Whenever The Good Wife comes back to our TVs, I expect it to immediately throw a bunch of plates in the air and amaze me by catching and spinning all of them. Season four’s première, however, is not surprising in that sense. A political campaign? Check: Peter’s still running for governor against mean Mike Kresteva (Matthew Perry, who may be Skyping in his performance this year). Financial troubles at the firm? More than ever, as it’s filing for bankruptcy and possibly laying off staff. Marital confusion? For sure, because Alicia still doesn’t know what level of “separated” she is from Peter.
Then, of course, there’s the wacky Kalinda plot. Since this show began—but especially since season two, following the introduction of Scott Porter and Kalinda’s shady past—there has existed a very pulpy corner of The Good Wife that’s several levels kinkier and more violent than the rest of the show. Bats being wielded, guns drawn, a lot of showdowns in parking lots, vague references to some sort of Canadian mafia, secret identities… the list never ends. There’s no shortage of shady characters, men and women, with whom Kalinda had some vague romantic history, somewhere in between her dalliance with Peter and her past life as a dowdy wife.
These storylines and character details have never been The Good Wife’s strongest suits. This is a legal procedural for the 21st century, with its fingers in lots of related political pies and a better-developed understanding of contemporary technology. It doesn’t also need to be a sexy crime drama. But while “I Fought The Law” has all the stuff you’d expect in a Good Wife première, it also had a drawn-out martial arts fight between Kalinda and her former… lover? Husband? Pimp? Godfather? Well, some sleazy Brit called Nick played by Marc Warren (who specializes in this sort of role—you may know him from the British State Of Play miniseries or Hustle). There’s also time for some kinky sex and a couple Mexican standoffs.
I have no idea where all of that is going. It’s hard to imagine The Good Wife can keep up such an exciting pace, considering Kalinda has a day job that she may well lose if she continues to have fistfights with men in her office elevator. I’m also really not sure that it’s necessary. I understand that Kalinda can’t just be the sexy investigator. Archie Panjabi’s an Emmy-winning actress—she’s good at what she does and she deserves some meaty storylines. But there’s meat and then there’s a gas-station bacon double cheeseburger, and I’m afraid this is more the latter than the former. I’ll put up with a little more Nick if it resolves Kalinda’s mysterious past once and for all, but I feel the odds of that final chapter being written are slim at best.
Another old plot that’s rearing its head again season four begins is downsizing. The liquidity of Lockhart/Gardner has always been a major plotline on this show. Even though every character is a rich lawyer making lots and lots of money, even though they represent many fancy clients (along with some not-so-fancy ones), “the recession” has never stopped being a problem for the firm. The loss of a major client (in season three) is actually what’s sparking this bankruptcy filing, and that is at least a new angle on an old story. But I couldn’t help but punch my fist in the air when David Lee took Diane and Will to task for complaining about the recession again.
“I Fought The Law” introduces Nathan Lane (playing it rather low-key) as a trustee brought in by the court to guide Lockhart/Gardner through its bankruptcy and help the firm cut 30 percent of its staff. I love Lane in this role. I’m surprised it took him this long to show up in the show, since The Good Wife draws from a pool of New York actors, but I’m glad they waited instead of casting him as some flamboyant, over-the-top “Nathan Lane type.” That kind of thing is a chore for him, and it’s tiring to watch at this point, so this will be far more fun in the long run.
I just hope we don’t have a new version of Alicia and Cary competing against each other for a job. Their rivalry already busted open their friendship once, and it took two whole seasons to mend fences. I want to see them working as a team, because their dynamic can be so strong, so I hope there’s no major wedge driven between them this year. Same with Alicia and Kalinda. The frostiness there seems to have dissipated, thankfully—I’m not saying this should be a conflict-free year, but a lot of the established dynamics could be discarded in order to keep things fresh.
The case of the week is quite a fun one here, since it involves Zack being pulled over by a jerky cop, and a backwoods-county state’s attorney opening up a big case against him as political revenge towards Peter. What’s fun about the plot is that it springs Alicia (who serves as Zack’s attorney and blows open a “forfeiture corridor” that makes the county money by impounding drug runners’ cars) and Peter (who threatens political retribution and tough tactics against the SA’s son) into action. But neither of them are perfect at it, perhaps because they’re too passionate and protective of their son. Alicia digs too deep to uncover the forfeiture corridor, making political enemies, and Peter makes threats that make him sound like a corrupt, old-Chicago politician, opening him up to future problems.
Somewhat lamely, Zack ends up saving the day by turning the whole situation into a viral video that solves all his problems. This would be a big deal if The Good Wife relied on the Internet as a deus ex machina less frequently. Viral videos, you guys! The video, it went… it went viral! I appreciate the point, though. Zack is growing up and has his dad’s tenacity and his mom’s legal smarts. I also liked the show undercutting all that by showing him tabbing back to porn on his computer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Look, it’s a season première and a busy episode that never quite ties together properly, so don’t panic. I’m not saying The Good Wife is in decline. The show’s still a barrel of fun and has some elements you could never ruin, like Will and Diane’s chemistry, or Alan Cumming’s amusing pouty face. I just hope future episodes live up to the best parts of this one and not the laziest.
- Kristen Chenoweth, who suffered an on-set injury (she’s doing fine now) pops up as a political reporter sniffing around Peter and Alicia’s relationship. I don’t know if we’ll see more of her as originally planned, but it’s too early to say much about that.
- Another The Wire cast member makes a cameo this week—Hassan Johnson, a.k.a. Wee-Bey Brice, although he’s just a photo in a file. Maybe we’ll see more of him soon.