When it comes to television, few tropes are as instantly recognizable as the bottle episode. Typically taking place in a single location, they were originally developed as a way to save money. One location, confined largely to regular cast members means that money typically spent on locations or actors can be tucked away for better use in other episodes. Bottle episodes are generally tightly focused and revolve largely around interpersonal conflict driven entirely by the characters the audience knows so well.
By the strictest of definitions, the 14th episode of this season of The Good Wife is not a bottle episode, at least not for the show itself. However, it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that the episode captures the tenor and beats of a bottle episode by turning the trope on its head and bottling up not its characters, but its audience.
The premise of “Mind’s Eye” is that Alicia has come down with a bad case of laryngitis, not a fortuitous development given her hectic schedule and her looming meeting with an editorial board she’s lobbying for endorsement. She’s instructed to rest her voice and stay in her apartment until it’s time for her meeting. Alicia’s not one for sitting idly, however, and she spends the day, flitting from thought to thought, trying to solve issues involving the campaign, the firm, and her daughter’s immortal soul — all from the confines of her dining room table. The audience, for whatever reason, is trapped in Alicia’s mind with her, a fate I honestly wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s miserable enough being stuck in one’s own mind, with its endlessly circular thoughts and hidden rabbit holes, but to be trapped in the mind of a television character who’s been struggling with the same handful of moral quandaries for the last nine months is nigh on unbearable.
There’s really no obvious reason why The Good Wife attempted something so seemingly structurally interesting for this particular episode, in the same way that there’s no real reason why its execution seemed so shoddy. It would be one thing if Alicia was absolutely forbidden from speaking, but she takes multiple phone calls and has repeated interpersonal interactions with her hoarse whisper. There was a way to make this concept work, limiting Alicia’s communication to texting or emails, only having her speak in her head, when trying to work through concepts, much like they utilized in the episode itself. But having her still be able to communicate, even limitedly, with her voice makes the fact that we can see through her thought process seem like a choice that was made just for the concept’s sake.
But the concept itself wasn’t really the deal breaker in this episode. No, the real problem lay in the fact that the entire episode seemed to exist solely to address plots that were introduced over four months ago and largely ignored since. In a way, ignoring said plots (that of the eviction of Canning and Lee’s law firm from the old Lockhart Gardner offices and the tricky business of Lemond Bishop having started and funded Alicia’s PAC) wasn’t a mistake as neither of them feel like particularly pressing agenda items. Bishop’s involvement in Alicia’s PAC is bad news, obviously, but it’s either going to come out or it isn’t. To dance around it too much just gets tiresome.
Tiresome is sort of the theme of the latest stretch of episodes, though, as ultimately this is just another episode dedicated to the moral uncertainty of the protagonist. So relentless is the show at hammering home Alicia’s waffling, even her imagination is populated entirely with shades of grey. All of her friends that pop up inside the confines of her brain are outfitted in blacks and grey, the only white suffusing the memories of sexual exploits past, wherein her partner seamlessly morphs between long lost Will, bird-in-the-hand campaign manager Jonathan, and dream lover Finn. That sexy time is apparently the only time seen as unequivocally good in Alicia’s imagination, one has to guess that instead of investing so much time dithering over evictions and PAC’s, Alicia’s top priority should likely be getting laid, if only to free up some mental real estate.
The episode wasn’t bad, necessarily. It’s the kind of high-concept, risky episode that a confident, older show can attempt with little fear of serious blowback. But when a show as good as The Good Wife is capable of being falls short with a concept they’re capable of nailing, it ends up being all the more disappointing. The reverse bottle episode set-up was brilliant, but the execution was less so. That said, it dealt with any number of disparate plot threads (residual Will grief, mother guilt, funding concerns, morality meltdowns, lingering lawsuits) in a relatively tidy matter, hopefully (HOPEFULLY) clearing the way for actual plot progression in the episodes to come. Moving into the final eight episodes, it seems clear that the show is gearing up for a big finish. Let’s hope next week begins to expedite that process.
- The good news: Josh Charles’ voice was back! The bad news: His voice inhabited the body of a terrible Josh Charles body double who wasn’t very good at lip syncing!
- I’m all for sexy sex, but more actual smooching, less fantasy smooching.
- Alicia’s imagination has rendered Zach a hobo and Grace a pregnant, atheist glue-sniffer.
- It also conjured up (faux) Richard Dawkins, effectively turning a reverse bottle episode into a raging hellscape.
- Speaking of Dawkins, I’m not sure why it was weird to watch a version of a well-known atheist argue with an actor playing a preacher in Alicia’s mind, but it was. It’s really no different from Alicia getting advice from real life feminists and yet, still weird.
- Steven Pasquale is a terrible fake driver.
- Susan Misner apparently divorced Stan from The Americans and married Louis Canning. I’m not entirely certain that’s an improvement.
- If/when Canning dies, it’ll be a terrible loss. Michael J. Fox is such a great presence on the show. Not enough non-Bishop antagonists these days.
- Marisa Gold continues to be the best and there’s never enough of her in any given episode.
- That said, her presence is not an acceptable substitution for Robyn. WHERE’S ROBYN?!
- Opening credit appearance: 13:04