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The Good Wife: “The Penalty Box”

Illustration for article titled iThe Good Wife/i: “The Penalty Box”
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Guys! The gang’s back together! There’s Cary, sporting that smile of his, but saying he hasn’t learned anything in the last two years. Kalinda, fearing for her life but keeping it cool as usual, casting furtive glances before she’s welcomed back to the bar by Alicia. And Alicia herself, the same mix of poise, naïveté, do-gooder spirit, and weariness for the law. Definitely the most heartening sight in “The Penalty Box” was to see these characters in one place, better friends than ever (there was always that rivalry between Cary and Alicia, which is hopefully dying down at this point).

In terms of the larger serialized plots, I’m not sure what’s going on, really. With one episode to go in season three, Peter’s gubernatorial race is obviously going to have to wait until next season (NBC picking up a series starring Matthew Perry might not help in that regard). The jockeying for power at the firm remains, but Eli’s machinations come across as a joke in this episode as he tries to recruit Howard to his cause and realizes there’s no operator in the world who can handle him. So all we’ve got to look forward to next week is the denouement of the FBI’s investigation into Kalinda, which has been muddled from the beginning.


The main problem with this plot is the soapy implication that it’s some sort of romantic vendetta launched by the jealous Agent Lana Delaney. Otherwise, it’s too boring for primetime TV—Kalinda being unable to provide a paper trail for some of her billing isn’t scintillating stuff. So the stakes get upped tonight with the clever concept of the FBI spooking Lemond Bishop, who delivers a pointed message to Kalinda and Alicia: make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Obviously, Bishop is a key character on the show in that we hear his name mentioned often, particularly in connection with the investigation into Will earlier this season. But I bet there are a lot of viewers who had trouble remembering his backstory when he popped up here, because it’s been so long since he was onscreen. It feels like the writers are reaching into their grab-bag of recurring characters and dropping him in because he’ll stir up some drama. I like my Good Wife plots to brew steadily, but this is coming out tepid. The previews for next week, with Martha Plimpton and Michael J. Fox, confirmed my fears. Not that I don’t love those characters, but they’re showing up to just cause mischief!


So, with one episode to go, there’s less season-arc stuff than I expected. How was the episode otherwise? Well, we have the special treat of Stephen Root stopping by to play a downstate yokel judge who turns out to be smarter than he looks (but just as friendly). That makes for a nice contrast to his gun-toting judge character on this season of Justified, and the case of the week is a generally good time, bringing back another great recurring character: David Paymer’s Judge Richard Cuesta (who previously appeared in the pilot episode and a few others since).

Cuesta is here to give Alicia another window onto how cynical and venal her job is, because in fighting charges that he ignored evidence as a DA 20 years ago, he ends up fingering an old colleague as the possible screw-up. This moment is played seriously in the episode, and Cuesta harangues Alicia and Diane for forcing him to diss his old buddy, saying,  “Do you think there’s a hell? I don’t either. But then I meet lawyers, and I change my mind.”


But the whole thing doesn’t make sense, at least not how it’s presented. Is the implication that his buddy is in trouble now? If so, the episode should have made that a little more clear (or maybe I missed a line of dialogue explaining it) because otherwise, what’s the big deal? A real-estate agent’s ability to file evidence when he was a lawyer 20 years ago was called into question in a hearing the public weren’t attending. Sure, it’s in the record, but apart from that, who cares?

Plus, I don’t know that Alicia and Diane did anything particularly venal. Even the stick-in-the-mud prosecutor (Jim True-Frost, a.k.a. Prez from The Wire) doesn’t have much to complain about. Root gives Cuesta a sympathetic, sad look during the hearing, but I just couldn’t grasp what the big deal was. Since Cuesta has never been presented to us as someone who represents honor and loyalty (not that he’s presented cynically—he’s mostly cranky and smart), it’s an odd choice to use him for this plotline—as opposed to, say, Denis O’Hare’s judge. But since it’s always nice to have David Paymer around, I’ll stop complaining.


The only other plot revolves around Cary’s return to the firm, which comes around rather suddenly (not that we haven’t been waiting two years for the character to come back). It almost doesn’t happen because Will is peeved about the investigation, which is understandable. But once Peter (unfairly) fired Cary for lack of loyalty, I figured he’d be getting the job, even with Callie in the mix as well. Will doesn’t like Cary, but the idea of him hiring someone he’s dating so soon after the Alicia problem isn’t plausible. Either way, it’s good to have Cary back in the fold. His state’s attorney plots were growing thin, and he definitely needs a new challenge. I hope he and Alicia can be allies in the coming season, since the thawing of their relationship was fun to watch over the last year.

Stray observations:

  • On the subject of next season and next week’s episode: I’m not sure if I’ll be able to cover the finale; if that is the case, I just want to add that I’m looking forward to season four of Good Wife. This season has been a little all over the place, and doesn’t have that sense that it’s hurtling towards the end of several massive arcs like it did last year. Once the investigation into Will ended, the air was let out of the show, but it’s still a lot of fun to watch and I’m sure many intertwining, complex plotlines are being cooked up for September.
  • “Was Mexico beautiful?” “I liked it, I liked it a lot. I’m declaring a mistrial.”
  • Howard’s biggest question in the job interviews: “Who would you most want to spend time with on a desert island?” Cary chooses Keith Richards and Thurgood Marshall, so he must be gay.
  • Kalinda’s scene with Lana was, like many a sex scene on The Good Wife, close to too hot for TV. I wish I cared more about that plotline.
  • Lots of advice being doled out in this hour: Diane has some for Will. “I don’t mean to intrude, but could you please keep your pants zipped!” Howard has this gem for a co-worker: “Hey, you! Coffee lid on the coffee cup! What are you thinking?”

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