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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Good Wife: “Red Zone”

Julianna Margulies (CBS)
Julianna Margulies (CBS)
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Over the course of this episode, Alicia Florrick is a weak wife who stood by her husband, a hero who stood by her husband, an entitled, selfish bitch obsessed with her own pain, a feminist activist, a fake, and a caring do-gooder. Those are, at least, some of the descriptions thrown around in the focus group Eli and Johnny put together for her State’s Attorney campaign. As the events of the episode unfold, they change the perceptions of the focus group, providing this extra layer of meta analysis that once again challenges the idea of the monolithic “good wife.”

Alicia becomes obsessed with one of the comments from the focus group: that she’s selfish and entitled. She asks Eli if he told the woman that she started her own firm. She shows up at Finn’s office with post-work drinks so she can seek his validation. “Do I seem entitled to you?” she asks him.


What she doesn’t realize is that in asking everyone the question, she is kind of confirming that she’s a little obsessed with her self-image. When Finn proposes that she attend the soup kitchen he goes to weekly, she jumps at the chance to repair her damaged image, even fantasizes about the focus group participant changing her mind about her and talking about what a great person she is. I do think there’s a part of Alicia who goes to that soup kitchen because she wants to help others. I do think she’s right to be upset about the story that shows up on the Internet later that night showing her cleaning what looks like an already clean pot and talking on her phone, stripped entirely of context and making her look like she’s just making an appearance for the campaign. But I also think there’s a part of Alicia who went to that soup kitchen for herself, so she can feel like the good person she thinks Finn is. The Good Wife writers excellently balance this kind of layered character work. Alicia Florrick isn’t any one of the descriptions proposed by the focus group but some sort of amalgamation of all of them.

A campaign, however, allows no room for complexity. It’s telling that it’s the super fake, Eli-approved trip to the soup kitchen that makes the focus group decide Alicia Florrick is a real, good person. Meanwhile, the truly selfless work Alicia does in the episode is when she takes on a client brought to her by Owen: Jodi, a university student who is trying to get her rapist expelled but keeps running into obstacles because of the fucked up process put in place by the school’s judicial policies. Alicia’s involvement in the case only causes disagreements in the focus group. As Eli points out, the press and the voters want their pre-chewed story. They want the staged photo op, the smiling Alicia, dressed down but still put together, ladling soup into the bowls of the less fortunate. They want pre-packaged, easily digested Saint Alicia.

The most frustrating part of this season has been the deliberate separation of most of the main players. For the past few episodes, I’ve had trouble connecting all the pieces, coming up with a way to explain how all the moving parts interact. I think that this episode makes it very clear that the answer to that question seems to rest on the shoulders of Lemond Bishop. Right now, Bishop is the closest thing the series has to a true Big Bad. And he represents the major flaws behind all these characters. For years, Lockhart Gardner benefited from the “legitimate” businesses of Bishop, and then Florrick Agos did the same. There was never much debate about taking him on as a client, mostly only talk of how much money he brings in. At the end of the day, Lemond Bishop is the biggest drug dealer in Chicago, but Diane, Cary, Alicia, all of them seemed to be in complete denial for so long that this could ever hurt them personally. Informants disappeared, threats were made, but the danger never seemed to come too close to home. It was almost like they all thought he was just a bad guy in theory, the money of course putting their minds at ease and paying for all those nice things they’ve become fond of. And that is because all of these characters have a certain sense of entitlement.

But as this season builds, so too does the threat that Bishop poses. There’s the most obvious example of Cary’s case which seems to become increasingly less winnable by the episode. This week, we finally hear what’s on the tape, and it’s pretty damning. And Cary is coming undone, losing power in his own firm and losing Kalinda, who tells him she can’t give him what he wants.


Bishop’s grip on Kalinda tightens even more, as he asks her to spy on Lana and then slip some sort of plastic card into her wallet. Kalinda crosses Bishop twice in this episode, first by lying and then by breaking the card in half. Kalinda is one of the more morally hard-to-pin-down characters on the show, and probably would be the last person at Florrick Agos to describe herself as a “good” person, but she’s the only one really standing up to Bishop, the only character making a truly selfless choice that could end up costing her her life.

Hell, Alicia is taking money from the man, even as she insists that she’s running for State’s Attorney because she wants to restore integrity to the office. There it is again, that glimmer of truth in the focus group’s assessment: Alicia is entitled. Just not all the time or in every aspect of her life. The campaign is just proving that Alicia Florrick is so much bigger and brighter than the easily defined, pre-packaged character Eli Gold wants her to pretend to be.


Stray observations:

  • Diane chain count: Two.
  • Kalinda’s purple trench coat is my favorite character in this episode. While we’re on the topic of Kalinda fashion, how many silk robes do you think she owns?
  • Hey look! A Grace Florrick sighting!
  • I can’t think of a more perfect choice than the always-cutthroat Viola Walsh to serve as the mock prosecutor for Cary’s witness prep.
  • Alicia spends parts of the episode trying to decide how she really feels about Louis Canning, not unlike the way the focus group dissects her. It’s a dilemma we’ve seen her face before. She keeps asking Canning if he really is dying, and there’s definitely a hint of sympathy there. But she also knows Canning is a piece of shit. I just love that even though she rolls her eyes at all his antics in court and would not hesitate to tell him she hates his guts, she also agrees to visit his wife if anything happens to him. What’s more, Canning hates Alicia just as much (but loves to play with her: “I missed you, Alicia. You’re fun.”), but he’s the one who asks her to visit his wife, too.
  • “You dress down well.” - Alicia, to Finn. I’m trying not to let my shipper feels show too much in these reviews, but seriously, when are these two going to bone?
  • The other great thing about Lemond Bishop playing such a major role in this season’s main arc and themes is that it means more Mike Colter, and Mike Colter is delightful.
  • I really, really want to know what Cary’s Beyoncé joke was.
  • I didn’t write 1200+ words about Kalinda letting her hair down, but just know that I could have.

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