The Good Wife: "In Sickness"
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The Good Wife: "In Sickness"

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The Good Wife

"In Sickness"

Season 2, Episode 21

(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)

I know I’m supposed to start these Second Opinions pieces with a contextual paragraph or two, covering my take on the show as a whole and the season so far. But there’s too much going on in The Good Wife right now, so I’d rather just jump into it. (In brief, though: I love the show, and I think this season has been frequently brilliant, aside from the Kalinda/Blake storyline, which I largely found to be a drag. Now on to this week.)

This season began with a scene of Alicia Florrick on a cell phone during a major public moment for her husband Peter, and now at a crucial juncture in the story—with Peter having been re-elected to his old job as State’s Attorney and Alicia having just learned of another of his old peccadilloes, with Kalinda no less—she’s on a cell phone again, this time making an important call instead of taking one. In a nifty bit of staging, “In Sickness” opens with Alicia fleeing Peter’s victory party in tears and heading back to her apartment, where she promptly packs up Peter’s things, calls a moving company and a real estate agent, and moves him into a new apartment, where she celebrates by at last picking up the phone. She mutes her mother-in-law on the TV, then watches the background as Peter answers her.

Do I believe that Alicia could do all this in just a couple of hours, in the middle of the night? Not really. But the shot of her talking to Peter—knowing what she’s about to spring on him while he grins like an idiot on a tiny, flickering screen—is a thing of beauty and an example of how The Good Wife makes better use of the visual possibilities of the medium than just about any other show of its type ever has. (Weeks later, I’m still thinking about the shot of Cary bemusedly listening to Glenn Childs’ voice via a toy lion.) The scene that follows is just as strong, with Alicia showing Peter his new home and explaining why she won’t be living there with him. When he tries to excuse his affair with Kalinda, muttering, “It was before she was your best friend,” Alicia practically chokes, saying, “Oh God,” before rushing out. It’s such a well-written and well-played beat, as Alicia seems to realize all at once how repulsive Peter can be when he’s defending himself. It’s one of the many highlight reel moments for Julianna Margulies in this episode.

I started watching The Good Wife about a third of the way into the first season, and I think I’d seen about two episodes before Margulies won a Golden Globe for the show. In both those episodes, I found Margulies to be the weak link. Later, I watched the earlier episodes and started to see what the critics had seen in her performance, and by then, I’d seen the later season one episodes too, where Alicia begins to wield her formidable power both as attorney and a woman scorned. I haven’t doubted Margulies since.

Margulies shows a lot of that power in “In Sickness,” as Alicia decides to bury her hurt feelings under thick layers of make-up and swagger. She attacks her latest case, where the client is a dying woman named Marjorie Garnett, who’s been bumped off the liver-transplant list. There’s no real money in the Garnett case per se—the client is suing for an organ, essentially—but Lockhart-Gardner sees a potential malpractice suit here, so they’re using their questions about Garnett’s treatment to fish for examples of systematic bias and/or misjudgment by the hospital.

They find an unlikely ally in their old nemesis Patti Nyholm, who starts out as their opponent until she’s abruptly fired by her firm and replaced by young stud Todd Roda, played by Aaron Staton. (It’s Ken! Cosgrove! Accounts!) Patti retains Lockhart-Gardner to sue her old firm, hoping to use the leverage of what she knows about the Garnett case to get her former employers to pay up. Of course she can’t reveal anything directly to her new attorneys, because she could be disbarred for violating privilege. But if she happens to drop hints about hospital over-billing while telling her baby a fairy tale, and if Will Gardner and Alicia happen to hear her over her baby-monitor, well… oops. 

There’s nearly always a thematic connection between the case-of-the-week in The Good Wife and whatever personal crisis Alicia’s dealing with, and for a time, it looked like the connection in “In Sickness” would be between Marjorie Garnett’s unwillingness to tell her 5-year-old son she’s dying and Alicia not wanting to talk about Peter with anyone—not even her own children. But then Alicia does tell her kids, in another masterfully written and acted scene, which sees Alicia struggling not to reveal too much, while trying to trying to exert some authority.  (“You’re not ‘those’ kids, you’re our kids,” she says when her youngsters worry that they’re going to become a cliché, shuttled from divorced parent to divorced parent.) But then when Grace says, “Mom, you need to protect us more,” Alicia breaks down, and Grace immediately feels awful. That’s such a subtler and more realistic way to play this than the usual scene of a teenager stomping out indignantly, screeching, “I hate you!” And it resolves well, too, with Alicia hugging her children and repeating, “We’re good; we’re gonna be good,” as though trying to convince herself.

No, the thematic connection here really comes from the way the Garnett case plays out. Lockhart-Gardner tries to trip the hospital staff up on their excessive CT scans, and on their moving a big-shot ahead of Marjorie, but neither of those leads get them too far, because the administrator keeps insisting that he’ll fight to the last penny to preserve the integrity of the organ-donor program. Instead, the tipping-point comes when Alicia looks at Marjorie’s bedside photos, lingering on her tattoos and her party-pals. With a little digging, she uncovers a pattern of discrimination by Marjorie’s doctor against people who look like rockers.

So there’s the crux of it: Is who someone used to be a legitimate reason to punish them now? Should Peter have to keep paying for crimes he committed before he “reformed?” And what of Cary, who’s worried that this Kalinda bombshell will cost him both his job in the State’s Attorney’s office and his shot at returning to Lockhart-Gardner. Can anyone get a clean slate here?

While Alicia’s arguing that they should in her public life, she’s arguing otherwise in her private life. Alicia doesn’t have anything directly to do with Cary getting re-hired at L-G, but the prospect of returning and being Alicia’s subordinate is too galling for Cary to consider, especially after Diane Lockhart’s pie-in-the-sky promises of a few months ago. As for Peter, he accuses Alicia of using his old dalliances as a way to get rid of him and to continue an affair with Will that she’s not actually having. (Yet.) At the least, he accuses her of being overly judgmental, not giving him enough credit for his efforts to change, and not taking any responsibility for her own failings as a wife. It’s the wrong thing to say and the wrong time to say it. Alicia’s in no mood to re-play any of the time-worn scenarios, where the straying husband says a few powerful words and the heartbroken wife relents.

Instead, she gives him an unequivocal “no” to all of his arguments and sends Peter sulking back to his office, where he runs into Cary and perks up when he realizes that Cary’s time at Lockhart-Gardner might make him the perfect informant on Alicia and Will. Congratulations, Peter. You’re back where you were—in nearly every way.

Stray observations:

  • It’s always confusing to watch Raising Hope right before The Good Wife on nights when Martha Plimpton is a guest star.
  • Hope we haven’t seen the last of John Glover as Patti’s off-again/on-again boss, Jared Andrews. The Good Wife always makes good use of veteran character-actors.
  • Ah, the comic power of the smash-cut. We go straight from Patti being told by Andrews that there’s no way she’ll be heading to arbitration to a shot of a judge saying, “Welcome to arbitration!” It’s a cheap laugh, but effective.
  • Also: “Oh my goodness, look at you with your little hat!”
  • Been a long time since we’ve seen Kalinda get propositioned by a lady. Good to know she’s still got it.
  • Eli: “Is it irrevocable?” (Also, what does “irrevocable” mean?)
  • There is some thematic connection between Marjorie and Alicia, in the way Marjorie regrets the mistakes she’s made as a parent—saying, “If I had it to do over again, I would’ve done it differently”—while Alicia, looking at Marjorie’s photos, says it looks like she’s done all right. Alicia should know as well as anyone that snapshots don’t tell the whole story. 
  • If I had time, I’d rant about how The Good Wife can be a Top 20 show and yet still be counted as “on the bubble” because it doesn’t draw a big enough number in the key demo. But that’s probably too big a topic to get into in the Stray Observations. So I’ll just say that in this time of fragmented and diminishing viewership, it’s hard to believe that a network can’t find a way to monetize over 10 million viewers, and it’s also hard to believe that a site like TV By The Numbers—with no inside information on ad sales, ancillary markets or demographics—can be so confident in their assumptions based on a single figure. I mean, maybe they’re right, and The Good Wife really is hanging on by a thread. But I doubt it.

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