Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, Josh Charles as Will Gardner, and Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart (credit: David M. Russell/CBS)
That dynamic is the jumping off point for CBS' The Good Wife, which is centered around Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and begins with her struggles to return to a working life at the law firm Lockhart-Gardner supporting her family after her husband Peter (Chris Noth) is disgraced, loses his position as Cook County state's attorney, and ends up in jail. From there, the series charts the Florricks' attempts to claw their way out of the abyss, Alicia's damaged relationship with her husband and her attraction to her boss/old friend Will Gardner (Josh Charles), and all the political and legal maneuvering around Chicago. Created and run by husband-wife team Robert and Michelle King, the show's central premise is that all relationships are built around influence and the use of that influence to further an agenda, whether personal or professional.
Going back to the "antihero" discussion I mentioned last week, there are two very divergent ways to interpret Alicia within the show. Either this series is about the journey of a woman who builds something of her own and stops being the "good wife" that's defined by the men in her life, or the title of the show is meant to be ironic and the journey of the series is one where we witness Alicia's corruption and how she slowly becomes as manipulative as everyone else.
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“The Good Wife” was always meant to be a show about “politics” and how it wasn’t just something that happens in Washington, in the State House, in a campaign office. It happens everywhere: among co-workers, friends, enemies, companions, spouses. And our main character, the wronged spouse, came to realize that. She discovered that righteousness is often a pose, and that her husband’s enemies were sometimes worse than her husband. Given that, the triumph of our betrayed character was not in forgiving. It was deciding not to retreat into her victimhood. If she were ever going to suffer from any mistakes again, they were going to be her mistakes and not her husband’s.There have been many articles in different publications about the worth of a TV show or movie's title in its marketing, and I've long thought the title of this show was a mistake. It connects to the premise, but it also gives a false impression about the show. For the longest time, I didn't give the show a chance because I expected something safe and saccharine. And The Good Wife has struggled with ratings and has been in almost constant danger of being cancelled by CBS over its five seasons. However, it has consistently been one of the best shows on television over that span, and many critics have called the current season the show's best. The series is a political/legal drama that has created a "world" of recurring characters reminiscent of a more grounded version of David E. Kelley's legal universe (i.e. Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal) that uses Law & Order's "ripped from the headlines" procedural background to move the story arcs forward each week.
-Robert & Michelle King
For example, this season's stories have used:
- If the state botches its first attempt at an execution, can the authorities be stopped from carrying through if the prisoner's attorneys argue the first execution attempt was cruel and unusual punishment, and that executing the prisoner would mean that evidence would be "irretrievably lost" for their broader lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection procedure? The story is based on the Romell Broom case.
- The Good Wife's version of Google, called "ChumHum," sues the NSA over a gag order it’s been issued over NSA surveillance of ChumHum data. And we learn that Alicia and the Florrick family are being monitored by the NSA and how Kafka-esque the procedure behind the decisions become.
- If a couple contracts a surrogate mother to carry their fetus to term, and during the pregnancy it's discovered there's something wrong with the baby to the point the biological parents want it aborted and the surrogate disagrees, should their wishes or the surrogate's be honored? The case was based on the Crystal Kelley story.
The show has around four main continuing story arcs; Alicia's rise from associate to partner and finally her breaking away to start her own firm with Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry); Peter rebuilding his political career with the help of strategist Eli Gold (Alan Cumming); the love triangle between Alicia, Peter and Will; and the infighting between attorneys like David Lee (Zach Grenier) to control what goes on at Lockhart-Gardner. The really impressive thing about the current season of the show is that all of the conflicts are borne out of slights where every character has a legitimate reason to feel pissed at the other.
As Lockhart-Gardner divided, and Alicia and Cary walked out the door to create Florrick-Agos, the show has balanced their desires to create their own path with Will's and Diane's feelings of betrayal.
- "Saint" Alicia No More: During the first four seasons of the show, I thought one of the parallels the Kings were going for with the character is Alicia's inability to get out of damaged relationships. Whether it's her marriage to Peter or her sometimes horrible treatment by her co-workers at Lockhart-Gardner, Alicia always stayed and did what she had to do to make the best of things. So when she decides to leave Lockhart-Gardner this season, it's done out of a realization that as a partner in the firm, even if she was a managing partner, she would always be seen as "Will's girl" and never truly have any control. Will's anger at Alicia when he learns the news of her exit also bears this out in a way, when he berates her for not being loyal to him after everything he's done for her.
- Cary Doesn't Owe Lockhart-Gardner Anything: If you're passed over for a partnership, and have already been fired once by the firm, why should they expect loyalty? When Diane confronts Cary about the creation of Florrick-Agos, she claims to be hurt that he would reject her mentoring and dissolve their relationship, but Cary rightly calls it bullshit.
- The Things Diane Will Do To Be a Judge: The arc of Diane's story this season has been interesting, since you have the personal side where she married a conservative Republican, firearms expert Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole), and is dealing with the fallout from Lockhart-Gardner's division. The problems begin when she is goaded into giving an interview criticizing Will for his past behavior of using client funds for gambling. On one level, it happened, Will did it and she's only restating how wrong it was to secure her seat as a judge. However, Will sees this as a betrayal for which he wants Diane expelled from the firm. And when Alicia and Cary leave, that only exacerbates the problems, since it is Diane that discerns what's coming and warns Will. She also lends her support to Will's war against Cary and Alicia, which leads to her losing the offer to become a judge from Peter. But what else could she expect? Name me a situation where you can support people who're lying about someone's wife, falsely telling her clients that she may have stolen money, and then expect no repercussions from her husband?
- The "Ethical" Administration of Governor Peter Florrick: The Peter character has always been an interesting one for me, since his actions are always shadowed by his flaws, mainly having cheated on Alicia with at least one blonde hooker and Kalinda. However, Chris Noth always plays the character in a way that you believe he truly loves his family and Alicia, and would do anything to help them. That's not to say he hasn't hurt Alicia by his actions, and doesn't deserve to be dumped by Alicia for what he's done. But in the love triangle between Alician, him and Will, I've always been more "Team Peter" than liking Alicia's relationship with Will. Of course, how exactly a certain "Baby Peter" may factor into the show may change that assessment.
- The Problem With Kalinda: Over the first four seasons, Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) was positioned as one of the show's mysteries. Her background is kept nebulous, and little by little we learn more and more, most significantly that she slept with Peter Florrick when she worked in the State's Attorney office. However, after last season's storyline involving Kalinda's husband was abandoned due to fans hating it (and we're still in the dark as to whether she killed him or not), the character really doesn't have much of a direction. In fact, she is almost totally defined by her sexuality, since it seems like every female law enforcement officer in the greater Chicagoland area is a hot lesbian or bisexual that Kalinda can seduce. And it seems like the show might be preparing for an arc where the character has a relationship with the new partner at Lockhart-Gardner, mob attorney Damian Boyle (Jason O'Mara).
- The Many Headaches of Eli Gold: Alan Cumming's character is purportedly based on Rahm Emanuel (with the name "Eli Gold" being a shoutout to HBO's Entourage, where Ari Gold is based on Rahm's brother Ari Emanuel). It's usually through Peter and Eli's eyes that we witness the political stories, which has included stuffing ballot boxes, with Eli trying to balance how to use Alicia to Peter's benefit. The interesting thing about Eli is that, while he's a cutthroat political strategist, he also has an underlying level of decency. When Peter withdraws Diane's offer of a judgeship, Alan Cumming plays the decision with a mix of disappointment and shame.
- Will and the Sting of Unrequited Love: It is one of the worst feelings in this existence to love someone who doesn't love you in the same way, especially when the target of your affection is with someone else and you feel down deep into your soul that you're better. You spend your time trying to figure out the right combination of words, the right gesture that may open up their eyes and let them see how deeply you care about them. And when it doesn't work, the love you feel inside doesn't disappear. It goes down into a dark place, curls up wounded and suffering, and if not careful becomes mean and bitter. You start replaying every moment of your time together in your head, and you become angrier and angrier, and see every second as missed opportunities or times when you were used and abandoned. Because it's much easier to feel anger and hate than to live with that awful feeling of not being loved by the one you want. That is the basic arc of how Will feels he's been treated by Alicia. And of course, it's open to interpretation, but Will's vendetta against Florrick-Agos is based almost entirely into him coming to believe Alicia slept with him and manipulated him to setup the day when she would steal his clients.
From Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix.com:
The best part of the 100th [Episode], though, was the very last moment, with Alan Cumming's perfect spit take as Marilyn (Melissa George) announced that she was going to name her baby Peter. It's a strange turn the show has made with Marilyn, who was introduced (in Eli and Peter's minds, if not in reality) as a temptress who could bring down the governor, before the writers instead made her the wacky pregnant lady with the frequent nausea and gadgets. If the idea is that the two character concepts are one — when we weren't looking, Marilyn and Peter hooked up, and she got pregnant — I'd have to wonder about the timeline (the season's early episodes took place over a compressed time period as the fourth years plotted their escape while waiting for their bonuses), and then we'd be back to Peter betraying Alicia again, which is true to character but territory the show may want to leave in the rearview a while longer. (The Peter of the last few seasons, who is trying to be a better man and husband, but who still has many weaknesses, has worked very well, especially given Chris Noth's limited availability.) If, on the other hand, the line was just a set-up for the spit take? Bravo.Next week: It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and Die Hard? We will examine holiday entertainment.