14
Jan
2013
The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 11/12
Boom De Ya Da/ Je Ne Sais What?
Jordan
One of the best things The Good Wife has going for it is its strong stable of recurring characters. The show has at least a half dozen people who elicit a verbal reaction from me whenever they are on the screen, a sign both of good character development, and of a solid sense of when best to drop the other shoe. This has been an uneven season of the show to date, so its almost a mixed blessing that various complications have forced me to write about "Boom De Ya Da" and "Je Ne Sais What?" at the same time. The former is a weak episode, the latter a very strong one. Both of them bring back some beloved guest stars, and both say something about what the show does well, and where it is going wrong so far in season four. Let's take the episodes in turn.

"Boom De Ya Da" has the return of several recurring antagonists and semi-antagonists, but the one I want to discuss first is Nathan Lane's Clarke Hayden. When he was introduced, I worried he would be a rehash of the Derrick Bond storyline. After a few episodes, I celebrated the fact that he appeared to be an ally for our heroes. A few episodes after that, it looked like we might get a story about Clarke's love for Lockhart Gardner blinding him from his duties as trustee. Then he tried to merge the firm and now is trying to get Will and Diane removed as managing partners. While all of this could, in theory, have been tied into a cohesive character arc (with maybe an episode or two in which Clarke is torn between his job and his new friends), as it stands, it just appears that the character is all over the map. He's a bad guy. No, he's an uneasy ally. No, he's everybody's cuddly best friend. No, wait, he's a bad guy. Lane is still a pleasure to watch, but the character he is playing is quickly shifting from my favorite recurring player introduced this season into a territory reserved for balls of nonsense we will no longer speak about around here. The show has a great, very capable performer in Lane, but it needs to figure out where Clarke stands, or at least paint his ambiguity with greater detail. As it is, I have no idea who he is, or what he ultimately wants. He seems more like a plot point than a character, a problem this show is getting all too familiar with. I enjoyed the moment where we learned Cary is tutoring Clarke to take the bar, helping him to achieve a life long dream, but overall, this bankruptcy storyline is starting to cause problems for a show that has its share of late.

In the case of the week, we get the return of Louis Canning (the still awesome, always marvelous Michael J. Fox), who is trying to give Alicia the old run around, keeping his client away from a deposition until the suit can evaporate. Louis is as unscrupulous and deliciously amoral as ever (even inventing a dying friend to get at Alicia, a moment that seemed a bit mustache twirl-y, even for The Good Wife's resident Snidely Whiplash), but the episode lands its intended blow, forcing Alicia to stoop to his level, effectively blackmailing the witness into settling by threatening to reveal he has cancer, a fact that would derail an upcoming merger. I enjoy when The Good Wife forces its characters to do questionable things in the service of their clients, especially if they stop to think about it first, but this was played off a bit too quickly for my liking. Watching Alicia beat Louis (at least until he lands the killing blow, revealing he is now a Lockhart Gardner creditor and can thus exert control over the firm) is all in good fun, but the show skated over the most interesting part of the plotline for a lot of Alicia dashing madly to be at her hotel room and Canning's wife (who I feel like we've met before) being oblivious about the fact that she's married to the Antichrist.

Then, in yet another deployment of a recurring player, Eli's investigation is taken over by Wendy Scott Carr (Anika Noni Rose), a development that is truly problematic. The Good Wife has, over its run, been surprisingly good at hewing at least reasonably close to reality in its depiction of the law, but the idea that Wendy would be allowed anywhere near this case is insane. She has had contact with, and been bruised personally by, virtually every character on the show, so the idea that the DOJ would let (or even want) her anywhere near this case is silly. This seems like a desperate move from the show to dress up a plotline that is going nowhere fast by throwing a familiar face at us. Diane tries to warn her off by talking to a former campaign aide and indicating she may dig up dirt if Wendy goes after Eli, but, never defeated so easily, Wendy expands the investigation to include Lockhart Gardner, meaning Eli cannot use the firm as his attorneys.

Finally, we have the introduction of T.R. Knight as Jordan (hey guys! His name is my name!) a hotshot young campaign manager brought in to back Eli up in case the investigation gets too hot and he is forced to resign. All in all, "Boom De Ya Da" threw a whole lot at us, and much of it didn't really work for me. I'll always be happy to have Michael J. Fox around, and Knight seems promising in what little we saw of him here, but Nathan Lane's character arc needs cleaning up, and no amount of Wendy Scott Carr can clean up the investigation story, nor make it more interesting to me.

"Je Ne Sais What?" is pretty much the other side of The Good Wife's season four coin: a tight, fun episode that excellently deploys a recurring character: The glorious Elsbeth Tascioni, as played by the hilairous Carrie Preston. Tascioni has been jailed for harassing a potential witness, which has complicated her efforts to prove that her client, an athlete, was not doping, but in fact produced a false positive (caused, we later learn, by an undisclosed pregnancy she terminated to avoid stalling her career).

Alicia's task seems simple: get Elsbeth out of jail in Skokie and in front of a judge in Chicago so she can be arraigned and get out on bail in time for her clients hearing. Things get complicated, unsurprisingly, when the jail decides Elsbeth is behaving erratically and orders a psych evaluation that the brilliant but admittedly quirky Elsbeth may have trouble passing. Then there is a protracted argument about whether Elsbeth's arrest was constitutional. All of this is fun stuff, mostly because Preston is amazing, and her character is one that elicits pure joy from me whenever she is onscreen. Whether she is dreamily calling Diane "elegant," trying to decode her trial notes for Kalinda, or stopping, mid-psych evaluation to quickly deduce her client was hiding a pregnancy, Tascioni is a tour de force, and enlivens the episode at ever turn.

All of this is mostly stalling, though, to allow the show to get as much fun as possible from the idea of a deeply confused Will (and eventually, the fluent in French and even sexier as a result Diane) trying to argue an appeal in front of the international panel that will determine whether Elsbeth's client was rightly barred from competition. This was basically an excuse to watch Will flounder and Diane be amazing, and if the show wanted to do this every week for a while, I wouldn't complain. Josh Charles and Christine Baranski are consistently great on the show, but they are rarely as much fun as when they are allowed to stretch their comedic muscles as they were here.

Mostly, I just loved every time one of the cast was ready to blow off an attorney in trouble until they found out it was Elsbeth and then dived in full force. Watching an ensemble come together to display their loyalty for a friend in trouble is a weak spot for me, and its indicative of how great The Good Wife can be with building recurring characters that I not only bought everyone's loyalty to Elsbeth, but was right there with them in hoping that she would win the day. Of course she did, displaying her unique brand of legal genius yet again to use international tensions to flip a German judge and get her client's bar lifted. And where the addition of Wendy Scott Carr to Eli's investigation plot line made me sigh audibly, the idea of Elsbeth defending Eli actually makes me excited for this story going forward. This puts two of my favorite characters on the show together in a plotline, and I think they will bounce off each other to great effect.

In the political storyline, the show has finally started addressing a plot thread they have been laying out for over a year: namely, Peter's racial bias in the State's Attorney's office. Though his termination of Wendy Scott Carr makes perfect sense, his promotion of Cary was more suspect (until you recognize the show did it to give Matt Czuchry more screen time while he was away from Lockhart Gardner), especially considering the senior ASA's he passed over were both black. I loved his conversation with Geneva, who is initially cautious and eventually open about Peter's race problem, and doesn't let him use any of his excuses, reasonable or not, to let himself off the hook. The show does a good job of letting Geneva make her points and letting her be right without painting Peter as some sort of horrible racist. Racial bias tends to play out like this in the real world, conducted more because of a lack of thought in many cases than because of a conscious antipathy, and I hope the show keeps this issue alive. It explored it well in "Je Ne Sais What?" and I'd like to see it delve in deeper.

"Boom De Ya Da" was a guest star filled episode that exhibited a lot of the problems The Good Wife is having in developing its longer arcs this season. "Je Ne Sais What?" was its opposite number, a tight, funny, smart, guest-star driven hour that showed the potential for the show to take steps in the right direction over the season's remaining ten episodes. Since "Je Ne Sais What?" is the latter, and the better, episode, I am choosing to be optimistic going forward. If nothing else, we're liable to get more Elsbeth Tascioni in weeks to come, and that can't possibly be a bad thing.

Grades: B-/A-

Notes:

-"The clock will start as soon as he walks through that door." "As soon as he sits in the chair." "Oh, let's not quibble." "Good. Then the chair."

-"Oh, come on. This is a conflict of interest." At least the show recognizes it. Not that they don't do it anyway...

-"That is bizarrely tenuous." "And yet supported by the judge." Again, at least it was commented on. But really?

-I know I'm not alone here. But I would watch a Louis Canning spin-off.

-"Hold on, that's call waiting." "Oh. Sure. Take your time. That's why I'm here."

-"When did you start talking to me as if I was a peer?"

-"Alicia, in here. Hi!"

-"Can you beat them?" "Yes."

-"Well then we call this witness to the stand." "There is no stand, Mr. Gardner." "To the chair in the middle of the room."

-I love the loyalty Elsbeth brings out in EVERY character.

-"You're asking about racial bias." "I am." "And you want me to speak honestly?" "I do." "You're racially biased."

-"Hey. It's just a weekend."

-"Peter. That is not why I called." "Why did you call?" "I was just checking in."

-"Diane? Diane's on it too? She's so elegant..."

-"What are the other two?" "I don't know." "No. I'm asking myself."

-"I'm not one to point fingers, Eli. But you should listen to me more. I know what I'm doing."

-"I need a minute." "Just a minute?" "A campaign minute."

-"How do you know that?" "I don't know how I know half the things I know!"

-"Stop it. Seriously. Stop it! Go find some criminals to prosecute. And defend!"

-"When the law's an ass, someone has to kick it!"

-"I just realized. You're Rambo!"

-"Here's the thing some people never learn: We are not teaching a Fifth Grade Ethics Class. We are here to win. Win pretty, win ugly, it's still winning!"

-AHHHHH! Elsbeth representing Eli is enough to get me excited about what's to come.
Tags: The Good Wife
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