Monday, 30 September 2013

Turn, Turn, Turn; on The Good Wife’s premiere, changes and durability

* Shall I recap the show weekly? More consistent blog updates to come? Return of weekly recaps of shows I watch? Maybe. Probably. Sort of. We’ll see.

With Homeland, Masters of Sex, Revenge premiering Breaking Bad ending and Boardwalk Empire heading to the end of its fourth season’s first third do I surprise when I say that the show I was most anxious to see on Sunday night was The Good Wife? In theory, maybe but when the entire season opener handled itself with the surety and deftness of a show still certain of itself and with much ammunition in its barrel in this its fifth season, I feel my anticipation was more than justified.
The new Will and Diane?

“It’s kind of weird, everything is ending,” Alicia says a minute into the premiere. “Yes, but also beginning.” That’s Cary’s rejoinder. True, but that doesn’t make it any less sensitive in its development.

Of course, though, because The Good Wife is the type of show that it is (part-way legal procedural) it’s not allowed to simply luxuriate in the changing state of affairs as Lockhart/Gardner gives way to Agos/Florrick Florrick/Agos. The episode cannot just be about responding to changes. There’s a case of the week to deal with and this time in the form of as high-stakes a case possible. A not-so-subtle throwback to season 2’s “Nine Hours”, but with effect.

Eli, I’m on a death-row appeal, I don’t have time!

And therein is as good a line as any, even more than the ending/beginning line to mark this episode and – I suspect much of the season as it develops. By having Alicia, at this pivotal moment in her being forced to work on a death-row appeal case while dealing with Peter’s appointment as governor and her burgeoning move away from Lockhart/Gardner the writers are sending us a clear message. This show is not interested in time for luxuriating and extraneousness. Life is going around you, deal with your issues or risk being run-over. Yes, there is a significant sense of ludicrousness that necessitates the death-row case finding evidence only in this critical moment hours before the planned execution. But, importantly, it hits home the metaphor that this is truly a case of life and death while pointing out that even in the most crucial moments of life and death, the universe isn’t waiting for you to find your bearings.
The only one who seems grounded enough to plot is David Lee who, as a family lawyer, isn’t on this case and like Eli and Peter isn’t dealing with a new office. He’s observant enough to notice the oddness of the fourth year associates and hires Kalinda to investigate what they’re up to. It’s a situation rife with potential awkwardness and blurred lines. Kalinda’s poker face is impressive. But, David Lee is a fox, and wily in all he does. The Kalinda/David Lee moments gives us a chance to watch the two together, they’ve been proven as a good acting-match before, but it also raises the significant question of what about Kalinda? Will she defect to the new firm? Is her sympathy for them Cary based or Alicia based? Both are relationships sometimes watered by the show, and sometimes ignored, but the camera stalling on Kalinda mulling suggests she could be pivotal in this move in weeks to come. David moves fast to round-up his peers, though and Partner Alicia gets called in with the other higher-ups. Keep your ear to the ground and ensure everything is fine, she’s told.

Ideally, it would be fine if the Florrick/Agos team could jump ship immediately but the other associates want to wait two weeks for bonuses – money much needed in starting a new firm. Alicia, the only partner, is caught in limbo – loyal, through personal admiration and legal duty – to Lockhart/Gardner and bound by obvious self preservation reasons to Cary. In a nice touch the Kings (who wrote this episode, Robert King also directed) have her wavering about leaving the firm something doubters of the show’s sincerity questioned. What’s the endgame? Will Alicia ever return to Lockhart/Gardner? That’s up in the air. But in what should be a pivotal fifth season the Kings are making it explicit that they’re willing to change the rules to keep themselves relevant instead of falling back on easy answers.

I mention turn, turn, turn in my title, though, because it identifies the duality of the season opener’s goodness. Changes are apace, and as they occur the wheels of change must keep moving, because if you don’t keep up, you lose. There are other changes around like Melissa George as head of the state’s ethics board who immediately throws Eli for a loop with how attractive she is. The idea is prickly because it’s questionable whether Eli is as mistrustful of Peter, and similarly raises the issues of Peter’s inclination to cheat in a rather ungracious way. But, for all its literalness, it is an issue that’s not impossible to sell. Peter does not have the luxury of living in a vacuum and Chicago’s problematic past with governors and his with the law means that he too must adapt or explode. I’m slightly worried about the storyline moving ahead, but only slightly.
There are many things I loved about this opener but one of my favourite things was something parts of season four had me worried about. How can a show like The Good Wife manage to handle its large ensemble without seeming swamped? Forty-four minutes and the episode manages to succeed on the main levels while having solid moments of nuanced performing not only from Margulies but great work from Charles, Noth and Cumming with legitimately good moments for Panjabi, Grenier, Baranski and fine guest work from Tambour, Malik and Goldsberry. The show has always repaid its long-time viewers and we get reminded of so many series-long things like Geneva Pine, who has always had issues with Lockhart/Gardner helping them now. Or, having the same warden from the last death-row episode return for this one. Even the dynamic of Zach and Grace suggests, albeit in a muted way, that the changes afoot in Peter's life will have effects on his children. Those intrepid Florrick children will never leave the drama.

I reveal my biases, but I’m always hesitant about grading openers too high because I always wonder if my enthusiasm for the show being packed trumps me thinking critically. But, even amidst significant time on the Florrick children (a plot-line aside from the main one, but one – small-stakes and all still finely handled) the show has begun on especially strong ground. If I thought I was excited for this season before the premiere, now I can’t wait for the rest.

Bring on season 5.

Further notes
  • “Anal’s what we need right now.” Remember, The Good Wife knows to keep it funny amidst the drama making it a better show.
  • For good or bad this show knows and loves its continuity, Alicia and Will standing in front of the elevator brings back so many memories.
  • The teleconferencing woman! Again, see The Good Wife and its relationship with humour.
  • The two minute preview of the rest of the season!
  • No chance to seamlessly fit into my review, but the music during the entire first 20 minutes was golden.
  • The fade-in to the opening credits, though? A minor thing, but it sure did elicit a gasp from me.
  • Less gasp-inducing is the change to episode titles. Previously the number of words in the episode titles corresponded with the number of the season, but that changed this season with the fifth season opener only having three words – Everything is Ending. Minor but…still slightly sad.

Episode Grade: B+/A–

Episode MVP: Margulies, unsurprisingly, much to work with and she handled it all well. (Runners-Up: Charles and Cumming)

How much did you enjoy the show’s return? Or were you too busy getting caught up on cable TV?

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