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Bond court brings new rules to The Good Wife’s game

Illustration for article titled Bond court brings new rules to The Good Wife’s game
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“We’re being taxed,” Alicia explains to her latest bond court client when she realizes Judge Schakowsky is punishing her. If there’s one lesson to be learned from the current season of The Good Wife, it’s that fairness is not something to be found in bond court. The Good Wife has always presented legal work as a high-stakes game in which every player plays by different rules. The law is never impersonal. Bond court presents a whole new set of rules and obstacles and players. It seems customary, for example, for bar attorneys to just straight up lie to their clients in bond court. But Alicia doesn’t stand for that, and when she sees it happening, she says something. She doesn’t understand the game of bond court, just like she doesn’t understand Perps By The Pound. She’s the rogue bar attorney of bond court. But she’s also learning she can’t be the bond court superhero she wants to be. “Taxed” drives that point home.

Unfortunately, there’s one pretty major component of season seven that just isn’t really working: Judge Schakowsky. The bond court judge is playing an increasingly large role in the season, especially after last week’s little twist involving Eli. But in “Taxed,” it really becomes quite clear just how empty of a character this is. He’s one of season seven’s villain, but he isn’t a particularly compelling villain. Schakowsky is just perpetually irritated with Alicia for wasting his time. That’s it. That’s all there is to the character. It’s enough to create an ongoing foil to Alicia’s efforts in bond court, but again, it isn’t a particularly compelling foil. More than anything, his character is just grating. He just really doesn’t like Alicia, and unlike the vast majority of tense relationships on The Good Wife, this one just doesn’t have the emotional layers to make it all that cogent. It lacks the complexity—and fun—of similar relationships on the show, like that between Alicia and Canning.

But although Schakowsky seems like a nuisance, he exists in an otherwise fascinating addition to The Good Wife’s universe. A lot of great stories are coming out of bond court this season, and “Taxed” is no exception. The episode delves into the ongoing interpersonal politics between the bar attorneys, who turn against Alicia when their clients start requesting to switch to her. Even though they seem unfair and even childish in their decision to freeze her out—not to mention how much they care about their damn game—their perspective makes sense. Alicia is this outsider who doesn’t understand the world of bond court. She’s too determined to fix systemic problems, and that makes her look naive in the eyes of the bar attorneys who are just trying to do their jobs as best as they can while working within the confines of the system. They’re not better people than she is, but they’re definitely better at playing the game. And Lucca tries to make Alicia see where they’re coming from in the episode’s final scene. She tells Alicia directly that she cares too much, and in this high-stakes game, that’s a weakness.

The Good Wife has always pushed its characters to make compromises with themselves. The higher they climb, the more sacrifices they have to make, sometimes going against what they believe. Reese Dipple has always represented that struggle for Diane. And season seven really zeroes in on that theme, especially in “Taxed.” Mr. Dipple once again asks Diane, via Peter Gallagher’s Ethan Carver, to argue against her own beliefs. Only this time, it isn’t for a simulation. It’s for a real case in court, one that could have major effects on the legal status of physician-assisted suicide in the state of Illinois. It’s wonderful to see Diane Lockhart back in the game, commanding one of the most significant storylines she has had in a while. She finally reconnects to the emotional and thematic beats of the show instead of just existing to keep Christine Baranski around, which is what it was starting to feel like.

The case itself is a fascinating one and yet another example of how well the writers organically incorporate really complex issues into the show’s narrative framework. The case is a very strong foundation upon which much of the episode is built, and it touches every character in one way or another. Even Alicia, who doesn’t have anything to do with the case itself, ends up affected when Cary tells her to sway Peter’s stance on the issue of physician-assisted suicide. Hell, even Grace has opinions. The issue works as a solid throughline for the episode. Much like last week’s “Cooked,” “Taxed” is incredibly strong on the scenic level. Even the scenes without a lot of movement to them drip with juicy subtext or just plain, simple fun, like Eli and Jackie asking each other a series of questions as a way of insulting one another. The sequence where Ruth tells both Jackie and Grace exactly what they want to hear is fantastic. And every interaction between Alicia and Jason brims with a sort of tension that’s both playful and awkward. And then all these scenes tie together for another cohesive, structurally tight episode.

I think about season five of The Good Wife often—not just when I’m watching or writing about The Good Wife, but also when I’m just living my life. It’s on my mind so often, because I still think it’s one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever watched. Season seven of The Good Wife feels like a completely different show, because in a way, it is. And that isn’t a bad thing by any means. I actually think a large part of The Good Wife’s ongoing success can be attributed to ow it evolves—how each season is so distinct, despite the show being, at its base, a legal procedural. Season seven, so far, feels like the most thematically driven chapter of the show. It’s fundamentally different from the fiery fifth season, because that season was all about chaos. It was full of extreme emotions. Will Gardner was throwing things off of desks for fuck’s sake. Season five was a whirlwind, and the show was the most fast-paced it has ever been. Season six slowed things down a bit, and season five does so even more. As Alicia figures out who she is again, she’s taking her time, much to the frustration of Schakowsky. That frenetic energy of new firms popping up and going away just isn’t quite there anymore. Bond court is no doubt a chaotic place, but that chaos isn’t really at the center of the show. Overall, this season has a slightly slower pace and is focusing more on painting the big-picture themes.


But all that being said, the whole new-firms-popping-up thing is about to make a comeback. After a few solid weeks of being on her own, it looks like Alicia has found her next potential partner. And from the moment she was introduced, this has seemed like the clear trajectory for her relationship with Lucca Quinn. “Taxed” is a great episode of The Good Wife because of its character moments and the overarching themes that tie its scenes together, not because it’s particularly plot-driven or action-packed. But that being said, there’s some momentum here, especially in Alicia’s proposal to Lucca. As much as I’m enjoying the slower pace of season seven, Florrick/Quinn could inject some season-five excitement into the show, and I’m certainly here for that.

Stray observations

  • Cary says “remember me?” when Alicia answers her door, so at least the show acknowledges that they’re basically strangers nowadays.
  • Diane expertly handles Canning’s bullshit in court.
  • How long do we have to wait until Alicia and Jason make out?
  • I don’t know what to make of Ethan Carver just yet.
  • I do like that even though Peter’s campaign is a pretty major part of this season, Peter hasn’t really been a major player. It’s more about Ruth and Eli, and let’s face it, they’re both more interesting than Peter.