5
Nov
2012
The Good Wife: Season 4, Episode 6
The Art of War
Jordan
At this point, the military episodes of The Good Wife have become their own subgenre, an annual venture into a version of the law the show always depicts as a little twisted; as too analytical, too rigid and inflexible, and as too often unable to provide justice. As with season two's "Double Jeopardy" and season three's "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," we are pulled into military affairs, where we meet the rigid but fair Judge Leora Kuhn (Linda Emond) and are confronted with military personnel who face their plights with a grim stoicism and a commitment to a system that fails them.

In many ways, these episodes parallel and comment upon the standard frustrations with the legal system our heroes face every week, serving as cautionary tales of how much further our system could fall into procedural hell until it forgets to consider justice on a case-by-case basis at all. The Good Wife is fairly scalding in its look at military justice, and it makes some good points that are worth considering. This third time out, though, everything felt a little bit redundant. We've seen this show before, and it ends the same way every time: with the military unable to provide justice to its servicemen.

What was different, this time, and what kept the plot line effective when it could have come across as tired, was the particular problem facing Captain Hellinger (Amanda Peet, in fine form): she was sexually assaulted by a military contractor, and when she fails to meet an evidentiary burden in criminal court, she is forced to sue in civil court. Judge Kuhn asks Alicia to serve as co-counsel to the pro se litigant (Hellinger is a JAG, but has no civil experience, and despite Alicia's performance last time out, Kuhn thinks she's right for the job, because she's the only lady lawyer in Chicago, or something), and Alicia is up against the contractor's attorney (Brian Dennehy, being all Dennehy-y), who argues the company's association with the military grants its employees civil immunity.

Amanda Peet is excellent in a role that asks a lot of her, both emotionally, and narratively. On the one hand, she must combine the military stoicism with some hard-earned anger, combine how impressed she is with Alicia's ability to navigate the rough and tumble Chicago legal scene with her difficulty keeping it together when her attacker is on the stand. She also has to face down the fact that these beats are played pretty much any time a legal procedural does a rape story. To some extent, that is because they are the beats any person goes through in the wake of a sexual assault, but in a lot of ways, these have become tropes in themselves for sexual assault narratives, and Peet acquits herself well in making the moments feel less like story beats and more like real, visceral reactions to an awful situation.

It all ends, as these military episodes do, in quiet tragedy. Having been called up to service minutes before attacking Hellinger, her attacker Ricky is held to be immune from suit. The show gives us plenty of hints that Ricky is a bad guy slipping through the cracks. We get that moment where Dennehy rebuffs him, refusing to shake his hand, a gesture which is itself a huge cliche, albeit one I tend to find effective, and the more over the top "Step back!" from Judge Kuhn, which did feel satisfying, but was perhaps a bit much. The moral is, as always, that the men and women who defend our country live by their own set of rules, and those rules do not always serve our sense of justice. To a certain extent, they aren't meant to do so. It should have been obvious from the beginning that Alicia and Hellinger would lose: for one thing, this is a military episode, and for another, they were in front of Judge Abernathy (Denis O'Hare), a bleeding heart liberal who almost always makes very safe decisions that strictly adhere to the law.

In the other major plot this week, we get the fairly obvious twist that Maddie is going to run against Peter. On the surface, I can see this story working. As much as the show glosses over it, Peter is a candidate who has been to prison and weathered a public sex scandal that doesn't seem to be going away. Sure, its Illinois, and their Governors are very familiar with the inside of jail cells, but still, the show hasn't done much work to distinguish Peter politically outside of the scandals that plague him. Maddie, meanwhile, is a smart, rich, well respected woman who has probably never slept with a prostitute and gone to prison (though don't put it past Eli to dig something up). Why shouldn't she trounce Peter and waltz past Mike Kresteva into the Governor's Mansion?

But surface isn't everything, and Maddie lacks the depths at this point to make the story work. I've spoken in weeks past about The Good Wife's tendency to start with broad stereotypes in its female characters and to color them in until they become well developed humans, but this just hasn't happened with Maddie yet. Basically, she is a rich white woman, lonely because she has sacrificed her personal life for professional success. In other words, she's pretty much every woman ever on this show, at least at some point in their development. And if Peter's political weight hasn't been developed, Maddie is basically a stock-type challenger: she cares about women's issues, but we haven't seen any evidence that she would be qualified to be Governor in any other area. If she's a single-issue candidate, and her single-issue is woman's rights, reality tells us she will lose, and lose quickly, which throws a wrench into the "Maddie as viable challenger" story.

If the show makes Maddie into a three dimensional character, and spends some time building on the political bona fides of both contenders, it could have an excellent political struggle to play around with for the rest of the season. Maddie could become a real, breathing character who could provide a serious, realistic challenge for Peter. In fact, she could become someone I would root for over the still slightly scummy Peter. That puts the show in position to create the stellar drama that its known for, setting a character we know and have come to root for against someone who may actually be a better candidate, and letting things play out in that fascinating gray area. For the moment, though, Maddie is a cardboard cut out, and that makes her come across as a lightweight.

Meanwhile, Eli beats Maddie Post, Kristin Chenowith shows up briefly (and I assume this may be her last appearance, considering her injury on the set seems to have scared her off) to help him do it, and the two delve into some fairly nasty depths to get it done. Also, in the (thankfully brief) appearance of Kalinda Sharma: A Robot in Love, Alicia and Cary worry about basically whether they should be good lawyers to Nick (short answer: they should, if they like being lawyers), and Kalinda explains her love for Nick in the most humanoid-like way possible: "Its difficult for me to be away from him." She may as well have vomited oil and said, "What is this feeeeeeeeeling?"

Finally, Cary and Clarke are still buddies, which lets Cary get in tight with Diane. This is a slight story, for the moment, but hopefully a nod to the audience that the underutilized Cary is finally coming off the bench. It was a little bit muddled, actually, with the show never making it clear why CLarke was being a dick to Diane. I preferred the initial interpretation ("he cares") much better than the silly seeming-resolution (he's reading a Steve Jobs biography, or something), but I'd like to think we haven't seen the last of the "Clarke loves doing lawyer stuff" story, because Nathan Lane is awesome, and the show should keep him around as long as he'll stay. More Nathan Lane, More Cary Agos, and yeah, of course, always more Diane please.

"The Art of War" wasn't a great episode of the show. Its best moments transcended its strictures, but this was more of a retread of the "military" story line we've seen twice before, and the political plot only moved the pieces to where we all assumed they were going a few weeks back. Amanda Peet was very good, in a role that demands a bit of showiness and asks her to play some oft-played material. Eli yelled at things, and that's never a problem. Oh, and Jackie has a sexy Cuban caretaker, which was funny enough to be my favorite use of Jackie in a long time. In short, "The Art of War" is a mixed bag. I hope next week knocks it out of the park.

Grade: B

Notes:

-CBS really needs to get its scheduling together. I know there are "sports" or whatever, but its no wonder The Good Wife isn't a ratings powerhouse. I love the show, I tivo it weekly, and can barely ever find it without missing a few minutes at the beginning or the end. Fortunately, I saw all of "The Art of War," but that shouldn't be a weekly struggle.

-"Um. Why are you here?" "To court martial you...To see Alicia Florick."

-"Global Warming-1, Skeptics-0."

-"Don't eavesdrop." "Don't talk so loud when you gossip." I think I could watch Jackie bicker with her caretaker for a whole episode and still enjoy it.

-"If its any consolation, I do feel a tiny bit bad about it."

-"I can trust a cynic, and I can trust a con man, but I can't trust a hypocrite. A hypocrite doesn't know when she's lying, and that's the most dangerous kind of all." "So that's a no?" "That's more than a no. That's a never."
Tags: The Good Wife
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