“Unmanned” brings much needed momentum to the final season of The Good Wife. After the events of tonight’s episode, it’s perfectly clear where things are going, with most of the players making major moves. Sick of the games, Cary quits. When things get too personal, Eli decides to turn against Peter. David Lee gives in to Diane’s schemes, choosing money over power. Diane makes Alicia a named partner, bringing the firm one step closer to her envisioned lady-led legal operation. And most importantly, Alicia finally and emphatically tells Peter she wants a divorce.
The show has been building to this moment for the entirety of its run, and it brings a huge sense of relief, one giant exhale after the suffocating Florrick marriage. This finally ascribes emotional stakes to the grand jury proceedings. Before, the question surrounding the grand jury was whether or not Peter was going to finally get nailed for corruption, and that simply wasn’t enough to get me invested. I’m still not thrilled that the series has put so much weight on a Peter storyline that seems to be like every other underwhelming Peter storyline throughout the show’s history, but at least now, the grand jury has compelling personal implications for Peter and Alicia and their relationship to one another. Peter asks Alicia for one last favor: to stand by his side for political reasons, yet again. After he asks, Alicia inhales, and we cut to the end credits—one of the strongest episode endings there has been in a while. After all of the deliberate decisions made in “Unmanned,” the writers leave a little question mark here, and it’s a powerful moment. Peter has poisoned The Good Wife with messy, circular plots that often have a lot of gaping holes. The grand jury is no exception, but hopefully this signals a shift to telling a more emotional story rooted in relationships rather than politics. Eli’s shift in the episode certainly reflects a more relationship-based storyline for the character than recent Eli developments have. And hey, at least his ear isn’t glued to a vent.
Relationships have always been at the core of The Good Wife’s storytelling. All of the political maneuvers and firm politics through the years have captivated not on their own but because of the underlying character dynamics that inform them. The Good Wife operates best in the space where personal and professional motivations merge. In season seven though, relationship work has been significantly reduced in favor of character work on Alicia and Alicia alone. The writers are so determined to let their protagonist go out with a bang, crafting this new, carefree Alicia who gives zero fucks, but at the expense of other characters like Diane and Cary, who have been poorly written all season. There’s a strong case of the week threading together “Unmanned,” about drones and privacy. Anna Camp returns as Caitlin D’Arcy with a fantastic performance, and Diane and Alicia argue side-by-side like the old days, but there’s something noticeably different about this Diane. As she rattles off drone policies and rulings, it’s hard to pinpoint who the exhausted one is: Diane Lockhart or Christine Baranski? The show hasn’t shed any light on the character’s wants or motivations all season. Her back-and-forth relations with Alicia over the past two seasons have increasingly felt less like a dynamic relationship grounded in actual feelings and more like the writers just changing Diane’s attitude toward Alicia for the sake of advancing the plot. Maybe I’m projecting, but it looks almost as if Baranski herself has become aware of how little Diane’s storylines actually mean something on the show. The once great character has become little more than the figurehead for a hasty, shaky plot. Baranski is still queen, but there’s something very stilted about her performance in “Unmanned,” but she’s just working with what she’s given, and she isn’t given much.
Matt Czuchry has similarly made the best of what he has been given this season. It’s easy to forget that his performance in the very beginning of season six was a series highlight. Of all the recurring complaints I’ve had about season seven, the sudden transformation of Cary Agos from great character to inconsistent, emotionless plot device has been the most persistent. I can’t really point to a single strong Cary moment all season. In fact, his resignation in tonight’s episode is the best and most sensical move Cary has made in a very long time. It seems almost as if the writers have finally acknowledged how disposable Cary has become this season, so the character has become aware of it, too, opting for a life free of the law firm’s bullshit. Czuchry makes a powerful exit, and Cary finally feels discernible emotions within the confines of the episode, but his decision would hit much harder had the character been better written all season. Even here, Cary still acts more as a mouthpiece than a fully realized character, nearly breaking the fourth wall with his reflections on how far he and Alicia have come since they first joined the firm. “It’s been a weird time, huh?” The heavy-handed moment is masked as relationship work between Cary and Alicia, but in reality, these characters have not been emotionally connected to one another in a very long time.
In isolated pieces, “Unmanned” is a great episode of television—one that is complete, focused, smart. Themes brought up in the case—like the fear of being watched—seep into the other storylines: Before telling Lucca about Diane’s plot, Alicia closes the office door, surveils the hallway for spies, and Connor Fox brings down Eli Gold by wiretapping Marissa’s phone. Characters make bold, narrative-shifting choices. Had the writers been more attentive to character motivations and emotional storytelling in the episodes leading up to this, those choices would land so much better. They’re the kind of bold, narrative-shifting choices that made season five spectacular. But here, they aren’t bolstered by the same well defined, poignant relationship dynamics and character work that made those so dimensional and explosive. Season seven is Alicia’s world. All the other characters are just living in it.
- The Good Wife returns in two weeks, and I hope the opening scene of the next episode is just Alicia telling Peter “no” and then maybe throwing some plates at him.
- In addition to Camp, Gilmore Girls’ Scott Cohen and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. also lend guest performances to the case of the week. Odom, unfortunately, does not rap.
- That opening shot was gorgeously composed. Julianna Margulies and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are works of art.
- Peter getting all aggressive and possessive in his run-in with Jason was a staunch reminder of how Peter Florrick is The Worst, but Chris Noth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan give really killer performances.
- Important questions raised by my friend Haya: Where is Grace during all of Alicia’s sexcapades with Jason? Living on the street? Church? A convent?