The Good Wife: “The Art Of War”
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The Good Wife: “The Art Of War”

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The Good Wife

“The Art Of War”

Season 4, Episode 6

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I think we should just start looking forward to one military episode a year of The Good Wife from now on, each time featuring the stern but fair Judge Leora Kuhn (Linda Emond) and each one centered on the stoicism of the soldiers and JAGs involved even in the face of unfairly rigid military law. You’d think the trope would get hoary after season two’s “Double Jeopardy” and season three’s “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” but “The Art Of War” was extremely compelling stuff, showing how a rapist can hide behind the legal protections guaranteed to those in military service, even if he’s not wearing a uniform.

I have no idea if this plot was ripped from the headlines, but the specific nature of the case makes me think it probably was. Captain Hellinger (Amanda Peet), a JAG, says that Ricky, a private contractor with the military, attempted to rape her. Because of lack of evidence, she has to pursue the case in civil court, with Leora enlisting Alicia to help, as Hellinger is clearly overmatched when it comes to non-military legal proceedings.

Sometimes Good Wife episodes can get a little too bogged down in the legal mumbo-jumbo, or throw too many twists and turns into the pot so that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. But “The Art Of War” is an example of the show’s writers getting it just right. The biggest challenge for Hellinger and Alicia was to get the military contractor to produce the accused man, by proving that its employees act independently and aren’t governed by the same rules as regular servicemen (who can avoid civil actions while on active duty). Once they have him, they need to subpoena a witness, who is a serviceman and can’t be so easily produced. It’s here that we have the deus ex machina of Leora producing him to speak at her panel on gender equality in the military, which was maybe a little too cute, but since it was the only really outlandish part of an otherwise sober episode, I’ll let it slide.

Amanda Peet did excellent work as the taciturn Hellinger, who is impressed with Alicia’s courtroom gumption (such Chicago sharp elbows are rarely present in the JAG office, one imagines) and is mostly struggling to keep herself together once the attempted rapist is on the stand. Those scenes were appropriately chilling without ever getting too lurid—“no hard feelings,” Ricky ventures near the end of the episode, having successfully maneuvered his way out of culpability by proving that he attacked Hellinger after he was called up to active duty. Minutes after, but as his old dog of an attorney (Brian Dennehy, doing what he do) argues, it doesn’t matter if it was minutes or weeks, so long as he’d been called up. Of course, the show gives Dennehy a moment to rebuff Ricky in case we didn’t get how disgusting he was, but that didn’t feel forced or pat.

The moral, as it always is with these episodes, is that the men and women in green live by a different set of rules, and they know it, even though they occasionally try to bend them for a good cause. It should have been obvious that Alicia and Hellinger were going to lose when Judge Abernathy (Denis O’Hare) was revealed, since his bleeding-heart liberalism always gets squashed by his strict adherence to the law.

The other major plotline this week came with the campaign—as predicted, Maddie is going to run against Peter for the Democratic nomination, as Matthew Perry will likely be unavailable to play Mike Kresteva for any sustained period of time as long as Go On remains a moderate hit for NBC. That’s fine by me, though. The only problem is that it’s gonna be tough to root for Peter. Sure, Maddie has an edge of venality to her—it was always hard to guess at her motives in befriending Alicia and backing Peter, so maybe Peter’s right when he calls her a hypocrite.

But nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with Maddie when she says she’s the stronger candidate. Peter, for all his magical comeback energy, was in jail not that long ago,  publicly cheated on his wife, and he hasn’t distinguished himself all that much otherwise. Sure, we know that he’s for real this time, and that he’s not prone to the corrupt deal-making of Illinois politicians past. But Maddie is smart, rich, well-liked, and a lady with no obvious blemishes in her past (although we shall see if that remains the case once Eli sets the hounds on her). Why wouldn’t she crush him? Why should we support Peter? The idea of him as governor is faintly ludicrous to begin with, and who knows what it would do for this show.

We also get to see Eli humiliate and bring about the firing of the poor journalist who wouldn’t let go of the ridiculous story about Peter. There’s a whiff of nastiness to her downfall—she’s presented as such a humorless, nasty villain that it was hard to get invested in the storyline, since there’s only one way it could end. Meanwhile, Nick loses his bid and Alicia and Cary weigh whether they should let him know there’s a way to disqualify the winner, and Cary uses his magic over Clarke to get better cases from Diane. But all that material makes for percolating C-stories at best. I’m sure we won’t see much more of Nick, so I hope that shit doesn’t get dragged out. Cary’s role at the firm, though, remains mysterious, since he’s not doing much. I hope this was a wink to the audience that the show knows how underutilized he’s been, and that we’ll see more of him soon. I hope, I hope.

Stray observations:

  • Kalinda asks Eli if he’s being investigated by the Feds, or if she is (he doesn’t know). Eli really got caught off-guard a lot this week. Kalinda isn’t seen much this week, but darn if she doesn’t get a heap of information to everyone and pretty much save the day three times.
  • Peter hires a sexy Cuban male nurse for Jackie on Alicia’s advice, and she instantly takes to him, much to Peter’s discomfort. Gross.

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