"‘The Good Wife’ Open Thread: Another Ham Sandwich"
By Kate Linnea Welsh
Last night in “Another Ham Sandwich,” the legal proceedings against Will that The Good Wife has been teasing for weeks finally got started, and the grand jury hearing – which almost resembled a bottle episode – provided a showcase for excellent work by many of the show’s skilled actors. First, a note on the title: in case you, like me, didn’t recognize it, it’s a reference to a comment supposedly made by a New York State judge about how a grand jury could be made to “indict a ham sandwich” if that’s what a prosecutor asked; Tom Wolfe made the phrase famous in The Bonfire of the Vanities.
As the grand jury hearing gets underway, Diane must tell the rest of the firm – but first acknowledges Alicia’s hitherto-unspoken involvement by taking her aside and telling her first. Two things of note here: Alicia is honestly shocked to learn of what’s really been going on, and Diane is unswervingly attesting to Will’s innocence as a matter of course. Is she really that sure of him, or is her reputation and livelihood so entwined with Will’s that she can’t let herself admit any doubt? Or, for Diane, is there any difference between the two? She also tells Alicia not to feel responsible, which of course ensures that Alicia will feel responsible. (Although really, this is Alicia. She’d feel responsible anyway.) Alicia immediately makes an appointment with Peter – supposedly to discuss his mother – and then finds Will and Elsbeth outside the grand jury room. The reason Will offers for not telling Alicia sooner isn’t about privacy or embarrassment or putting her in the middle, but rather about his own psychology of self-preservation: “This is legal. It’s not personal. If I told you it would become personal.” And Alicia wastes no time in allying herself with Will against Peter, going so far as to tell Elsbeth that she wants to use “what [she] know[s] about the State’s Attorney” to help. Her public decisiveness surprised me a little until I realized that, personal feelings aside, Will is in the right and Peter’s office is in the wrong, and black-and-white moral judgments tend to be Alicia’s fallback when she has to justify her decisions to others – or to herself.
Alicia and Peter do finally talk about the grand jury trial, but Peter insists “It has nothing to do with us.” “Peter, how can it not?” Alicia asks. “Because I won’t let it.” And here we have the trifecta, along with Diane’s unshakable belief in Will’s innocence and Will’s insistence that the investigation isn’t personal if he doesn’t tell Alicia. This show is full of people who believe they can create the world in their image if they say things forcefully enough, and their shifting alliances control which world exists at any given time. Those three, Eli and Alicia, even Elsbeth and Wendy – that’s how they operate. The exceptions here are Kalinda and Cary: their strength comes from observing rather than dictating reality, which in part explains why they can be so effective, why they always seem slightly out of place, and why they have such a unique rapport with each other. Alicia finally gets Peter to admit that “of course” the issue is that he thinks she’s sleeping with Will – and then she looks him in the eye and says she isn’t. Which is true, as far as it goes, but Peter knows something’s up and almost smiles as he marvels, “My God, you have changed. I used to be able to tell when you lied.” Alicia offers up a substantial amount of personal and political capital when she asks Peter to just stop the hearing, hilariously implying that he’s been corrupt forever, so why stop now? But Peter – running for governor, don’t forget – refuses to go back to his old ways on behalf of his romantic rival: “Will Gardner is not my family.” Fair enough, but his children are his family, and they’re likely to be hurt in this. And if Peter is thinking about his campaign, I’m not sure the benefit he gets from keeping his office clean outweighs the risk of public reaction to his wife carrying on an affair with someone convicted of judicial bribery.
Luckily, Will isn’t depending on (and I’m sure doesn’t know about) Alicia’s last-ditch plea to Peter, as he has plenty of defensive strategies up his sleeve. The official strategy – the one Elsbeth endorses – is to have the Lockhart/Gardner lawyers called as witnesses tie all perceived misconduct back to Peter in hopes that Cary will tell Peter to stop the hearing before it hurts him. (Elsbeth wisely realizes that Wendy has no interest in keeping Peter from getting hurt.) Judges went to Will’s basketball games? Peter loved Will’s basketball games. Will had David Lee give a judge a discount on work setting up his kids’ trusts? Peter got an even bigger discount for the same work. Wendy is annoyed, while Cary sits and smirks, understanding exactly what they’re up to. At the same time, Will and Kalinda have a secret strategy: As we all suspected, the case Kalinda gave Dana last episode was bait. Will lets himself be photographed handing an envelope to the judge involved, baldly admits that the envelope was full of money…and then produces a receipt showing that the money was for a UNICEF fundraiser. When Wendy demands to know why he’d want to give that much money to UNICEF and Will earnestly advocates for immunizations for Ugandan children, Wendy’s the one who looks cynical and corrupt. And when she produces incriminating emails that Will supposedly sent the judge about the case, it turns out that they were routine emails to Diane, not the judge, that Kalinda doctored before she gave them to Dana.
Wendy has now been made to look completely foolish, so she lashes out. She subpoenas Alicia and asks her under oath whether she ever had a sexual relationship with Will while working for him. (Take note, Peter: that’s how you ask that question.) Alicia admits to the relationship, but when Wendy implies that Lockhart/Gardner put Alicia on the partner track because she was sleeping with Will, Alicia walks out without being dismissed, as Wendy threatens to arrest her for being in contempt of court. Alicia assumes that she’s sealed Will’s fate, realizes that the transcript of the hearing will be made public if Will is indicted, and goes home to tell her kids about her affair before they hear it from the media. But the grand jury has other plans: Once they establish who “that Peter guy” is (a nice nod to the fact that even though these are public figures, not everyone is as caught up in their drama as they assume), they conclude that he and the judge sound way shadier than Will. Elsbeth’s strategy worked, though not in the way she’d planned: Peter didn’t stop the hearing – he couldn’t after his conversation with Alicia – but tying Peter to the case made Will look good in comparison. And Wendy’s attempt at involving Alicia backfired: the jurors think it’s weird of Wendy to bring in her boss’s wife, and I wish Alicia had been there when one juror asked “I mean, who cares who she sleeps with?” Alicia has been waiting two and a half seasons for this absolution, this dismissal of the idea that her sex life is of great import to the public good. Kalinda calls with the news that Will is free just as Alicia is about to tell her children about her relationship, and I really wish she had gone ahead and told them anyway. Their father was sleeping with prostitutes; I think they could deal with their mother sleeping with a decent guy who has loved her for years.
While Alicia hovers around Will’s hearing, Eli gets thoroughly annoyed at her for standing him up for a pitch meeting with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance of Chicago and sending Caitlin in her place. It turns out that Eli wanted Alicia there because she has become a gay icon – “Your suffering has made you iconic” – and when he finds out that Caitlin is David Lee’s niece, he’s completely dismissive of her abilities. But it’s Caitlin who figures out what the GLAC meeting is actually about – they need a crisis manager for a completely different issue than the one they told Eli about – and therefore gives Eli the ammunition he needs to win the client for Lockhart/Gardner. This plot would have worked with virtually any client, so it’s nice that the show picked GLAC as a reminder that Lockhart/Gardner is at heart a liberal firm. And Eli’s stark argument against DOMA – “It’s wrong” – is an encouraging message to hear from a mainstream, popular show. His competition for GLAC’s business is again Stacie Hall, who spends most of the episode trying to seduce him. He gives in only after he wins – “I still desire you, Stacie. The way a victor desires his spoils.” – but discovers after sleeping with her that part of her motivation was to let him know that she’s working on his ex-wife’s political campaign. As campaign season gets going, maybe Eli and Alicia should form a support group to deal with their candidate exes. But it took Eli, of all people, to finally call out the way Alicia gets obvious special treatment at Lockhart/Gardner, in a discussion later echoed by Wendy’s questions. Eli is Alicia’s superior at Lockhart/Gardner, and it’s wrong – “not wrong as in kill a puppy wrong, but wrong as in incorrect” – that she treats him like her husband’s strategist instead. Alicia agreed, but we’ll see how they negotiate these distinctions as the campaign heats up.
I was surprised at first that it looked like Will’s legal issues were going to be wrapped up in one week after such a long build-up, but by the end of this episode it was looking like he’s not quite in the clear yet. Wendy wants to empanel another grand jury, but Peter dismisses her with my new favorite way to say “go to hell:” “Thank you for your service. My assistant will validate your parking.” Wendy’s new plan: get Will disbarred. Uh-oh. I also wonder whether there will be fallout for Cary: He tried to stop Wendy from asking Alicia about her relationship with Will, and could barely contain his glee at the way Lockhart/Gardner decimated his own office’s case. If Dana is angry about the way Kalinda used her, might she take it out on Cary and try to get him fired? The show is off for the next two weeks, but when it comes back on February 19, it looks like Will’s ready to fight his disbarment. With a baseball bat.
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