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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Good Wife warns of a surveillance dystopia

Illustration for article titled The Good Wife warns of a surveillance dystopia
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“So, we’re right back where we started, huh?”

Peter can’t help but point out the familiarity of the moment as he sits next to Alicia near the end of “Landing.” He has just told her he’s once again going to prison on corruption charges. Connor Fox presented a plea deal, and he’s taking it. Minutes later, we see Alicia standing next to Peter at a press conference on the news. It goes without saying that a lot has changed since she first stood beside her husband in front of the public eye. Alicia and Peter are finally heading for divorce. Yes, things have changed, but Peter’s right. We’re right back where we started. But in “Landing,” the return to a familiar place doesn’t feel redundant or uninspired as some stretches of the season have. “Landing” makes its cyclical components the point.

And it took going back to where we started for season seven to finally pull off a fantastic episode. “Landing” embodies so many of The Good Wife’s strengths. While the buildup to Peter’s arrest throughout the season has been quite tedious and repetitive, the payoff sticks the landing. Eli and Mike negotiate the terms of Peter’s arrest and thoroughly prep the governor, only to be screwed over by Connor Fox in a powerful turn of events. Peter’s arrest unfolds with quiet, tense unrest. Alicia rushes to the closet to get a tie for him to wear and a jacket to drape over his handcuffed wrists. This isn’t Alicia suddenly reversing how she feels about Peter on a personal level. She can still want to divorce the shithead but also want to protect him from being humiliated by Fox and the press. Their relationship is still, as it always has been, immensely complicated—a tangled web of obligations, politics, compromises. Since the series began, they’ve lived not necessarily in harmony but in symbiosis, taking and giving back-and-forth when it suits either of them professionally. Alicia’s response to Peter’s arrest acknowledges the complex emotional history between the two characters. It all provides an emotional undercurrent for the episode—one that’s made even more enthralling by the swift but subtle unraveling of Alicia’s relationship with Jason. Their growing disconnect happens mostly on the sidelines, seen only in small moments like when Jason seemingly hesitates to answer her call and when Alicia tells Diane not to call him for help on her case. It’s an understated but effective build-up to the episode’s fraught final scene.

Oh hey, Diane Lockhart even gets her own storyline that has nothing to do with Alicia or with the very sudden ladies-only firm scheme. And the storyline even lets her feel feelings. When was the last time Diane had one of those? Naturally, professional guest star Gary Cole returns as her gruff Republican husband Kurt McVeigh. I had almost forgotten how great the chemistry between Cole and Christine Baranski is, and the first scene between the two characters wonderfully addresses the very true, very awkward reality of accidental teeth-collision that sometimes occurs when two people try too enthusiastically to make out. Baranski is particularly great in the scene, finally given some material that lets her show off her bright and charming comedic abilities again. Ultimately, even though it’s exciting to see Diane in a storyline that really is her own and that plays into the character’s emotions and personal life, it’s a bit of a bummer that the plot is fueled by her jealousy. Diane’s freakout over Kurt’s weakness for “pretty, young, blonde Republicans” is certainly familiar. It’s an issue we’ve seen the couple deal with before. Seeing it again doesn’t really add to or say much about Diane’s arc in the same way that Alicia and Peter’s return to their roots does. It just sticks a powerful and independent woman in a plot where she comes off as insecure and fragile, reintroducing unnecessary drama to a relationship that hasn’t been developed in many, many episodes.

The episode’s real crown jewel is its case of the week, which brings back the NSA boys for, presumably, a last hoorah. The last time the NSA creeped back into the story, it wasn’t executed well, but “Landing” pushes this particular sector of The Good Wife’s universe to its most absurd and chaotic—and it packs a punch. Ever since it first started the ongoing three-hop storyline, The Good Wife has sent a very clear and potent message about just how fucked up the NSA is. It’s a nebulous institution with few rules—and the ones it does have are constantly changing. The NSA’s extensive reach and dystopian realities are on dazzling display in “Landing,” which blows everything up into even more extreme terms with the return of “C-list Edward Snowden,” Jeff Dellinger. Alicia and Lucca have to rush to Toronto to represent him in a jurisdiction dispute between Canadian and U.S. border enforcements. They get buried in confusing semantics, literally arguing about a line drawn on the floor. The plot’s humor certainly plays into some obvious Canadian stereotypes, but the jokes fit the show’s specific brand of comedy, especially when it comes to the stern justice of the peace overseeing the case, who has an obvious and steadfast disdain for American traditions like invading privacy and interrupting.

But in addition to the playful humor it brings, the legal battle at the heart of “Landing” drives home all of the series’ meditations on privacy and surveillance, heightening the issue to the point of delirium. The U.S. is listening to Canada. Canada is listening to the U.S. Everyone, it seems, is listening to Alicia Florrick. Just as The Good Wife steps through another door of the dark and scary world of government-supported surveillance, it finds another hidden in the walls. The show makes the spiral into madness both funny and frightening, giving a distinctly human face to the overreaching agency. It’s smart and unapologetically political storytelling, but it doesn’t feel at all preachy. Just as The Good Wife can be very cynical in its portrayal of personal growth and relationships, it has a cynical view of where technology is headed. That cynicism seeps into other parts of the story. Peter goes to Alicia’s apartment because cameras are waiting outside of his mansion. But the press is still there when he’s arrested. Someone’s always watching. Throughout the episode, other characters catch glimpses of Peter and Alicia on the news. The public eye never blinks. The Good Wife is getting pretty close to suggesting that real privacy doesn’t exist.


And then there’s that aforementioned final scene. “What do you want, Alicia?” Jason asks. The two haven’t occupied the same space since the beginning of the episode when Alicia first tells him she’s divorcing Peter, effectively cutting a hole in their utopian, casual, no-strings-attached relationship. And here, they’re forced to deal with the emotions that are starting to seep out of that hole. Alicia continues to insist that her decision to divorce Peter has nothing to do with him. I do believe her—to an extent. Jason seems skeptical about her motivations. He asks why she’s doing it, and she reminds him her husband slept with prostitutes. “That was seven years ago,” he replies. But Jason doesn’t have all the pieces of Alicia’s arc in the same way that viewers do. When it comes to the inevitable Florrick divorce, there’s no time like the present. It took her latest workplace affair and Peter’s trouble with the law for Alicia to finally realize that these cycles will continue, that she finally had to pull the trigger on the major life change she had been putting off. Alicia had to end up back where she started in order to make the change.

But, at the same time, Jason does have at least a little bit to do with it. “Unfortunately, things aren’t simple. I’m not simple. Nothing’s simple,” Alicia says, frustrated when he pushes her to explain the divorce timing. She’s right. Nothing’s simple. Her decision to divorce isn’t simple, and her decision to stick up for Peter in a professional context isn’t simple either. It’s a murky mess rooted in several seasons of character development and story shifts. She wants to believe her relationship with Jason is simple, because she knows that’s what he wants. He doesn’t want drama. But this is The Good Wife, damnit. It’s a masterclass in drama. So as he prods her a little more, she admits the truth: She wants him. That’s what she really wants. The episode ends on that abrupt, confessional note. In Peter’s mind, things are right back where she started. But things aren’t that simple. Nothing’s simple. What Alicia has with Jason is something totally new. She’s moving forward. But will he be joining her? Or will he disappear into the abyss the way most private investigators on this show tend to do?


Stray observations

  • The Good Wife seems to think that Canadian airports are covered in flags.
  • The direction of the scene where Alicia and Jeff are whispering to each other is great.
  • “You look taller than I thought.” Tyler—an official Alicia Florrick fanboy—finally gets to meet his hero.
  • Where’s Grace? Alicia has no idea, but Peter does! She’s staying with Jackie for…no discernible reason.
  • Both Florrick children will be back in next week’s episode though.