I'm torn on this week's The Good Wife, which, if nothing else, was another barnstormer, taking another unique spin on ripped-from-the-headlines (this time, from the masterful New Yorker article about the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, which every man, woman, and child in America should read) and turning it into a thriller of an episode that basically had a countdown clock running in the bottom corner the whole time. Most shows would be satisfied to have the team working on a last-minute death row appeal, but The Good Wife always has that extra twist. This time that Alicia et al are trying to decipher a call from a Court of Appeals clerk who called to ask if they’re filing an addendum, without elaborating. So we’ve got the mystery of his call, plus the last-minute race to save death row inmate Carter Wright (Chad Coleman, Cutty Wise from The Wire), plus various domestic dramas unfolding in Alicia’s house, plus Peter's televised debate going on in the background. They never give me a moment’s rest on this show.
What I’m torn about is that, because of the emotional nature of the case (Carter even has a daughter racing to get to him; there’s a musical montage to him being manacled and walked by prison wardens) the writers let the somewhat ambiguous masks of Will, Kalinda, Alicia, Cary and Diane slip as they all united in an effort to save Carter. Really, there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously the show’s writers want to draw attention to the issue of possibly innocent people being executed, and Alicia’s impassioned speech to the judge at the end of the episode underlined that. “So much of what we do is uncertain … so much of my day is working between right and wrong. But this has to be right, to do this to a man, this has to be right,” she pleads. It’s a little too in-yer-face for a show that usually never lets anything be that black and white.
But, I think I’m willing to embrace Alicia’s argument, precisely because it’s grounded in the idea that she’s so rarely on a case that’s this easy a call to make. It’s the exception that proves the rule, and as long as things don’t get so soaringly emotional every week, I’m fine with that.
All that aside, this was just a heck of a ride. I forgot to mention that mixed in with all this, Alicia opens with a sex dream about Will (actually, she’s just clutching a pillow) and later tells him that they should talk. As usual, there’s so much shit going on I was just baffled by some scenes. Cary being chased by an 18-year-old first cousin who insists that sleeping with her isn’t incest was extremely funny to watch but completely unnecessary. The guy on the beach who calls Cary to prod him to work with Lockhart & Gardner meant nothing to me, and I’m not sure if he was supposed to or not, or if he’ll have future bearing. This kind of stuff can be distracting.
But the show’s four ostensible “leads” all had different, intertwined storylines all in different environments that buzzed along around them, which made the whole episode feel like it was giving off energy. The best setting was Alicia at home, holding the fate of a man’s life in her hands while she inadvertently meets her son’s sort-of girlfriend, her daughter’s new Jesus-pushing friend and does stuff like pick out her husband’s tie while picking out beers for her and Kalinda (at, like, noon) without even really knowing she’s doing it. The best example was that while she’s juggling a million things, she flicks on Peter’s debate in the background and sees what should be a big dramatic moment for the show reduced to dry comedy, as Peter growls, “My marriage is none of your fucking business” (cleverly edited, of course), to which Alicia has the decency to at least cock an eyebrow.
Will, first in a sexy-ass convertible but soon in the offices, leads his fact-finders to probe every inch of the situation—which judge might have flipped regarding the death penalty, why the clerk might have been so bold—with Blake and Cary flitting around and everyone else on various phones. Diane gets handed the least interesting stuff, dealing with Carter himself in prison, but Baranski is a classy actress and keeps things from disintegrating into histrionics when they so easily could have done (like the scene where she pleads with the warden to let Carter’s daughter see her dad). Not content with just exploring the changes in arson investigation over the last 10 years, the episode also tosses in a plot about expired lethal injection drugs and the state’s search for another sample before midnight, so we’ve really got dueling races against time on our hands—one to kill Carter, one to save him!
But Kalinda, who’s been saddled for weeks with the unfortunate Blake storyline, really got to shine this week with her electric confrontation with the original arson expert on the case, who she grabs in an airport, and he’s played by Roger Rees (Lord John Marbury from The West Wing and many other arrogant Brits). Put Will, or Diane, or Alicia in that scene, and it’d be completely different, more of an emotional appeal. Kalinda, though, just keeps a laser focus on what she immediately identifies as the guy’s overwhelming guilt about the situation, wearing him down in a scene that probably only lasted a couple minutes but really had me digging my hands into the couch.
Of course, after all that, even The Good Wife isn’t cruel enough to throw one of its traditional last-minute curveballs, and Carter will get a new trial and a chance at freedom, something Cameron sadly never received. As I said, however, I’m on board with all of the happy catharsis that came with that for everyone, because even the guys at Lockhart & Gardner deserve a clean win every once in a while.
- Grace wants to go to a prayer jamboree. “It’s really good for pre-teen self-esteem!” her friend exults.
- There appeared to be some kind of heavenly French toast making the rounds at Alicia’s house.
- The case appears to be based in Indiana; are we really supposed to believe Alicia has passed the Indiana bar?
- Kalinda admits that she’s changed the circumstances in her life, half admitting that it’s because of some darkness in her past. As usual, she admits this to Alicia, with a drink in her hand, during emotionally trying times.
- Zack has a huge, immediate crush on Kalinda; I completely get it.
- “Brad Pitt has an earring in one ear!”