The "ripped from the headlines" approach is a tricky one for legal dramas, in that dramatizing something that feels relevant can sometimes be a substitute for actual quality, and it's a crutch that Law and Order fell on more and more, with less and less effect, over its many years. The Good Wife has ripped many a headline itself, which is only right considering its core premise is based on real-life scandal, but usually there's some spin on the true story to get the Glenn Beck-alike or the Wikileaks case into Chicago Court. But the accusations made by masseuse Lara (Natalie Knepp) about Nobel Peace Prize winner Joe Kent (unseen) were pretty much line-for-line the ones made by a masseuse against Al Gore earlier this year.
The main strength of "VIP Treatment" was not showing us a court case but showing the hand-wringing and research that goes into Lockhart & Gardner deciding whether or not to take up the suit at all. Some aspects of the episode were a little ham-fisted, with characters unnecessarily clarifying stuff for us, but it's always cool to see Diane, Will and Alicia in a moral bind between what they believe in and what they, in their jobs, are supposed to be swayed by (money).
Diane is particularly troubled, both by the fact that she has to skeptically question a woman who says she was sexually assaulted just hours ago and by the fact that bringing a case against Kent, true or not, could irreparably damage the work he does with women in Africa. Christine Baranski is great in any episode of The Good Wife, even if she only has two lines and an arched eyebrow, but she always does well in these showcase episodes, betraying complicated emotion just with her eyes, while Diane maintains her lawyerly poker face.
Derrick appears to have a similar approach to things, asking all the right questions and never letting his feelings interfere with the firm's rapid investigation of both Lara and Kent. But considering that Alicia is pretty collected herself, the melodrama has to show up somewhere, so we get treated to a silly, bitchy half-fistfight between Will and Kent's lawyer (played by the wonderfully slick Frederick Weller) after an already-silly pissing contest between the two over the case. That was definitely the low point of "VIP Treatment" no matter how good Josh Charles looks with some fake bruises; usually any extra drama injected by the show's writers feels natural but this was anything but.
Realism prevailed for most of the episode, though. I liked the show's portrayal of Lara: she's not unhinged enough to be easily mocked, but something's still not quite right about anything, which the lawyers immediately start to expose further as they pick at holes. But the explanation for that is simple, and feels very true: Lara looks imperfect because she is imperfect. Her history of massage-giving might not be clean. There's dirt to be found if people start digging. "They'll find stuff, because there is stuff," she tells Alicia at the end of the episode, and when something like this goes public, the public will automatically gravitate towards Kent because they've been told he's a good man. "They think they know him, and not you," says Alicia, fully aware of how painful the spotlight can be.
Even though the main plot unspooled over a few hours, right after the last episode ended with Wendy Scott Carr announcing her candidacy for State's Attorney, "VIP Treatment" still mixed in some nice political intrigue as Eli and Peter scramble to deal with Carr's candidacy, which she insists is an idealistic one that seeks to crush Chicago's cycle of political patronage. Eli is on the phone looking for the real scoop; "Her granddaddy was at Selma," he notes to Peter. It's not exactly derisive but it is very true-to-life — even the most noble of backgrounds can be reduced to factoids and soundbites by political hacks, because that's their job.
Peter offers Wendy the number two slot on his ticket, which she turns down as typical backroom dealing. He's probably both annoyed at her pique and that she's halfway right, which is why he reacts so badly to Kent's lawyer trying to leverage his connection to Alicia to get the suit dismissed. It's one of Peter's better moments to see through the subterfuge (Eli is blinded by the political points he'd be scoring) and reject the offer, but Kent's one-upmanship of just endorsing him anyway, in a sort of "if I go down, you go with me" bargain, is an even smarter move. It all goes away at the end of the episode, but that's probably a smart move, because things are complicated enough in this race as it is.
Peter's best moment, though, was the silent little C-story of him accidentally having Alicia's phone with him and wondering whether to listen to Will's voicemail, which he hears only the first few seconds of. 95% of shows would have this be a big flashpoint in the whole love triangle: maybe have Peter listen to part of the message and get the wrong idea, something typically convoluted like that. Instead, convinced that Alicia really did switch her feelings back to him or just that he doesn't need to pry, he pops the cell back in her bag. Now, I'm not dumb enough to think that that's the last time Alicia/Will/Peter will come up (witness her longing looks at him this episode) but The Good Wife could have taken the low road there, and didn't. Not bad.
Loved the eye-rolling drama and music playing out onstage during the event, which politicians and the like must have to suffer through on a regular basis. Cheap shot at the Steppenwolf company, though.
The difference between Blake and Kalinda's investigation methods was highlighted a little too bluntly this episode. Kalinda was as smart and stealthy as ever while Blake basically trashed Lara's place (even though they're thinking of representing her!) and then suggested he try and solicit a handjob from another masseuse. Like I said last week, I don't think Scott Porter is cut out to play such a bad boy.
Elizabeth Reaser continues to be compellingly sexy as Will's date, checking scores on her iPhone.