The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 19: “Winning Ugly”
Written by Erica Shelton Kodish
Directed by Rosemary Rodriguez
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on CBS
Credit where it’s due: “Winning Ugly” finally remembers just how downright nasty The Good Wife can be at its most bracing. In the scope of the series, Peter Florrick has long been the proverbial “bad apple,” the political mover with the least scruples, willing to do nearly anything to stay on top if he thinks he can get away with it. “Winning Ugly” crane back to expose the ruthless, corrupt underbelly of a political system that runs on deception, where even the political folk heroes are merely the most eloquent pawns for the party line.
One of those heroes is Spencer Randolph (Alias‘ Ron Rifkin), a legend in the world of the series – that Marissa Gold more or less melts in his presence is a . He arrives at the scene to represent Alicia in front of the review board responsible for ruling on a possible election recount in the wake of the discovery of voting-machine tampering devices. Considering this plot only takes up a little over half of “Winning Ugly,” Erica Shelton Kodish’s teleplay manages to cram in a whole lot of little twists, from the discovery of how dated the hardware is (thus implicating Peter’s governor race) to the return of Michael Gaston’s Ernie Nolan, the creep who tried to bribe Alicia seventeen episodes ago (not an exaggeration). None of this is adequate preparation for the late-episode scene wherein Randolph completes a betrayal so thorough that it would feel like the Good Wife equivalent of The Red Wedding, if…it didn’t already have one of those. As it turns out, the chips were placed in the machines in order to make sure a state senate race went the Dems’ way, to ensure the preservation of their supermajority. Alicia is readily sacrificed to service the larger political reality. It’s the hardest-to-watch scene in some time to watch.
While the Kalinda corner of the show’s been less than stellar in this back half of the season, “Winning Ugly” does the best thing possible with her story: it hits the gas. Within the span of only three or four minutes, PI Wiley tells Diane about the falsified evidence, Kalinda fesses up, and Diane tells the partners – all before the title card. There’s a refreshing economy to these scenes that’s been missing from recent episodes. That snappy pacing keeps up for the rest of the hour, and before long we’ve reached the “selfless sacrifice” portion of the proceedings, as has been foretold. That fact that we should have a pretty damned good idea of just who’s going to make said sacrifice only slightly dampens the proceedings.
The best sequence in “Winning Ugly,” though, is a small one that doesn’t really connect to any of that stuff. The Good Wife‘s attempts to lampoon and/or fold in contemporary internet culture has always been hit-or-miss, but the sequence of Grace Florrick watching a Funny or Die-style “dramatic read” of the Will-Alicia emails is a great one, not because of its execution as a clip (which is only fine, really), but because of how it’s deployed. We first see it taking up the entire frame, with the intertitle “A Romantic Interlude,” which is exactly as destabilizing as intended. When a pair of faux-haughty Brits (or faux-haughty faux-Brits) read the emails aloud, it’s funny – when we cut to Grace watching, it immediately becomes tragic, because it makes perfect sense that Grace would choose to hear the contents of the emails from a comedic perspective, in an attempt to soften the blow. (It doesn’t work, at all – if anything, the absurdity seems to make it so much worse.) Alicia overhears, but doesn’t interrupt. The final touch – the voices continuing over the title card – wings the pendulum back towards sick humor. For a few brief moments, it feels like The Good Wife never lost a step.
Seriously, where the hell is Robyn? And did she take Taye Diggs with her?
Note that while the episode definitely rules out Alicia inadvertently stealing an election, Peter obviously totally did. Quelle surprise.
No one can touch Michael Gaston’s recurring-villain CV: The Good Wife, The Leftovers, Terriers, Rubicon, Last Resort – and those were just the ones that I watched. There are a ton more.
“More remakes of this case than Spider-Man.” Timely!
Oh, hey, this episode was written and directed by women! Different women! What a concept for network TV.