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The Good Wife Watch: Team Red Team!

"Red Team / Blue Team," was a top-to-bottom an example of why no other broadcast drama is pulling off this level of entertainment and subtlety.

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David M. Russell / CBS

Spoilers for last night’s The Good Wife below:

I’ve never lost faith in The Good Wife, but I’ll admit that in the first half of season four, I thought the show was flagging–largely, but not simply, because of the misbegotten Kalinda’s-ex-husband storyline. The show was still able to produce excellent episodes, but it really feels like it’s rallied since the beginning of the year.

Last night’s outing, “Red Team / Blue Team,” was the peak of the season to date, a likely candidate for my Best Episodes of 2013 list and an (almost) top-to-bottom an example of why no other broadcast drama is pulling off this level of entertainment and subtlety at the same time. A few reasons why, in hail-of-bullets form:

* The Good Wife does great courtroom procedural drama and great serial drama, and one reason I suspect it’s been able to thrive with a (fairly) big audience on CBS is that they’re often independent of one another. That is, if you don’t care about the running story, you can still enjoy the trials and vice versa. But when the court case and the running stories sync up, as they did in “Red Team / Blue Team,” the show can really clobber you. Getting to see Alicia and Cary pit themselves, in surrogate mock-trial battle, against the self-interested creature that is Lockhart-Gardner was a real treat.

* The show allows its characters to be messy. No one is entirely unimpeachable here. We root for the firm when it’s under outside threat, but when it comes to dealing with its business and sharing its spoils, it’s as cuddly as Roman senators daggering each other in the Forum. We sympathize with Will and Diane, but they can turn ice-cold–including to their own employees–when need dictates. And yes, even Alicia can act self-interestedly. She’s skated ethical lines on cases before, and she can’t not have known that she was getting the partnership offer to divide-and-conquer the fourth-years’ rebellion (as well as to leverage Peter’s potential election win). She took it anyway, entirely believably: practically, she may be right that she’ll have more power to change the firm as a partner, but the scene showed nicely that even she has a hard time arguing that case convincingly.

* Speaking of character messiness, we should talk about The Kiss, which bothered some folks on my Twitter feed, but did not bug me at all. It made sense in many ways: Will and Alicia still have an attraction to each other, it’s prone to express itself at a time of mutual stress–and both of them realized within seconds that it was a bad idea. What’s more, where the audience was once cheering for a Will-Alicia hookup, the show masterfully brought us (or me anyway) around to seeing the kiss as a terrible mistake too.

* I don’t say it often enough, but The Good Wife is funny! The agonized overacting of the Red Team’s hired actress on the witness stand had me pounding my thigh in hysterics, and Carrie Preston’s performance as Elspeth Tascioni is a national treasure.

* My one quibble with the show: the quick “We’re all rich now!” reset at the beginning of the episode–not the development itself, but the fact that it seemed to compress two or three episodes’ of story movement into two minutes of exposition. But the development itself I like, because Lockhart-Gardner fighting internal divisions is potentially more compelling than the firm fighting external creditior/takeover threats.

* And there’s so much more I’m not even going to get to, which is another beauty of the show. There’s a tremendous amount of story built into The Good Wife–the firm, the election, the kids, the relationships–and rather than try to service everything every episode, or even every other, the show assumes we’ll be attentive enough to recognize a story when it comes back to the front burner. Keep making episodes like this, and that’s a perfectly safe assumption.