28
Apr
2013
The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 22
What's in the Box?
Jordan
The Good Wife is the best drama on network television, and its held this position for a few years, in my mind. Its held this position even though it has been an uneven season, even though it has turned me completely against some of its characters (ok, one. It's Kalinda), even though it has stalled on some plotlines and flailed about wildly on others. When this show is at its best, it's bellied up to the bar with the likes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Justified or whatever cable or pay-cable drama floats your boat. Like most of season four, "What's in the Box?" is not the show at firing on all cylinders. A lot of ground is retread tonight, and while some of it is fun (Patty Nyholm! Ana Gasteyer's federal court judge! Judge Abernathy--with sciatica action!), a lot fo it feels like things we have seen before. But "What's in the Box?" anticipates this criticism in its very construction. It knows its a finale, and it knows the expectations that come with it. It's ready to pull the rug out from under us, and when it does, well, it's damn good.

That ending (if you haven't seen the episode, here is a good stopping point) is the sort of thing that might blow the doors off the place. It's the sort of bold move we see on cable shows occasionally, and on network incredibly rarely. This is the "Shut the Door. Have a Seat" of The Good Wife episodes, and it may harken the most complete reinvention of a network television show since Angel's fourth season finale "Home." It's hard not to be excited by that prospect, and I hope that season five lives up to this potential. For now, though, all we've got is a crackerjack final line to a season full of peaks and valleys. We may be looking forward to a show where Peter is Governor of Illinois, Diane serves on the State Supreme Court, and Florick and Agos is working with some big ticket clients they swiped at establishing themselves in the Chicago legal landscape. All of this is very exciting stuff, but there's a name left off that list of character changes, and that's reflective of the choice Alicia makes tonight, the choice the show never underlines.

See, Will is the one getting left behind in all this. His partner is going to be appointed to the Supreme Court. His clients are about to jump ship. He's losing his fourth-year associates, which is the sort of rebellion that might spell doom for a law firm (especially one that just lost a named partner and had an equity partner strike out with the departing associates). And Alicia has chosen to leave him behind, professionally, sure, but also personally. See, Alicia doesn't make the call to go with Cary until its clear to her, in that hotel room, she can no longer work with Will. She loves Will (I feel comfortable calling it love, though so far as she's made clear, it may be more like reluctant lust), but she has chosen Peter. She has chosen, once again, to be "The Good Wife," and she will make the sacrifices and take the risks necessary to protect that choice.

For all our talk of portentousness and wild speculation, "What's in the Box?" is actually a lot of fun for its case-of-the-week (inasmuch as we can call it that) too. The switcheroo that forces Lockhart/Gardner and Patty Nyholm (who is enough of a force of nature to be a threat to Will, Diane, and Alicia at the same time without seeming even slightly over-matched) to essentially swap arguments halfway through the case, and their flight across to the federal courthouse (which honestly could easily have been scored with yakety-sax) is all good fun, and is a great showcase for the various litigation styles of the participants. This is lawyering in its most transparent form of advocacy, and little moments like Diane pausing, briefly, to switch mental gears before starting to argue the sanctity of the vote are just a joy to watch. This is silly, cynical business, and that makes it the perfect case for Nyholm, the queen of quippy cynicism and transparent underhandedness, to return for and to make her own. Martha Plimpton is continually phenomenal as Patty, whose smirk is enough to get me seething, and whose wit is matched only by her cunning.

The show undercuts all of the wackiness with a late revelation that, while not at all surprising, brings a great ethical wrinkle to things. Kalinda (doing some of that super sleuthing she wants to be paid more for, at least in between jockeying to be paid more money by someone, anyone, who is willing to listen to her) discovers camera footage of one of Peter's campaign workers directing the men moving the ballot box, and Will has to take it to Peter to decide how to proceed. I find it a little ridiculous that no one else thought to check the security camera outside the polling place, and thus, find this not a particularly great example of Kalinda Sharma: Master Detective, but the quandary it raises is a good one: If Peter does the right thing, he might lose the election, and to ensure his victory, he must sit on evidence that he might be stealing the governorship. It ends up being academic, as Peter wins handily, but the moment is a great barometer of the ethics of the two men vying for Alicia's love. When faced with a tough choice, Peter immediately gets defensive, snarling like a cornered animal about Will's ulterior motives and ultimately manipulating Will into doing what he wants by "abdicating" responsibility. Peter pretends not to make the choice so he can walk away with his hands clean, but we all know he anticipates how Will is going to handle the situation, and plays it to ensure he gets exactly what he wants.

A lot of this is the show reveling in its own cynicism about the law and politics. Elections are decided in court rooms these days, the episode explicitly tells us, and the man the people of Illinois have "chosen" for their leader used, or was at least willing to use, completely underhanded tactics, including voter fraud and its equivalents, to get into office. Not a great day for justice in either the legal or the political realm, which generally makes for a good episode of the show.

The Good Wife is coming off an uneven season, full of missteps both of its own design and created by events beyond its control. It started to show its age this season in more than its side plots though; a lot of the legal cases were sloppier, showier, and felt more of a piece with standard legal procedurals, where the show in years past has excelled at giving its cases at least a thin veneer of realism. Basically, its time for a change, and if the show follows through on the promise of its various plot threads come season five, we may be looking at a brave new world, and a version of this show that's better for it. Alicia and Cary hungry to make a name for themselves out on their own. Peter running the state of Illinois. Diane wearing a black robe. And Will, trying to pick up the pieces and figure out how the rug got pulled out from under him so quickly. Yeah. I'm excited for season five.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"What are you doing?" "I'm going to take care of it. Do you want to know how?"

-"Is this the new one?" "I don't know. I've lost track."

-"Your honor, objection. This kind of stunt went out with Perry Mason." "And yet I enjoy it every time."

-"Think she knows I'm losing?" "I have dedicated my life to not knowing what Jackie Florick thinks."

-"I'll argue this one, you argue the next?"

-"Sad to think you can lose an election in court these days."

-"What are you watching?" "Hostel 3. I love horror movies. Do you want to know why I love horror movies?" "Why?" "Because they're awesome."

-"You've really handled this poorly." "That's possible." "She's my wife." "Then punch me."

-"Oh what the hell, I'm too tired. Judgment in favor of the defense. The votes are admitted."

-"That was so you'd leave." "I don't think so." "It was." "Well, I don't want to go." "It's not about what you want." "Yes. It is."

-Thanks for reading. With this much potential, there is no way I can even consider not writing about The Good Wife again next season. So see you all in the fall!
Tags: The Good Wife
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