By Kate Linnea Welsh
“Bitcoin for Dummies” was one of those episodes of The Good Wife that revolves around everyone manipulating everyone else. Unfortunately, since Will is facing the very real prospect of jail time and Eli isn’t in the episode at all, the machinations are grim, without the undertone of playfulness this show often gives even cases involving serious issues. To make up for that, though, we get double Kalinda, as she plays a central role in both the case of the week and in Will’s legal woes.
A lawyer named Dylan Stack, who has Treasury agents literally following him around, comes to Lockhart/Gardner because of Alicia’s past dealings with Treasury. (This show is one of the best around at remembering to let previous cases affect new ones.) The Treasury department is after Stack’s client for supposedly creating a new online currency called bitcoin, and they’re after Stack because he won’t tell them his client’s identity. At first, Will is understandably reluctant to take on a possibly quixotic and high-profile case against the government in the middle of his own tussle with the State’s Attorney, but the representative of the brave new world of virtual money has arrived with piles of cash, and we know that Lockhart/Gardner needs cash. Judge Sobel quickly rules that Stack doesn’t have to give up his client’s identity, but since we’re still in the first half of the episode, that can’t possibly end things, and it doesn’t: Gordon Higgs, the same Treasury lawyer Alicia dealt with a few episodes ago, promptly arrests Stack for being the creator of bitcoin himself.
Perhaps characteristically, Will wants to go on the offense where Alicia and Diane are inclined to defense. They try to argue that bitcoin isn’t a currency at all, so it doesn’t matter whether Stack created it. But after some back and forth, including a fun cameo by CNBC’s Jim Cramer as an expert witness, Sobel rules that bitcoin is a currency, basically because it’s transferable and you can buy things with it on Amazon. I wasn’t entirely convinced – Cramer made some good points about bitcoin not having many of the characteristics of currency, including a central regulating bank, and another witness’s comparison of bitcoin to frequent flier miles seemed apt – but at least this outcome meant we got to spend the rest of the episode watching Kalinda run around a cryptography conference in pursuit of the real inventor of bitcoin.
Kalinda eventually figures out that bitcoin is three people, not one: Stack and his two partners all accuse each other in hopes of leading both Kalinda and the Treasury agents in circles. The most interesting element of this is that one of the partners is a beautiful young blond woman, and Kalinda astutely points out that the woman could use her gender and looks to deflect suspicion: Everyone assumes that the inventor of a revolutionary tech product must be male, and it’s satisfying to see a woman turn this discrimination on its head and use it to her advantage. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter that Kalinda is being manipulated, because she doesn’t need to have the true answer as long as she can play Higgs the way she wants, and no one on this show – with the possible exception of Eli – can manipulate like Kalinda. She sets up (and “accidentally” records) a meeting with Higgs at which she promises to unmask the real inventor of bitcoin, and this proof that Higgs doesn’t really believe that Stack is the inventor leads the judge to dismiss the case. At their last meeting, Alicia tells Stack that she bought one bitcoin, but that it didn’t feel real. Stack responds with unexpected words of wisdom that could be the tagline for the whole show: “Real’s gonna change. Just watch.”