even as Alicia claimed she was talking to Dmitri. Yet a lot of the other details had already blurred by the time they came up. Rewatching the sequence, it is clear that it is Demetrius who walks up those stairs. But that turns out not to matter, because it is Renata, Colin Sweeney’s new fiancé, who committed the murder, as a way to feel closer to her betrothed.

Josh Charles directed “Tying The Knot,” and did a truly phenomenal job. From the frenetic energy of the opening sequence, which darts around Sweeney’s house and invites us to confuse the interchangeable women with black hair and black dresses to the quick cuts that flash back as Alicia tries to recall, to Finn Polmar’s temporary breakdown in the court room, where blood flows from his shoes and he sees, for a moment, the bullet entering his hand and one entering Will’s skull. On its face, this is just another episode about Colin Sweeney, his eccentric fetishes, and the dead bodies that pile up around him. But with the help of Charles’ direction, and a canny script by Nichelle Tramble Spellman, it becomes an exceedingly clever meditation on the limitations of perception.

The episode sets up a few fun plotlines for the future—most enjoyably, Finn Polmar’s improbable candidacy for State’s Attorney—but mostly, this is a case-of-the-week episode, and one that is done with enough flair, and has enough on its mind, to mask what could easily have been a retread otherwise. As the season moves into its endgame, a breather like “Tying the Knot” is enjoyable. Things are about to get heavy, so it doesn’t hurt to see The Good Wife having some fun in the interim. But what truly makes the episode land is its elegant examination of the power of perception, and the way that it controls every aspect of our lives.

Notes:

-“I thought you were already married.” “Yes, I was. But I grew disenchanted, so I had to get rid of her…through divorce. Where’s your sense of humor?”

-“Do you really not follow my life? I follow yours…”

-“Every saint is just a sinner waiting for an opportunity.”

-“So, what brings you here?” “A high profile case.” “In an election year?”

-“You should try it some time, Mr. State’s Attorney. It frees the mind.”

-“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but it’s a mistake.” “What’s a mistake?” “The thing, that you’re thinking, that I don’t know what it is.”

-“It’s a decision. I like decisions.”

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