The Good Wife: "Parallel Construction, Bitches"
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The Good Wife: "Parallel Construction, Bitches"

Lemont Bishop is in trouble, and it’s Alicia’s fault

The Good Wife has set its own bar so high for great episodes that while “Parallel Construction, Bitches” is near-perfect, it still merits that little caveat: “near” perfect, A “minus.” 

It’s weird: The Good Wife is doing something totally different from any other show on television. For a procedural, it’s far too experimental with its structure and storytelling style. For a prestige drama, it’s far too case-oriented. For a show on CBS, it’s too invested in interrogating the status quo. For a staid briefcases-and-suits drama, it’s too interested in technology and privacy. The story threads that The Good Wife is working with are only occasionally the same threads that any other show is working with. It makes for consistently exciting stuff.

There’s a lot of those uncommon threads in “Parallel Construction, Bitches,” but the one that sticks out to me is the NSA wiretap. The wiretapping from one government agency that gets shared with other agencies is the parallel construction of the title—a parallel construction of a case against the defendant, in this case. The NSA can find stuff, find it not relevant to what they do, and then pass it to any number of other federal agencies.

What’s weird, though, is that The Good Wife is a little less interested in the conspiracy of the government agencies, and more interested in how the NSA technicians feel about its characters. The Good Wife has the surprising ability to mine for humor in any number of situations, but creating a few nerdy analysts who gossip about Alicia and Will’s love lives is a new frontier, even for this show. It’s the show reflecting our experience of watching The Good Wife back at us, because we’re a similar boat—we hear all the conversations, but determining what they signify is far trickier.

The cold open is another tip of the hat to the audience. It looks so much like a “previously on” for another show that I actually checked my screener and fast-forwarded, wondering if it was an advertisement, or if I’d started watching the wrong show. Nope; it’s just The Good Wife telling us that it knows we’re watching television, and it sees us doing that. The humor there is a little closer to what the show normally hews to: Alicia can’t follow the intricacies of the show Grace is watching, but meanwhile we can barely keep up with the intricacies of her life. (The show within the show has a plotline about baby drama and marital infidelity, which are both happening in The Good Wife, too. Clever, clever.)

When I saw the title for this episode, I was convinced that the whole thing was going to be an intricate grammar joke—parallel construction is also used to describe a sentence that uses two consecutive phrases in the same way. It’s not exactly a rule; it’s more a question of style. I’m a little disappointed that I can’t build a huge metaphor about grammatical structure and character development in The Good Wife.

That being said, though: The legal construct of parallel construction is particularly so relevant to Alicia Florrick’s life. The NSA finds stuff and shares it with other agencies; evidence can cross borders into different departments, to be used under different contexts. Information collected in a case about fraud can be used to prove a murder, under that construction. Alicia’s entire life is an exercise in parallel construction. Information and influence is always traveling to different sectors.

This tape that shows Eli’s enforcer Jim Moody stealing votes is the perfect example of that—it touches everything. Peter’s implicated, Zach will have to testify, Alicia served as Peter’s lawyer, Will withheld information—and not for nothing, but Alicia’s trust in Peter and faith in his integrity as a governor are on the line, too. It’s a little convenient for the show to draw everything together with this one video—but it’s also believable that the wife of a politician would live a life with very messy boundaries between the personal and the public. Alicia barely has a private life anymore—by which I mean, she doesn’t have a private life at all. She has her unvoiced thoughts, and that’s pretty much it.

It’s sort of sad. When Alicia swears up and down to Lemont Bishop that she didn’t reveal his source, we know she’s not lying, because who would she tell? And then to hear that she let it slip because she left herself a voicemail reminder? She called herself. Alicia’s most solid intimate relationship is between her public self and her private self. That’s really sad.

Stray observations:

  • Welcome to the brave new world that is my weekly coverage of The Good Wife. David Sims is no longer working for The A.V. Club, and we’re sorry to see him go. I hope I can be an acceptable substitute.
  • What if all of The Good Wife is a six-season long lament of the loss of privacy in American life? Let me get back to you on that.
  • Kalinda and Cary in bed! Wooooooo! Also, as usual, it’s hard to tell whether or not they actually like each other, or are using each other, or both. But I’ll handle it.
  • Nice to see Maulik Pancholy as one of the NSA technicians today. Since 30 Rock, I hadn’t seen him. Maybe he’ll become a regular commentator on Alicia’s life.
  • Overall, and as always, fantastic guest-stars this week: a minor bit from Jack Davenport as opposing counsel (though I hope he comes back!); Wallace Shawn as Charles Lester, attorney for drug dealers; Michael Kostroff, also returning, as the NSA investigator; and Eric Bogosian as the Office of Public Integrity (that’s a thing?) agent. That’s in addition to semi-regular Nathan Lane, Mike Colter, and Jeffrey Tambor. I am fine living in a universe where pretty much every actor is a recurring character on The Good Wife

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