In most cases, heroes are fiction. They are a made-up construct, a mythos built-up around common people to make the ordinary seem extraordinary and to induce awe where typically there would be none. As wonderful as Alicia Florrick is, there is nothing truly heroic about her. She tries to be a good person more often than not. She’s good at her job. She wants to make the world a better place. But she’s no hero.
But what makes The Good Wife a good show is the fact that Alicia Florrick is no hero. She’s no saint. She’s a mere mortal like the rest of us and when she fails or falls short of her goals, it is disappointing. And when the whole of the world rises up against her to crush her dreams, it is nothing short of tragic. Which is exactly what happened in “Winning Ugly.”
Strange though it may seem, considering how often the device has popped up this season, the episode featured not one, but two would-be trials staged in front of review boards. As we learned last week, investigators uncovered evidence that suggested that there may have been voter fraud that required a recount and now the Prady and Florrick campaigns needed to plead their cases to the election board. Alicia ends up getting a lauded orator Spencer Randolph (Ron Rifkin) to represent her, thanks to the state Democratic party, and her case seems to be in good hands. Meanwhile, as word filters out about Kalinda’s interference with the metadata in Cary’s case, the crew decides that their best move is to admit to their wrongdoing in Detective Prima’s review before the police review board.
What’s strange about the device is the fact that The Good Wife is, you know, a show about lawyers who, after a front-loaded season focusing near exclusively on a single court case, now seems to be about putting all of the characters into situations that seem like court, but aren’t. It has a vaguely disconcerting effect, as though this is the only environment the characters are comfortable in and it begins to eventually strain credulity, like if it were a show about pharmacists and the only hobby any of them indulged in during their free time was selling weed.
Even as the Cary, Kalinda, and Diane drama unfolds in a pretty predictable fashion, with Detective Prima going to his not-so-secret lover Geneva Pine to tattle on them, resulting in her threatening to press charges, it manages to be a weirdly moving plot, if only because the audience has so much invested in these characters. Pine, working as a mouthpiece for still state’s attorney James Castro, informs Diane that they won’t press charges if she agrees to testify against Lemond Bishop, the precise deal that Cary was offered at the beginning of the season. Seeing as it’s her fault that Diane is in trouble at all, the assumption is that Kalinda will ultimately be the one to turn on Bishop, but Cary goes to Geneva herself to tell her that if Kalinda offers such a bargain to turn her down; he’ll testify.
It’s a testament to the strength of the series and its actors that this plot plays at all, as these characters have hardly shared significant screen time all season, yet are completely believable in their devotion, willing to make huge sacrifices to protect each other. Though it remains unclear still how it will all shake out, it ends up being quite compelling, even as it largely serves to get characters in position for the final few episodes.
But it’s really Alicia’s plight that fuels the propulsion of the episode. After 40 devices are found in voting machines, things seem quite dire, with Randolph even resorting to accusing Governor Florrick of being the individual responsible for the voter fraud, in an attempt to clear Alicia’s name. It’s a sketchy move, one that neither Peter nor Alicia appreciates and something that should have served as a huge warning for what was to come. As things falter and it seems inevitable that a recount will take place, Alicia and Eli are summoned to the office of the head of the Illinois’ Democratic Party where she is asked to kindly resign. Alicia is appalled at the suggestion and rejects it outright and in time it’s revealed that the party did rig the voting machines but not to help Alicia win, but rather, to help a struggling state senator win so the Democrats could maintain the supermajority and avoid Republican filibusters.
Both Alicia and Eli are agog at the reveal with Alicia continuing to refuse to resign the position she fought so hard to win. She’s told she’ll be taken care of by the party, found a cushy assignment, and that her sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain, before being told that is she refuses, the party will eat her alive and the governorship, too. That none of it mattered as much as the supermajority did. Rattled, Alicia falls back on the only person she can truly trust in this situation: Peter. He tells her to keep fighting. To trust in Randolph and fuck the party. And she does.
Alicia confides in Randolph what the head of the party tells her and he is livid, interrupting the review board as they were preparing to announce their findings, and telling them that he had new information that would change everything. He then proceeds to fabricate a monstrous tale about Alicia orchestrating the voter fraud the entire time and how she should never hold office, suggesting she resign immediately.
The moment itself is gut-wrenching, as is the one that follows, with Alicia confronting Randolph about his lies. He responds in the exact manner the head of the Democratic party did, telling her to resign and let the party take care of her, reiterating the importance of avoiding a filibuster, before leaving her to dissolve into tears. Lost, confused, and heartbroken, she returns to her home, where she finds Peter waiting, hardly making it out of the elevator before breaking down into sobs.
Like I said before, Alicia Florrick is no hero. But that’s what makes her brilliant, what makes us care. It’s not interesting to watch someone who’s of better stock than the rest of us triumph. What’s interesting is watching a flawed protagonist make mistakes, suffer for them, and find a way to move forward, particularly when it seems as though all is lost. The Good Wife may have spent a few months adrift, but this crushing defeat may just be enough to correct and right the ship.
- At this point, I don’t understand how anyone on television could trust Ron Rifkin. He’s only there to deceive you!
- Popcorn is apparently the state snack of Illinois. It beat out the potato chip in 2003.
- Still not enough Finn.
- I choose to believe that Andrew Wiley’s kids only have talking animal toys.
- I’m just saying that if Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen did a Funny or Die/Between Two Ferns/Sprint commercial mash-up thing, as implied in this episode, it probably would break the internet.
- Alicia’s grey and white suit made it look like she was wearing an apron which seemed like a really odd professional wardrobe choice until I finally figured out what was going on.
- “You didn’t tell me you were going after Peter.” “I’m going after Peter.” “Dad’s not going to be happy.” Marisa inserting herself into conversations will never not be the best thing.
- “Life… [Beat.][Beat.][Beat.]… sucks.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Eli.
- Opening credit appearance: 12:57