The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 5: “Shiny Objects”
Written by Keith Eisner
Directed by Frederick E. O. Toye
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on CBS
One of the particular strengths of The Good Wife is its uncanny sense of series memory. With well over 100 episodes’ worth of long-standing character relationships, tertiary characters, and running gags to draw upon, it’s rare that a new episode comes down the pike that doesn’t reward long-time viewers, even if it’s just in a minute way. “Shiny Objects” is, on the surface, a prototypical latter-day Good Wife episode, in that it offers up a case of the week while keeping the season’s master plot humming along, but it also manages (for better and worse) to lean on several long-standing relationships and character beats to an unusual degree.
The least of these bears special mention. This week, it was announced that Archie Panjabi will be leaving the show at season’s end. While that will make Panjabi the first original series regular to make a publicly scheduled, presumably-not-violent exit, the news is hardly surprising. Truthfully, the Kings have not been great at finding Kalinda a worthy place in the series ever since she and Alicia fell out several seasons ago. (Buzzfeed noted some time ago that she and Alicia had not physically shared a scene in over 30 episodes.) Now that the series has another investigator in Robin, there are any number of unobtrusive ways Kalinda could be phased out. That’s truly unfortunate; Panjabi has an appealingly ambiguous, yet mischievous, screen presence in the role that will be missed. (It must also be said that The Good Wife, for all of its innovations, remains one of the most stubbornly white shows currently on TV, and losing Panjabi will not help in this regard.)
Fittingly given this real-life development, Kalinda gets the most tiresomely repetitive plot beat of the week. After the Florrick-Agos offices are hit by a Ransomware attack and all of the firm’s files become inaccessible, Kalinda enlists the aid of old flame/federal agent Lana (Jill Flint, making her first appearance in a couple of seasons) in tracking down the culprits. This leads, of course, to Kalinda using sex to get what she wants (for the millionth time), while cynically – and incorrectly – assuming that Lana is being just as opportunistic (for the millionth time), and simultaneously making Cary feel like an idiot (for the millionth time). It’s possible, given that Cary and Kalinda are more of an item than ever before, that this latest iteration of a very well-worn plot beat will lead somewhere new, but that seems doubtful.
Generally, however, “Shiny Objects” uses the series’ longevity to its benefit. The episode opens with the long-awaited return of Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston, forever free from True Blood’s clutches), but with a twist: for the first time ever, we finally get a sense of just what makes her tick, via a set of visual devices that works to represent her mental process. Psychologists would be better suited to determine whether her particular paths to revelation represent acute brilliance, mild mental illness, both, or neither, but what is clear is that Elsbeth has a refined understanding of what she’s good at and how she arrives at her trademark gamechanging conclusions. (“Here I am – a clown in your mind!”) Through a clearly rehearsed routine of cardio, free association, and xylophone-assisted concentration, she consistently manages to conceive of new strategies and counter-strategies to keep her opponents – in this case, Florrick Agos – on their toes.
The case itself winds up being more interesting, on a strategic level, than usual. It begins as a fairly typical wrongful termination suit, with a female executive complaining that she was terminated due to sexism. While the initial skirmishes over what constitutes inappropriate behavior between the sexes is bracing enough, Elsbeth’s legal shift near the end of the episode is nothing short of brilliant; she takes a step back and considers the rhetorical situation. What follows is a gloriously knotty argument alleging that the company in question was merely trying to conform to the expectations of key Chinese clients, whose openly patriarchal mindset is truly to blame, thereby letting her clients off the hook. Before things can be settled, though, A-USA Josh Perotti (the one and only Kyle MacLachlan) turns up, both to resume the romantic overtures he made towards Elsbeth almost two full seasons ago and to press pause on the entire case with news of a federal investigation into Elsbeth’s corporate client. This new situation forces a temporary alliance; that means next week we get Julianna Margulies and Carrie Preston vs. Kyle MacLachlan in what should be a scenery-devouring battle for the ages.
Despite the many callbacks and long-absent characters returning, the major factor for series-long followers of the show is the particularly charged argument between Alicia and Peter concerning her campaign. At first, the conflict is fairly simple: Alicia wants Finn to join her onstage and help introduce her at her campaign launch; Peter, on grounds of barely-concealed jealousy, objects. Before long, though, shades of glorious Good Wife grey begin to peak through: Alicia’s poll numbers are so strong that, if anything, Peter needs their solidarity to be publicly visible in order for him to maintain his own political viability. In a vicious skirmish that, visually and emotionally, calls back to key scenes from as far back as the series’ first season, Alicia points out the role reversal, making clear that she knows full well that she finally has the upper hand, and intends to wield it. The montage of headlines underlining the shift in the balance of power and the evolution of Alicia from paraded-around pity case to high-powered political wunderkind is slightly overdone and visually clumsy, but it’s important in establishing that the Good Wife’s wider world is now officially caught up on this significant pivot. That’s a very good thing indeed, as it gives the Kings the opportunity to take a familiar, real-life starting point (the ascendancy of Hillary, obviously) and run with it – which is, of course, how the whole series began in the first place. Clever, no?
Did you notice that there were absolutely no references to Lemond Bishop this week? Did you mind? I didn’t.
While it’s always a blast to see MacLachlan, I had to take a few minutes to recall if he was playing a returning character, or if I was confusing A-USA Perotti with one of the umpteen guest characters he’s played on a dozen other series in the last decade. He’s been omnipresent, and he tends to play somewhat similar oddballs.
“Do you really wanna compare experiences in bias?” Taye Diggs, quite reasonably playing the race card. He’s become an anono-associate awfully quickly.
Diane toys with David Lee and looks poised to reclaim the old Lockhart Gardner offices, just in case the “same shit, different day” theme weren’t explicit enough already.
Kalinda shuts down the Russian hacker with some well-placed Pussy Riot wallpaper. I will never tire of Pussy Riot references on my television, but just once, I’d like to see someone have the cojones to include some of their music. Admit it: this would have been supremely badass over the end credits.