1
Oct
2012
The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 1
I Fought the Law
Jordan
Perhaps the most thrilling thing about any given episode of The Good Wife at this point in the show's run is watching the show juggle its many plot lines with ease, and enjoying the interplay that has developed between them. This is a show that, more than any other procedural on television and almost any other network drama, has a sense of history built into it, a growing feeling that everything, even minor case-of-the-week scenarios can have vast impact on the ongoing storylines we have become invested in. At this point, The Good Wife has such a strong stable of recurring guest stars and has built up its world so fluidly that the show feels like a world unto itself, which is a very good thing. "I Fought the Law" throws us back into our various ongoing storylines, and for the most part sets up what we can expect to see from them over the course of the season.

The main thrust of the episode's plot involves an illegal stop and search that Zack, Grace, and Alicia are forced to endure in the episode's early moments. The three have stumbled into a forfeiture corridor (an area where cops stop and search an excessive number of vehicles to make money off of any drug funds they manage to confiscate), and Zack soon faces charges for obstruction of justice as a result of his attempts to document the illegal search. This is fairly low-stakes stuff, by The Good Wife's standards, yet much fun is generated out of the fact that Zack himself is on the line here. Alicia springs into action with her super-lawyering skills (that's a technical term) and Peter handles things on his end by making like a Chicago politician and threatening.

The resolution of the plot line is pretty lame (Zack saves himself with a viral video), but its always fun to be reminded how hyper-competent the Florick's are when push comes to shove. The Good Wife has a complicated relationship with the internet, due in part to its dedication to portraying the evolving legal profession accurately. The show's writers seem to know, intuitively, that the internet is a vital force in modern legal practice, but they often seem to get caught up in the details of how it might actually play into an event like this. The same problem befalls the political side of things every once in a while, where a Youtube video will trip Peter up by getting way more views than is even remotely realistic, just so someone on the show can say "viral" a few times and feel hip. I appreciate the attempt to show Zack's development as a character, and also the show's tongue in cheek realization that it may have taken him too far in just a week (as soon as he sees his video is one of the most seen on Youtube, its back to watching porn for our young hero), but The Good Wife should handle the internet with a bit more care in future weeks.

On the political side of things, this episode feels mostly like a nonstarter, due in large part to my knowledge of the show's guest-star issues going into this season. Matthew Perry has been cast as mean GOP candidate Mike Kresteva, which seemed inspired in the spring, but is disconcerting considering Perry is the lead of the new NBC show Go On, and Kristin Chenowith, who gets her first appearance here as a reporter digging into the marital discord in the Florick household, was injured on the set and seems unlikely to fulfill her original contract at this point. This means that most of what we saw tonight will likely become irrelevant within a few weeks, but the ramping up of the gubernatorial campaign means a more central role for Eli Gold in the coming weeks, and more Alan Cumming is never a bad thing.

On the business side, things are not looking to rosy for Lockhart Gardner (what else is new?). The firms has filed for bankruptcy, and has been given a trustee, in the form of Nathan Lane, to help them sort things out. Lane is a phenomenal actor too often limited to playing things way over the top (which isn't to say I didn't love him in The Birdcage), but here he is given the opportunity to play it more low-key as a character who promises to be multifaceted, both a threat to the firm as we know it and a potential asset to its long term success. When Lane plays Diane and Will off each other, I was worried we were going to be getting a rehash of Derrick Bond from last season, but by episode's end, when he has pulled David Lee back into the firm (and thank God, because I need as much David Lee snark as I can possibly get), it is clear his motives are pure, even if his methods are sometimes suspect. In other words, he is a quintessential The Good Wife character, and I can't wait to see more of him.

Then there is the perpetual thorn in the side of the show, or as I like to call it, Through the Looking Glass with Kalinda Sharma. For over a season now we have been treated to the increasingly sordid secret life of Kalinda, and it has never felt like an organic part of the story. This is a show that expertly weaves legal drama, political intrigue, and the intensely strategic task of running a law firm together, yet whenever it turns to Kalinda, it feels like we're dropping in on another show entirely. Tonight we finally meet her devious criminal mastermind ex-husband (Marc Warren, who is at least well cast for the part), and are treated to not one, but two incredibly heightened fight sequences that wouldn't feel out of place on Alias. Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a fan of kick-ass elevator brawls as the next red blooded American, but sandwiched in between the sort of arch courtroom scenes and cleverly plotted back-room intrigue this show specializes in, it just feels out of place.

Also, while I once appreciated the show's willingness to revel in Kalinda's bisexuality, it has gotten to the point where every time a character shows up, we quickly find out Kalinda slept with them and then abandoned them. Did we learn anything more about her character from the brief exchange with the K-9 trainer tonight than we did with FBI chick last year? I don't think so. And worse off, where the show initially got progressive points for depicting a successful, self-assured bi-sexual, it is now treading dangerously close to playing into stereotypes about bi-sexuals as the nymphomaniacs of the sexual identity spectrum.

I think Archie Panjabi is a great actress (and seeing as she's won an Emmy for the role, I am not alone in that), and I applaud the show for giving her some meaty storylines, but I will never understand why the writers are not able to work Kalinda organically into the myriad storylines already running through this show. The Good Wife is a complex legal and political drama that does a very good job of balancing realism with dynamic storytelling...except for the 15 minutes every week when its a lurid, pulpy crime drama about a bi-sexual running away from her crime-lord ex-husband with his ill-gotten gains. The tonal shifts required to fit Kalinda's storylines into this show are hurting the efficacy of the remainder of each episode, and dragging down what is otherwise a sterling example of a network drama and an indication of the way forward for procedural television everywhere.

This is a season premiere, so its no surprise that its an excessively busy affair. We needed to check in with Peter's political career, with Will and Diane's struggle to keep the firm afloat, and cram in a case-of-the-week for Alicia to litigate, as well as introduce new characters and give an indication of what the stories will be going forward this season. And, for some reason, we had to watch Kalinda hate-fuck her ex after beating the shit out of him in an elevator. This isn't a perfect episode of The Good Wife, but it does throw a lot of balls in the air. And this show is never better than when it manages to juggle all of its increasingly complex storylines, finding satisfactory steps forward for each. If they can continue the progress on all other fronts, and minimize the freak-show that Kalinda's story has become, this could truly be a landmark season for the show. And otherwise, maybe Kalinda will buy the firm with her drug money, or seduce Nathan Lane, or set everything on fire. Or all of the above.

Grade: B-

Notes:

-The minus is due in large part to the Kalinda plot line, which, if I haven't made clear, didn't really work for me. But ultimately, this was a place setting episode for the show, and wasn't up to the standards I expect from it.

-I feel like this episode is only called "I Fought the Law" because the writers have been saving that up for when they got to four words since day one (for those of you who haven't noticed, every episode from each season contains the same number of words as the season it is found in). That being said, if this year's finale is called "And the Law Won," all will be forgiven.

-"We don't use Dad's name. We use the law...You use Dad's name?"

-"Do I detect a hint of sarcasm?" "In four months you can detect a hint of sarcasm."

-As a law student and someone well versed in the recent downfall of Dewey LeBoeuf, let me just say that Lockhart Gardener is NO Dewey LeBoeuf. Nice reference, though, to indicate the show is still up on things.

-"This isn't about women or the '50s. This is about me." I'm not always a huge fan of Julianna Margulies performance on this show, but she is never better than in those moments when she reminds us all just how much backbone Alicia has. This is a smart, strong, competent woman who refuses to play by anyone else's rules, and that's how we like her.

-"I want to help out with the campaign." "No." Alan Cumming is phenomenal. That is all.

-"He didn't say 'a man.'" "No. I added that to piss you off." Will and Diane are still the best.

-"I don't like people who quit."
Tags: The Good Wife
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