The Good Wife: “The Penalty Box”
B+

The Good Wife: “The Penalty Box”

This whole season, I’ve been steadily more and more convinced that Peter wasn’t going to run for Governor. It would be a retread of his campaign plotline in season two, it’d negate the fun plots we’ve had with him as state’s attorney, it’d ruin his bro-chemistry with Cary, and, if he won, he’d be relegated to very occasional guest star, since he’d have to move to Springfield, Illinois. And even though his comeback was presented plausibly enough, it’s hard to buy that Illinois could support a guy who recently had sex with a prostitute (even if he didn’t pay her). Crazier things can happen, but come on.

All that aside, I’m surprised at how excited I was by the prospect of a gubernatorial race by the end of the episode. This wasn’t the season-three finale and there’s all sorts of things that can still happen, but simply by injecting class-A slimeball Mike Kresteva (Matthew Perry, having all sorts of fun) into the mix, suddenly Alicia (and the audience) are rooting for Peter to take him downtown.  Apparently Mike is popular and poses a threat to Peter, even though as far as I can tell he’s just a high-powered lawyer. Eli compares him to Rod Blagojevich, both to let us know how dangerous Mike can be and to remind us that Illinois has a history of electing criminal morons to high office.

Whatever’s Mike’s status within The Good Wife’sreality, the fact that he’s played by Matthew Perry makes him a worthy challenger to Peter. Mike quickly sets up a very personal, very nasty campaign, publishing his blue-ribbon report that claims Peter helped cover up police corruption, and then straight up lies and says Alicia begged him to change it after a brief, terse meeting where she does nothing of the sort. The only problem with these developments is how quickly they’re breaking. When we first met him one episode ago, Mike seemed very interested in maintaining the status quo; is he crusading after Peter just because Alicia challenged his authority? Hopefully his motivations will become a little clearer, since right now he’s coming off as a case of borderline personality disorder.

Similarly, Alicia’s motivations for getting Peter into the race (she promises to work with Eli and stand by Peter’s side, and gives Peter her first words of praise for him in a while) are unclear. She’s definitely incensed by Mike’s brazen ability to lie about her. Jackie’s recent meddling (turns out she bought the house with the idea of living in it with Peter and keeping Alicia out) has her a little off-kilter. There’s definitely a sense of everyone rushing into this arrangement without really knowing why.

Worst of all, Eli ends up betraying his ex-wife Vanessa and dropping out of her campaign (which the Democratic Committee isn’t thrilled about) in exchange for the party’s support for Peter’s bid. Before that happens, they rekindle the flame of their affair and we’re treated to another shot of Eli’s bed hair, but it’s all quickly snuffed out. I never really enjoyed Vanessa as a character (Parker Posey’s great, but she was phoning it in a little) but as a symbol of Eli’s love of the campaign over her, it worked fine.

It makes sense that Jackie is freaking Alicia out, because Jackie is downright demonic in this episode, almost reaching Livia Soprano levels of crazy motherhood by having a stroke the minute Peter puts his foot down with her and forbids her from buying the house. It’s a cartoonish development, but it works, since Jackie has always been the campiest part of this show. Peter’s takedown of her is effective (Chris Noth can rise to the occasion when he wants to), but the sight of Jackie in the hospital bed, beckoning Alicia close and whispering “I forgive you,” is definitely the indelible image of the night. Perhaps it’ll all work out, though—Alicia will be forced to play house as Peter’s doting campaign wife, and they’ll all move back into the suburbs and be miserable together.

What else went on this week? Oh, right: a case. As can happen with episodes this major, the case is an unnecessary diversion, even though it explores an interesting aspect of the law: the Alford plea, a legal loophole where a defendant pleads guilty while maintaining innocence. This plea is dangled in front of three girls whose DNA evidence has been thrown out because of crime lab problems under Glenn Childs; Alicia and Diane have to figure out whether to take the plea or commit to a re-trial and try and prove their innocence (which could lead to a big payday).

It’s another clever approach to a case of the week, but the drama begins to drain out by the end because it’s clear that the clients would have to take the plea or see their case continued into some future episode. Since that’s a rare development for this show (for all its innovation, it mostly sticks to the case-of-the-week structure), the only question that remains is how cynical the outcome will be. And, if I’m interpreting it right, it’s very cynical, since all three accused killers get to walk even though one of them (not Alicia’s client) could be culpable for the murder. (Did I interpret that correctly?)

Stray observations:

  • The potential murderer’s lawyer is played by Julianne Nicholson, who has entered as a new love interest for Will. Man, this show is good at casting recurring TV actresses who I have outsized crushes on as Will’s girlfriends. First Elizabeth Reaser, now Nicholson, who I’ve been noticing since her stint on Ally McBeal 10 years ago (not her finest hour, but she made an impression). She kinda seems like bad news for Will—a cutthroat recovering cocaine addict with an edge of danger to her. But so far I’d call her an improvement on the last character in that mold: Celeste.
  • Eli had some cute pillow talk with Vanessa. “This was a mistake, wasn't it?” “Yes. Now go off to your Peter!”
  • That support group was a real bummer: just Will, Callie and a disbarred guy crying his eyes out.
  • Peter can really play when he wants to. “Alicia and I are trying very hard to act like adults. I need you to butt out.”

More TV Club