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The Good Wife, Ep. 6.08: “Red Zone” finds the series unusually claustrophobic

The Good Wife, Ep. 6.08: “Red Zone” finds the series unusually claustrophobic

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The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 8, “Red Zone”
Written by Nichelle Tremble Spellman
Directed by Felix Alcala
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET

Though I continue to be a stalwart Good Wife devotee, one aspect of its last couple of seasons has consistently stuck in my craw, and that aspect is front and center throughout “Red Zone,” an otherwise perfectly acceptable episode. That aspect is Kalinda’s sex life.

It’s certainly true that TV is lacking for meaningful representations of characters that don’t simply conform to heteronormative mores. The fact that Kalinda has never been comfortable within a standard “coupling” (nor accepting of any labels other characters attempt to place on her sexuality) is remarkable. Unfortunately, for the many, many great and fresh character beats the series has supplied to literally almost every other character, Kalinda hasn’t had anything new to do for a very long time now. I know I prattle on about this quite often, but it’s especially glaring in “Red Zone” because Kalinda’s antics take up damn near half of the screentime, made worse by the fact that Cary is the only regular she even shares a physical space with; her interactions with Florrick Agos are limited to a shot of a conference phone. Does anyone really care if she opts to sell out her Fed girlfriend or not? Or if she and Cary will ever “go steady”? (Shudder – Kalinda’s phrase, not mine.) The only aspect of the Cary/Kalinda/Bishop axis that provides any interest this week is the notion that Cary has thoughts about Beyoncé. And we don’t even get to hear what those are.

Thankfully, the Alicia Florrick campaign is still humming along nicely both as a plot and as a cynicism delivery device – though here, too, new things are in short supply. Eli has begun to resort to focus grouping to pinpoint Alicia’s weaknesses, and the process is getting to Alicia’s head – literally. As with the Gloria Steinem fantasy, Alicia begins to imagine one particularly grating focus-group participant’s running commentary on her life, and the results are predictably hilarious, though they also serve to underscore a more serious theme of the season so far: the ways in which running for public office can’t help but erode one’s principles. Before long, Alicia is thinking of ways to impress haters real and imagined, instead of simply trying to be good at her job or hold principled stances because they’re what she earnestly believes.

It’s fascinating to chart the ways in which Alicia’s fears and insecurities are and are not merited. The manner in which Alicia reacts – taking Finn up on his idea to volunteer at a local soup kitchen – seems borne more out of her desire to be perceived as a genuinely caring person than out of some desire to live up to the “Saint Alicia” mythos. Yet it’s also true that the public is frustratingly superficial and fickle; Alicia’s badly managed trip to the soup kitchen becomes a genuine campaign issue thanks to nothing more than a poor wardrobe choice and inadequate scrubbing efficiency. Gradually, she’s learning that the optics matter more than the reality – a lesson that Eli has been trying to drill into her head for quite some time now.

Though the election plot has been great for revealing Alicia’s insecure and conniving sides, it has significant issues as well. While David Hyde Pierce will make a fine adversary, the series hasn’t been making great use of its vast supporting cast for quite some time now. So far this season, characters like Diane have been more or less shut out, while Cary and Kalinda, along with third-tier characters like Louis Canning and David Lee, have been restricted to one or two notes apiece. There’s even been a surfeit of engaging guests coming in to make an impression on the bench or in opposition. What should feel like a big story – our lead taking on her most ambitious challenge yet – has made the series feel almost claustrophobic compared to the almost anarchic sprawl of the previous couple of seasons. For a few episodes now, it’s felt like the Alicia, Eli and Finn show, with all other characters relegated to near-afterthought status. Perhaps the series has simply spread its characters too thin, across too many circles that don’t find enough reason to meaningfully intersect. Whatever the precise issue is, it’s depriving The Good Wife of some of itsmost distinctive pleasures.

Other thoughts:

Just like that, Castro is out of the race. That was…weirdly glossed-over.

Yes, there’s a case of the week, and yes, the subject is rape on campus. Sadly, it feels weirdly tossed-off by Good Wife standards, despite a few nice touches. Scenes like the one in which Alicia attempts to use a “Rape Wall” as evidence to back a new strategy feel like a well-meaning grasp at timeliness. It would have been preferable to have tackled this case more substantively in an episode with fewer election antics on its mind.

Though I ragged on Canning earlier, I did like the scene of Alicia and Canning conferring after the case wraps. Another great example of the series humanely presenting the work/life divide.