Unfortunately, David Sims had to recuse himself this week, something about the cheese lobby, so I’m here to make ham-fisted legal references, talk about Cary’s suits, and explore one of the stronger episodes of The Good Wife's scattered Season 3. We’re nine episodes in and the only thing building steam is the show’s penchant for creating sex scenes out of faces. The one definite arc is The Case Against Will, while most of the seed-planting consists of half-hearted references to divorce and ambition and kids these days. We’re a long way from the soapy, cliffhanger-upon-cliffhanger juggernaut of Season 2.
Which is hardly a problem when episodes are as well made as “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” which I believe is NATO for “why the face?” The case of the week is a return to military court with Judge Leora Kuhn and our host, Captain Terrence Winters. See, a woman accused of bombing a target via a misguided drone strike in Afghanistan asked for civilian counsel, so Patrick Breen thought of his two best buds, Will and Alicia. Who, by the way, are so distracted their case rests on poorly supported misogyny and “This happens all the time.” You can imagine how things turn out.
Director Rosemary Rodriguez bookends the episode with powerful flourishes. We open with a computer screen showing an aerial view of an Afghan site, the bombing thereof, and civilians stumbling away from the epicenter. But the music drops out just after the bomb hits, and Rodriguez pushes in on the survivors, if that’s even the right word for it, and like that, we’ve got stakes. But we don’t have the context yet, so what she’s really done is implant that image in our minds so she can recall it again at the end.
More accurately, the Kings and Meredith Averill do, as their script leads to one of my favorite devices, however implausible, the post-trial breakdown. When Judge Kuhn sees Alicia sitting outside the courtroom, she approaches her, asking, “You thought it was unjust?” That’s the question that haunted so much of Season 1, as in the jury duty episode “Doubt” or any visit from Dylan Baker. The job is to play a part in a larger process that’s intended to accurately assess guilt and levy punishment, not to assess guilt and levy punishment yourself (nor to assess the fairness of the law or punishment yourself). But this time, Judge Kuhn gives Alicia some perspective on her defendant and the civilians she accidentally killed. “She may be pushing buttons, but they are dead and they did nothing wrong. This was a just verdict. It was, and she will serve time for that. The problem with a charge of scape-goating is that it doesn’t acknowledge at a certain point, you have to hold people accountable.” With that straightening out, we close with an off-kilter shot—another god’s-eye-view—of Alicia walking off as the camera slowly spins around until it’s straightened out as well. That Judge Kuhn deserves her own Bravo show.
Which brings us to another terrific recurring motif in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” the woman breaking things down for her duet partner. First, Diane takes Will aside and lays down the law, as it were, telling him to make this DA attention go away and to stop sleeping with Alicia. While he submits entirely to Diane’s authority, it’s not clear if he’s acted on her instructions yet, though his next scene is a chilly, silent one as he and Alicia wait for Patrick Breen.
Later Diane gets to play voice of reason to Eli, the comic relief to the gravity of everything else, in a cheese lobby subplot that has him saying things like, “We need to talk to the bread people” and “We’re out of the cheese business.” Naturally, Alan Cumming is terrific. Eli is also dealt a failure, but Diane offers support in this graceful little scene that I hope is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
And in my favorite subplot, Alicia fortifies her apartment against Jackie, after discovering recorded webcam footage of her trying desperately to figure out computers. For all the comical technological frustration on The Good Wife, this season has struck quite a goldmine in getting in on the joke. Words can’t describe the amusement of seeing a quarter of Mary Beth Peil’s face on a chat window. So Alicia changes the locks, talks to the kids, buys Zack a car so he can drive them to their dad’s, and best of all, confronts Jackie in the same clear-headed way Judge Kuhn and Diane do in their stories. Margulies is at her best assertive, or at least assured, and she positively dominates here.
Court is also about controlling the narrative, which is why so much of The Good Wife consists of little snapshots of information-sharing and reaction-interpretation. Tonight we get a whole post-coital moment with Cary and Dana—from the neck up, so unfortunately there is some privacy on this show—that’s just there for her to tell him about a conversation with Kalinda.
But there’s nothing The Good Wife does better than depict a world of zero privacy, which thematically underwrites everything from the affair to the cases. It’s built into the visual grammar of the show, in that often the rising action is a chain of vignettes linked by an actor. For instance, tonight we follow Kalinda into Eli’s office, fly from there to the DA’s office via a phone chat with Dana, then to a conversation between Dana and Cary, and finally Wendy Scott-Carr walks in just bursting with REVENGE! Intrusion isn’t key just to the writing but to the directing as well. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” may not advance many of the big plot arcs, but it quietly, elegantly expands the show’s thematic journey.
- Amy Sedaris shows up to go mano a mano with Eli, and I look forward to seeing more of her (and Parker Posey).
- I love the comedy in Judge Kuhn’s stern librarian thing, and stacking the deck against our guys supplies tension, and I guess it’s no more implausible than all the other judges, but it really is shtick at this point.
- I also love that Wendy Scott-Carr, the woman whose most significant role on the show to date is leaking the tapes of a closed deposition in order to make a play for office, is back so she can keep the investigation into Will ethical. Hey, if Peter can find redemption . . .
- Speaking of Will, at some point, they’re going to have to put up or shut up. Surely that’s where we’re headed, but the track record of mythically nasty Eli turning out to be quite cuddly and vaguely shady Kalinda turning out to be at least understandable is not inspiring. After that “your friend Obama” shtick a few weeks ago, not to mention two and a half years of scandalous whispers, I’m pulling for genuinely shady deeds.
- One more directorial grace note: As the sentence is read in the off-screen voice of God, we see the defendant trying to keep it together as Alicia gets increasingly horrified. Nice way to find sympathy for someone the show indicts.