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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.