14
Apr
2013
The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 20
Rape: A Modern Perspective
Jordan
As soon as I saw the title of "Rape: A Modern Perspective," I knew it was going to be a heavy episode of The Good Wife, and it was, though not in many of the ways I was steeling myself for. Its clear from very early on that Rainey was raped, and that questions of consent aren't the problem here: what is failing her is the justice system itself, and the episode's frustrations largely derive from just how completely the system is aligned against Rainey, who just wants her rape to have cost her attacker something. The episode puts her in prison, in a canny display of just how inhumanely sexual assault victims are handled by the system, and each and every victory she has throughout the episode comes not from canny lawyering or expert navigating of the system, but from people working explicitly outside the law to help her gain some sense of justice.

The Good Wife is a show that is obsessed, occasionally to its detriment, with the "modern," with the way that technology shapes our lives and changes the way we interact with each other, with society, and with our legal system. Sometimes that leads to things like the ChumHum episodes, where the way the show fetishizes technology becomes almost laughable (Though I did like the touch of people constantly using ChumHum tonight. Way to stick with your world-building, The Good Wife!), but occasionally, its commentary feels apt. Similarly, I'm never a huge fan of "ripped from the headlines" episodes, which tend to feel lazy for a show this smart and make me worry I'm watching a gussied up Law and Order clone, but this episode managed to toe the line quite well. For an episode that was basically the Steubenville rape case, bitcoin commentary, a dig at rape-deniers, and a look at Anonymous all rolled into one, "Rape: A Modern Perspective" rarely felt like it was leaning too heavily on "you just saw this on the news!" for its dramatic weight.

Much of this episode made me physically nauseated, in a way I haven't since Mad Men did "The Other Woman" last season. The show is not shy about the things Rainey has gone through or the things she must go through to make Todd Bratcher (the name is a bit on the nose, but I kind of like that about it) feel even a modicum of misfortune for what he did to her, and the whole thing is disgusting. Will has thrown himself into the case fully, and its clear he has done so for two reasons. First off, for all of the terrible things that get said about him on this show, Will Gardner is actually a good man, and he sees what has happened to Rainey as a grave injustice he wants to right. But its also obvious the guy just needs a win, a chance to feel like he's doing good for real people for once, after spending so long on the outs and working for big companies and drug lords.

The contempt portion of the episode does a nice job of accomplishing everything it needs to in a minimum amount of screen-time. There is enough here that an entire episode could have been made of Rainey's refusal to apologize to her rapist, of the contours of the gag order in place, and of the argument over exactly what role social media plays in a trial like this, but "Rape: A Modern Perspective" has a lot to get done, and so it maximizes its scenes of Rainey in prison, ensuring they pack enough of an emotional wallop to make their presence felt in an episode that is, honestly, a bit overstuffed, though more impressive for how rarely it feels that way.

That the episode is doing a bit too much is never more apparent than when Jason Biggs' Dylan stack is on screen. Having the smarmy bitcoin guy lurking around actually hurt the episode more than it helped it, to my mind. The show gets away with having a tragically innocent victim and an attacker that is never more than a hateful mustache twirler because this exact situation happens all the time, which makes the starkness of its moral quandaries all the harder to swallow. But I didn't really need Stack sitting there smugly in the gallery, whispering to Alicia about idealism and representing the face of Anonymous which, honestly, didn't really need one. Sure, he's there to explain how Anonymous hacked Zack and Grace's phones, and for Alicia to bounce off of when the episode wants to yell about working within the system, but mostly he undercut more than he added to the proceedings.

There's a point to be made about whether the antics of Anonymous actually did any good, and about the way the legal system grapples with these sort of extralegal tactics, but I don't think it was made particularly well here. The grimace on David Fonteno's face while he weighed the arguments in chambers made the point better than any of Stack's silly monologues, and I think the failings of the system and the dubious successes of working outside of it would have been just as clear if Stack hadn't appeared at all.

A lot of other things happen around the fringes of this episode, and most of them are well-handled, even if I was too caught up in the case of the week to give them as much credit as I otherwise might have. Cary continues to plan his departure from the firm, in a storyline I would care more about if it didn't just feel like further evidence that the show doesn't know what to do with him. This will be the second time Cary has left Lockhart/Gardner because they just don't appreciate him there, and it feels retread-y before even starting. Here's an idea, The Good Wife: PUT HIM IN A COURT ROOM. The show seems to constantly forget that, hey, Cary is a lawyer too, and maybe it could involve him in its standard cases of the week instead of leaving him on the fringes to mope about being on the fringes and secretly bang Kalinda. It mystifies me how at a loss this show is for what to do with Cary. To begin with, he is actually a fairly complex character with a lot of conflicted emotions and interesting aspects that could be explored. But more importantly, he is a lawyer on a legal procedural which kind of means figuring out what to do with him should be a piece of cake. Just give him a case every once in a while. It isn't that hard.

Meanwhile, Robin continues to grow on me for reasons I'm not entirely clear about. She's got a weird energy I like, and she's willfully strange in a way that makes her bounce off a lot of the show's more buttoned-down characters very well. Having her investigate the fourth years for Alicia was probably a good call, especially because it sets up Cary's completely wrongheaded anger at Kalinda, but it also felt a lot like the show just going "here is a thing for you this week." Perhaps its because the episode was so busy, or perhaps its because the season is starting to wind down, but a lot of the show's regulars were mostly just there this week because it seemed like someone in the writers room wanted, say, Kalinda to have a thing to do in the midst of all this rape and technology.

Grace also got a random scene that seemed to function mostly as a reminder that she is religious and that Alicia is absurdly tone deaf about religion, but the interplay between these two is always so solid that the scene drew meaning more from the simple fact of their relationship than from its content. Alicia has constant concerns about her work and personal life detracting from her ability to be a mother, and scenes like this nicely remind us of that constant tension in her life while also underlining that, despite her worries, she is a really god damn good mother. I often find the stories the show comes up with for Zack and Grace somewhere between pointless and laughable, but I have to give The Good Wife credit in that these are two of the most well-developed and well served children on a television drama. And while sometimes their stories seem contrived, Zack and Grace themselves always feel like real people with real reactions. This scene was basically completely inessential to the episode, yet it was almost certainly my favorite of the evening.

Finally, Diane meets with Chief Justice Ryvlan (Jeffrey DeMunn, who absolutely nails the sort of aggressive passive aggression that so many lawyers possess), who basically says the word "sophistry" a lot, mocks anyone without a law degree, and tells her that, oh yeah, she better denounce Will or she won't get to be on the court. This all seems pretty ridiculous, as if the show realized it needs Christine Baranski to bounce off Josh Charles every week and the quickest way to kill this judicial nomination was to test her loyalty to Will, but then, I will never complain about getting to watch the phenomenally composed Diane Lockhart parry the thrusts of a guy who thinks he has her over a barrel. Diane is one of my favorite characters on television, and while this storyline hasn't given her much yet, my guess is she will get the chance to shut down Ryvlan in an epic way before the season comes to a close. And I am very much looking forward to that moment.

"Rape: A Modern Perspective" tries to do a whole lot of things in a very compact time frame, and this did ultimately hurt the episode for me. Rainey's story was enough to anchor the episode even without the Anonymous stuff; with it, this was a very solid hour. But throw in Dylan Stack, Cary's rebellion, Alicia having to be a Mama Bear and protect her children, Diane's loyalty being tested, oh, and the constant reminder's that Will makes Alicia's nethers all tingly, and the episode just had too many balls in the air to be one of the season's best. None of this was handled poorly (ok, none of it that didn't involve Jason Biggs, anyway), it all just became sort of perfunctory because of how much the show had to cram in. The episode was ultimately a piece-mover that had too enthralling a case of the week, and ended up torn between exploring its contours and setting us up for the season's endgame. At its best, this was a great episode of The Good Wife. It just had about seven other episodes shoved in with it.

Grade: B

Notes:

-"To what do I owe the surprise?" "I wanted to see what idealism looks like."

-"What were you praying for? Or, is that unlucky?"

-"Sometimes its good to think about yourself." "Yes. And sometimes its not."

-Only two episodes remain this season, and according to the current schedule, they will air in the next two weeks. Strange for CBS to air the season finale outside of May sweeps, but I guess the show has never been all that highly rated, so I understand it. And as someone currently covering two Sunday night TV shows, I guess I won't mind wrapping up The Good Wife earlier rather than later. Here's hoping this uneven season ends strong.
Tags: The Good Wife
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