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'The Good Wife' recap: 'It has to be right'


As "The Good Wife" deftly illustrated in Tuesday night's episode, capital punishment is one of the most stubborn political taboos in America. To wit, while prepping for his upcoming debate, Peter asked his advisor, Jim Moody, for his "position" on capital punishment. (Only politicians need someone to remind them what their opinion is on controversial subjects.) Jim snaps back, "You're not changing your position on capital punishment." The message was clear. No matter what your party affiliation, opposing the death penalty is tantamount to political suicide -- you might as well say you're an atheist, that you're going to raise taxes on the middle class, or that you don't eat meat. In American politics, there are just some things that don't fly.

That's why it's both depressing and inspiring to me that a television show such as "The Good Wife" will tackle a subject as thorny as capital punishment head-on, while American politicians so often dance around the subject -- or just avoid it altogether. It's hard to read Tuesday night's episode as anything but a rebuke of the practice. Alicia's eleventh-hour telephone appeal (and, let's be honest, Julianna Margulies' Emmy clip) made the case in stark terms. "It has to be right. To do this to a man, it has to be right," she pleads, holding back tears.  Alicia's line of reasoning -- that there can be no room for doubt in cases in which someone's life is at stake -- is, not coincidentally, also the primary argument made by critics of the death penalty. In other words, there is always room for doubt. 

The episode also featured a cameo from Berry Scheck. Scheck, who starred as himself, is co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit group that works to overturn wrongful convictions. "The Good Wife" has a history of guest appearances and name-checks that only a political/criminal justice nerd would appreciate (Ben Smith, Joe Trippi, Emily's List), but this is by far the most "inside baseball" moment on the show to date. Other procedural shows have taken on wrongful-conviction cases -- alas, they do make for thrilling television -- but tend to pay little attention to the people who actually work to overturn these convictions. So, it's nice to see an organization such as the Innocence Project get the Hollywood treatment.

Particularly effective was the intercutting between the two different legal teams. While Kalinda and Alicia frantically made phone calls to track down the arson investigator, Warden Barden rang up neighboring states to see if he could borrow some fresh barbiturates to use in Carter Wright's execution. There was something especially ghoulish about this scene, which was sort of like the ideal of American neighborliness gone awry: "Never mind the stick of butter, but can I borrow a pinch of sodium thiopental?"

The editing also reminded me that, as difficult as it is to save a man from execution, there are just as many lawyers, politicians, and wardens fighting doggedly to make sure it happens.  Think about Warden Hiatt, who ditched a weekend camping trip with his daughter to deliver a batch of fresh sodium thiopental, via his family minivan, just in time for Carter's execution. Or even the secretary, robotically transcribing a phone call between Warden Barden and the anesthetist about the "preparations" for the "L.I." All in a day's work, right?  Seeing an execution through requires a combination of passionate commitment and blind obedience; preventing it from happening requires a series of small miracles (and Kalinda).

Of course, the triumphant, eleventh-hour resolution of the Carter Wright case was as much a fantasy as anything on "The Good Wife." No doubt there are thousands of young people who go to law school every year thinking they'll be champions of justice, overturning wrongful convictions left and right just like Alicia -- only to come out three years later as tax attorneys with $200,000 in debt. 

This episode was basically an elaborate, extremely well written stalling tactic. Think about it: None of the major plot lines advanced in any significant way. Alicia's phone call with Will didn't amount to much, her confessional talk with Kalinda was cut short, there was nary a mention of Diane leaving the firm, and we didn't hear a peep about Eli or the wiretaps. And it's this ability to dive into an investigation and delay the resolution of other story lines that is the singular genius -- and, OK, occasional frustration -- of "The Good Wife."

What we learned: Peter has a potty mouth. Kalinda didn't like her old life, so she changed it. Will and Alicia are maybe going to talk at an undetermined future date.

Further questions: What, exactly, did Kalinda have to do to change her life?  And why did Zack keep ogling her? Was it an adolescent crush, or could there be a connection here? Indulge me for a second in some rampant speculation: Could Kalinda/"Leela" have an X-rated past? This makes sense given 1) Cary's snide double entendre about "getting people off," and 2) the amount of time Zack spends on the computer.

Also, just where are they going to take the emerging Grace-turns-religious plot, anyway? The evangelist friend was kind of funny at first, but I don't know if I'm buying Grace's instant conversion in last night's episode. Is Grace going to join the Moral Majority and campaign against Peter? On second thought, I guess that would be sort of interesting.

Real-life inspirations:  The spurious evidence used against Carter Wright was clearly borrowed from the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004. In July, the Texas Forensic Science Commission determined that "flawed science" was used to convict Willingham. Cary even mentioned the must-read New Yorker article about the case, written by David Grann.

-- Meredith Blake

Photo: Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick and Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart. Credit: David M. Russell / CBS


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Comments () | Archives (10)

Nice recap. Always a pleasure to read.

Wow, what a recap. A visit this site after every 'Good Wife' episode will now be mandatory.

I never thought about Kalinda having an X-rated past. That's a pretty credible thought.

Great recap, like the poster before said I only come to this site on Weds to read your Good Wife recaps :)

As for Kalinda, my guess is that she was in the adult industry in someway, probably brought over illegally...there was an episode a while back where she as an immigrant was against any aliens in this country illegally; I wonder if this plays a part in it?

BTW, Kalinda is HOT!!! That dress she had on made her look fantastic...my only gripe with last nights show is that I had wished they would of executed the guy and then the information would of come later on the arsen...that would of made very gripping TV

Oh and the son checking out Kalinda was a bit off too, his eyes didn't even check her out they just looked at her, but then again that could have more to do with the internet as you pointed out.

Great recap as always!

In the United States of America (and in all other countries committed to the ideals of fairness in the criminal justice system) every citizen should be in favor of exonerating the innocent -- the wrongfully convicted. There shouldn't be anyone even indifferent to wrongful punishment. Sadly, this episode was typical of our current criminal justice system.

For some reason people who work in the criminal justice system see it as either above and beyond courageous, or too risky (or stupid) to want to get involved in exonerating the wrongfully convicted. Thus, this episode wasn't really about the death penalty. The death penalty was an element of the story line, but the moral message wasn't about defending or opposing capital punishment.

When the story line is about saving someone from execution who readily admits quilt, then the moral message will be about defending or opposing capital punishment.

What everyone should be talking about is "Cameron Todd Willingham" especially since Texas wont. The gov'ner disbanded the oversight committee. The fire department has since change how they determine how fires are started. This man is dead. Was he innocent? We will never know; but, there is more than 'reasonable doubt' that one wonders. The death penalty doesnt allow for corrections. There are definitely situations that scream for the death penalty, such as, in CT (the doctor's family). Some people commit such heinous crimes they should be removed completely from society. But in cases where there is doubt due to the evidence, the investigations, etc...we should be so quick to execute. DNA testing should be mandatory. The other problem that is not absolute are those that gather evidence. Consider the policewoman now held on murder chargers and even police tactics that been proven to be illegal (resulting in convicts being released). We have to question always until absolute certainty can be determined. When in doubt we must refrain -- if, we dont then we are committing murder, albeit, legal.

I doubt Kalinda was in the X-rated industry ever. Last year she was very critical of the call girl in Stripped just for stripping and Kalinda's not a hypocrite so I don't see her disparaging someone for something she did herself.
I don't know what's in her past she didn't like but I do think it'd be more complex than something like that.
Zach was checking her out because he's 15, male and well... breathing.

I am new to TGW, recently viewed all the season 1 DVD's.

What nags at me re Kalinda is: 1) a comment the "girlfriend" of Zach's (that Eli exposed for the Twittering) made about a (supposed) rumor that Peter had had sex in Zach's bed and 2) how on the stand at Peter's appeal, Kalinda was dreading some kind of question, which I think she manuevered through when she was asked about Peter having sex *in his bed*. She responded in the negative, but was it because the question had been phrased, "in his bed"? That whole exchange -- because of Kalinda's apparent dread--really got me curious. Is there some connection between the "rumor" (Zach's bed) and Kalinda's anxiety about testifying?

Also, do we know much about why Kalinda was fired from Peter's SA office? Is there more to her life there that would make for insight about her past?

I may be all wet going with these faint thoughts of something complicating for Kalinda about her past...and when Kalinda was in the Florrick home and ran into Peter there was narry a hint of awkwardness; it was as if he barely knew her and he certainly doesn't seem concerned about what Alicia might "learn" from Kalinda...SO, my suspicions are likely all wet.

I just wish someone would explain why Kalinda was so anxious about having to testify at the appeal?

The show really has us hooked on wondering about Kalinda!

Every episode, plot and characters evolve and reveal their own twists and turns. It's growing into the new "Lost"! I love this show! Not only do we see the blind side of the law, we also see the dark side of Politics.

I wonder how many guys watch "The Good Wife"? I wonder if "The Good Wife" is talked about the morning after, within the law offices, law schools and the courtroom — or does the legal profession look upon it as another "Chick Flick"— the "Adventures of Alica Florick and her sidekick, Kalinda — fighting for justice and overcoming the evils of mankind, week after week?

Using Barry Sheck may have looked like gratuitous casting, had we not learned about "the Innocence project" in this recap. I am surprised that the regular press did not mention Barry Sheck or "the Innocence project". They did make a big fuss about Michael J. Fox and his personal challenge.

Just curious.

Great episode, and the recaps are fantastic. I too am one of those who drop by to check the analysis of the last episode.

I very much enjoy the way they throw in different issues, not obviously connected, yet everything is and can be connected. Sure, things work out well by the end of each episode and the firm wins, or doesn't lose badly, but the characters are fallible and subject to all the issues that can surface in any one's day. Yet again, the characters are strong, women and men. I would not normally follow a show so immersed in politics, but this is a wonderful exception.

I wonder if Blake is Will's brother or a close relative. There has to be something along those lines to explain the connection.


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