Julianna Margulies (CBS)

After a few weeks now of very serialized episodes, “Shiny Objects” is a much more self-contained installment of The Good Wife. At its base, it follows a very standard race-against-the-clock format: The main plotline revolves around a cyberattack on the computers of Florrick, Agos & Lockhart that threatens to destroy all data on the network if a ransom of $50,000 isn’t paid in 71 hours. It’s not quite as exhilarating as past race-against-the-clock Good Wife episodes have been, but “Shiny Objects” does exemplify just how good this show can be when in its simplest form.

Advertisement

Everyone’s favorite red-headed loose cannon Elsbeth Tascioni is not only back but featured more prominently than ever, but the episode unfortunately ends up being one of the character’s weaker appearances. Elsbeth is the most fun when she uses her unconventional thought process to outsmart everyone around her. In “Shiny Objects,” the writers position us inside the brilliant mind of Elsbeth Tascioni, unsurprisingly filled with what appears to be nonsensical mush but ends up making perfect sense once Elsbeth sorts it all out. It’s fun for sure and lets us peek into the thoughts of one of the series’ best minor characters, but it doesn’t operate on any other levels, which is rare for The Good Wife. The episode begins with a shot of Elsbeth on the treadmill and immediately delves into her perspective, suggesting that the episode might belong to her, but the sharp plunges back into her point of view for the rest episode happen randomly and without much focus, almost like the idea was an afterthought rather than the initial foundation for the episode.

And perhaps the Elsbeth-eye view just feels like a distraction because everything happening around it is so much more rooted and narratively rich. I’m less interested in knowing penguins and clowns occupy Elsbeth’s internal monologue than I am with how Alicia treats her in the episode. Here Elsbeth is, the closest thing to a female friend Alicia has had in the awful post-Alicia/Kalinda world we live in, and Alicia ruthlessly prods at her weak spots without hesitation. The second Dean tells Alicia Elsbeth needs to be handled, she intentionally gets into her former lawyer’s mind and derails her thoughts.

It’s cruel but it’s brilliant—just the kind of moral muddying Alicia has become so skilled at over the years. Because as we saw last week, Alicia Florrick isn’t anyone’s saint. “Shiny Objects” concludes with a scene that deliberately calls back to the very first scene of the series. This press conference is markedly different from the first: Instead of apologizing for his infidelities, Peter speaks not of himself at all but entirely about Alicia and her accomplishments. Alicia doesn’t stand behind Peter—eyes averted, in muted colors—but next to him: smiling, confident, and in striking red. The headline “Alicia Florrick’s Journey From Scandal to Spotlight” flashes across the screen.

Advertisement

The headline simplifies what we know to be a very complex character arc bookended by the two press conferences. Part of what makes Alicia’s transformation so compelling is that it wasn’t just Peter’s scandal that made her who she is now in the sixth season. That would be far too simple and neatly packaged. The Alicia we see now has been shaped by her experiences at Lockhart Gardner, her relationship with Will, her falling out with Kalinda, her falling out with Will, Will’s death, and all the other major shifts in character dynamics throughout the series.

So while nothing necessarily gamechanging happens in this episode and most of the plot is self-contained, all that careful character development surfaces in subtle but captivating ways. Just consider the explosive backroom argument between Alicia and Peter, which is great just in terms of how Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies play off one another. But it’s made even more powerful by the fact that there’s so much backstory there. “Yes, I may need you. But you sure as hell need me, too,” Alicia spits at him. It’s the most significant interaction between the two since their kitchen fight in the immediate aftermath of Will’s death, and Noth and Margulies slice into each other with irresistible energy.

Alicia and Peter have become toxic for each other, constantly bringing out the worst qualities in one and another, but Alicia’s right: He needs her and she needs him, and this State’s Attorney race means the two are probably going to be crossing paths a lot more than they have been recently, which would be a welcome development. In the past couple seasons, I haven’t been all that invested in Peter’s political plotlines, because they seemed so removed from all the stuff going on with Alicia, which is just frankly always more interesting. But “Shiny Objects” once again picks up the series’ ongoing fascination with the blurred lines between personal and professional politics and explores the tangled mess that is Alicia and Peter Florrick, which is a hell of a lot more interesting than whatever the pantyless intern subplot has been this season.

Advertisement

It seems cruel that we also get some of the best Kalinda moments we’ve had in a while when we were only just informed that Archie Panjabi won’t be returning for the show’s final season. While I am still in mourning about the news, I do agree that the writers have struggled to integrate Kalinda in the show’s narrative ever since her falling out with Alicia. So far this season, Kalinda has been little more than a leather jacket-clad afterthought, but this episode hints at the old Kalinda: the Kalinda who’s emotionally complex and more than a plot device. For most of the episode, she’s the same Kalinda she has always been: guarded, manipulative, wielding sex as a weapon. She sleeps with Lana for information, and after, when poor Lana tries to tell her about coming out to her mom, Kalinda follows up with a completely unrelated question.

But later, we see Kalinda with Lana again. She starts talking about how she knows Lana went snooping through her files, and it becomes quite clear that Kalinda is very genuinely turned on by the mere thought of someone else playing her the way she plays others. This isn’t Kalinda in manipulation mode: It’s her being more emotionally honest with Lana than she ever has been. But of course, it’s not the kind of emotional honesty Lana is looking for (and who can blame her?), so this time, she rejects Kalinda. She can’t be who Lana and Cary want her to be, but Kalinda does feel and has a lot more to her than just an excellent wardrobe, and it’s nice to see the show finally start to acknowledge that again.

Stray observations:

  • Diane’s glance into Will’s office when she returns to Lockhart Gardner for the first time since leaving slayed me. It’s quick moment of brilliant, subtle acting on Christine Baranski’s part and also great direction.
  • The comedy this week is also on point. Watching Diane deal with leaky ceilings and cockroaches is so fun I’m almost sad Florrick, Agos & Lockhart might be moving back into their old home.
  • It’s hard not to feel bad for Cary, even though it shouldn’t surprise him—or anyone—that Kalinda isn’t exclusive with him and probably never will be.
  • I would like to listen to Kalinda saying “Pussy Riot” on a loop forever.
  • I swooned when Kalinda caught that door in the office so she could keep talking to Lana.
  • That being said, mad props to Lana for finally turning Kalinda down. You deserve someone more emotionally available, girl.
  • If you already miss Sonia Saraiya on this beat, I’m right there with you. But you’re stuck with me for the rest of the season.

Advertisement