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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Good Wife cooks up delicious tension

Illustration for article titled The Good Wife cooks up delicious tension

Slowly but surely, The Good Wife is finding its groove again. “Cooked,” with its twists and emotionally supercharged scenes injects some much needed energy and momentum into season seven. “Bond” and “Innocents” were built on rebuilding the show’s narrative structure, on moving the pieces around on the board. “Cooked” is built on tension, on turning up the heat on the drama and the relationships. It’s the first episode of the season that truly thrills from start to finish. It makes progress on some of the longer term arcs but also feels whole as a standalone episode. Even with a lot of moving parts at play, “Cooked” is focused and cohesive. It feels like a return to form.

“Cooked” hits the ground running with easily the best case of the season so far. Bond court is turning out to be the perfect place for The Good Wife to mine cases of the week. It’s a much different client base than the wealthy, high-profile folks who became pretty standard back at Lockhart, Agos, and Lee née Lockhart Gardner née Lockhart, Gardner and Bond, etc. This week, Alicia and Lucca join forces for two clients caught up in a complicated drug case. Alicia takes on Roland Hlavin, who decided to make a new designer drug similar to but safer than GHB in an effort to save his GHB-addicted brother. Whereas last week’s case felt a little mechanical, this one begins with very clear and realistic emotional stakes. And the exploding plea offered by the State’s Attorney’s office before the title card even hits gives the case an immediate sense of urgency, while also introducing conflict to the growing relationship between Alicia and Lucca by pitting them against one another.

Given how fluidly the case unfolds and morphs in the first half of the episode, I was almost bummed about the sting operation twist. Or, more accurately, I feel like the episode didn’t really need it in order to succeed. But as part of the larger picture for the season, the sting operation seems to have consequences that are going to inform other parts of the story moving forward. With Eli’s involvement, Christopher McDonald’s Judge Don Schakowsky is suddenly a little more than just a snarky comic relief character: He’s a player in the ongoing political schemes at play this season.

And the sting operation works on a thematic level, too. “Cooked” definitely leans into The Good Wife’s obsession with warped perceptions and paranoia. “Diane, this is not what it seems,” Alicia insists when Diane accuses her of betrayal once again. It’s a situation where no one is really right or wrong. Alicia did give Howard advice on how to pull of an ageism suit against the firm. But she didn’t really do it to screw over Diane. But…she kind of maybe did? There has to be a part of Alicia who knows her actions have consequences and that giving Howard advice On The Good Wife, everyone takes everything personally. The personal is political and the political is personal. As a result, paranoia addles just about every single one of these characters. The trust between Diane and Alicia is simply too broken to ever fully repair. Ruth and Eli play offense and defense with one another simultaneously. Alicia’s first instinct when she finds out Roland is involved with the FBI is to go to Eli and speculate on who could be trying to screw her—or Peter—over. In reality, it has nothing to do with her. The two-year investigation has targeted Judge Schakowsky as part of a crackdown on Chicago corruption that, for once, doesn’t really have to do with the Florrick surname.

“Cooked” is an especially tight episode—in terms of its writing and direction, but also in a very literal sense. These characters are in tight spaces. “Cooked” isn’t uncomfortable—on the contrary, it’s quite fun—but it does rely significantly on tension. Eli’s office is literally too small. The close, intimate staging of Mama’s Homespun Cooking makes the scene all the more explosive. Cush Jumbo’s delivery of “great meeting, thanks, screw you,” when Alicia tells Lucca they should sever their cases is quick and precise. It speaks volumes both to Jumbo’s performance as well as the writing that five-word line can pack a huge punch.

It’s one thing to be fast-paced and another to be rhythmically balanced—one of the main distinctions that separates the overall feel of a show like Quantico from a show like The Good Wife. Quantico is obviously a very different show for many other reasons, but I bring it up because it’s the perfect example of how sprinting through story can have diminishing returns. Quantico’s fast pace keeps viewers from ever getting bored, but burning through so many stories so quickly can be extremely exhausting. The Good Wife has always given even its most charged episodes some room to breathe, breaking up its most dramatic beats with softer character work or very light and earnest comedy. “Cooked” is packed with storylines, but it never feels overstuffed. It’s fluid, with both high points and low points in terms of energy. Lucca and Alicia’s case moves very quickly and has a new twist every time we return to it, but it’s broken up with the fantastic tension of Veronica and Alicia’s interactions as well as some really solid, straightforward comedy. Characters trying to navigate Eli’s office is just some good, dumb fun, but that good, dumb fun is just as important to The Good Wife’s voice as its heavier moments.


Then there’s Mama’s Homespun Cooking, which has the most simplest of setups on paper: Alicia and Veronica participate in a mother-daughter cooking show. Eli knows he doesn’t have to meddle at all in order for the whole thing to blow up. Similarly, the writers know they don’t have to overwrite the scene’s conflict. The tension between Alicia and Veronica builds slowly, starting before they step onto the Mama’s Homespun Cooking set. “I have to be out of here in an hour, Eli,” Alicia says with her mother right there, and it’s a simple line, but the very fact that she addresses it to Eli as if Veronica isn’t even in the room speaks volumes to their relationship. Sure enough, that tension heightens as the scene progresses. Their cooking segment starts with frigid fakeness before escalating to actual animosity. It’s just a scene, but structurally, it feels like an entire episode, not only following a very clear trajectory but also packing in emotional layers. I could easily watch a full hour of Mama’s Homespun Cooking, but I could also easily watch a full hour of Diane incredulously listening to a summer intern talk about the boyfriend she met online. Hell, I could watch a full hour of characters moving around Eli’s office. On the scenic level, “Cooked” just has so many solid character interactions, and even though they vary tonally, they’re engaging throughout. The fact that they all come together for a cohesive episode is the icing on the cake.

Stray observations

  • Jackie Florrick and Howard Lyman are a match made in hell. But this is the most I’ve ever enjoyed Howard Lyman. Also, the in-jokes about Mary Beth Peil’s opera background were fun.
  • “Zach helped,” Assistant Grace explains when she tells Alicia she ran Roland’s photo through facial recognition software. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that was the first time Zach’s mere existence has been mentioned so far this season, no?
  • “I had a little wine at lunch, but I haven’t been drinking.” Veronica, never change.
  • I was already thinking Lucca Quinn was well on her way to becoming one of my favorite characters on The Good Wife, and “great meeting, thanks, screw you” just really sealed the deal for me. I hope we learn more about the character soon.
  • Diane was finally part of the emotional storytelling of the show! For the first time this season, she had real purpose.
  • What happened to Jeffrey Dean Morgan? It looks like The Good Wife might be letting its scheduling difficulties show again.
  • While we’re on the subject of disappearing investigators, I would like for a character to at least acknowledge in dialogue what the fuck happened to Robyn. I don’t even care which character does it. It can be Assistant Grace (who becomes Investigator Grace in this episode, out of necessity) for all I care.
  • And with that, let’s end on the very high note of Diane’s leather suit, shall we?
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