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The Good Wife: “The Trial”

Michelle and Robert King take us into the darkness

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Matt Czuchry (CBS)
Matt Czuchry (CBS)
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The Good Wife

"The Trial"

Season 6 , Episode 10

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The sixth season of The Good Wife so far has all been building up to this trial, to the fate of Cary Agos. I think most shows would place all of the weight of this episode on Matt Czuchry. It’s Cary’s trial, so it would follow that the story would unfold through his eyes, that the emotional beats would belong entirely to the major character. But The Good Wife is not most shows, and instead, the writers play with the narrative structure, changing the point of view of the trial storyline in every act.

Cary bookends the episode, which begins with a dramatic shot of him entering the courtroom and ends with him pleading guilty to a crime he didn’t commit. But before we get there, we dip into the minds of some of the other courtroom players, starting with Judge Cuesta, then the prosecuting attorney Geneva Pine, then a bespectacled juror, then Kalinda Sharma.

It’s an odd choice, one that allows characters who are way less important in the grand scheme of things to dominate time in a very crucial episode, but it works. Legal dramas have to condense courtroom proceedings into little hourlong-episode-ready nuggets, and as a result, a lot of the players—opposing counsel, jurors, witnesses, judges—remain little more than plot devices. Early on, The Good Wife writers figured out that one way to make the show standout among its legal procedural contemporaries was to give depth and detail to these characters, which is why the judges of The Good Wife are all distinct, wonderfully written, often comedic characters. In the trial of Cary Agos, the writers acknowledge the different little pieces that make up the epic of the courtroom, and it gives layers to the event.

The point-of-view characters here all come with their own narrative baggage. Judge Cuesta is the first judge we ever meet on the show, back in the pilot, and his presence here, while often serving comedic purposes, reinforces the high stakes. Geneva and Cary were never really friends, but they used to be coworkers, and now she’s wrapped up in his fall, because these characters learn over and over again that no one ever really goes away. And then of course, there’s Kalinda, who cares so deeply about Cary even if it’s not in the way he wants.

The only POV-character who doesn’t really work in this more macro context is the juror who ends up being replaced due to the effects of his Auditory Processing Disorder. But while I wasn’t totally sold on the juror’s act—and would have greatly prefered a Diane Lockhart point-of-view—even this brand new less-than-minor character adds to the drama of the trial. Because even outside of the character backstories, the framing device succeeds strictly within the context of the episode, as it reveals all of the variables at play in a court, many of which have nothing at all to do with the law or procedures. Cuesta wants to see Neil Diamond with his wife; Geneva has herself a detective sidepiece; the juror sometimes has difficulty with the sequencing of words. They’re distracted, and meanwhile Cary’s life hangs in the balance. So the framing could be read as a way to lighten the trial and take us out of the eyes of Cary for a bit so we don’t get completely overwhelmed by his despair. But if anything, for me, these dips into different perspectives only made the trial feel darker, more chaotic, which is why I fully believed Cary’s decision to plead guilty and face two years in prison. He had no control over that trial. He had no other choice.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few breaks from the weight of the trial. Outside of court, Alicia deals with the consequences of joking while on the campaign trail, which Eli Gold has told her so many times not to do! This time, Alicia writes a joke note for Grace after her gym teacher forces her to run while sick. In it, Alicia details how she will stab the teacher and leave her to bleed. It’s just a mother-daughter inside joke, though, a reference to Darkness At Noon, the fictional show cooked up by the writers that parodies anti-hero-led cable dramas. It’s an odd source to tap into for conflict on the show, but it’s also very realistic: Politics don’t allow room for humor. The smallest joke can be blown out of proportion, and Alicia learns that the hard way. And it’s hilarious to watch everyone lose their shit about it.

The ongoing dance of Alicia and Finn also lends humor to the episode. Finn and Alicia, thankfully, aren’t oblivious to the attraction growing between them. So Finn lays out some ground rules, which include “pancakes, not drinks.” But when the two try to meet at Chicago’s ugliest diner to talk about work and have some totally innocent pancakes, the power goes out, and they find themselves in candlelight, the sounds of rain falling outside, accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, and their noble attempt at a non-sexy meetup turns instantly sexy as hell. It’s funny; it’s cute; it makes me want to scream at them to kiss from my living room floor again.

But overall, “The Trial” is one of the darkest episodes of The Good Wife since “Dramatics, Your Honor.” It teeters, at times, into melodrama, and that isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. One of the best things about the series is that it’s serious, but never grueling in the way some serious dramas can be. It’s fun to watch. “The Trial”—even with its comedic moments—is not very fun to watch. In fact, it’s very stressful throughout. But it lets The Good Wife flex its more hard-hitting muscles, and I’m on board this time, especially since the episode just delivers so solidly on the acting front, keeping the drama from becoming overwrought. In multiple places in my notes, I wrote “ACTING” in all-caps, because sometimes the acting on this show is just so stellar that there’s little more to say about it other than “damn.” There were many of these moments in the midseason finale, but the ones that stand out the most were Kalinda and Bishop’s confrontation in the kitchen and Alicia and Cary’s last scene. Archie Panjabi, Mike Colter, Julianna Margulies, and Matt Czuchry were all in top form tonight, which makes saying farewell until January so much harder.

Stray observations:

  • Diane Chain Count: I was so overcome with emotions during this episode that it became difficult to pay attention to all of the accessories (but I did notice both Kalinda and Alicia in phenomenal jackets), so correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t notice any actual chains tonight. But I did refer to the first statement necklace we see her in tonight as a “deconstructed chain,” so there’s that.
  • How much do we think Finn knows about how everything would go down after he “helped” out by giving Alicia the leverage Kalinda needed to get Bishop to hand over Dante? I choose to believe Finn thought he really was helping and, like the others, was blindsided by Dante flipping on the stand. But I’m also a hopeless romantic when it comes to Finn Polmar, so who knows?
  • “I trust assassins over teachers.” More gold from Gold.
  • I love that even the season’s villain has an emotional weakness: Dylan. Bishop feels untouchable until Kalinda makes it clear that it’s his custody and not his freedom that’s on the line. She makes it personal.
  • No Peter Florrick this episode, and that’s something I feel pretty good about. But even when characters are absent on this show, they’re never really gone. In this case, Peter’s shadow looms over Alicia when he cuts a deal with the schoolteachers in order to get them to drop the stabbing incident. You can hear the annoyance in Alicia’s voice when she finds out. Here he is making decisions for her without even asking, and the last thing she wants is his help. The whole reason she doesn’t want to participate in patronage is because she doesn’t want to be like him.
  • No one’s ever really “gone” on this show except for Robin. What the fuck happened to Robin?
  • One thing that I did really like about the juror’s act was just the direction. We got to see Diane, Kalinda, Geneva, and Cary from the jury box, which isn’t an angle we ever really experience on the show.
  • Without a doubt, my favorite shot though was of Cary, Kalinda, and Bishop all sitting in a diagonal in court, the camera focusing on each of them depending on what’s happening.
  • Alicia and Finn exchange so many flirty looks that I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Even Alicia’s simple “hi” to Finn drips with tension.
  • I don’t even want to think about the fact that there won’t be a new episode of The Good Wife next Sunday or on any Sunday until 2015. See you in January, friends. In the meantime, I’ll be drowning my sorrows in red wine and leather jackets and the memories of Alicia’s season-three barrettes.