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The Good Wife Watch: This Means War

A civil war breaks out in the office, and "Hitting the Fan" proves, if there was any doubt, why The Good Wife is currently the best thing on TV outside cable

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David M. Russell / CBS

You title an episode “Hitting the Fan,” and you had best bring it. Last night’s The Good Wife–in which Lockhart Gardner discovered Alicia and Cary’s plans to bolt the firm–brought it. It brought everything: tension, acrimony, thrills, subterfuge, and comedy. It barreled forward with the momentum of four-plus years of history, plot, and character development. And it proved, if there was any doubt, why The Good Wife is currently the best thing on TV outside cable.

And it brought it from the get-go. With Breaking Bad no longer on TV, The Good Wife is now the reigning champ for consistently best opening scenes on television. (Breaking Bad was known for its short “cold opens”; The Good Wife opens hot, with the opener dragging out until you’ve forgotten the credits haven’t come yet, building and crescendoing into the opening titles.)

“Hitting the Fan”‘s first course ran a good 14 minutes, but there was a full episode’s worth of drama crammed into there alone, with Will and Alicia’s confrontation–”You were poison!”–segueing into a blitz of sotto-voce skulduggery as the fourth-year crew worked against the clock, and culminating in Alicia’s being marched into the elevator by security. Her closing words–”This was never meant personally”–echoed ironically; for four seasons now, we’ve seen that nothing in her entangled work life can ever be entirely impersonal, just as nothing in her personal life can be entirely private.

I don’t generally think of The Good Wife as an action show. But “Hitting the Fan” felt like one–like a white-collar guerrilla war, really, with the camera darting down corridors, in and out of conference rooms, down the elevator to the lobby cafe that Alicia and Cary set up like a rebel compound in the corporate jungle. (Not so fierce a war, though, that Will can’t pass a note on to Alicia to sign Grace’s permission slip. Priorities!)

The Good Wife has spent four years building its cast into a force of magnificent bastards: competent, improvisatory, quick-witted, but none of them, even Alicia, entirely innocent. Part of what made “Hitting the Fan” such a glory to watch was how it turned these suite-fightin’ men and women against each other, like wizards hurling powerful spells–restraining order against restraining order, objection against objection. The existential battle over the business brought out the worst and best in them, as the partners and their troops battled over the ultimate prize. The Good Wife has often been about passion and principle, but it has never forgotten that it is also, always, about the money.

The episode, and the way it resolved, was another example of how The Good Wife works at a level of moral ambiguity that other network shows can’t reach. (Scandal may come closest.) We like Alicia, we sympathize with her, we want her to win. But we don’t necessarily want her enemies to lose–Diane’s predicament, having tried to escape the crossfire and failed, is especially sad.

And even as Alicia wins out (for now), how loudly are we supposed to cheer a governor using the power of his office to secure his wife a lucrative business venture? (It’s romantic, I guess?) It is, at least, a nice gender reversal to see a guy turned on by his wife’s power. And the resolution is a kind of reverse callback to the early days of The Good Wife, when it was Alicia who, albeit with misgivings, used her legal connections to help Peter with his criminal-political problems. But that’s what this show does well: makes you say, “Yeah!” then ask, “Um, why am I happy about this again?” And it allows you the space to hold both reactions in your head at the same time.

So, a toast: to a happy ending? Kind of. For now. It’s complicated. And that’s an example, yet again, of how within the confines of broadcast drama, The Good Wife is making smart, nuanced–and balls-out thrilling–TV for and about grown-ups. Maybe on CBS you can’t say out loud what it was that hit the fan. But The Good Wife has ways of making sure you hear it anyway–loud and clear.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* So many conversational missiles fired in this episode, but my favorite: “We’re taking them. And then you know what you’ll have? A very nice suite of offices.”

* Surely someone has made a GIF of Alicia making the talky-talky motion at David Lee without looking at him?

* One more reason Christine Baranski is a brilliant actress: can say the word “ChumHum” and make it sound dead serious.

* “I need my company contacts saved to my personal cloud. Can you do that?” “You have no idea what any of those words means.” My personal cloud. That’s a kind of poetry.

13 comments
Lucelucy
Lucelucy

Love that  you compare this episode to an action show. I had just finished watching Boardwalk Empire, watched Walking Dead last night, and as I watched TGW tonight I was thinking how much fun it was to be on the edge of my seat with no expectations of imminent death. No tommy guns. No mindless ravenous hordes. No knife in the dark. But I swear those scenes on the staircase with ChumHum had metaphorical equivalents. I was holding my breath.

whykie1
whykie1

"are we supposed to cheer a governor using the power of his office to secure his wife a lucrative business venture? : 

The opposition (Lockhart-Garner) convinced the major contract (Chum Hum) that Alicia's firm was a liability because her husband was going to have such a highly ethical office. He responded to that.

LeaveComments
LeaveComments

Great episode. Loved it. Everyone brought it.

liloleoffice
liloleoffice

The scene when the elevator door closed, and she broke into tears.... no no no....  does anyone cry when exiting the office for the last time.   The writers missed that one,  we should have seen a huge smile like no other on Alicia's face at that moment!

Sterngard_Friegen
Sterngard_Friegen

The 10-27 episode was very powerful. The first season and a half of The Good Wife was about Alicia's victimization. Not compelling. But then the show began to shift to the inner machinations of the practice of law and politics at a high level.  It's pretty clear that in another season or so Peter is going to get indicted again because of a relationship with a woman. And this time it will be his wife. A great turnaround. Very much like the remaking of Crossing Jordan which was aimless for its first 2 seasons but finally became intensely interesting before it burned itself out.

The Good Wife has become the TV show for lawyers to watch. And we'll forgive the scenes that clearly can't happen. (The judge shopping for competing TROs and the violations of First Amendment rights in those TROs.)

Bravo to the best episode of The Good Wife yet.

BigPoeticCanine
BigPoeticCanine

http://24.media.tumblr.com/980bdc1f2a62ab7bc384c58493a209a7/tumblr_mvcvzz2QKQ1qzfqgso1_500.gif

The .gif, as requested. 

I think one of the better comparisons being drawn to this episode is between it and the Breaking Bad episode "Ozymandias." Both have the world crumbling down around the main character, but whereas Walt succumbs to the consequences of the events, Alicia flourishes in spite of them. The sheer amount of tension in this episode was not only palpable, but easily comparable to the heights Breaking Bad reached in its prime (and, notably, in "Ozymandias"). Plus, this episode was filled with those overly blunt dialogue as well as the more subtle, nuanced moments between its characters that made it an absolute thrill to watch. Along with the tension, you couldn't help but laugh at the back-and-forth between the characters that resulted in some "oooooooh BURN!", as well as some very heavy pieces that, when put into the perspective of real-life and the consequences that may accompany them, made me a little scarred that things won't come to bite some of these characters. There were certainly no "take-backs" in this episode, 

Immense amount of credit to the actors. They all deserve awards for this episode. Alicia, Diane, and Will brought powerhouse performances, while Kalinda gave a much more subdued, broken-hearted one. Peter and Cary brought some unusually strong material, as well, the latter impressively holding his own against Diana (a feat in and of itself).

To Florrick, Agos, & Associates!

Jimmy_
Jimmy_

Excellent piece of television.  Hopefully, the World Series didn't tank the ratings.

I hope things don't quiet down anytime soon.  I like this fierce Alicia.  However, the sex scene with Peter was kind of icky, so I could do with less of that.

IPFletcher
IPFletcher

Will letting Alicia know about the permission slip- and the looks on both of their faces (Alicia's in particular) after hanging up -was utterly priceless.

It's funny you mention "Breaking Bad", as it occurred to me last night that this show is no less about the transformation of its lead character than that one was; Alicia was more of a moral absolutist at the beginning of the series, whereas now she's making the same kind of moves she watched Will & Diane make without a second thought. It's fascinating to watch.

As for Peter- so much for "the most ethical administration in state history", I guess. That ship sure sailed quickly.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

@liloleoffice Emotions are complicated. Think about breaking up with someone - someone you want to break up with - would you ever find yourself crying. For a moment? Before going on? Alicia and Will had a long  history - and she is, in effect, breaking up with Lockhart/Gardner. And there were a lot of high emotions involved in the preceding scenes. I think the tears were entirely appropriate. But the writers didn't let it turn maudlin. Good on them for both.

drkoelper
drkoelper

@liloleoffice: Those smiles came later, when Alicia told Peter that she was "too busy kicking a**," and surprised herself with the realization that she actually liked being in charge. 

bvonehwegen
bvonehwegen

@Jimmy_ 

Notice how the sex scenes with Peter are always hurried and more like an affair (little emotion).  The one with Will was tasteful and slow.  I think the writers definitely show a bias.  I was a little turned on by Peter's acts of loyalty.  It was a small thing and Diane was the reason that the firm found out about Alicia leaving before they were ready.