Okay, CBS, let’s clear a few things up.
As a rule, I am fond of any kind of nose-thumbing to The Man, whoever the man might be. I like comedy that speaks truth to power; I like drama that examines the underpinnings of the status quo, if only so we can go on status-quoing with a little more self-awareness. Lately, The Good Wife has been sticking its tongue out at television—all television, everywhere, except CBS!—in its “For your consideration” cards to Emmy voters, in its continued parody of prestige television with Darkness At Noon, and tonight, even with a dig at streaming services (and also NBC Universal).
It’s not out of character for The Good Wife, which also makes some fantastic drama by deliberately flouting conventions that other shows follow. It’s stubbornly deconstructive and contrarian, and that is usually to its benefit. As a result it’s pursued topics that other shows would avoid like the plague—like NSA wiretapping, Bitcoin, and cyberbullying—and gone down storytelling paths that are risky at best. Kalinda’s entire character seems designed as a vehicle for all the critiques the show wants to make against other television but hasn’t totally thought through. And Will’s death was another opportunity for the show to pursue something unpredictable and unconventional.
I admire the show’s sense of purpose—and most of the time, if not all of the time, its critiques are on the money. But The Good Wife is itself a prestige television show, and in the past few episodes, all the snark has taken me out of the story, into instead wondering what the showrunners and writers are trying to prove—and to whom. Maybe this is all a complicated bid for the best drama series Emmy, which I think The Good Wife should certainly be in the running for. But it’s looking a little like premature sour grapes. And worse, it is an attitude that seems to implicate viewers more than it implicates rival networks—or their parent network, for that matter. People like True Detective, but we think it’s dumb—let’s make fun of it with a fake TV show! People watch TV on demand because it’s easier—but ha ha, it totally isn’t! Let’s make fun of that, too!
There’s a reason that the best comedy focuses its sharpest satire for its parent network—because when you attack your own foundations, it’s doesn’t come off nearly as patronizing and mean-spirited as when you go after someone else. The problem with The Good Wife’s satire is that the show is not going after itself, or CBS. And all these things that it’s making fun of serve only to benefit the show or the network—not television as a medium, and certainly not the viewers. After all, who benefits most if True Detective gets a reputation as a dumb show? Other dramas in the running for that Emmy—and network dramas, too, because those tend to sneer at cable dramas. And who benefits most if streaming services look dumb? Anyone who relies on live ratings to bolster their business plan.
What I’m trying to say is that yes, I read too much into the satire of this week’s The Good Wife, but that’s primarily because there wasn’t much else to sink my teeth into. If The Good Wife is going to get on its high horse about its superior quality and the glory of live television, than it should at least do that around a better episode. Most of tonight’s episode fell a bit flat for me, and I’d be surprised to hear if that wasn’t the case for most other viewers. At the risk of using a verboten word, “The Deep Web” felt a lot like filler. Not a big deal—we’re heading into the season’s two final episodes over the next two weeks, so it would be hard to expect endless fireworks. But on the other hand, you know this phenomenon where there are “off” weeks and then “on” weeks? That’s one of the many reasons viewers have chosen to both watch shorter-run series on cable—and to watch the episodes all at once on a streaming service.
Where this episode is the strongest is in the story around Finn Polmar. I incorrectly stated last week that Matthew Goode is a recurring guest star; he’s actually been bumped to a series regular, and that is wonderful. I said shortly after he was introduced that the series was likely to throw Finn and Alicia together as a romantic pairing; the promo for next week’s episode suggests that at least the writers are thinking about that. I don’t know how great it would be for the show—but to be honest, right now I think The Good Wife needs some romantic energy just to keep things interesting. I really felt the ache of Josh Charles’ absence from the show this week, as the drama of Lockhart Gardner’s case fizzled out as the writers work to establish dramatic stakes between Diane and Louis Canning and David Lee. Without Will, though, Diane is kind of a cold fish. It’s not that Christine Baranski isn’t working her damnedest to keep that plotline alive—it’s instead that there just isn’t a lot for her to work with. Now the law offices of Lockhart Gardner are about as boring as one expects law offices are in the real world; a bunch of old white people have long meetings, and no one kisses.
I’m equally lukewarm on the scenes with Alicia. The premise is great: Alicia tries to take a day off. It’s obviously not something she is any good at. But the fallout of her day off didn’t quite ring true to me. On the one hand, Alicia doesn’t seem to know who she is unless she’s out lawyering; on the other hand, she’s telling her mother she thinks she made a mistake becoming a lawyer. I get that I’m supposed to believe the disconnect matters, but I don’t buy it. Why would Will’s death make Alicia question her career? If anything, it would seem the opposite—she fell in love with Will because he saw her potential as a lawyer when no one else would, at least according to “A Few Words.” And though the “romantic” plotline cleaves more to her character, the fact that it exists at all is weird. Why set up a date that Alicia will suddenly realize makes no sense, when it would be easier to just not have a date at all that makes no sense? There’s more chemistry between that guy and his eyebrows than there is between him and Alicia.
And there’s more chemistry between Alicia and Finn than nearly anyone else on this show. That phone conversation isn’t just interesting, it’s intimate; it has echoes both of Will’s late-night strategy calls to Alicia and Peter’s conversations with Alicia about how annoying Eli is. That’s the interesting thing about Finn; where Will and Peter were presented as polar opposites, Finn’s presented as a hybrid of the two. And before you all remind me that Finn mentioned his wife a few episodes ago, let me just remind you that Alicia, too, is married. The Good Wife could spend three seasons working on them, just like it spent two seasons on Will and Alicia. Plenty of time for a few divorces by then.
- This episode was written by two co-producers of The Good Wife: Luke Schelhaas, who also wrote “Goliath And David,” and Erica Shelton Kodish, who also wrote “Parallel Construction, Bitches.” I was also lukewarm on the former, so I’m wondering if maybe it’s Schelhaas’ interpretation I don’t love. That being said, I loved “Parallel Construction,” so it might just be that I didn’t like this particular storyline.
- Local news has a succinct chyron for Finn’s interview: “Hero runs for office.”
- Kalinda’s wine-colored trench coat is perfect.
- “You’re a good man, Cary.” “No, I’m a good partner.”