The third season of The Good Wife ends with an episode that effectively puts the events of the previous 22 episodes on trial. Will’s suspension. Kalinda’s various prevarications. Jackie’s real-estate deal. Peter’s campaign. Alicia’s rapid—and not entirely merit-based—rise at Lockhart/Gardner. Just about everything of significance that has happened to the show’s main characters this season is in play, as two of the firm’s most skilled and persistent opponents—Louis Canning and Patti Nyholm, working together—return with the express purpose of destroying Lockhart/Gardner, so that the firm will never win another class-action lawsuit against their respective clients again.
One of The Good Wife’s best qualities is the way it acknowledges how much the law—and politics, and relationships—hinge on matters of perception and power. At the start of “The Dream Team,” things couldn’t be going much better for Lockhart/Gardner. A judge rules in their favor in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a man who was rendered sterile by an anti-acne medication, and the judge even goes beyond the $18 million they’re asking, awarding $25 million instead. But then Canning shows up for what Will and Diane assume is a settlement meeting, and he tells them that he’s retained Nyholm in a lawsuit against L/G, charging them with intentionally filing frivolous lawsuits and gaming the system by bribing judges. In an instant, everything turns. Will and Diane go from thinking they’ll be able to pay off some major debts—debts which Louis and Patti know all about—to worrying that they’re going to be put out of business and have some of their biggest weaknesses exposed to further scrutiny.
In the legal world, this is like surviving a criminal trial and then getting hammered in a related civil case—or surviving the criminal and civil and then being cooked in the court of public opinion. From Kalinda to Will, the staff at Lockhart/Gardner keeps dodging bullets in the various cases intended to bring them down. But “double jeopardy” is largely a myth when it comes to reputation. Everything dicey they’ve done will be brought up again and again, even if they’ve officially been “acquitted.” (And of course, this all goes back to The Good Wife’s original sin: Peter’s affairs. Once that trust is broken in marriage, it stays broken. There can be reconciliation, and even forgiveness, but those past mistakes will always be there, ready to be referenced if an argument gets heated.)
I’ve got a couple of major beefs with “The Dream Team,” which for me kept this episode from being as strong of a season finale as the show’s previous two. The first one is largely a personal quirk (though I know a few folks share it): I am generally uninterested in Kalinda’s personal life. Don’t misunderstand: I like Kalinda as a character, and whenever her storylines are related to what she does—or has done—for the firm, then I’m engaged. But I thought season two got bogged down too much with Kalinda’s various Blake-related head-games, and while Kalinda’s business haven’t been as big of a distraction this year (primarily because her storylines have been more about her fractured relationship with Alicia, which is much more interesting to me), the mysterioso “Who is Kalinda really and what does she want?” just isn’t much of a grabber. I’ve reached the point on the Kalinda back-story where until I definitively learn what’s what, I find it hard to care about what’s going on. So while I acknowledge that it was tense to watch Alicia get grilled by a stern man from “F&E Construction” when she calls him about an uncashed $21,000 check in Kalinda’s tax file, and I acknowledge that it was badass to see Kalinda buy a sledgehammer and rip guns and money out of the wall for a potential flight from danger, I can’t pretend that I was on the edge of my seat with where the story ends this year, with Kalinda sitting in a chair with a gun, waiting for this man—whom she says is her husband—as he appears to approach her front door. My hope for next season is that Kalinda’s past is finally revealed, so we can move on to something new with that character. (And given how sharp The Good Wife writers are, I fully expect that past to be worth the tease and thematically relevant. Until then, though… I’m kind of drumming my fingers.)
My other major beef has to do with the way Canning and Nyholm have been used in the past, and how they’re used in “The Dream Team.” Frankly, I should’ve known better. Nearly every time Canning or Nyholm are involved with a case, they have some kind of ulterior motive that isn’t revealed until the end, so shame on me for not realizing that they weren’t really intending to bury Lockhart/Gardner, but only to make the firm look weak, so that they could poach L/G’s biggest client, Mark Zucker… I mean, Patrick Edelstein. I confess to being disappointed by this switcheroo though, both because it’s becoming a cliché for Canning and Nyholm to be deployed this way, and because part of me was hoping that they were for real, and that the season would end with the firm fighting for its life—if only because the complicated office politics at L/G are one of my favorite elements of The Good Wife.
That said, the way “The Dream Team” actually plays out is an example of The Good Wife working in fairly high gear. It’s not just the Kalinda storyline that’s both suspenseful and aggressive; there’s always something faintly terrifying about Canning and Nyholm, which is what makes them such effective characters. Yes, they’re funny when they’re casually remarking on the fruit plate at the L/G offices, and it’s amusing, too, to see Patti’s daughter puttering around in her little play-saucer, interrupting these tense negotiations. (The wackiest scene of the whole night—worthy of the Marx Brothers—sees the little girl driving through just after Peter, Will, Cary, and Alicia all run into each other awkwardly at the office.) But these two adversaries in particular have resources, and a scary will to do what needs to be done, regardless how punishing. They’re friendly, but they’re really not collegial—at least not in a “the most important thing is that we all scratch each other’s backs” kind of way.
Also on-point in this episode: the use of Cary Agos, who returns to the firm and is given a spot in the bullpen, where he gets a good look at Alicia in her nice new office. (She claims that she’ll be back in the trenches with Cary once Eli moves on, but we’ve seen how Alicia has used her leverage these past two years to become entrenched.) There’s a great point-of-view shot in this episode of the partners approaching Cary at his sad little table in the middle of the office, and as it happens, they need Cary right away, to help fend off this Canning/Nyholm lawsuit, since they fear that it’s a fishing expedition and Cary doesn’t know enough about recent business to be baited. Ultimately, Cary is able to help most by getting the doggedly scrupulous Andrew Wylie to admit that he inadvertently provided Patti with information he shouldn’t have related to Will’s grand jury investigation, which takes away Canning and Nyholm’s plan to attack Will as a judge-briber.
And Peter is able to help too, by admitting on the record that he and Alicia are separated, which saves Alicia from the accusation that he was working on her behalf from his position in the state’s attorney’s office. This may be the biggest development as The Good Wife moves into its fourth season: how Peter’s admission affects his campaign for governor, and how it changes what the people at the firm think of Alicia, who suddenly doesn’t appear to have the same powerful connections that she once did.
The irony there of course is that by the end of “The Dream Team,” Alicia and Peter seem to be closer than they’ve been in years, despite the official status of their marriage. The Good Wife always likes to throw some domestic cliffhangers in with the political and the legal, and the big question at the end of this episode is whether Alicia will allow herself to be drawn back to her old house, now occupied by Peter and (at least part-time) their kids. Peter claims he’s not trying to “colonize” their past—a nice way of phrasing that, by the way—but that he only means to flip the house, since he can’t break Jackie’s contract without a major financial penalty. Still: The vision of domestic bliss that Alicia sees as she’s standing the wrong way on the WELCOME mat is awfully appealing.
It’s telling that earlier in “The Dream Team,” Alicia is watching Take Shelter with her kids: a movie about a man who’s certain an apocalypse is coming, and who tries (and fails) to make preparations without freaking out his family and co-workers. It’s a movie about real and perceived threats—something The Good Wife knows a lot about. It’s telling too that from her hospital bed, Jackie is apparently losing her own grip on reality, as she keeps seeing the same clip from an obscure old noir picture (Whistle Stop, according to the Kings) over and over in her head. Early in the episode, Eli tells Jackie to make nice with Alicia for Peter’s campaign’s sake, ordering her to, “Say ‘I’m sorry’ even if you don’t believe it.” Of course, a lot of people on The Good Wife say things that they don’t believe, for what they feel to be a greater good. The danger, for Jackie and others, may come when they start to confuse what they contend with what they actually feel.
- Thanks to David for allowing me to fill in for him. He would have loved to cover the finale, but was unable to, and as I love this show, I was happy to step up.
- Peter says he’s planning to live in the old house for a while so that he can do some work and improve the resale value. His first project should be painting over that place where all the kids’ heights are marked. Or at least hire a realtor who’ll catch those little details.
- Louis Canning finds it amusing that lawyers have lawyers, and thinks they should be getting progressively smaller, like Russian nesting dolls. (Well, if the lawyers don’t, certainly the checks to clients do, after they pass through all these hands.)
- Glad to see Canning’s use of his handicap to curry favor hit a snag when he tries to win the empathy of a judge in a wheelchair.
- Jackie wonders why Eli isn’t in synagogue, and asks whether Jews believe in God. A sarcastic Eli answers, “We all do. Every one of us.”
- I love that Alicia doesn’t even try to play nice with Jackie any more. It’s nice to have a few relationships on this show where people aren’t putting on a false front for people they can’t stand.
- Another great shot: Patti and Andrew, heading toward Kalinda with their big baby strollers. So imposing.
- “If the law taught me anything, it’s that you never, ever, trust a man with a limp.”