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'The Good Wife': Swimming with the sharks

December 15, 2009 | 11:01 pm

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Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. This week’s “The Good Wife” was — pardon the pun — overflowing with watery metaphors. But, thankfully, that didn't make the episode a total washout. Oops, there I go again.

Tonight, Alicia (Julianna Margulies) was defending Terrance (Charles Kwami Odei), an otherwise well-behaved young boy who is in trouble for getting into a fight at school (technically, he threw a textbook at someone's face — does that count as a fight?).  Even though the state has agreed to community service in exchange for a guilty plea, Baxter, the judge on the case — who also happens to be Will’s best friend (and is played by Tony Goldwyn, whom you might remember as the bad guy who died so spectacularly in “Ghost”) sentences him to nine months detention at Palgrave Academy, a Dickensian-sounding private juvenile facility.  It's not a life sentence, but it's unduly harsh. Alicia challenges the decision and concludes that Baxter is a racist. (Baxter argues that he can't be a racist, and points to a picture of him with Sen. Roland W. Burris, which was a funny moment.) The truth, it turns out, is a little more interesting than plain old racism. Baxter’s a gambling addict with serious debts, and he’s been getting kickbacks from Palgrave for sending young offenders their way. Yikes.

This might have been Alicia’s case, but the episode belonged to the supporting cast. Alicia’s ongoing saga was conspicuously put on hold — there was nary a mention of the fact that the last time we saw Alicia, she was planting a big, wet one on her husband after an awkward confrontation with his favorite escort — but at least we got to know her colleagues a little bit better.

Diane, for one, is becoming ever so slightly less reptilian. Up until now, she has seemed like your stereotypical bitchy boss, complete with expensive-looking highlights and a withering stare. But this week, we got to know a little bit more about her. Turns out she has a heart after all. She even compliments Alicia on all the good work she’s been doing. In a meeting with some Democratic Party operatives, Diane is encouraged to run for judge. One of them, Chief Judge Adler (Kate Burton), says they need her to enter the race because, “for every two swimmers, there’s only one lifeguard. We need judges who know the law.”  The metaphor is a little off — how exactly are good judges supposed to save bad judges from drowning? —but you get the drift. And so did Diane: She takes the bait and decides that she will divest her interest in the firm.

With Stern out the door and Diane on her way, it looked like it would be Will's turn to take over the firm, news that leaves him basically ecstatic. Not gonna lie, it was a little icky. For weeks now, it’s been hard to tell whether Will is a good guy or a power-hungry operator. After tonight, my gut is telling me it’s the latter, even if he hasn’t explicitly done anything as bad as, say, sending a 12-year-old boy to prison for tossing a textbook at someone. But, alas, Gardner & Associates will have to wait.  Blame it on Alicia’s meddling, which puts Diane out of favor with the party machine. Though it’s never stated, it’s pretty clear that Alicia’s pursuit of Judge Baxter — and Diane’s support of the investigation — dooms her potential run for office.   And even though Will eventually sides with Alicia on Baxter, it takes way too much prodding, if you ask me.

Meanwhile, the mystery surrounding the ever-elusive Kalinda continues to deepen. This week she played a crucial role in uncovering Judge Baxter’s shady dealings — largely because of her own shadowy connections. She takes Cary to Judge Baxter’s old house to meet with Frank, who is described merely as a “guy I used to work with.” Why they couldn’t meet at a coffee shop and not an empty house is unclear to me — after all, I have a hunch that Frank isn’t a real estate agent — but never mind the details. After the meeting with Frank, Kalinda shoots Cary down in her own inimitable way. Cary balks at the idea that Baxter might have turned into a racist after a black man attacked his wife. Kalinda says that people are really just that simple, even herself.  “I’m knowable, just not to you.”  Ouch.

This felt like one of those breather episodes, where the writers pause to dutifully lay the groundwork for juicy revelations a few weeks down the line. (Was Kalinda a loan shark in another life? Is Will a Madoff in the making? Or maybe a serial killer?) But sometimes that can lead to especially thoughtful writing: This episode deftly combined a compelling main plot (save the cute kid!) with commentary about the sorry state of our political and legal process, yet it wasn't boring or didactic. Even in an off week, "The Good Wife" is pretty on.

What did you think? Do you have any theories about Kalinda’s shady past? What’s your gut feeling about Will? Is 'The Good Wife' ever just a little too cynical for you?

— Meredith Blake

Related:

'The Good Wife': Archie Panjabi talks about the mystery of Kalinda's sexuality

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Complete coverage of "The Good Wife" on Show Tracker

Supreme Court seems likely to limit life sentences for juveniles

Photo: Alicia Florrick (Juliana Margulies) keeps on fighting the good fight, even when she's up against that guy from "Ghost." Photo credit: David M. Russell / CBS.

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