As my fill-in LaToya Ferguson wrote in her review of The Good Wife’s midwinter finale, the only moment worth truly caring about in “KSR” doesn’t come until the very end. Well, keeping with that pattern, “Iowa” picks up exactly where “KSR” leaves us. Eli has just told Alicia that he deleted Will’s voicemail from six years ago, in which he tells her he loves her and would do anything just to be with her. In “Iowa,” we get to see Alicia’s reaction, and it makes for the most explosive and frenetic The Good Wife opening since “Hitting The Fan.” But whereas “Hitting The Fan” uses the chaos of its beginnings to fuel an exciting, sprinting episode, “Iowa” lets Alicia’s initially fiery breakdown melt into one of the saddest episodes the show has tackled in a while. But unfortunately, the rest of the episode never quite lives up to that first scene.
There are several distractions in “Iowa.” Namely, everyone who isn’t Alicia seems like a distraction here. I’ve repeated many times this season that storylines over at Lockhart, Agos & Lee aren’t really working. And with Alicia off on the campaign bus, Lucca is left flailing on her own in yet another seemingly aimless plot with zero stakes. The Howard Lyman/Jackie Florrick coupling initially seemed like just some sort of one-off joke about two of the worst people getting together. Their prenup drama—which really turns out to just be David Lee drama—lacks…drama. Everything happening away from Alicia in this episode comes off as drivel, as mere placeholders just to remind us that these characters and places exist.
And that applies to the ongoing battle of Monica versus Lockhart, Agos & Lee, too. What is Cary’s arc this season? Does he even have one? It seems like the writers just plug him in where he’s needed for each episode, with little thought given to the character’s past, let alone where he’s headed. Monica isn’t a real character in the show so much as a device being used to make some sort of point.
If we were to subtract all of the Howard/Jackie/Monica/Cary nonsense from “Iowa,” it would easily be the best episode of the season. Unfortunately, the emotional intensity of all of Alicia’s scenes does the rest of the episode a disservice, highlighting the lack of emotions and stakes everywhere else. Julianna Margulies brings it in “Iowa,” but she’s also undoubtedly given the best writing to work with while Matt Czuchry and Christine Baranski are left with scraps that barely resemble stories.
Through Alicia, “Iowa” embodies a lot of the strengths of season five (which is, as I’ve said many times, the show’s best season) by revisiting the character’s history. “Iowa” uses Alicia’s past to inform the present. It digs up memories and past feelings and brings us deep into Alicia’s emotional turmoil about it all. She doesn’t even have to use Will’s name or too many specifics in her short monologue about Georgetown. She gives us just enough to feel like we’re right there with her, recalling a past we haven’t even seen on screen and yet can feel so viscerally. After her initial freak out in the first scene, Alicia’s spiral is more muted. Her sadness is visible but nuanced. Sadness doesn’t even fully encapsulate it. Both the writing and Margulies’s performance in “Iowa” treat Alicia’s state of mind with the complexity it deserves. Eli didn’t seem to understand just how big of a deal his confession was—the look on his face after Alicia slams the door on him makes that clear. But the full impact of his reveal is felt throughout the episode. The voicemail unspools a slew of doubts, anxieties, and regrets for Alicia, and she tries to make sense of them mostly in silence throughout the episode. Her internal battle is juxtaposed with the loud campaign battle that surrounds her, and that contrast frames the episode’s central narrative so well.
The conversations between Ruth and Alicia are undoubtedly the best scenes of the episode (besides the opening). Until this episode, I’ve felt like Margo Martindale has been very underused by the show. While she’s certainly wonderful to watch up against Alan Cumming and plays Ruth’s charm and cleverness captivatingly, Martindale should be used for the range and depth that she usually brings to her supporting but memorable television roles. Ruth opens up to Alicia, but the moment stays true to the character. She’s only connecting with Alicia as a way of manipulating her into letting go. Ruth doesn’t care about Alicia’s state of mind so much as she cares about how it affects the campaign. Still, it’s a touching moment that builds on the emotions of the episode.
The Good Wife is at its best when it remembers its past and uses it to push the characters forward. If only the characters back in Illinois were being written with the same careful attention to their past relationships and motivations instead of just being flung into filler plots.
- At last, the prodigal son returns. And then Zach Florrick somehow is less useful than Grace. Oh how times have changed!
- My favorite small detail from the episode was that Zach’s attempts at flirting with Georgetown girl failed because she was more interested in Grace.
- This episode leans a little too much on humor at the expense of Iowa, and it never really works that well.
- On that note, I hope I never have to hear “loose-meat sandwich” ever again.