The Good Wife has always existed in a universe that regarded good and evil as a matter of black and white, with a single caveat: Any person and any action can remain good, so long as they never get caught. This is never so resonant as in the sixth season premiere “The Line.”
In Season 5, Showrunners Robert and Michelle King burned much of the series as we knew it to the ground. They split the cast between competing firms while nonchalantly killing off Will and concluded the season with an out-of-nowhere pitch cajoling Alicia to run for State’s Attorney. I’ll admit I was curious as to what direction Season 6 could possibly head in order to re-center the show as it heads into its (likely) final seasons. I’ll further admit that when running scenarios in my head, I failed to consider the “Cary is Jean Valjean in Les Misérables” option.
This would prove to be a major oversight.
Cary is picked up by the police a few minutes into the episode under mysterious circumstances to both him and the audience. Information is garnered piecemeal: first that he’s been arrested and then that it’s a drug charge before the pre-title screen denouement that he’s being charged with a class X felony that results in his bail being set at 1.3 million dollars. This opening act spools out lyrically and Robert King’s direction has the characters moving in a precise kind of choreography that only serves to heighten the dramatic tension. Matt Czuchery as Cary is magnetic throughout the episode, his perpetual Teflon veneer dissolving with strain by episode end.
The premiere is stacked with great performances and the renewal of longstanding relationships. Kalinda comes to Cary’s repeated assistance in a move that belies a tenderness often absent in their interactions. Eli’s daughter also returns and her interference at the governor’s office provides the episode with the humor it desperately needed to undercut the near oppressive circumstances unfolding with Florrick, Agos and friends. (That said, how in the world have Eli’s daughter and Peter never met? That seems bizarre.) The series also expands its near mythical cast of guest stars to include John Ventimiglia, Lenny Venito, and Jonathan Coulton or, as I like to call them, Artie Bucco from The Sopranos, guy from The Neighbors and musical artist on whom the “Thicky Trick” episode was based. Welcome, gentlemen.
Also pulled back into the Florrick/Agos orbit is Diane who remains intent on jumping ship from Lockhart/Gardner so long as all of her demands be met. (Kill Will if you must, Kings, but you leave Robin alone!) This scenario would definitely return the series to the sort of status quo that’s been missing since last season’s firm split but it remains to be seen just how viable moving forward in this endeavor will be with one of the former firm’s name partners in prison awaiting trial.
The episode also features Eli, and eventually Peter, exploring the possibilities of an Alicia run for State’s Attorney, despite her refusal in the opening scene. Unsurprisingly, Alicia is enormously popular, something Peter attributes largely to the simple fact that she’s not a politician. He’s not wrong but the truth is far more complicated. Throughout the series we’ve seen Alicia, whether by choice or not, have an image cultivated around her of being morally upstanding, especially when compared to those around her. She is often held up as more moral than Peter, Cary, Will, or even Diane. She seems to be the perfect embodiment of her nickname “Saint Alicia.” Eli’s choice to try and persuade her into running is him trying to find a way to hide Peter’s sins beneath Alicia’s skirts, lest even more of his sins come to light.
But this is all a smokescreen. Alicia isn’t necessarily better than her cohorts; she merely gets caught less. In the Season 5 finale, she stands by as her firm spies on Lockhart/Gardner. She was culpable in sneaking out the backdoor, clients in hand, to start Florrick, Agos and Associates. Alicia participates in these things knowingly and willingly. She crosses the line again and again but she gets caught on the wrong side of the line less.
Running throughout the episode and the prison itself is the titular line. We see Cary cross the line twice, each time, caught by a guard and threatened for his infraction. Even Alicia suffers this fate while overzealously defending Cary to a judge, before being admonished and sent back. This is the world The Good Wife exists in, underlined by Cary’s predicament. He’s in jail not because the police perceive him as a threat but because he is a tool to get to druglord Lemond Bishop, a client that’s been troubling the respective firms since Season 1. Bishop’s dealings have always been shady and as concerning as representing him has been, all involved always opted on the side of getting paid, regardless of how many reservations they had.
That was a choice. That was a line. Now that someone’s been caught on the wrong side of it, where does that leave any of them?
Only time and Season 6 will tell.