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The Good Wife: “Executive Order 13224”

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God, I love it when The Good Wife teaches AND entertains me. The minute I saw that title, “Executive Order 13224,” I did what every red-blooded American does, went to Google and found out what it was. I learned that it was some Bush-era terrorism-related thing with a Wikipedia article too long for me to parse quickly. So instead I leaned back and let Good Wife do the work for me in what was its best episode of the season so far, although it did sadly lack any appearance by Eli (who probably would have crowded things a little too much).

This episode had a lot of the magic stuff that makes The Good Wife great. First, it thrust us into a weird legal world as Lockhart/Gardner try to sue the US Government over the imprisonment and torture of an Afghan-American. Diane and Alicia had to work on evidence they weren’t allowed to see and try to make a case based on suggestion and innuendo alone, no easy feat. The case turns around about halfway through when it becomes clear the guy met with a suspected terrorist, although probably under innocent circumstances; we’re left to make a judgment call there, which keeps everything from getting too didactic.


That’s where things got really interesting. When Marwat (I think this is how his name is spelled, as CBS’ site is not too helpful) becomes a target of the Feds (including the welcome return of Glenn Childs, now an Assistant U.S. Attorney, definitely a step down for him but still a decent job), the firm is suddenly at risk, Alicia most of all since she was being interviewed by a softly-spoken Treasury official played by Bob Balaban who could effectively skirt the attorney-client privilege because of the magical, terrorism-related executive order that came about post-9/11.

I love how Good Wife takes advantage of its pregnant pauses in these kinds of situations. Even if we’re not yet fully up to speed on all the legal implications, Alicia’s interviews with Balaban were wonderfully charged. He presented a friendly face but with the implication of true steel behind it if Alicia tried to resist his approach. (He essentially wanted her spying on her client, who would be speaking as if he had attorney-client privilege to her, and could legally get away with doing that.) When Alicia goes to Diane and Will over the situation, they offer up a lawyer, but a whole series of pauses and hushed conversations there quickly convinces her that the firm is going to consider itself first and her second when it comes to Federal prosecution.

Finally, we had another wonderful recurring character show her face again: Elsbeth Tascioni, who was a deceptively flaky member of Peter’s legal team back in season one and was up to the same tricks here for Alicia. Carrie Preston, whom I sometimes feel bad for ragging on in my True Blood reviews, is a wonderful actress and does a great job with Elsbeth, who was in her element here, cooking up legal loopholes for Alicia to fight the legal loopholes she was already being confronted with. The “look at all this paper” line was a little baffling when she gave it to Alicia (although I got that it would be paying off in a future scene), but her scheme fell into place very nicely.

This was a fine example of characters coming up against, and possibly having to skirt, legal and moral lines that other shows wouldn’t challenge. Diane and Will’s conflicted feelings on the case didn’t feel polemical (although Will’s “I saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon” line was a little much). Alicia certainly came close to violating the titular executive order and only dodged it through a mix of delay tactics and vague conspiracy. Best of all was that scene where Diane tries to order Alicia out of the room when the client mentions visiting a sensitive area of Afghanistan. Everyone freezes, as if in fear that there are government cameras on them as they speak, and she backtracks, using the most legally reasonable language possible.


It was perfect that in an episode about everyone keeping things hidden or redacted (the multiple recreations of court testimony with long redactions bleeps were priceless) that the battle is won when Diane and Alicia successfully argue that the government’s case against their client can’t be proved because almost all of the evidence against him is being kept secret. The country’s clandestine laws both help and hinder, in a nice bit of irony that mirrors Childs’ original argument from the start of the episode. It really made the whole thing very satisfying.

The side-plot, in which Peter orders Cary to take control of the (until now, seemingly dormant) investigation of Lockhart/Gardner based on tips by Blake, echoed the same themes as the main plot. Peter, who is doing his level best to stay on the straight-and-narrow, insists that he’s pursuing the case not because of personal animosity towards Will (whose youthful indiscretion is the origin point for the case) but on the merits. For now, I’m willing to believe him, as he managed to stay totally lawyerly in a very heated confrontation with Will.


But Cary knows better, better even than his boss, about how personal feeling can drive a case. He has sympathies for Lockhart/Gardner, especially when it comes to Kalinda. At the same time, as he tells Dana, he has real animosity too, and vowed when they laid him off to come at them twice as hard and show them what a good lawyer he could be. He tries to warn Peter off the case, and once he and Dana are talking to Will it’s clear why. The whole thing is such a thorny mess of personal and professional conflicts, it’s going to be near-impossible to parse out if it ever gets to trial.

In a season that’s lacked a lot of major arcs so far (Celeste has gone missing, and Romany Malco hasn’t shown up a second time), this is the best one for the show to pursue and I’m happy the producers are doing it. It doesn’t feel like a retread of Childs’ hatred for the firm last year because Peter and Cary (and even Dana, who I like a lot) are much more nuanced, interesting characters. Sure, we’ve also got Alicia and Will (who are gradually tipping their hand re: the affair to everyone in the firm, Diane this week) and Grace’s interest in Christianity reared its ugly head again this week (ugh), but this is the main event. Hope the show keeps this pace up.


Stray observations:

  • It’d be good to have Lamond Bishop show up again; right now this show’s back-story is getting pretty deep, and I’m sure new viewers have no idea what’s going on with him.
  • “So you didn't ask Alicia to step outside.” “No, I did, but then I thought better of it.” “Oh…kay.”
  • Caitlin impresses once again with a cool pull from the redaction about a soldier’s name being “curt.”
  • Oh, that sexual harassment video (payback from Diane re: Will/Alicia) was just priceless.

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