"‘The Good Wife’ Open Thread: Feeding The Rat"
No good deed goes unpunished on The Good Wife this week as Alicia takes on the pro bono case of a witness to a convenience store robbery-turned-murder who is accused of being the perpetrator. (We actually see the crime as the first scene of the episode – rare for this show – and like another memorable scene, it’s set to a backdrop of NPR, this time an episode of Car Talk.) Alicia is again up against Cary Agos as a proxy for her husband, but this time there’s a wrench in the works: Assistant U.S. Attorney Imani Morehouse has been assigned to work with the State’s Attorney’s office because of concerns over racial bias in sentencing. Peter assigns Cary to show Morehouse the ropes, and she responds: “He already has. Maximum sentence to black drug dealer. Discount to a white killer.” Peter deadpans “‘kay. Off to a great start.” The case against Alicia’s defendant is weak, but because of Morehouse, Cary is less open to negotiation than he might otherwise be. Morehouse miscalculates by assuming that Alicia’s colleague Julius will be on her side in the sentencing argument because he’s black; what Julius cares about, of course, is winning the case.
The judge, played to hilarious effect by Harvey Fierstein, is known to be something of a hippie, and this works in the defense’s favor until it doesn’t: all Morehouse has to do to turn the tables is mention that her grandfather was a Civil Rights leader the judge idolized. Alicia makes some headway by bringing up the issue of cross-racial identification for the second time this season, and in this case, she informs the detective she’s cross-examining that it can cause problems for black witnesses identifying white suspects as well as the better-known opposite scenario. But the case doesn’t really break open until, with help from Kalinda (of course), Alicia and Julius prove that the witness was doing exactly the thing of which their defendant was accused: committing a crime and then, when escape proved impossible, pretending to be a witness.
The case of the week, however, is really just an entry point into the political maneuverings and crises of faith that are consuming Lockhart/Gardner. Eli is threatening to leave the firm if he can’t have Kalinda and Alicia full time, but when Diane, playing her favorite role of The Adult In The Room, realizes that Alicia is currently working on a pro bono case rather than making money for litigation or for Eli, she goes into full panic mode about the economy. “Double dip recession” is her phrase this week, and she convinces Will that if they don’t want to be kowtowing to Eli in all things, they must bring in a bankruptcy department – specifically, Celeste Serrano’s bankruptcy department. (Will: “Have you noticed no matter how high we go, we’re still dancing to someone’s tune?” Diane: ‘Welcome to leadership.”) Diane knows that Will is the best tool she has for getting to Celeste, so sends him to a conference where she’s speaking, and she decides to go tell Legal Aid that Lockhart/Gardner lawyers won’t be able to do any more pro bono work until the economy picks up.
Eli, of course, hasn’t given up on getting what he wants, and goes to Kalinda for help with figuring out the firm’s unwritten power structure. When Kalinda insists that Will and Diane have equal power, Eli calls her on it: “It’s never equal.” Kalinda eventually capitulates and summarizes the situation for Eli, and the audience: it’s theoretically equal but Diane holds the purse strings, though she doesn’t like acting without Will’s approval. The way to get to Diane is through David Lee (the head of family law), and the way to get to Will is through Alicia – even though she’s an associate, not a partner. There’s subtext galore in this scene: Eli and Kalinda both clearly know that something is up with Will and Alicia, but they aren’t saying it, even to each other. Kalinda is desperate not to betray Alicia in any way ever again – and this will probably blow up in her face, eventually – while Eli doesn’t want to acknowledge anything that could mess up his political plans for Peter or for Alicia herself.
Sexual metaphors are everywhere this week, as Eli feels like Kalinda is cheating on him with her work for other departments and Will tells Alicia that he’s “whoring himself out” in trying to recruit Celeste. Celeste herself, though, barely bothers with the metaphors and goes right to the sex: She’s the only person on the show who’s openly assuming that Will and Alicia are sleeping together, and she blatantly uses her sexual history (and hopes for a future?) with Will as a bargaining chip. As she pretends to consider Lockhart/Gardner’s offer, she forces an awkward conversation between Will and Peter: “So, Alicia Florrick, huh? She works with Will, she’s married to you. That must be quite an arrangement. Discuss.” She’s trying to poison the well at Will’s current job, or blow up his relationship, or probably both.
Celeste’s position is that Will is killing himself by trying to act “normal” and needs to “feed the rat” – give in to his baser instincts. In a nice parallel to all the witness/suspect switching in the case of the week, it turns out that Celeste is actually trying to recruit Will to her new firm, seducing him with alcohol and poker games and the chance to be Commissioner of Baseball some day. As she points out, “It’s the one thing George W. Bush wanted more than the presidency,” and apparently it’s Will’s dream job as well. (I’m starting to wonder if Josh Charles insists on “obsessed sports fan” being written into all of his TV roles.) But Will is not, if you’ll forgive me, playing ball, and turns her down cold. Is he giving up, as Celeste insists, or just growing up? I’d argue for the latter: when Celeste asks him what happened to pursuing his dream, his answer is almost shockingly mature. “What happened to work? Not everybody can pursue their dreams. Someone has to work.” “That is so sad,” Celeste says, but he doesn’t buy it: “No. Not really.”
Will’s trying to grow up just as Alicia’s trying to do the opposite; this could either let them meet in the middle or blow up their relationship more spectacularly than even Celeste dreamed. Amidst his negotiations with Celeste, Peter calls Alicia and “accidentally” says “Love you” as he’s hanging up. They both freeze, and he tries to backtrack while not actually saying he doesn’t care about her, while she insists that she understands it was automatic and is taking it to mean nothing. This incident must be in the back of his mind during his final showdown with Celeste, and later, Will’s the one who wants to Talk About Their Relationship while Alicia says it’s unnecessary. She wants to have a fling, for once, and he’s trying desperately to be serious, for once. Remember: timing has always been their problem.
Diane spends much of the episode terrified, and so she jumps into “feeding the rat” as she goes to “break up” with Legal Aid in person. (Will thinks she should just call; “Guilt is for the weak,” claims the guy about to be rendered speechless when confronted with his lover’s estranged husband.) But when she finds out that Legal Aid is losing its funding and office space because of state budget cuts – I love how this show remembers it’s set up things like budget crises – her better instincts kick in. At the end of the episode, she tells Will that she wants to stop worrying about counting pennies and do what’s right, and, more specifically, give Legal Aid office space. And we’re back to Kalinda’s power breakdown as Diane says “I want to do this. And I want your okay.” Will, who has spent the day giving deliberate “No”s and accidental “I love you”s, listens to his better angels and ends the episode with a considered “Okay.”
Lingering questions: How much, exactly, does Peter know or suspect about Alicia and Will, and is he turning a blind eye so that his political future isn’t threatened by another scandal? How long will the show stretch the bounds of credulity by keeping Alicia and Peter’s separation a secret? By pointing out that Will has never met Alicia’s kids, did Celeste prompt him to start thinking about taking the relationship public? And her line about her first threesome being with Will had to have been a reference to this, right?
Kate Linnea Welsh is a New Hampshire-based writer and taxonomist. (No, that doesn’t involve dead animals.) She’s a senior editor at TheTelevixen.com, on staff at Vampire-Diaries.net, and writes about other TV shows, books, and more at her blog (http://katelinnea.blogspot.com). She’d love to talk to you on Twitter: @katelinnea