Saturday, 30 November 2013

Top Ten: The Good Wife Episodes

Tomorrow, my favourite show of 2013 celebrates a milestone – 100 episodes. I tend to complain, sometimes incessantly, on twitter that for a show that’s so great and is on air so much (unlike cable shows which are on for three months, this network show is on for at least eight months a year) The Good Wife is spoken of too little on the internet. This current season examining the civil war between Lockhart/Gardner and the new Florrick/Agos has seen more attention being paid to the show but there’s still room for more.

So, in celebration of what will tomorrow become 100 episodes of Good, I got together with a few other fans of the show and compiled this list – a collective top ten of the show’s finest moment. Each participant ranked their favourite of the 99 aired episodes and these ten came out on top. Here’s what they had to say about the top 10.

10. “Closing Arguments” (Season 2, Episode 23)
There’s nothing better than a cliff-hanger to act as the cherry on top of a nail biting season. That’s what happened in “Closing Arguments” when we were treated to 43 minutes of sinful perfection. On the one hand, things were all business: a first-degree murder trial, a bloody glove landing on Alicia’s desk, learning Lockhart Gardner hired convicts to work in their mailroom (though that poor fellow was oddly less sketchy than David Lee) and watching Will have an emotional reaction to a case. On the other hand, we had a more personal storylines brewing: Owen watching daytime television (and the Florrick’s frustrating offspring), Alicia being asked to act as liaison to Eli during his in-house move and then being privy to the infamous quote, “Without her, Peter is a John who overpaid for a prostitute. With her, he’s Kennedy.” It was an episode that altered the show’s course, but not because of the trial, our favourite brother, the convict sorting letters or even Eli joining the firm; it was those last seven minutes.
Fans of Will and Alicia will remember ‘Closing Arguments’ as being one of the most significant in this duo’s history. Sure, it included tequila shots and jokes about irritable bladders (as all good stories do), but it also involved a $7,800 hotel room, a butler named Jerome and the most delicious elevator scene in TV history. While Mika’s “Any Other World” played in the background, the sliding chrome elevator doors opened and closed, opened and closed. Will reached for Alicia’s hand, they shared a kiss and before long Alicia was schooling Will on how to use a hotel room key. For the entire hiatus we were left to wonder what happened in that Presidential Suite? Even now, seasons later, this scene evokes the same heart-racing glee that can only be described as electrifying. It’s truly one of the best scenes in one of the best episodes The Good Wife. Why? Because it changed everything… and for that, we will forever be grateful.
- Kari Marlowe

9. “Heart” (Season 1, Episode 17)
With a procedural series you have to mix things up and the Kings have done a good job with finding settings that break the norm on The Good Wife. “Heart” takes place in a hospital and the lawyers are all working against the clock. It’s a weekend which means casual clothes. (Cary rocks a chunky knit turtleneck and plenty of stubble. But, alas, there is not a hoodie in sight.) It’s not just the clothes that are different (less cutthroat and professional), but our characters are too the case shows a softer, different side of Will too. The conflicting factors of protecting one couple while maintaining the interest of both the firm and the wider civil suit is a question of ethics and there’s no easy answer other than to try and stay emotionally detached. This is where Patti Nyholm comes in; using her own baby as a prop, as she shows how few scruples she has in her second appearance on the show. But the “Heart” of the title is about the professional life of our characters, as well as their private lies.
This is also an episode of significant “firsts”. It’s the first Will/Alicia kiss since college, the first time Alicia sleeps with Peter since the scandal broke and the first time we see Will and Peter share any screen time. The Good Wife doesn’t use the romantic elements as a lynchpin and it’s rarely the overarching focus. Alicia’s relationships do matter in terms of some of her choices and while the title of the show suggests that this defines her, it’s a path they have navigated well. I definitely lean towards Will, but I can also see the appeal and warmth of Peter and this episode features both factors. Alicia closes the door on Peter Godfather style as she withdraws back into herself. Spontaneous affection towards Peter is normally a reaction to another factor and on this occasion it is her guilt that prompts her to act this way. With such carefully plotted drama, a compelling case, great guest work (aforementioned mentioned Plimpton, who would make my top 5 guest stars on the show and Cumming in his third episode) the only thing lacking in “Heart” is good use of Diane Lockhart. Instead, there are some very fun Kalinda/Will moments and this lays the foundations of Kalinda’s loyalty to Will.“Please don’t end up hating me,” is a line Alicia’s utters in the season 5 premiere, but in “Heart” it comes after Alicia and Will have shared their first illicit office kiss. There are parallels to be drawn in “Heart” to a range of the other 98 episode of the show and it’s the throwbacks and symmetry like this that makes this show, and this episode, so good.
- Emma Fraser

8. “What’s in the Box?” (Season 4, Episode 22)
“What’s in the Box” is loaded with casual pleasures – the hilarious shifts of standing in the lawsuit, the alliances casually made and then tossed aside, and the sheer delicacy involved in balancing such a large cast of essential characters. But I want to focus instead on how well this episode foreshadows what’s to come beginning with that evocative title. The title refers to an old episode of The Twilight Zone, wherein a faulty TV becomes fixed on a channel that reveals the past, present and future of a beleaguered married couple. The reference does triple duty in this episode. The first and most obvious is the ballot box itself. But the more direct reference is the security camera footage of Peter’s goons fixing the election. Where this particular storyline is concerned, the footage doesn’t so much delineate the multiple phases of Peter’s career but demonstrates, in a fairly final way, that his past/present/future are one. Tl;dr: you can (maybe) take the corruption out of Peter, but you can’t keep Peter out of the cesspool.

After three seasons spent in atonement (whether legitimate or not), Peter reveals once and for all that he does not tread the path of angels. We’ve had hints throughout (his casual bullying of the private school headmistress jumps to mind), but now Peter sees something mind-blowingly corrupt and chooses to stand idly by. When the footage surfaces (and you can bet that it will) everyone will learn about the true Peter Florrick, and I look forward to the flying wreckage.
The title inserts itself a third time in the form of the speaker Alicia carries from Matthew Anspaugh. In that episode, we saw a more literal replay of her past bleeding into her present, which ultimately stops her from moving on from her idealized view of Will. It’s fitting that she takes the box of memories and turns up the volume as she takes action to change her future, ending it with Will the only way she can – by leaving Lockhart Gardner with a trail of scorched Earth.And so thematically, emotionally and realistically, the episode could only have ended in one way: plotting a revolution with the only true friend she has left. It was a daring choice for the showrunners to make, and given that the show continues to hit new highs in storytelling, it was the right choice.
- Yashoda Sampath

7. “Hybristophilia” (Season 1, Episode 22)
The penultimate episode of the first season was extraordinarily rich in character interactions, beginning with Alicia and Kalinda going out drinking together. Their relationship has always been compelling, and in this hour, their friendship was at its peak. Watching Alicia prod Kalinda about whether or not she was gay was one of the best looks into their relationship that this show has ever offered. This was also back when Cary considered Alicia to be his sworn enemy, and came at her verbally with a fury for which she was utterly unprepared after she got the job over him at Lockhart Gardner. Jumping at the opportunity to work for Peter’s opponent, Glenn Childs, was the start of his climb back to the top, though we never knew at that point that he’d ever become a sympathetic character. This episode invited back Emmy-nominated guest actor Dylan Baker for his second appearance as Colin Sweeney, who found himself handcuffed to a dead body. As usual, Lockhart Gardner was able to provide a sterling defence, but they weren’t prepared for Colin’s subsequent confession that he really did kill his wife and they had just helped him get away with it. Those kinds of cases with bombshell revelations at the end are what make this show so utterly watchable. On top of that, Baker wasn’t even the best guest star – that honour goes to future Emmy winner Carrie Preston, who was introduced in this episode as the eccentric, nutty Elsbeth Tascioni, then a member of Peter’s legal team. This episode set the stage perfectly for the season finale, packing so much into just one hour and making way for an equally involving season ender.
- Abe

6. “Another Ham Sandwich” (Season 3, Episode 14)
“Another Ham Sandwich” is one of the watershed episodes in the series. The power structure of Lockhart/Gardner is under attack and legal warfare ensues. Will is put on trial for suspected judicial bribery and those on both sides of the case must do their best to come out on top. On the surface it seems like a private problem for Will, but Diane's disappointment is evident. Even though she tries her utmost best to conceal it, there's a strong sense that this can negatively impact the firm in the future. And future episodes prove this. What makes the high stakes proceedings so riveting though, are the committed performances from the entire cast. From Monica Raymund's furious slap, to the amusing psychosexual mind games going on between Alan Cumming and Amy Sedaris. Every actor is on a their A-game. It's an episode of endless thrills and it makes for great television. It all culminates in a grand triumph, a gratifying conclusion for both the Lockhart/Gardner team and us as the audience (albeit somewhat short-lived, as the final scene indicates).
All the shows best elements are on display in “Another Ham Sandwich” – the ace guest performers, the testy romance between Alicia and Will, the courtroom strategies/tricks and the contemporary social relevance (the Defense of Marriage Act is featured in a subplot). However, it's a final coda that really completes the package. Specifically, I refer to a closing scene where Alicia stays home with her children, rather than celebrating with her colleagues. It's a great example of why Alicia Florrick is such a great character. Even in a moment of major success at work, she always remembers what’s important. Personally, I love that Zach and Grace are always such an integral part of the show. The series was founded on the aftermath of Peter Florrick's sexual indescretions, but the kids are the reason Alicia quit and subsequently resumed her law career. The show’s writers could easily have sidelined Zach and Grace, but they wisely chose to feature them prominently in the background. It's these little things that make The Good Wife one of the most rich and compelling drama series today.
- Shane Slater five episodes below the jump....

5. “Nine Hours” (Season 2, Episode 9)
“Nine Hours” is perhaps not the show's flashiest episode and no big truth bombs were revealed (other than Cary's cousin inappropriately wanting to jump his bones), but it does feature so many elements that make The Good Wife so damn good. First and foremost, this episode puts on full display its talented ensemble as nearly the whole cast is present in one capacity or another either working on the case of the week or part of Alicia's home life. Alicia is obviously at the centre of it all, but the rest of the cast gets to do their own things: Will manning the office/courtrooms, Diane in prison with their client, Peter and his team prepping for his upcoming debate, Grace hanging out with her friend and finding religion, Zach heavily crushing on Kalinda, Cary helping out his old firm, and even Jackie just milling about. By doing this, the episode also highlights an intrinsic part of the show, which is people balancing their work and home lives. It's most noticeable with regards to Alicia as she’s forced to stay home while still being the point person on her firm’s death row appeals case, but it's also true with Peter who gets upset during his debate when his relationship with Alicia is brought up. It’s even applicable, though to a lesser extent, to all the other lawyers who are forced to work on a Saturday.
Kalinda, of course, is the person who acts as the go-between between Alicia's two worlds, taking time to share a beer with her and talk about their personal lives while also doing her usual ass-kicking on behalf of the firm going so far as to track a man down at the airport. The Good Wife has also shown a propensity to play with its narrative structure and this episode is one of the earliest instance where the show confines itself to a restricted timeline, giving the episode its title as well as its urgency. But all of this would mean nothing if the case of the week, in this instance a man in death row hours away from his execution with a chance for an appeal, wasn't good. Thankfully even with its predictable outcome, the twists and turns the plot takes as well as the emotional performances from a couple of the episode's guest stars (another Good Wife staple) really elevate it. It remains one of my favourite episodes of the show, which has just gotten better with age.
- Ryan

4. “Ham Sandwich” (Season 2, Episode 17)
When I think of The Good Wife doing what it does best, this is one of the first episodes that comes to mind. It gets to the root of a number of elements which makes the show work but it luxuriates in my favourite aspect – the gnarly ambiguity of the world the characters inhabit. Multiple things are happening at once. Lockhart/Gardner is adjusting to life without Derek Bond, Lemond Bishop is here to deal with his divorce, Eli is considering which angle to attack Peter’s campaign from, Grace’s religious fervour is reaching feverish heights but most significantly Blake Calamar is testifying before a Grand Jury and Kalinda has been subpoenaed. It’s in the way that none of these varying arcs remain independent of each other that gives the episode so much of its effect. It’s the usual gambit of the show to give us victories that never feel victorious. Ei keeps Peter’s campaign voter friendly, but the whitewashing feels uncomfortable. Lemond Bishop wins his case, but we’re left significantly uneasy at the possibility that he may have killed her. Even Kalinda’s success is marked by ambiguity because she escapes the grand jury by implicating Blake. We don’t care for Blake, but it does point to the ways that the law is maneuvered in unsavoury ways. But, then as Kalinda and Alicia sit at the bar everything seems fine, the storm is over. Until a text from Blake reminds us of one of Kalinda’s first lines in the episode. “You ever get the feeling something bad is going to happen?” With minutes remaining The Good Wife is decisively changed. In an episode that has depended so much on the Alicia/Kalinda relationship the reveal that she’d had intimate relations with Peter all those years ago emphatically changes the course of the show. The Good Wife has continued to be a top tier show but I always think of the show in two parts – before “Ham Sandwich” and after, because this episode is the kind that signals irrevocable change. It was like a prototype for the show overall, a success on a professional level only to be severed by a bullet in private.

3. “Red Team, Blue Team” (Season 4, Episode 14)
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, and thus it is not until now that we can realize just how important of an episode "Red Team, Blue Team" would end up being in the larger mythos of The Good Wife's narrative. All of the financial hardship that the firm of Lockhart/Gardner suffered throughout the first half of the fourth season has disappeared and with it the partnership offers to Alicia, Cary, and the other fourth year associates. For Alicia this quick demotion, concocted by none other than David Lee, is a major blow to the respect she feels she deserves. Throughout this series we have seen Alicia become a woman who, thanks to the blows her husband's public infidelity caused, relishes the respect her career has given her to the point that she has become a force to be reckoned with, ready to attack or take any action to prove herself. In this episode this underlying theme of the series is illustrated with more depth and succinct intelligence as any other in the series. The story of the week, as it were, pits Cary and Alicia against their superiors Will and Diane in a mock trial involving an energy drink. This mock trial becomes the literal manifestation of all of the underlying issues and relationships between our characters and slowly creates the initial threads that will be explored so thoroughly in season 5. It is an audacious piece of drama that, while structurally unique, plays so wonderfully on the past and present of the series while setting the stage for what is to come. These actors and the writing have never been sharper, and who can forget that angry kiss...
- Maxwell Haddad

2. “Executive Order 12334” (Season 3, Episode 7)
The episode starts with Alicia being called by a former client, Danny Marwat who is accused of being a terrorist. He was a translator in the Middle East and is suing, with the help of Lockhart/Gardner because he was tortured by the US Military. However, his missions were classified, so it’s almost impossible to prove he was even there. Unfortunately, Alicia gets caught up by the Treasury department trying to find out more information from the client. This is a really terrific appearance by Elsbeth Tascioni (Emmy winner Carrie Preston) who is brought in to counsel Alicia. Elsbeth almost always sounds like she’s about to lose the case, but manages to create a fascinating conflict of interest and gets Alicia back in court. I love the post-9/11 legal wrangling that has to go on in this episode. Alicia is just as puzzled as the rest of us trying to figure out how to manoeuvre and who is trying to win, and taking on Elsbeth instead of the attorney Will finds for her, making us think that perhaps things aren’t all champagne and secret meetings between them. It’s also the beginnings of the investigation into Will’s illicit money issues thanks to Cary’s machinations at the State’s Attorney’s offices. It’s a fast paced episode with fascinating implications all around. The combination of exceptional guest stars, mixed legal ethics all around, and the connection of all the main characters makes this one my favorite episode of the series.
- Jess Rogers

1. “Hitting the Fan” (Season 5, Episode 5)
By the time the credits of "Hitting the Fan" roll, the episode has already deployed most of the story beats we could have expected from an hour billed as a game-changer. One of The Good Wife's chief virtues is that it is always breathlessly paced, but often such pacing tends to stem from the myriad number of stories a given episode seeks to (usually successfully) juggle. Here, though, everything stems from a single major storyline that's been in the making for well over half a season: the complete upending of the show's universe, courtesy of Alicia and Cary's split from Lockhart/Gardner. As a result of this unusual level of single-mindedness, things flat-out happen. Alicia and Will having it out? Opening scene. Diane and Cary doing the same? Ditto. The camera becomes an invaluable addition to this rapid series of events, tracking characters around the offices with a frantic sense of purpose mirroring that of the people it's following.
After that glorious opening, the dramatic fireworks we've been waiting for since this storyline began are basically all over. Which is fine, because The Good Wife is then free to move on to a whole lot of other awesomeness stemming from the two firms being immediately pitted against each other for the business of Chumhum. In a stroke of inspiration, each takes out a restraining order against the other, at which point I basically just started laughing from sheer giddiness. It's serious stuff, particularly for Alicia and Cary's start-up, but the chess match is still just so much fun to watch. And, really, that's the genius of this episode: the joy of watching move after countermove, executed by characters we love against other characters we love. Alicia gets Neil Gross's business, and I'm happy for her, even if the way she got it was through Peter behaving decidedly unethically (though as a major Alicia/Peter shipper, I found him unhesitatingly abusing his office to help her out to be weirdly romantic). And yet I'm also kind of rooting for Will and Diane to destroy her. Most likely the two films will head towards some degree of coexistence during the season's second half. But I kind of hope they don't. I'm enjoying watching them spar too much. It's absolutely delightful, albeit a bit stressful at the same time. And "Hitting the Fan" was both of those things in spades.
- Greg Boyd

Further notes:
  • Season 2 was the season most cited overall with 3 episodes listed, coming in at #11, #12 and #13 were three Season 3 episodes: “Alienation of Affection”, “The Dream Team” and “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”
  • Each season had a #1 episode from someone, and the only #1 ranked episode to not make the top 10 was “Death of a Client” which is at #15.
  • Every season premiere and season finale made someone’s top ten except for the 2 premiere.
  • Eight of Carrie Preston’s ten episodes on the show made an appearance on someone’s top ten. The only two that didn’t were “Mock” and “Going for the Gold”.
  • Other than “Death of a Client”, top 3 episodes that didn’t make the top 10 were: “Running”, “Silver Bullet”, “A Defense of Marriage”, “The Penalty Box” and “I Fought the Law”.
  • Although being the top episode, “Hitting the Fan” was only #1 on two lists. Also gaining double #1 votes was “Executive Order 13224” and “Heart”. 
  • One of my favourite aspects of the show is its excellent work at episode titling, we polled for our five favourite titles and the clear winner was: “Je Ne Sais What” with runners-up “”Hybristophilia”,”Boom De Ya Dah”, “Don’t Haze Me, Bro” and “Rape: A Modern Perspective”.
Which episode of The Good Wife would you be inclined to watch to celebrate its hundredth episode tomorrow?


Katie said...

Even though I'm a Peter/Alicia shipper I really like the WHAT'S IN THE BOX write-up. Although I think Will is just as, maybe more, culpable because he knew exactly what the video has (did Peter know?) and he was using it for leverage instead of just turning the info in as the "right" thing.

I really like this top 10, though. So nice to see two season 1 episodes here, people tend to pretend the show wasn't good from the start.

Jess said...

I just found this entry, but I am glad I did. I love a lot of the same episodes as are listed here. It's just such a great show that manages to be about the growth of the woman Alicia, about the loss of privacy in the face of technology, about how there is no real good or bad, and about how it all feeds into the complexities of politics and the law.

Laura Jackson said...

As an enormous Diane fan (the sort who rewinds and watches every Christine Baranski scene twice), "Silver Bullet" is definitely in my top three. "Bang" is also--Kurt McVeigh barely edges out Elsbeth Tascioni as my favorite guest star. I agree that "Hitting the Fan" and "Red Team, Blue Team" are among the best of the best. "Je Ne Sais What" is also hilarious.

Truly, what differentiates "The Good Wife" is that EVERY episode holds its own. They all contain compelling characters (even the least likeable among them is well-written--Canning, anyone?), singularly beautiful styling and deft writing and editing that moves between personal and work-related plotlines seamlessly.

There are elements of The Good Wife that I don't like. The on-screen sex bothers me. But there's no denying it is great televison. The show's jaundiced worldview, and the fact that I would only watch a limited selection of episodes with my mother, doesn't prevent me from being fascinated by so many of the plotlines, the intrigues, the relationships and complications. And you know what? This Republican is currently reading a Hillary Clinton biography for the first time in her life. Blame Diane Lockhart for that one.