Here’s how you know The Good Wife is different from every other show on television: it took me a full hour before I realized I shouldn’t be mad at Peter Florrick.
Don’t take that the wrong way: Peter is still beyond the worst. But after sitting with the episode and mulling over what really popped for me (outside of Alicia’s magnificent monologue), I was left with this: I was sad seeing a photo of Will in Alicia’s introduction film, I yearned for Alicia and Finn to give in to their baser urges, and I was outraged that Peter has been schtupping his lady lawyer friend now, in the past, hell, maybe perpetually.
But why is Peter’s betrayal so infuriating? What makes his indiscretions so much more rage-inducing than when Alicia dallies with Will or with Finn? Say Peter was the first guilty party, a lech and serial philanderer — with hookers, no less — if he sincerely went clean and he and Alicia started again, only to have her stray with Will, is that worse? Better? (And forgive my timeline fuzziness, six years is a lot.) Now Alicia has strayed, and Peter is pissed. So he goes after Ramona. Now Will is gone, and Alicia goes after Finn. And at some point an agreement is made, and both parties agree to the idea that their marriage is now just for political capital. Why are we still here? Even if that wasn’t a precise timeline and the events weren’t necessarily tit for tat, how much, at this point in the game, does it matter?
Why is Peter bad and Alicia a saint, and why does infidelity infuriate me in one scene as I root for it in another, despite the transgressions being committed against a MINO (Marriage In Name Only)?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I suspect The Good Wife does.
Back when The Sopranos was airing, it was one of the most challenging shows on television because it dared the audience to root not only for a horrible protagonist, but also for Tony Soprano to be even more horrible. It dared us to wish he slept with Dr. Melfi, to wish that there was more bloodshed and less psychological analysis, and by daring the characters to do that, it held a mirror up to us, saying, “What does it say about you that this is what you want?” Many shows since then have followed this model: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, any of your stereotypical antihero dramas. What makes The Good Wife different is not that it has a female protagonist but that its entire existence is about luxuriating in those shades of gray between good and bad. More importantly, characters on The Good Wife have no idea that none of them are the good guys. To them, as long as there exists someone worse, they’re in the clear.
We tell ourselves that Alicia Florrick is the good guy just as much as she tells herself that. We tell ourselves that her love for Will was exceptional, that her flirtation with Finn is born out of the beautiful purity of grief. We tell ourselves that Peter is a vile man who only thinks with his dick. All of these things can be true, or they can be false, but either way, none of them are the whole of a person’s character, merely another coat of paint that pushes someone more black or more white, while remaining wholly gray.
The Alicia we tell ourselves we know, that she tells herself that she is, would have absolutely agreed to a completely above-board campaign when it was suggested by Prady. She would have thrown Peter to the curb when she learned of his latest transgression. But Alicia is so much more than just being good. She’s crafty, and she’s smart, and she’s hard, and she’s driven. The Alicia she thinks she is would have completely agreed with resident supercritic Alan Sepinwall’s tweet here (and the ensuing Twitter conversation), and as soon as Castro was clear of the race, she would have stepped aside. But Alicia is tired of living the good life and is determined to do something more. As has been impressed upon her repeatedly all season, she cannot do that without getting her hands dirty.
Conversely, the nearest thing to a pure soul on the show anymore is Cary, and he’s a morally-ambiguous former drug dealer’s lawyer. And a marked man. Much of the episode centered around the is it/is it not authenticity of the wire tap on which Lemond Bishop (supposedly) demanded Cary be killed. Cary was understandably shaken up by the entire situation and continues to be mired in a strange sort of purgatory that’s persisted since the season began, the metaphysical manifestation of shades of gray. While I appreciate what the show is trying to do with the metaphor, it’s time to bring the storyline to a close even as I appreciated Cary (stupidly) taking matters (and his life) into his own hands by confronting Bishop.
But maybe the strangest thing about The Good Wife is what a difficult time it has handling the one character who fully embraces the shades of gray. Kalinda is still floating through her love triangle storyline. In discussing the episode with scholar and critic Myles McNutt, he brought up the excellent point that so much of what audiences loved about Season 1 Kalinda was the fact that she didn’t have a main storyline. She was a mystery and, thus, mysterious and a fully mercurial character. Each attempt to shoehorn a Kalinda plot into the show runs into the same clumsy mechanics. Kalinda can’t be trusted. Kalinda can’t be pinned down. Kalinda does bad things but is probably good at heart. Honestly, at this point it makes it seem like even Kalinda’s sexuality is merely a tool for the show to suggest that she won’t play by the rules, and you just can’t predict what crazy Kalinda will do next. In this episode, she’s frantic to help Cary and frantic to keep sleeping with her girlfriend who has a name and an occupation but despite this being her 12th episode has no discernable personality or character beyond that. Kalinda continues to be a complete mess, shades of gray and all.
These are our players; these are our flawed grayscale avatars. We see them better than they see themselves, and even we cannot be trusted to view them with unbiased eyes. We’re heading into the midseason finale, the end of sweeps. Let’s hope for a big finish to take us into the holidays.
- Seriously though, Lemond Bishop’s suits.
- “You want to be re-elected? You want me to be elected? Then zip up your pants, shut your mouth, and stop banging the help.” slow clap Hello Emmy tape. Julianna Margulies was as good as I’ve ever seen her in this scene and I have seen her be GREAT before.
- God bless Marissa Gold, who offered Alicia both potato chips and milk and is clearly the best body woman in the world. Also: “How about the music from Titanic? You could even cut to shots from Titanic.”
- Lemond Bishop says that Cary is a white lawyer and can’t just disappear. THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING.
- Here is what my brain was thinking about this episode. Either this is no accident or there just aren’t that many necklines in the world:
- Opening credit appearance: 14:22