Monday, 4 November 2013

Dangerous and very difficult times: on The Good Wife’s “The Next Day”

If last week watching the team from Lockhart/Gardner and the newly minted Florrick/Agos full of adrenaline rushing off to defend their respective territories was proof of the lawyers at their best, this week as the new state of affairs begins to solidify we got a glimpse of almost everyone at their worst. Everyone full of hardening resentment.

“The Next Day” picks up, you guessed it, the day after everything hits the fan. We find Diane in bed preparing anxious about her final case with new hubby McVeigh, Will in bed with a woman of…free spirits and Alicia oversleeping after an admittedly rough day before. The Florrick/Agos team is still influx trying to find office space and having her home infiltrated by the staff is making Alicia testy. And not just staff infiltration, Marilyn Garbanza keeps dropping by for a chat and in the midst of the chaos a former Lockhart/Gardner client approaches Alicia. She’s not familiar with having Diane as the main counsellor on her gun-suit. Why can’t she have Alicia? And so in an especially awkward moment, Diane presenting opening arguments is called into the judge’s chambers. She’s being replaced and Florrick/Agos needs the case files. Diane is incensed. Will, more so. Unsurprisingly, those case files aren’t immediately forthcoming.

Alicia, always savvy in her anger petitions the Attorney Disciplinary Board to force Lockhart/Gardner. You’ll remember them from season 3 as the body which oversaw Will’s temporary suspension. So with Cary and Alicia on one end of the table and Will, Diane and David on the other they argue as to who has claims for the files. Meanwhile the actual suit is facing issues of its own, determining whether or not a faulty gun was responsible for Lockhart Gardner’s Florrick Agos’ client. With one case before the ACDC and the main case there’s yet another case where everyone’s favourite ASA Geneva Pine is convicting the man accused of causing the faulty gun to go off in a robbery. If he gets convicted, the civil suit loses its effect. With a single episode juggling three individual but related cases the entire thing feels frenetic. It’s an obvious stylistic decision on director Michael Zinberg’s part. It’s jarring….but it works. In underscoring the strange position the breakup of the firm has put the show in we’re privy to details we usually do not see.

The Good Wife has always had ingenious ways of sticking to its procedural roots while not actually being a procedural and here, for example, the "main" case is shuffled around so much that it's never really the main arc of the episode at any given time. In an effort to ensure their suit stays Cary works with a defense lawyer to get a guilty man off, it’s a different side to Cary who’s always revelled in the moral clarity of rightness. Things are changing. Fey Nancy Crozier is underutilised this episode since it’s the not-a-trial ACDC case which is the most effective of the three courts. Kalinda is brought in as a hostile witness and Robin arrives to deliver some information to Cary. The always guileless Robin cheerily says hi to her former co-investigator. Kalinda blankly intones a rejoining hello. This episode, like all this season, is significantly low on its usage of Panjabi but Kalinda's simple hello is particularly threatening especially when her disinterested testimony suggests she doesn't care which side comes out triumphant. It's interesting, but unsurprising, that as things get chaotically difficult around her she remains unchanged.

The fact that Kalinda's role in this breakup feels more obvious when less integral arcs seem to be given so much attention. Marilyn Garbanza's appearance this episode hits home the point of Peter’s family being his crutch since day one but it feels like an injudicious amount of time spent on something attentive viewers would already have picked up on. It's a better use of George than titillating Peter, but if TV has taught me anything it's never trust Melissa George. Even more problematic than Garbanza is the issue of Grace. The writers have always preferred Grace as a story arc to Zach (she’s been in more episodes) and although the Grace-grows-up arc has had its moments of goodness (“I just want to be pretty”) this week it feels particularly ungainly. For one, despite her dress Grace is still emphatically immature so it feels unwieldy that she is, or that Alicia would think, that any old man is a potential suitor. It all seems like a too unseemly telegraphed way of telling us that Grace is growing up (“I want to shoot a gun,” she tells her mother) without giving her the benefit of an organic development.

But,  most baffling, is Will's girlfriend. It's such an odd role since we don't need a glimpse into Will's personal life to know he's taking the breakup badly, more so when unnamed girlfriend is spewing off lines like "I want your baby" and "You should get a tattoo". But, tonally, it's all contributing to Zinberg's concept of this episode where everything feels out of place. The Florrick/Agos team uncomfortably in Alicia's house, former colleagues unusually at loggerheads, the craziness of attorneys being replaced then re-replaced. The times are difficult and unusual.

Because, as par for the course for The Good Wife there is so much going on that the bits which give me pause are eclipsed by the moments which are so excellently rendered. In fact the chaos of Nancy and Grace seem like an odd type of pathetic fallacy extension of the difficult craziness ensuing elsewhere with the Lockhart/Gardner and Florrick/Agos war. And with the crazy nastiness in full swing the episode ends with a moment of discomfort. Lockhart/Gardner is reinstated as attorneys to the pain of Florrick/Agos. “We just want what’s best for our client,” Alicia said earlier. A noble sentiment, but an untrue one. Sure they want the best for the client but only inasmuch as their firm succeeds. They’re human after all. And when the episode ends we realise how dangerous and difficult it’s going to be. All bets are off.

EPISODE MVP: fine moments from Margulies, Charles and Baranski but I’ll give this one to Czuchry

No comments: