Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies (CBS)

While a lot does technically happen on tonight’s The Good Wife, it wasn’t necessarily the actual events and reveals that had me feeling exhausted at episode’s end, but rather the full-bodied emotions that seep through every fiber of “Sticky Content.” It’s an Alicia-centric episode that shows Alicia continuing to navigate campaign life. Frank approaches her in the beginning, proposing that the two steer clear of negative messaging. He gives her the box of opposition research his team has compiled on her, and of course all it takes is one Alicia glass (slightly more full than a standard glass) of wine before she digs into it.

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Julianna Margulies has been doing incredible acting work since her very first scene on The Good Wife, but tonight was one of those nights where she’s just fully on fire. Sometimes it’s with smaller moments, like her sad smile as she comes across a photo taken of her and Will at a hotel or the shift in her expression when she impulsively calls Peter after finding pictures of him with Ramona in the box but then decides to play it cool. Watch her and Chris Noth’s faces as they sit in front of a camera, telling the tale of how Alicia and Peter Florrick first met. Their words are full of romance and comfort, but subtle looks of nervousness from Peter and anger from Alicia sneak through ever so slightly. Noth and Margulies give perfect performances of Alicia and Peter giving perfect, chilling performances as the happy couple. And if that’s kind of confusing, just look at this photo; it says it all:

We only get to see the glossy paint chip when they’re alone in the car after another campaigning event. Margulies hits the more explosive emotional notes of the episode too, and this is one of them. It builds excellently, starting with Alicia just quietly telling Peter to stop sleeping with Ramona and escalating to “Zip your pants, shut your mouth, and stop banging the help.” It’s a short and simple scene, but it’s loaded with emotions that touch so many different parts of this series. Peter insists he isn’t sleeping with Ramona, and Alicia asks if he was sleeping with her in Highland Park. His answer—“I’m not sleeping with her now”—hangs there, its weight pressing against Alicia as she once again faces the crushing realization that she doesn’t have many true friends. She has allies, sure, but not friends.

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But she does have Finn Polmar. And at last, this episode makes it explicitly clear that there’s something more than just friendship between the two. Alicia shows up at his office after fighting with Peter, and they just sit on the couch together, not really talking about anything. Finn places his hand on top of hers, and the shot mirrors one from just minutes before when Alicia placed her hand on top of Peter’s—much to his surprise—in the interview. Only then, it was fake, a cold performance from Alicia of what her campaign advisors wanted to see. This time, it’s real; it’s a moment so filled with sexual tension that I actually slipped off my couch to sit on the floor. But Alicia stops herself and walks away. Alicia is always bouncing back-and-forth between taking what she wants and stopping herself from getting what she wants, all depending on her emotional state. Peter pisses her off, so she gets so much closer to giving in to her obvious attraction to Finn. She used to dance this dance with Will back in the day, and the fact that Finn is so tied up in Will’s death makes this all the more complicated. But Finn’s also kind of right when he tells her that things can be simpler if she just lets them be simpler. Alicia has always been one of the biggest obstacles to her own happiness.

Matt Czuchry also gives one hell of a performance this week, as Cary learns Bishop could be planning to execute him. When the feds play a recorded tape of Bishop discussing such plans for Cary, he shrugs it off, yells at Lana in an immature outburst of jealousy, and accuses them of trying to manipulate him into flipping on Bishop. But a subtle paranoia creeps into Cary’s head throughout the episode, with fantasy pops to an imagined death and a horror movie-like sequence of him coming home to his apartment and realizing there’s someone inside it.

“What the hell, Cary?” Kalinda blurts out when Cary tells her Bishop confirmed the validity of the tape but also that he, like, totally isn’t going to kill him because they’re bffs and it’s all good. She has a pretty good fucking point. Cary’s no saint, but he is one of the most trusting characters on this show. He’s self-serving in the same ways most privileged white lawyers would be expected to be, but there’s a softness to him that doesn’t exist in the other characters. Alicia’s playing Peter; Peter’s playing Alicia; Kalinda’s playing everyone probably. Cary has tried to be the manipulator in his relationship with Kalinda, but it never really works out for him. He’s the one who usually ends up with his feelings hurt. He just trusts people so much. And when Bishop says “Don’t hurt me, and I won’t hurt you,” he believes him, even though he probably shouldn’t.

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Cary and Alicia’s relationship has been fascinating in its ever-shifting arc: They began as competitors who really didn’t care all that much for each other, learned mutual respect for each other, and now are partners. But while they’ve grown closer over time, they’re still as starkly different from one another as they were on day one, and that’s reflected in Cary’s trusting, earnest nature. Here he is, at the lowest low point in his life, and he still smiles at a dangerous drug lord and hopes that Kalinda could still come around to his love. Meanwhile, Alicia side-eyes just about every move Frank makes and has a general “trust no one” (or “trust no one but Finn”?) attitude.

I’ve been loving just how cynical this show is about politics and the law, especially in this season, which really isn’t holding back on its scrutiny of campaign tricks and scams. But it’s not as in your face about it as a show like House Of Cards, which is so macabre in its depiction of American politics that it’s downright theatrical. The Good Wife criticizes, but it also pokes fun, and Alicia and Frank meeting up to discuss how they want to stay clean while simultaneously playing each other is funny while also getting at just how much bullshit fills this world. Cary is kind of the optimist in it all, which is surprising since he’s also one of the more tragic characters right now. But it’s things like his incessant earnestness and Finn’s warmth and Alicia’s very real feelings about Will’s death that she doesn’t have to play up for the camera at all that give this show a pulse. They’re deeply flawed characters, but we still care about them, even at their worst.

Stray observations:

  • Diane chain count: One, and I feel like the low count of Diane chains lately is really indicating that Christine Baranski is being underused this season.
  • Hello, shouldn’t someone send out a search party for Robin? Diane told Kalinda to give her cases to her so that she can focus on protecting Cary. But, um, wouldn’t giving her cases to Robin require Robin existing?
  • “Eat some potato chips.” Marissa Gold, you are the World’s Best Bodywoman.
  • What editing software were these dudes using to edit these campaign ads so quickly, because I’m pretty sure that was straight up wizardry.
  • Cary noticing Bishop said “phone” instead of “call” on the tape seems like a bit of a stretch, and it’s especially odd since that ended up having a pretty big impact on the story. But I’ll give it a pass, and I suppose it’s pretty believable that Cary would be playing the tape over and over in his head.
  • “Zip your pants, shut your mouth, and stop banging the help” is such a crazy line that I’ve now typed it out twice in this review, but Alicia Florrick was seriously on some ice queen Mellie Grant shit with that outburst.
  • Cary called Kalinda his girlfriend. Oh no, booboo. I feel for you, I really do.
  • Margulies also does some brilliant comedic work in this episode, when she fails to capture the sincerity of Alicia’s first take for the campaign commercial in her second take. Is there anything she can’t do?
  • Even though I’ve been liking what’s been going on with Kalinda lately, I’m super frustrated that Lana is barely a character. It’s very rare for the writers to underdevelop even the most minor of characters on this show, but even though we’ve seen her quite a bit over the years, we’ve never been given much to give a shit about when it comes to Lana. And that makes it a little hard to buy that she’s having any major emotional impact on Kalinda. Yes, their sexual chemistry on-screen nearly kills me, but the writing needs to bring more than that if I’m expected to be invested.
  • The name “Sleater-Kinney” was said on The Good Wife, so I think I can die now.
  • So Peter is sleeping with Ramona, which means he likely has a child with her. Peter Florrick really is the worst.

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