For most of this back-half of season six, it has been getting harder and harder to remember the extreme momentum The Good Wife once had. Season five blew things up, only to rebuild the story and keep it going. That dynamism is in the distant past. Ever since The Good Wife returned from its long midseason break, the plotlines have danced in place. Tonight’s episode isn’t only disjointed like so much of this season has been; it’s stationary.
The first half of the episode quite literally just shows people sitting or standing in place. Journalist Petra Moritz (Lily Rabe) sits with her video editor and articulates instructions for putting together a profile piece on Alicia. I’ll forgive the scene for making the video editing process look as simple as it does, but I won’t forgive it for being boring as hell. And there isn’t just one! There are multiple scenes showing Petra tinkering with her video. Look, I love Lily Rabe a whole lot, but she isn’t given much to do here. And the editing sequences just feel gimmicky, a way for The Good Wife’s own editors to play around with some stylized visuals.
In tonight’s episode, all of Alicia Florricks personal and work emails from the past five years leak to the press! That should be a really huge deal or at least enough conflict rooted in real emotional backstory to make for exciting and meaningful drama. Instead, it’s hard to care about the leak and its effects on Alicia, because the writers bury the storyline under a lot of unnecessary junk like journalism ethics. Petra doesn’t have any ties to the show’s pathos; she’s just a device, and not even a fun one. Sure, she has only been in a few episodes, but The Good Wife’s writers are usually so great at giving depth to even the smallest of players (take, for example, Wiley, whose scenes here are elevated by the mere presence of his hyperactive children).
Even more stationary is Diane Lockhart’s plot, which places her in a room with a bunch of conservatives so she can play devil’s advocate…again. Only this time, it isn’t about abortion. It’s about gay marriage and religious freedom. Though the timing is coincidental, this part of the episode, on paper, has real-life relevance to Indiana’s new religious objections law. But Lockhart and her new ultra-conservative client R.D. argue about the issue in such broad terms that the whole initial debate, along with the mock trial, just sound like The Good Wife is rattling off conservative and liberal talking points. Plus, the first few debate scenes try to add movement by cutting to visual representations of the scenarios Lockhart and the squad of conservatives describe, but it comes off as gimmicky as the video editing scenes.
If I wanted to watch a bunch of rich, heterosexual, white people sit around and debate gay marriage and religious freedom based on the laws, I would go back to public policy school. There’s a lofty liberalism to the way this episode interrogates LGBTQ rights that lacks nuance and smarts. It’s a very safe story that lets Diane do her thing but never really says anything. For all of Diane’s talk of making the issue personal, the writers still never give the storyline any significance or urgency that’s rooted in characters we know or care about. It’s all a lot like watching actors fake their way through a mock trial.
It’s also just tough for me to swallow such a ham-fisted plot about the politics of LGBTQ rights when this show has driven its only major queer character into a ditch. Remember Kalinda Sharma? I do, but the writers don’t seem to. Even though she has her own story going on in this episode, it’s just a formality, a way of lining up the pieces neatly for Archie Panjabi’s exit at the end of the season. In the early days of Kalinda’s character arc on this show, The Good Wife actually had little glimmers of radical queerness. I was always struck by how the writers didn’t box Kalinda into a particular sexual identity in the first few seasons, letting the character sleep with men and women and not limiting her to any identity that reinforced gender binaries. Kalinda was written as queer, and even though Cary and Alicia would constantly try to categorize her, the show itself did not. Those days are long behind The Good Wife though, as Kalinda no longer has any emotional significance on the show. Right now, she’s just a plotline with a predictable ending, as the truth about how she tampered with metadata during Cary’s case is just on the brink of coming out. The Good Wife writers can spew out as many talking points about gay marriage and religious freedom as they want, but none of it will ever be as compelling as the quiet radicalness of Kalinda back when she used to be a real character who wasn’t boxed into stories she can’t break out of.
Technically, Kalinda is the only character moving in this episode. Physically, she runs all over the place, jumping out of the elevator and dashing down the office halls to find out what Wiley’s up to. Cary—whose relevance on the show is becoming less and less clear, unfortunately—slows her down for a second to ask what’s wrong, and both the characters and writers seem to have forgotten the two have any shared history, their interaction playing as robotic and devoid of any emotional significance. So she’s physically on the move, but Kalinda’s plot here is also the only one in the episode with any new development to it. That being said, there are few stakes to the new developments, as Kalinda has become so detached from every other character and hasn’t been given enough narrative control lately to make us invested in what’s going on with her.
“Loser Edit” isn’t without small, strong character moments more reminiscent of what this show is capable of. The scene between Peter and Alicia is really quite lovely, and this is coming from someone who would be fine if Peter Florrick dropped dead of a heart attack. I particularly loved the line “It’s like watching two other people drink.” I’m unconvinced the writers will be able to correct the mishandling of Kalinda Sharma as a character before her time is up. But Kalinda isn’t the only character problem this season. The conflicts of “Loser Edit” aren’t rooted at all in characters or relationships—even Alicia’s email scandal. If the writers hope to recapture the emotional force this show once had, it needs to start with remembering who its characters are and letting the main players interact with each other instead of wandering off into their own little muddled storylines. I’ll just be over here waiting for the series to remember it’s a show and not a soapbox.
- According to Marissa Gold, the two-prong attack was something the Gold family used all the time when she was growing up. Of course it was.
- The one stylized editing choice I did enjoy here is when excerpts from Alicia’s hacked emails float on top of the usual title card.
- Another elections fraud scandal! Because this show hasn’t done enough of those yet!
- Seriously, what is the point of Cary Agos anymore? It’s hard to believe I spent the first part of this season fantasizing about a Matt Czuchry awards campaign. (Czuchry isn’t the problem here, but it’s kind of hard to remember how great of an actor he is when all he does is say “hey what’s up” to other characters.)
- At least we can always count on one thing when it comes to The Good Wife: Alicia Florrick drinking red wine.