The driving message behind The Good Wife is always that there are no clean victories, no easy wins, even in the superficially cut-and-dry world of the law, where one party wins and one loses. But boy, was the win in this week's episode, "Poisoned Pill," dirty. It's always fun to watch the show out-cynic itself and Alicia's gamesmanship against handicapped attorney Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox, whom it's always a pleasure to see onscreen) was a delicious example of that.
In terms of playing dirty, though, there does seem to be one exception to the rule (aside from Alicia's still somehow naïve kids), and that is Wendy Scott Carr, state's attorney candidate extraordinaire. Eli and one of his lackeys spent the whole episode bitching about how damn saintly she was, down to her flawless rendition of the national anthem, and rub their hands together in glee when they realize she had breast augmentation work done. I watched the show with my girlfriend and roommate tonight and the second the characters said that, both of my viewing partners simultaneously shouted, "She had breast cancer!" On The Good Wife, you look for the cynicism, but Wendy's the exception that proves the rule.
The political subplot (minus Chris Noth this week, who at one point appeared to have vanished and left only his clothes behind) was a lot of fun and a better showcase for Alan Cumming than usual. We got bitchy Eli kicking people out of the copy room ("I am in a meeting," he seethes at someone with a document in hand), judicious Eli trying to approach the issue of Grace supporting Wendy with Alicia, and even thoughtful Eli, really considering if issues like abortion, breast surgery, and miscegenation were too inflammatory for the race (obviously yes on that last one). But best of all, we had scheming Eli pulling off a masterstroke of leakage, spurring the Childs campaign to play on the breast work and thus inadvertently protecting Peter from the resulting fallout.
The best scene relating to this plotline was Alicia's frank conversation with Grace about how when your dad's a politician, you have to keep a public face. "It's a free country!" she whines. "Yes, thank you, Grace," Alicia deadpans, with a refreshing dollop of sarcasm. Grace's resulting joy when she learns via the media that her dad had nothing to do with the boob job campaign was really delightfully cruel for the viewer.
Let's return to the main event, featuring Mr. Fox as a lawyer suffering from a neurological disease who distracts and gains the sympathy of the jury with his twitches, sort of like John Cage from Ally McBeal, except he's actually disabled. He's big pharma's ace in the hole against Gardner/Lockhart/Bond's class action suit relating to anti-depressants causing murders and suicides, a case big enough to put the firm back in financial solvency if they win. After privately humiliating Alicia before the case and then making her look horrible by inducing repeated objections with his antics, she has to step up her game, and the rest of the episode featured the two sides one-upping each other's luridness.
My favorite example, on the more comical side of things, was the firm forcing their expert witness, the tweediest Brit you ever did see, to dryly discuss the drugs causing an increased proclivity for anal sex and show videos of rats tearing at each other's femoral arteries. On the more chilling side, Canning takes down their key witness by having a therapist testify that her stepfather had sex with her, prompting her mother to kill the stepfather and then herself. Alicia then scares up a witness who notes that she, a patient, had sex with that very therapist. But as Canning hints when she's called to testify, the way they found out about her (through Blake) put the therapist in the hospital. A very rare—but very real—tremor of fear crosses Kalinda's face when that little bombshell drops, a well-earned moment.
That was probably the best part of the ongoing Kalinda vs. Blake story this week, which seems to be electrifying some critics but is definitely the weakest part of season two so far for me. Scott Porter, as I noted to my roommate tonight, looks like he belongs on Baywatch Nights, all decked out in dark clothing with his unmanly stubble. His talk with Will in the elevator about digging up info on the therapist, which should be supremely creepy, came off as a little campy. And on Kalinda's side of things, it was wonderful to see Lili Taylor as Donna, a public defender she dated a while back (we got treated to some extended making out, just to underline that Kalinda is, indeed, at least bisexual), but her motives and her relationship with Blake are too confusing to make sense of. Her expert, rapid-fire defense of a creepy dude accused of public masturbation (even as he discreetly masturbates in front of the judge) was great to watch and made me yearn for a great public defender show on TV (A&E's long-lost 100 Centre Street was a very flawed but occasionally brilliant example).
In the end, Alicia and co. triumph, landing a $35 million settlement from big pharma, $7 million for the firm, enough for another floor of offices, maybe a gym or what have you. They celebrate with champagne and Alicia gets amusingly tipsy (declaring her victory "bitchin'") before being brought right back to earth by a triumphant Canning, who says pharma was braced to pay out $90 million and hired him to bring the number down to $50. Yep, there are no clean wins on this show.
- No Peter this week but Cary's appearances were wonderful as they relied entirely on his banter with Kalinda, whom he's always had great chemistry with. He exalts at her about fighting to keep a drug dealer off the streets, and she deadpans, "I can feel the moral gravity pulling me in."
- Blake's tense conversation with Kalinda about her being gay (why does he think anyone would care?) was great for her response: "Are you coming out?"
- Another big dollop of cynicism came with the expert witness, who almost backs out of giving ridiculous testimony before being reminded that he needs that paycheck.