I was incredibly worried about this week's episode, following last week's triumph. Clearly there was going to be some degree of downshift after an episode as wily and feverish as "The War Will Go On Forever," and I was afraid the momentum would grind to a halt just as quickly as it started up. So I was pleasantly surprised by "There's A Whole Slew Of Ladies With Bad Things To Say About The Taliban." (Should The A.V. Club start paying by the word, these episode titles are going to buy my vacation home in Pompano Beach.) Sure, it was the slightly more mellow middle of what Daniel Zelman and the Kessler Boys clearly conceived and wrote as a three-episode end game, but it accomplished exactly what it was supposed to. It bridged the gap between the first and third acts in a way that is interesting, if not quite action-packed.
In last week's flashforward scene, Patty and Ellen were at serious odds over the case, and while this episode didn't span the entire week that led to that rancorous telephone conversation, it laid the groundwork. Patty and Ellen's roles in the High Star case have evolved over the course of the season. First, Patty was simply the benevolent supporter, but the more she inserted herself into the case (mostly through Bill Herndon's involvement) the more she and Ellen began acting and working like co-counsels. But here, we see Patty and Ellen working alone, having separate, private meetings with their targets and negotiating deals without consulting the other. At some point, Patty started to think of the High Star case as hers as much as Ellen's, which is exactly what Ellen always feared. It looks like this will be the case that puts them on the road back to being adversaries again.
First Patty meets with Boorman, who gives her the quick-'n'-dirty version of his 25-year relationship with Erickson, and how High Star became entangled with the CIA to begin with. Meanwhile, Boorman is trying to get some documentation for the Afghani boy so he can legally adopt him and move with him to a house he's purchased in Scottsdale, while trying to pin the disaster on Erickson so he can skate away. He meets with Ellen and advises her to subpoena the Dust Devil documents again, suggesting that the new documents will be unredacted. But when Dean Gullickson tells Ellen that he has run out of ideas for finding Chris Sanchez, Ellen decides to go straight to Erickson and ask him to bring Sanchez home. After some convincing threats, Erickson tells her they might have something to talk about, assuming she can convince Patty not to pick up with the case once Ellen drops it. "This is my case," Ellen tells him, but he's not totally sure, and it seems like she's not exactly convinced either.
It was fascinating that Ellen would take the meeting with Erickson without bouncing it off Patty first. It seems as though Ellen, who Patty has been warning about getting emotionally involved with the case, didn't think Patty would want to make that deal. The more interesting question is, was that a fair assumption? Considering Patty tried to have Ellen killed to cover up her own misdeeds, it's understandable why Ellen would believe that Patty wouldn't consider Sanchez's safe return as reason enough to drop the case. But season three, in so much as it was conceived as a potential final season, dug into Patty's guilt over some of the choices she's made. And when she advised Tom and Ellen against making the deal with Winstone that ultimately led to Tom's death, it showed a new attitude from Patty, a sudden realization that sometimes the cost of victory is too great. I'm not totally convinced that Ellen couldn't have gotten Patty on board.
But the further complication for Patty is an impromptu visit from Herndon, who is sloppy drunk and circling the drain even faster than usual. He was her mentor once, and seeing him in this horrific state is terrible for Patty. As she's trying to sober him up, and comfort him about the murder of his CIA contact, she vows that she'll punish Erickson and Boorman alike. No one will get away clean, certainly not the men who got his friend killed. That is to say, Patty is emotionally invested in the High Star case in the same way she warned Ellen against. Much in the same way Ellen feels obligated to Sanchez, as his attempting to help her put his life in danger, Patty feels a similar obligation to Herndon. Granted, Herndon was a shambling disbarred drunk before, but at least his friend of 20 years wasn't dead. As a result of helping Patty (who was trying to help Ellen), Herndon is in a deeper hole emotionally than he was before, and Patty feels the least she could do is punish the men who put him there. Let the tug o' war begin.
- There has to be another reveal planned for the Afghani boy’s mother. I can buy that he was in love with her and just needs closure, but it’s being treated so urgently I hope there’s another surprise in store for the audience.
- I complain on occasion about the sleight-of-hand, but I was genuinely surprised that Erickson was behind the kidnapping rather than Huntley and Co.
- The break-up scene between Ellen and Ghost Boyfriend was brutal.
- Michael at the deposition: “Do you have any sparkling?” Ugh, he’s the worst.
- However, Michael did sort of own Patty with the panda bear origin story. I can’t stand Michael, but I believe him on this one.
- Erickson was so condescending to Ellen: “Nice job at my deposition. You handled yourself very well. You really got my guff.”
- The final scene was great. It clearly made Patty physically ill to agree to drop the case.