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The Good Wife: “Trust Issues”

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In an episode packed with fascinating moments, there’s one that stuck out to me in “Trust Issues”: the scene that calls Alicia to the witness stand to testify the whole truth, so help her God. We’ve seen Alicia testify before, in much more charged settings, so by comparison the scene here is relatively anticlimactic. But it’s a microcosm of a situation that keeps repeating in this episode: Alicia is put on the spot. And then she has to say something, when all eyes are on her. And… she hesitates.

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I liked “Trust Issues” more than last week’s “The Line,” though I’m pretty sure “The Line” is, strictly speaking, a better episode. The season premiere has a narrow focus and brings it all to bear on one specific point of execution: Cary’s possibly long-term imprisonment. “Trust Issues” is the second episode of the series and has more to do, so it can’t be quite as cinematically closed-ended. But it hits hard—harder, in some ways, because it can build on the emotional impact of “The Line.” And this mess of tangled loyalties and complicated relationships is the beating heart of what The Good Wife is good at; it’s the perpetual gray area, limned with characters we don’t know but are assured know everyone else and a whole host of people who say one thing and mean another entirely.

Which is why Alicia on the witness stand is so fascinating. The courtroom is barely paying attention to her—repeatedly in this episode, there is background noise crowding into the foreground, in bond court, at Florrick/Agos, and even on the soccer field, when Kalinda is trying to talk to Lemond. At one point early in the episode, the background noise comes from our lawyers, as Diane and Finn duke out the source of bail funds while Cary and Kalinda silently have a conversation in the foreground. It’s all noise, basically.

When she’s on the stand, Alicia’s eyes tell most of the story. Normally, Julianna Margulies looks flawless. In “Trust Issues,” something about her eyeshadow—a smudgy dark brown or black—calls a lot of attention to the corners of her eyes as she avoids eye contact or closes her eyes to think. Alicia looks exhausted throughout most of this episode. And the episode opens and closes on her gaze, though in both cases it’s not directly at the camera, as it often is when The Good Wife starts an episode in medias res. (In the first shot, she’s looking off to the right. In the last, her eyes are closed as she’s hugging Cary.) It seems like a deliberate avoidance, and not just an opportunity to depict Alicia looking like she’s at the end of her rope. Alicia isn’t facing facts, of some sort—or she’s unwilling to meet a situation head on. Or she just isn’t really feeling her feelings, to use some very psychotherapeutic language. This isn’t the bold gaze into the future from the end of season four, or the terrified understanding that she’s betrayed Will, or the practiced face she’s presenting to an audience.

This episode is about a lot more than Alicia, but as the show continues to remind us, Alicia is the conduit through which all of these dynamics have to move through. Everyone makes an appearance in this episode—Lemond Bishop, Neil Gross’ wife Dina, the partners at LGC, the new partners at Florrick/Agos, Robyn and Kalinda, Eli, Governor Peter Florrick, and oh yeah, Valerie Jarrett. (The only person missing is Grace, and that’s fine, we can do without Grace.) Jarrett is obviously not a natural actress, but I think she’s basically fine in her cameo, mostly because she gives Alan Cumming a chance to bounce off of her with perfect Eli disdain, treating her obvious importance as if it is not just uninteresting but a waste of his valuable time. Alicia and Robyn’s conversation around Jarrett’s phone call is also brilliantly funny. (“Valerie Jarrett—at-the-White-House Valerie Jarrett?” “She didn’t say. Do you want me to ask?”) And the point that Jarrett brings up is highly relevant, even though it seems unnecessarily delivered-from-on-high: There isn’t a good reason that Alicia isn’t running except that she’s decided she isn’t. And as Alicia refuses to meet “our” eyes this week, it seems clear she’s more conflicted by this than she’s letting on.

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It does make Diane’s move to Florrick/Agos (which I guess is now Florrick/Agos/Lockhart) very useful, story-wise. Now Diane can be the other anchor to that law firm, while Alicia focuses her attention on running; and while the lawyers are busy lawyering, Alicia is going to have to start reckoning with her own ideas of what is good and bad and right and wrong in the world, which will be fantastic, and sorry, Mrs. Florrick, of course, you’re not running, my mistake. But look, Castro’s steeling himself for a fight and Eli’s deviously running polls and the Weekly Standard is running a story and Michael Gaston from The Leftovers is popping by with very large checks—you can’t blame us for thinking it might be true.

In addition to the nebulous campaign story and Cary’s trial, “Trust Issues” offers up a case of the week, too, which isn’t strictly necessary, but is handled with aplomb. And like a lot of storylines in this episode, it seems designed just so that it can offer us a few wonderful moments, whether that’s Alicia casually dismantling the opposition’s case—where the lawyer is the woman who didn’t hire our girl the first time around, and then this time tells Alicia she should have (damn straight) or Robyn yelling to the guy who uses their sink and complains about not having hot water, “I know, Gunter, we’re all making do.”

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I can’t imagine what the writing process of this show is like, because every episode has multiple pieces that are so intensely joined together. And one of those pieces is David Lee interrupting Diane during her retirement speech, and another are the gold zippers that pop up on a few different outfits in Alicia’s wardrobe. This episode has a significant moment with Peter and Alicia, several crucial moments for Diane (including the one where she says goodbye, which I read as triumphant), and the introduction of a new character in Taye Diggs’ Dean, who just wants to do something new and fun (and is bringing a team of lawyers who are almost all minorities, interestingly).

But it’s such a delicious, fun show to watch, and so unlike the dramas that currently make up our prestige landscape. It’s at its best when it’s in the thick of it, and unlike last season, which really let shit hit the fan at episode five, season six is sprinting from the get-go.

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Stray observations:

  • Cary’s out of prison! Yay! He and Alicia hugged!! Yay!!
  • I loved the deliberate obfuscation mined for both humor and significance here: “She wanted me to run.” “Run where?” “I have no idea.” Robyn is the comic relief in this episode, when the camera isn’t trained on Eli.
  • Diane’s bronze blazer. Cary in that last shot in his rumpled suit—did he come to the office straight from prison? Alicia’s gold zippers. The costumers are telling a story, though I’m not totally sure what it is yet.
  • Matthew Goode is so fantastic as Finn Polmar that it’s easy to forget about him. He projects “good lawyer” so well—he’s quiet and smart and never blustery or aggressive. Also, he and Alicia made some seriously intense eye contact up there. I know not everyone is on this ship, but I am just saying, it was there.
  • “I should have hired you, you’re an assassin.”
  • So much good elevator humor in this episode, from the show that invented elevator humor (not really, but like, sort of). Dean reacting to Gunter was classic, as was Diane pointedly not holding the doors when she wanted to privately speak to Dean. (A GIF of that would be so handy, wouldn’t it?)
  • “You need an office with a door.”
  • The extended gag of Alicia pretending to consult with Other Cary to assuage Dina’s feelings depressed the hell out of me because it was so on point. Luckily, Other Cary seems to get the idiocy of it, but I hope he doesn’t start having delusions of grandeur. (Only David Lee gets delusions of grandeur.)
  • Eli’s little speech about creating “enemy surrogates” for Alicia indicates that he understands her far, far better than he has ever admitted.
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