Monday, 28 October 2013

Something Just Broke; on The Good Wife’s “Hitting the Fan”, dealing with moral quandaries and knowing who to root for

There are many things that The Good Wife does well. I intimated as much in the piece I wrote earlier this week, but of all the assets the show has in its coffer I always maintain that its finest quality is its ability to show just how gnarly work relations are, especially work relations built on personal relationships. (And aren't those all work relations?)

In this week’s much ballyhooed episode two scenes stood out like metaphors for those difficulties. In the first, and more noticeable one, Will loses any sense of a game face and tears into Alicia for leaving the firm and stealing his clients behind his back. It’s a moment wrought with the professional and personal because as much as they’re co-workers, they were also lovers. But it’s a later, quieter scene, with an equivalent pair – Cary and Diane – which hits the point home more effectively. Equivalent, not because of any romantic equivalency but because when we first walked through the Lockhart/Gardner vestibule in 2009 as Cary and Alicia were in a race for a single associate positions the lines of Will as Alicia’s mentor and Diane as Cary’s were drawn. Lockhart/Gardner’s positions as a gregarious law firm for the with a family vibe was its thrust but as the show developed, ambiguity grew and the strength of the show did. Lockhart/Gardner has people we love running it, but it can be a pernicious place to work, familial inclinations are second to the cutthroat implications of the job and at the end of the day it’s not one big happy family. No matter how much everyone pretends that it is.

Oh come on, Diane. This is not a camp.
Cary gets the best line in an episode of great-lines and Czuchry’s pissed off line-reading is worth it, setting the tone for the entire episode.

This isn't camp, it's hardball. Everyone’s nursing wounds trying to console themselves that they were the wronged party when, in truth, for all of its familial amblings Lockhart/Gardner has always been first and foremost a business. Is it a case of a bad situation making our players act their worst, or is the situation only uncovering their alliances? When alleigances are broken and people act out, it's never a case of new emotions but all the previous interactions combining to form a dangerous state of affairs. Nothing happens in isolation. On with the review....

A number of great episodes of The Good Wife have a taken a significant day and used that for that the entire episode and “Hitting the Fan” is not unlike these. “Alicia is leaving the firm with Cary and taking our top clients.” Diane gives Will the news as the episode opens leaving him, in an usual moment for Will, stumped for words. Will has always been a ticking bomb when it comes to keeping his emotions in check and he erupts on an Alicia in a speech where his voice cracks. It’s not just the professional betrayal, but the unsaid personal one. She’s fired, but she doesn’t leave. “I’m a partner,” she says.

Alicia’s stubbornness in remaining until she’s removed from the offices officially is a key window into how Alicia has grown into herself. For once she’s not allowing herself to be wheedled by Will or by the higher-ups, but it’s also a prescient moment of her letting her pride get in the way. Imagine what the wasted time spent waiting in her office with guards at the door might have done for Florrick/Agos in terms of getting their ducks in a row. But that’s the underlying theme of the episode because as much as everyone is battle mode ready to hit at those most dangerous to them everyone is still walking around prideful and righteously offended. It’s self-preservation and pride that has Will making sure the police escort Alicia out. It’s self-preservation and pride that makes Alicia approach the judges Will has burned. Even when it’s business mostly it’s not business only.

When people exist in the same sphere for years it can never be just business and that's the winning thing about how deft this episode is. This is the type of episode The Good Wife has grown to give us. I'm slightly confused by so many saying that the new viewers can and should jump in to the show at this episode because to do that belies how much this episode depends on something the show does better than most of its peers - continuity. I could have done without the slightest of flashbacks at the beginning but look for the pauses and frayed glances. It's continuity that has us knowing just why Grace pauses when Will answers the phone. It's continuity that has Alicia's elevator breakdown seem so familiar and devastating. This isn't an episode with fireworks for the sake of it, it's an episode of bubbling, building resentments and feelings and then everything exploding in the worst ways possible.

The episode throws us two significant curveballs to hone in on the difficulty of parsing off the personal against the professional. One more easier considered than the other. In the weakest moment for the Florrick/Agos team Peter, at a press conference, strongly infers his position on social networking sites allowing Alicia’s new firm to land Neil Gross – the client they so need. It’s an ethically compromised moment. (Where’s Marilyn Garbanza when you need her?) And it’s such a perfect example of how the show confounds its audience. We cheer because for all the issues of the Florrick’s Peter’s best asset has always been his support for Alicia’s career. “I respect you professionally,” is some of the weirdest pillow talk on TV. But it unsettles because this is such a compromising position for his as the mayor and such an unwise decision for him as a politician and yet it’s a moment as conflicted as this that lands the team with the victory they need.

And as all this occurs, what of Kalinda - the other curveball?

I wrote 600 words on my worries about Kalinda this season and then deleted them because at the end of the day I trust the Kings as showrunners more than 99% of current show-runners. But what of Kalinda. She’s still not has much to DO this season, but that’s an aside because her sleight of hand playing Cary for information while keeping her allegiance to Will at Lockhart/Gardner was a potential twist that wasn’t quite a twist. The question of where the Kalinda/Alicia friendship stands has long been in question, in their last sustained conversation (January episode “Boom De Ya Da”) Kalinda mused that she missed their rapport, nothing’s come of that. And as soon as Robin spilled the beans that Alicia was defecting I suspected the lines were drawn. It’s not quite betrayal, but pride again. “I guess I wasn’t friend enough,” Kalinda tells Will when he asks how she didn't know her friend was leaving the firm. And it’s simple as that. Kalinda won’t defect to Florrick/Agos when the situation with Alicia is so thorny. Again, the personal and the professional? Not easily separated.

The question has been at the back of my head since the rumblings of the new law firm began. Who do we root for now? We’ve seen Cary against Lockhart/Gardner, we’ve seen Peter against Will, we’ve seen Kalinda against Alicia but we’ve never quite scene such a decisive shift where main players on either side who we root for are so uniformly divided. Something  very real just broke, and yes broken things can reform again to make better things but it will always have been a broken thing. This is The Good Wife, surely our allegiances are with Alicia? And since, usually any random episode is more Alicia focused than not the answer might seem yes. And then, consider, in the significance of plotting and direction the final scene always reveals so much and we close not on Lockhart/Gardner gutted or Florrick/Agos now forming but on Eli and Peter. Diane has lost her judgeship, because Peter in righteous fidelity to his wife can’t let the events of the day go. And who can blame him? But what of Diane? General plotting suggests we root with our protagonist, the gradations of emotions though suggest that the shades might be grayer.

“Are you sure?” Eli asks him. Peter answers in the affirmative. But is he really? Who’s in the right or the wrong? Are we sure? The best and worst moments of life luxuriate in that ambiguity, The Good Wife at its best thrives in it.Can anyone ever be sure of anything in those shades of gray?

Episode Grade: A

Episode MVP: as with significant episodes the spotlight is on Alicia, and Margulies gives A grade work but major props to all the actors. Baranski in the scene with Eli and Diane, Kalinda's quiet regret in the final scene with Will. And especial good work from Noth, Czuchry and Charles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great analysis and reminder of all of the historically relevant nuances that came into play in this epic episode. The only thing I hate about The Good Wife is the wait for the next blood pressure raising show.