This entire season of The Good Wife has been the nuclear option. I love that the show itself introduced the phrase in this episode, “A Weird Year”—which seems to be a commentary on this season of television as much as it is on the year in the universe of the show. The Good Wife changed up its game in this season, after a few years of living in the space between legal procedural and political drama. As the show’s matured, it’s also taken on more character work. But it hasn’t left behind the drama—if anything, it’s demonstrated how effective it can be to pull the trigger on brewing character drama, whether that’s in setting up mergers, splits, and acquisitions, playing up tension between an established couple, or quite literally pulling the trigger on one of its own.
I think there’s some other subtext to “going nuclear,” though—which connects back to the show’s interest in surveillance. After an obsession with NSA wiretapping that lasted all season, “A Weird Year” sees our heroes with the sudden ability to listen in on their enemies—using a video conferencing deus ex machina that apparently happens to Robert and Michelle King all the time. It’s a kind of ridiculous little plot development, but it balloons into something much bigger—a power struggle at the top, manipulation between friends, and a deep and ever-widening sense of betrayal. It’s the final word on surveillance, in a sense: Now that the surveilled are the surveillers, the show offers a glimpse of just how corrosive it is.
Case in point: “A Weird Year” takes on one of the few remaining solid partnerships on The Good Wife and rips it apart to shreds. Cary and Alicia haven’t been at odds with each other since Cary’s return to Lockhart Gardner, in the third season, but tonight, they are at each other’s throats over the possibility of a merger with LG. It’s uncomfortable and riveting—like watching a slow car crash. It’s shocking just how many times the two yell at each other in public—a cascading rage that recalls both Peter and Alicia’s arguments with each other and Will’s total meltdown in “Hitting The Fan.” It’s the sudden reversal of everything that happened at the beginning of the season, when these two people came together to make a firm. And it’s very much the nuclear option: I can’t imagine that Alicia will ever trust Cary again, now that he’s gone to Canning; I can’t imagine that Cary will ever trust Alicia again, now that she’s demonstrated that she’s not above manipulating the other partners against him. It’s a fascinating deconstruction of how a work relationship functions so closely to a romantic relationship; Cary and Alicia were more married to each other than to anyone else this year. When they don’t work, neither does the company.
Because I was so satisfied with Cary and Alicia’s narrative as Will and Diane 2.0, I never stopped to think much about why they were together. They’ve both shown a lot of care for each other—Cary in particular is solicitous of Alicia in a way that few other people in her life are, by giving her days off of work and asking after her empty-nest syndrome now that Zach is about to graduate. It’s amazing how quickly it falls apart here, suggesting that perhaps they never had a lot binding them together besides delusions of grandeur and a shared sense of indignation at the higher-ups at LG. (It’s telling that they finally stop yelling at each other in the final scene, when $38 million in client billing is offered to them. Self-interest above all.)
Matt Czuchry hasn’t always been served well by the show—his Cary is always a little more important than “peripheral,” but a little less important than “central”—but in this episode, he seems to be taking a few steps more towards center stage. His moments in “A Weird Year” are some of the strongest of the episode—because they’re dark, and hard to parse. (The first: “Kalinda has a way with Cary. We’ve exploited this before.” The second: “Alicia, don’t try to sell me.”) Cary is one of the characters in The Good Wife that is most afflicted with a desire for power, so seeing him go nuclear in this episode is both terrible and wonderful. It provides for a fascinating excavation of his character.
What I see in “A Weird Year” is a finale capping off a season of throwing everything at the wall. Ever since “Hitting The Fan,” which upended the entire series, The Good Wife’s fifth season has pursued every established status quo in this show and then attacked it. Tonight literally just crosses the last few off the list: Alicia and Cary’s relationship; Kalinda and Cary’s relationship; and Diane’s relationship to LG. It surprised me more than once with its twists; I was impressed to see Diane offer to take her clients to Florrick/Agos, just as I was ecstatic and flailing at the idea of Alicia running for State’s Attorney.
But more than that, what the last few episodes of The Good Wife have indicated to me is just how much Robert and Michelle King love spinning a good yarn. They have the wide expanse of network to write their stories—and they take up all of it, with tangents here and there about Alicia’s relationship with Veronica, montages set to classical music, Zach’s graduation from high school, Eli’s phone conversations over homemade lasagna, Howard Lyman saying the word “Indian,” and the many different kinds of looks on Kalinda’s face, as the story progresses. They’re not just in it to win it, with an eight- or 13-episode series—they’re here to tell a very long story that might not actually be pointless but will almost definitely have pointless moments.
This type of storytelling creates an interesting relationship between the series and its fans; much of the past year of The Good Wife has felt like a very sophisticated kind of fan service. It’s because it’s so funny. The Kings are unafraid to play up their characters’ problems for humor, in the midst of a lot of hand-wringing about technology, death, and politics. The show’s fifth season makes the most sense when you’ve been with this show from the beginning, committed to its relationships and power structures from the get-go—because it lets you feel most deeply the triumphs and defeats of these characters, as well as the inherent humor in their lives. I can think of no better assertion of a show’s success than that—it makes you feel as they feel, and that is truly a feat.
Episode grade: A-
Season grade: A-
- I really don’t know what to make of the scene between Kalinda and Cary while they’re having sex. “Kalinda, just shut up. I’m not one of your women. I’m not going to go slow when you want me to go slow.” It sounded abusive to me, and it was weird to see Kalinda take it in stride. Is she even mad? Is the implication that they’re done? Does Diane’s realignment change what happens with them? It was an upsetting scene, regardless, and one that apparently created a lot of disagreement in the writers’ room. (According to the Good Wife Writers Twitter feed, which occasionally livetweets episodes. Tonight, Robert King was livetweeting the finale.)
- “You know, I think it’s odd that he wrote her as Lady Macbeth. I think Mother Macbeth would have made more sense.” That’s a lot of information, Peter.
- Excellent music in this episode, as usual, including a version of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” in the finale.
- The season ends as it began: Alicia staring at the camera, glass of wine in hand.
- “Peachy” is used twice, for some reason. Once, by Diane, while walking out of Peter’s office. The other, by David Lee: “I never rate, do I.” “David, how are you?” “Peachy keen, thanks.”
- There’s obviously no question that the best part of this episode was anything that happened between Jackie and Veronica and a bottle of wine. Unless it was anything that involved Eli and Jackie and a bottle of wine.
- For a brief, shining moment, I thought Kalinda was going to be a political operative, and I was going to cry tears of happiness.
- “What is this?” “A Xerox of a takeout menu.”
- “I see where Alicia gets her drinking from.”
- I don’t care how much Zach wants to escape (a lot), who leaves the very night of their high school graduation for college? (Alicia, apparently.)
- Thanks all for reading and commenting this season, with both me and David Sims. Enjoy the summer, and see you soon for season six!