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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Good Wife: “Winning Ugly”

Illustration for article titled The Good Wife: “Winning Ugly”
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Alicia Florrick’s bid for State’s Attorney has dragged along for all of season six. At first, the campaign pushed Alicia forward, allowed the character to explore new spaces—like Chicago’s political world, which she was definitely a part of before but only as the candidate’s wife. The campaign opened up so many new story possibilities and provided interesting imagery that paralleled the very first scene in the pilot: Now, Alicia became the candidate, standing in front, while Peter became the spouse at her side.

But the campaign lost its steam and isolated Alicia from the rest of the law firm—both physically and emotionally. It’s the arc that just won’t quit, even though it ceased to carry much weight or even just excitement long ago. At some point, The Good Wife transformed from the ensemble show it once was into something that is—though often still smart and fun and always well acted—much more disjointed. The obvious turning point is the death of Will Gardner. When the show lost one of its leads, things drifted apart as the writers tried to fill the narrative hole he left. For a brief moment, Alicia’s convictions in her campaign were tied up in her emotional response to Will, but those motivations faded over time. In fact, it started to become less and less clear why Alicia was running and where her heart was in any of it, as her handlers and Eli and Peter kept all telling her what she needed to do but we didn’t really get to hear what she wanted. The State’s Attorney race kept Alicia busy, but it often did just that—instead of developing the character or informing new relationship dynamics.

But it all seems to finally be over. I think it’s a reasonable reaction to be very frustrated by the fact that such a long and winding storyline ultimately led to nothing. The writers let Alicia win—something that could have led to an entirely new premise for the show, placing Alicia in a new job and world—only to then take it back away with yet another voting fraud scandal. But I also think that by taking away the State’s Attorney office from Alicia, the character can return to where she really thrives—and, most importantly, to where the writers know how to best write her.

Overall, “Winning Ugly” is one of the more exciting episodes The Good Wife has done in a while. After last week’s rather stationary episode, “Winning Ugly” ramps up the speed. Composer David Buckley’s heavy strings snap characters into motion as they run around to try and stay ahead of the bad things threatening to swallow them whole. The truth about the metadata gets out, forcing Diane, Cary, and Kalinda to all scramble to keep Diane from getting disbarred and the firm from facing repercussions. And Alicia has to bring in a high-profile civil rights attorney Spencer Randolph (Ron Rifkin) to argue against Prady’s call for a recount.

“And here we are, back again. Right at the beginning,” Diane says with a sigh when Geneva offers her the deal: All charges will be dropped if she agrees to testify against Lemond Bishop. It’s really the thesis for the episode, which pulls its characters back to places they’ve all been before. Cary agrees, finally, to testify against Bishop, because he knows that if he doesn’t, Kalinda will. And even though it’s frustrating that Alicia has to step down as State’s Attorney thanks to a whole lot of political corruption and scheming, this idea that the characters can’t really escape certain truths is a powerful one. It’s not like on Mad Men, where characters don’t change because they don’t want to. On The Good Wife, characters have tried to make changes in their lives—both professionally and personally—but other variables either hold or push them back. The characters’ motivations and choices don’t exist in a vacuum.

In the case of Alicia, it’s dirty Chicago politics that get in the way. The Good Wife has always been profoundly cynical when it comes to politics but not necessarily with the same level of unflinching macabre as the much broader and more erratic House Of Cards. What I like about The Good Wife is that it’s similarly committed to not painting any particular party as corrupt but rather politics in general. Even civil rights champion Randolph decides a Democratic supermajority is more important than fair and accurate voting procedures. No wonder Alicia herself has become so cynical through the years: Even when she tries to avoid bribes and lies, corruption follows her everywhere.


So while Alicia’s story remains disparate from Diane and Cary’s (although Kalinda is, apparently, working both cases because there are more than 24 hours in Kalinda Sharma’s days), Diane’s words about circling back certainly apply to all of the storylines going on tonight. If Cary getting dragged back into Bishop’s target and Alicia getting dragged back into her legal life means that the show will regain its footing, then I’m along for this backwards ride. And hopefully Alicia’s withdrawal means the real true end for the State’s Attorney race that just kept going and going and going.

Stray observations:

  • I’m always happy to see Geneva Pine, even though the writers don’t always know how to deploy her. Here, she’s excellent in her brief appearances, and also had the outfit of the night with that black and white zip-up suit jacket.
  • This is small, but I really liked the scene where Diane, Kalinda, and Finn all hopped into Finn’s office right after Diane found out about the faked evidence. For a few seconds, the camera stayed outside of the office door, and we couldn’t hear what the characters were actually saying, but Christine Baranski’s body language said it all.
  • Cary’s decision to testify against Bishop would carry a lot more weight if we had seen Cary do anything more than just pop in for a line or two for the past few weeks.
  • Grace watches a Funny Or Die-like video of two guys doing dramatic readings of Alicia’s emails to Will, which is hilarious. Neither Alicia nor Will had any sexting game. That’s the real scandal.