15
Oct
2012
The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 3
Two Girls, One Code
Jordan
Now that's what I'm talking about. After a few solid but less than spectacular episodes, the new season of The Good Wife lands its first great with "Two Girls, One Code." Cloying title aside (and seriously, did they come up with all of the season four titles when they originally started the title gag in season one and decide to just script them later?), this was an episode that gave me pretty much everything I love about the show: two brilliant legal minds engaged in a battle of one-upsmanship that uses the law and doesn't stray too far into absurdity for a televised legal procedural, a political story that let Eli flex his muscles a bit, a few twists to reinvigorate a love triangle I thought the show was heralding an end to...oh, and Kalinda Sharma's Carnival of the Absurd had limited screen-time, even if it was displaying its worst tendencies this time out.

Let's start with the case. I know the show is often criticized for how silly its tech storylines tend to be, and even I will admit its attempts to ape real life events while commenting on them are head-spinning (trying to get my head around there being a Patrick Edelstein and Facebook, and a ChumHum and Google will lead me into all sorts of geek-y digressions about canon this show shouldn't be prompting), but ultimately, I rarely care. Neil Gross (the unfortunately names John Benjamin Hickey, still wearing his unfortunate and not-at-all-convincing hoodie) is back to be really pissy, and with him as always is Rita Wilson. The case itself is actually fairly interesting from a legal perspective, as Lockhart Gardner's clients sue Gross for bumping their voice recognition software from the first page to the twenty-eighth, but what's really fun here is watching Wilson lock horns with Will again.

The two bounce off each other in that fun, screwball way The Good Wife always pulls off the banter across the table, but the real fun is in watching the two out-maneuver each other in the courtroom. Will knows that Neil Gross will never give up his "secret sauce," so he does everything in his power to get the judge to order a subpoena to corner Wilson into settling. First, he tries to claim the advertising division prompted the move when his clients' site refused to put up ChumHum ads. Wilson proves the advertising coordinator went on vacation without telling anyone. Then Will finds out that the move was motivated by ChumHum's acquisition of a rival voice recognition software company. Wilson tries to shield Gross in the First Amendment, claiming "editorial discretion." Will brings on a blogger who has defamed various tech-companies, threatening a wave of defamation suits should Gross use the First Amendment as a shield. And through it all, judge-of-the-week Dominic Chianese (Junior from The Sopranos in fine form) lords over the proceedings with a bemused smile and a hilarious amount of knowledge about all of the complex techno-babble going on in his courtroom.

If all of this sounds dry on paper, it was anything but in the execution. This was the sort of thrilling case-of-the-week that made me fall in love with the show even before its serialized elements became so addictive, and its good to know the show can still pull out all the stops on a stand alone. It helps to have a returning adversary on the other side, of course, which does mean this case has slight serialization built into its core, but if this was the first time you had seen Wilson on the show, I doubt it would have hurt your enjoyment of the proceedings. And sure, since Gross is the defendant, you may have enjoyed the episode, and Will's long-game attempt to poach him as a client, more if you recall the whole Gross-Edelstein battle and the firm's loss of the latter last season, but again, that's mostly icing on a cake that is pretty tasty already.

I could keep rambling about the virtues of the well-constructed case, but other things also happen on this show, and I guess we should probably talk about them. A journalist who is notably not Kristin Chenowith threatens to break a story about an affair, and for 30 seconds, the show has us convinced she is going public with Will and Alicia's affair. That those seconds are as full of tension and dread as they are reminded me just how invested I am in Alicia's pride. When I think about The Good Wife in the abstract, I usually think about my love for its supporting cast, especially Will, Diane, and Eli. I even tend to have problems with Juliana Margulies' performance from time to time. But when the show pulls out all the stops and threatens Alicia's personal life, I quickly remember how well it has built her as a character and how much the show has let us behind her calm, collected face to learn how she ticks. Margulies has acquitted herself very well so far this year at playing the closed-off Alicia we know so well, but also at showing the cracks that are beginning to form in her facade.

Watch, for a great example, the way Alicia deals with Eli. Their relationship is one of my favorites on the show, and tonight was a great reminder of why. Eli is a professional handler, and Alicia refuses to be handled. On a different show, that would make them adversaries. But The Good Wife understands competency more than most other television shows, and so Eli knows exactly how to deal with Alicia to get what he wants in the long run, and Alicia knows when to give in and when to stand her ground to ensure she remains someone he can go to with big crises without becoming someone whose strings he can pull.

Or look at how Alicia handles Peter throughout the episode. When she thinks he may have slept with a campaign worker, she shuts down immediately, telling him "The problem is, Peter, I don't give a damn." A few seasons ago, I might have believed her, but now, it is clear that she says that to mask her pain, to hide from the fact that her heart is being broken again by a man she was just beginning to trust. The Peter-Alicia material in this episode is so strong, that left alone it would have made me more sure the show was going to focus on their reconciliation. It likely still will. But it expertly dropped just enough hints that Will still sees Alicia as a romantic possibility to get me reinvested in the idea of the show's central love triangle. The way he reached out to comfort her and stopped himself, and the smile on his face when she called to tell him they were in the clear, were enough to get me back on that bandwagon. So yeah, this show is great at using our previous emotional investment in these characters to drive storylines forward with little more than a glance or an aborted gesture. It has a little Mad Men DNA in it, and that can never be a bad thing.

Nathan Lane didn't get much to do this evening as Clarke, but his scene with Christine Baranski, where Diane comes at him with all her might and he explodes in a display of his innate loyalty, was just gangbusters. I am really happy the show has decided to make Clarke a persnickety ally to Will and Diane rather than another scheming interloper like Derrick Bond. That plot line was fine while it lasted, but I worried Clarke was going to be little more than a retread, and that worried me. Instead, he is something new, and the way he plays Wilson and stands up to Diane makes me very excited to see what that is, and what it means for the show going forward.

And then there's Kalinda, whose plotline is still off in Days of Our Lives territory even as the rest of the show hums along nicely. Now Nick knows Kalinda sometimes has sex with women, and that means...something maybe? Lana was back for the first time this season, which is better than having another random lady from Kalinda's past show up to be naked for a scene and then mad at Kalinda for being so closed off, but ultimately I just don't see the point of any of this. Kalinda is at her best when she is used as a foil and a dark mirror for Alicia, when the two women who play their cards close to the vest interact and play off each other in ways that reveal something about most of them. I get that Kalinda is mysterious, but what kind of mystery is the show even going for anymore? When we were asking ourselves how closely Kalinda resembled Alicia, and what that meant for both of them (and, to a certain extent, for Peter), I was invested in the mystery. Now, I guess maybe we're supposed to ask how many eggs Kalinda uses when she makes Nick what I can only assume is some kind of sex omelette? This storyline needs to end, or matter at all, or preferably both, and it needs to happen soon. The rest of the season's plot lines are picking up steam, while Kalinda's is still at the starting gate gathering dust and weird sexual details like an aging copy of The Diary of Anne Frank but with none of the gravitas.

If this review seems a bit busier than usual, its only because so much happened in "Two Girls, One Code," and so much of it was done well. We had a great legal case, that gave Josh Charles the time to shine and the chance to smarmily try to recruit Neil Gross. We had the political story line that also doubled as a rev-up for our love triangle. We had some amazing Alicia moments, and a great Alicia-Eli scene, where both Margulies and Alan Cumming were at the top of their game. Sure, we had Kalinda learning how to be an acrobat in a Cirqu De Soliel show (that's what happened in her plot line this week, right? That's what I'm telling myself anyway, to make the tears go away), but otherwise, this was a very fine outing in what is shaping up to be an excellent season of The Good Wife. Count me in.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-I didn't mention it above, but I love when the show lets the firm lose, especially in ways they never saw coming.

-Where is Cary this season? He's back at the firm, but so far they seem to be employing him as an extra...

-"Is this necessary? Isn't it just trying to explain a template-based link analysis algorithm?" This joke shouldn't have worked as well as it did for as long as it did. I give a lot of the credit to Dominic Chianese.

-"She likes to think of herself as a responsible journalist. The good news is responsible journalists are the easiest to corrupt."

-"Can I ask you when this stopped?" "No." You could tell how much Eli hated doing it, but he still couldn't stop himself from asking just one question too many. This is why he is a great political consultant but would be a terrible lawyer.

-"You have been paranoid for so long you don't know how to recognize when someone is on your side." Nathan Lane had several Eli Gold-level lines tonight. I am starting to love Clarke.

-"if I can irritate you like this, just think what I can do to your enemies." "I'm rich enough not to care." The button on this interaction, Will's search revealing "Did you mean Will Gardner Disbarred lawyer?" was cute enough, but also Will should be suing Gross now.

-"Show a businessman a winning hand and he doesn't need to be a gambler to go all in. I'm going all in."
Tags: The Good Wife
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