17
Feb
2013
The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 14
Red Team, Blue Team
Jordan
Since its inception, The Good Wife has been one of the best shows on television (and peerlessly the best on network television) at examining the gray areas, both in the law and in life. It has created a strong cast of characters who are complex and multifaceted, and it places them in situations that test their limits, their resolve, and their conceptions of themselves. I think "Red Team, Blue Team" is probably the best episode The Good Wife has done all season, and that is due in large part to the way it focuses, fairly intently, on Alicia Florrick.

Here are some things we know about Alicia. We know she is a damn good lawyer, to the point that when she goes up against Will and Diane in the mock trial they create for a client's benefit, the named partners are forced to be nervous about getting clobbered by a fourth year. And after that stellar opening argument, it is clear their fears are well founded. She is amazing at what she does, and she has recently been recognized for it, being offered a partnership years before her time. When this offer is rescinded, Alicia does a variety of things. And what is so great about "Red Team, Blue Team" is that even when those things make her appear to be operating at cross purposes with herself, they are fully within her character, and they tell us a lot about the woman Alicia is, and the woman she wants to be.

We haven't talked about it much so far this season, but there's a reason this show is called The Good Wife. It is, on one level at least, a show about Alicia Florrick deciding between who she actually is and who she hopes herself to be. Regardless of which conception you're seeing at any given moment, Alicia is hyper-competitive, hyper-competent, and hyper-decent (that last one sounds hyperbolic, but I don't think it is). Whatever Alicia does, she does very well, and this is something the show has always made clear. When Alicia was a wife and mother, she manifested her success by crafting a perfect (looking) family, and she exerted power through her control. These may sound like negatives, but I don't mean them to be. Alicia ran her family as well as anyone could considering the man she was married to, and she did it while raising normal, well-adjusted children and navigating the perilous waters of being a politician's wife. In other words, she was a damn good wife.

Now that she is back in the law, she is incredibly good at her job, and she prides herself on this. Alicia is smart and dedicated, and she gets things done. Sometimes her job requires her to do things she doesn't like. Sometimes it requires her to do things she hates. But we have seen that, regardless of its toll on her, Alicia does what she thinks is best for her client and her firm before worrying about herself. When you hire Alicia Florrick, you are getting the best possible employee. If you're choosing between Alicia and pretty much anyone else, you'd be a fool not to pick Ms. Florrick. Before anything else, Alicia wants to be the best she can be.

But even she sometimes seems surprised by her abilities, which I think is to the show's credit. On many shows, Alicia would just be a "super lawyer," and it would go without comment. Very rarely did a show like, say Boston Legal comment on how great its lawyers were, and when it did, it was in a fourth-wall breaking, "we win because we're the main characters on a TV show" sort of way. The Good Wife never does that. Not only does it actually let its characters lose, and lose big, from time to time, it reminds us often that its characters win because they are very good at what they do. Tonight, we see Alicia be incredibly smart, quick, and, when necessary conniving, and while we are treated to the pleasure of watching her excel, she barely seems to realize how easily she navigates a very difficult situation.

When her partnership offer is delayed to allow the current partners to line their pockets on record profits (which would seem unrealistic coming out of bankruptcy, if I didn't know that Dewey LeBoeuf had its highest grossing quarter ever in the same quarter it filed for bankruptcy), Alicia jumps into action, not because she feels entitled to a partnership, necessarily, but because she feels entitled to what she was promised. In her own mind, Alicia is dutiful, loyal, committed. In her own mind, she is the good employee, the good lawyer, the good wife. All she wants, it seems, is to be respected for what she has done, and to be given what she was promised.

So she, Cary, and the other fourth years get together and scheme to terrify the partners into reinstating their offers. They plan to take their big clients out to lunch and scare the higher-ups into believing there is a mutiny. In another of this episode's great touches, the partners aren't really all that convinced. David Lee is a little afraid, of course (when isn't he?), but Will sees through it immediately and knows this is a gimmick. So the partners decide to break the unity of the fourth years by offering one of them partnership. And who gets the offer? Well, Alicia of course.

There's more to it than that, though, because this is The Good Wife, and things are never as straight forward as we might think. Alicia isn't a creature of raw ambition, at least not how we usually define that term. She is bound deeply, at her core, to ideas of duty and responsibility, of loyalty and morality, but she is also driven by an incredible amount of talent and a strong willpower to succeed. We see this crop up again and again with Alicia, and the point was made most fluidly in her kiss with Will. Alicia likes to think of herself as "good," which in her mind makes her the type of person that doesn't get involved with her boss. To her, she is the type of woman who, in her own words, wouldn't "do that." But, of course, she does do that. Maybe that tells us about a flaw at Alicia's core, but I don't think that's the case. I think it tells us about an internal struggle she's having, and I think that struggle speaks to the conflict at the heart of this show.

If I know anything about Alicia as a character, I know she didn't kiss Will because she thought it would advance her career. I think she kissed Will because of their connection, and because of what he means to her, and again, I think Alicia's attraction to Will is at the heart of her journey as a character. Will has always loved Alicia for who she is, for her skill as a lawyer and for her basic humanity. Contrast that to Peter, and it may tell you something about each of them, but that isn't what's important here. Look at the way Alicia comes at Will in her office. I don't mean sexually, I mean emotionally. She engages with him; she yells, she lets her passion out, she unleashes all of her resentment, her anger, her pain. We have never seen her do that with Peter, and I don't think we ever will. With Peter, Alicia is all buried resentment, pent up frustration, subtle despair. With Peter, Alicia is always playing the part of "the good wife," never causing any waves, always trying to be all the things Alicia is always trying to be: loyal, competent, dutiful, good. With Will, even for a moment, she lets her guard down and let's her real self out. This makes "Red Team, Blue Team" a vital episode in Alicia's development as a character. We have seen her struggle with this dichotomy within herself before, but I don't know if the show has ever drawn the line between Alicia as she wants to be and Alicia as she is more subtly and excellently than it did here.

I want to clarify, as well: I don't, for a second, think we as the audience are aligned with Alicia in terms of what we want. This show has always been very clear about the fact that an unbuttoned Alicia, free of her strictures, is the ideal version of this character, the one we root for her to work towards. Alicia thinks its better to be "good" than to be free. So watching Alicia unburden herself to Will and then get caught up in the emotion of that and kiss him--well, if she thinks she made a mistake (and she does), to me, that's one of the greatest developments for her character yet.

This gray area Alicia functions in throughout this episode is the zone >The Good Wife calls home. Is Alicia morally bound to being "good," and does her definition of that limit her more than it should? Is she free to make choices for herself, even if she is self-destructive, or does that freedom cost more than she is willing to pay? Alicia is left feeling undercut by the kiss, left worrying she was offered the partnership because of it. We know this isn't true (the episode goes out of its way to show us Will isn't all that involved in this particular process, and isn't fighting for Alicia over anyone else). We know Alicia was offered the partnership because she earned it, because she is that damn good. But how valid is her concern? How much is that concern a symptom of a crippling self-doubt that keeps her from recognizing her own talent, and how much of it is just good sense? These are valid questions with murky answers. In other words, this is good television.

The Good Wife is a show that builds its characters over time to give moments like that kiss maximum effect, and in doing that, it allows us to see a potentially mundane moment for how revelatory it really is. We learn about ourselves slowly, over time, by making mistakes and by making hard decisions. Alicia isn't as perfect as she wants to be, and she is forced to confront that twice tonight, in rapid succession. First, she kisses Will, a thing she "doesn't" do. Then, she is forced to confront the fact that she is going to accept the offer of partnership, even though it is to the detriment of the other fourth years, even though it will engender bad feelings, even though it is a betrayal of what she was righteously defending moments earlier. Alicia was all about fighting for fair treatment throughout the episode, until that unfairness benefitted her. When it did, she had to confront the fact that it wasn't fairness she was worried about, it was whether she was being treated fairly. She offers some mealy-mouthed justification about fighting for the fourth years from within the belly of the beast, but Cary doesn't buy it, and neither does she, really.

Those final scenes are all about boundaries. Alicia has to draw boundaries--between herself and others, between her work and her personal life, between her (now fellow) partners and associates. Alicia is drawing boundaries, but The Good Wife is a cynical show, all to aware of how porous these lines are, and how easily they bleed into each other. Alicia has benefited from this porousness before (we can't pretend her career hasn't been helped by her personal connection to Peter, and thus, to power), but as the episode ends, its a fairly porous boundary that stands between our hero and the friend she just betrayed. And right at that moment, I'm willing to wager Alicia doesn't feel very "good" at all.

Grade: A


Notes:

-There is a lot happening in this episode I just didn't have room above to discuss. The Eli/Elsbeth subplot is pure joy, and the "Red/Blue" dichotomy, and where each character falls on it, could have provided plenty of fodder for discussion. But this was an Alicia hour and I wanted to focus on that.

-I'd like to think Wendy Scott Carr was replaced because the show realized how dumb that was, but probably, they just couldn't get Anika Noni Rose. That being said, I hope we see Kyle MacLachlan again.

-"Polka. That's funny."

-"I'm a lot like you, but I'm sitting on this side of the desk. This side of the desk wins." "Not this time."

-"I'm sorry, Will." "About what?" "Oh, I don't know. What am I sorry about?" "That's life. We're in constant danger of running off the road."
Tags: The Good Wife
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