The Good Wife: “Tying The Knot”
B

The Good Wife: “Tying The Knot”

A lesson in how to not write about sex for TV

B

The Good Wife

"Tying The Knot"

Season 5, Episode 19
B

The Good Wife

"Tying The Knot"

Season 5, Episode 19

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I don’t love Colin Sweeney episodes. I think I’m in the general minority in that. Dylan Baker is such a strong actor, and he’s clearly having the time of his life with the role. But as stories go, they’re always rather predictable. Colin Sweeney always gets away with it, and Alicia is always in the position of having helped a murderer do his thing, one more time. The first, I don’t know, three times, it was kind of interesting. And his obsession with Alicia has always been fodder for a good creepy moment or two. But this episode feels like a bit of a throwaway to me, in a season that’s otherwise been so fantastically strong.

Of course, for The Good Wife, a throwaway is just a B, because that’s how good this season has been. And when I say that it’s weak, it’s primarily weak just in its story—not in the line-by-line screenwriting of the episode, and not in any other aspect of the show. Josh Charles directed tonight’s “Tying The Knot,” and damn—the direction is seriously fantastic. The scenes in Sweeney’s house, in particular, have a kind of hectic claustrophobia to them that make the salacious case feel more appreciably real. And the acting and casting continue to be superb: Finn Polmar is making for an excellent recurring guest star, and Laura Benanti’s turn as Sweeney’s latest fiancée is not her usual type—a pleasant surprise.

No, the problem here is the story. To mimic Alicia’s deadpan sarcasm when Castro says he’s stepping in on a high-profile case: a sex crime? On primetime television? Of course not. What a ridiculous idea.

The Good Wife is often one of the smartest shows on television, but it gets lost in the weeds when it comes to sex. There are some exceptions—the show’s take on Alicia’s sex life seems pretty spot-on. But in part, I think that’s because Alicia is so overtly frigid—her sex life is somewhat restrained, because she’s so unwilling to engage with her own desires.

Meanwhile, when the show has strayed into other characters’ sex lives, the results have been… mixed, at best. We’ve all done our best to forget the terrible travesty that was Kalinda’s ex-husband Nick—but Kalinda’s sexuality on the show has always been portrayed with varying effectiveness. At times, Kalinda is a sophisticated, “flexible” woman with fluid sexuality and a disdain for labels; at others, she’s a caricature of what people think bisexual people are like, without enough interiority to add depth to her actions. It’s similar with Peter’s affairs, which felt and still feels completely out of left field—a torrid sexuality that is incongruous with his businesslike and bullying posture. The Good Wife manages to critique other shows’ self-importance, their cavalier treatment of workplace relationships, and their mysteriously regenerating client lists, but it hasn’t quite figured out how to critique television’s approach to sex.

Usually, it manages to handle that by not showing much of it. And that works to its favor—The Good Wife plays to mounting desire better than most shows do. But now that Josh Charles is gone, leaving us bereft of Will and Alicia’s consistently sexy dynamic, there’ll be even less of that than before.

So instead we have what might be the most cliché “scandalous” storyline ever: A man has a “sex party” at his house, complete with women dressed in “sex uniforms” there to have “sex” with other well-dressed, rich people. And because rich people can’t have vanilla sex (how plebeian!), there is some kind of kink factory hidden in the mansion. Then someone ends up dead—thereby offering the script a chance to discuss the sex without taking the risk of endorsing it. It’s the safest option possible—include something salacious, just to judge it. The best of both worlds, from position of wry judgment—that is what this episode is going for.

Alicia Florrick would wryly judge things, because she’s Alicia Florrick. But this type of thing is tiresome in any procedural. I have no doubt that people have sex parties with sex uniforms, but I doubt it is quite as prevalent as television producers seem to think. I also doubt that it ends quite so often in murder. (It’s kind of counterintuitive for the kink community to be killing off willing, able, and sexy participants, isn’t it?)

Naturally, then, the fancy Japanese rope-sex doesn’t have anything to do with the plot—it’s yet another entirely predictable procedural twist. The fiancée did it, because she wanted to feel what it was like to be a murderer, like her husband-to-be. The much-discussed ecstasy of watching a life drain out of someone’s eyes—it’s succeeded wine as a rich person’s hobby. Cue despair about the crumbling social contract, or something!

I see too much of this hack pandering to our worst fears on The Following to be patient with it. The show is much better than this. And considering most of the A-plot is not going to recur anytime soon in the show—until they trot Dylan Baker out for yet another guest-appearance—it seems like a lot of runaround designed to appeal to audiences that aren’t really fans of the show.

Because compare all of this to the moment of pure hilarious irony we feel when Finn Polmar realizes that Peter has just endorsed him in his race for State’s Attorney. It’s a moment we should have seen coming—it makes perfect sense, in fact. It’s a story decision that ties Finn and Alicia to Peter, and connects Finn to more than just Will’s death. And how, as a viewer, you hold that moment (and Matthew Goode’s face of shock) in your head side-by-side with the moment where Finn is back in the courtroom, looking down at his shoes (with a similar face of shock) as imagined blood pools around them. And hold both of those moments with Finn’s look of disgust and disappointment as he sees how his former friend Castro is manipulating him in an attempt to further Castro’s own career.

When it’s not distracted by its flashy A-story, this episode has multiple moments of surprising softness and significance. It’s natural that given a full 22-episode season, a few will feel more disconnected from the overarching significance of the story arc. And an episode of The Good Wife is always a treat, honestly. But there’s some lazy storytelling in “Tying The Knot” (and what a terrible pun for a title, too).

On the plus side, I think this episode may serve as a prelude to some of the show’s strongest work to date—that of Alicia Florrick’s shifting sense of what is “right” and “wrong.” It came up last week, and it’s a thread picked up again this week, as Peter gets vengeful over the way Castro is treating Alicia. Colin Sweeney is not a good person, but Alicia is always getting him out of trouble—his “saint.” Will she ever begin to doubt her own integrity, or is she going to be content as Peter’s mob wife?

Stray observations:

  • The cold open of the episode is marvelous—kudos again to Josh Charles. It was stressful just watching it, and it does an excellent job demonstrating just how much Alicia has to deal with.
  • Zach’s little freakout to Alicia and Owen, which never quite addressed the whole pot thing, is also really well done. I’m looking forward to seeing Zach get more rebellious and cranky, especially if he’s going to talk trash about Peter and Alicia’s relationship more.
  • Renata and Alicia are both three-syllable names, and this is a turn-on, of sorts.
  • A few lovely little character moments: Alicia walking up the stairs to see the body, because she’s the type of person who walks toward a murder scene, not away; Kalinda inching away from Sweeney on the bench, because even she’s afraid of him; Diane and Alicia’s measured exchange of glances, when Alicia is on the witness stand.
  • Alicia’s handheld scanner is pretty legit.
  • There was an odd cut in the middle of Alicia’s phone conversation with Finn—did she switch outfits? I couldn’t quite follow what was happening as a result. (I only noticed because that plum dress was really fantastic, and then it disappeared.)
  • And courtesy of CBS, here are a few shots of Josh Charles directing the episode. They’re in black and white—I think a move intentionally done so that no one would accidentally believe he’d come back to life. That scarf, guys.


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