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'The Good Wife' recap: Processed cheese

October 10, 2011 |  9:15 am

Josh Charles, left, Lisa Edelstein and Isaiah Whitlock Jr. star in "The Good Wife." Credit: David M. Russell/CBS

The action on “The Good Wife” can be divided into three roughly equal parts: There’s Alicia’s personal life, there’s the endless maneuvering and power plays at the firm, and there are the cases-of-the-week.

So far, Season 3 has felt decidedly case-heavy, with far less time devoted to Alicia’s personal life or the inner workings of Lockhart-Gardner. This season also lacks an overarching narrative to tie the episodes together, the way that Peter’s comeback campaign did last year. This is fine, for now, but at some point “The Good Wife” will have to remember that it’s so much more than a legal procedural.

This week’s episode, “Get a Room,” actually centered on two cases. After some tainted cheese causes a nasty listeria outbreak at a Chicago elementary school, Eli is hired to manage the ensuing PR crisis. Mostly, the storyline is there to provide comic relief. The footage of children projectile vomiting half-digested, fluorescent orange cheese-food was hilarious, albeit revolting, and it’s always fun to see Eli when he’s fully “on.” The crisis also serves the narrative purpose of creating tension between Diane and Eli. The cheese manufacturer has to hire Lockhart-Gardner as temporary counsel, otherwise the information they disclose to Eli will not be subject to attorney-client privilege.

The problem is that effective spin is not the same thing as effective legal representation. Eli urges his client to be contrite and claim responsibility; Diane advises them to express sympathy, but to stop short of admitting guilt. My hunch is that this won't be the last time Eli and Diane will clash, especially given the intense media scrutiny he's brought to the firm.

In the second case, Will and Alicia are negotiating a settlement on behalf of a client whose malfunctioning spinal-cord implant led to chronic pain. It just so happens that the attorney representing the other side is Celeste (Lisa Edelstein, formerly of “House”), one of Will’s many, many exes. Because of their romantic past, Will and Celeste are experts at reading each other.

Alicia isn’t too bothered by Celeste, but she pretends that she is in order to elicit the sympathy of Ira, the court-appointed mediator (played by Isaiah Whitlock of “The Wire”). Somehow Ira figures out that it was all a ruse, and he scolds Alicia for acting in such a blatantly manipulative way. “Don’t worry about it. If I needed a lawyer, I’d probably hire you, too,” he says. (In case you were wondering, this was meant as an insult.)

Between the labored poker metaphors, the annoying reporter, the leak from the state’s attorney’s office, and Will and Celeste’s romantic history, this storyline was unusually muddled.  For the moment, Alicia isn’t too worried about Celeste, but I’m guessing that will change when/if Celeste joins Lockhart-Gardner. 

Alicia’s not the only one whose scheming got her in trouble this week. Kalinda stops by Cary’s office to get the scoop on the state’s attorney’s investigation of the unscrupulous doctor who implanted the device, but he won’t give an inch. When Kalinda tries to steer the conversation to more personal matters, Cary accuses her of feigning interest in him. “You tend to use people’s feelings to further your investigations,” he says. Looking abashed, Kalinda assures Cary that “whatever I felt, I didn’t invent.”

It was a pretty great scene in an otherwise unremarkable episode. We’ve always known that Kalinda uses her sexuality to get what she wants but this may be the first time that someone has called her out so directly. While it’s good to see her evolving this season, I wonder if a kinder, gentler Kalinda can possibly be much fun.

This week’s saving grace is Owen, who should be brought into every episode where there’s not much else going on. Alicia has to work all weekend — with Will, in a hotel room — so Owen agrees to watch the kids. During a heart-to-heart with cool Uncle Owen, Zack reveals that Peter “slept with someone other than a hooker.” Presumably, Zack interpreted his dad’s awkward admission that he’d done “other things” to hurt Alicia to mean that he’d been with other women. Of course, with Zack there’s always the possibility of something else; maybe he’s been doing some snooping. In any case, Owen confronts Alicia about the news. She doesn’t deny it, but she also doesn’t disclose the identity of the other woman.

Frankly, I find her discretion to be bizarre. Alicia has precious few confidantes; at this point Owen might be the only one. Why wouldn’t she tell him? It’s also odd that she hasn’t told Owen that she’s having an affair with Will, especially since he’s the one who encouraged her to pursue him in the first place. Owen, perceptive as always, figures out that Alicia is, in fact, sleeping with Will after he jokes that she is “the most prudish, wanton woman I know.” (It’s a pretty apt description of Alicia, isn’t it?)  So why would she keep this detail from her beloved brother? My guess is that Alicia’s hedging her bets. By not telling Owen about Will, it’s like she doesn’t have to invest too much in the outcome of the relationship. If no one knows that it's happening, it doesn't matter if it goes down in flames ... right?

The episode ends on a pessimistic note. Owen asks Alicia if her relationship with Will is about love; she says, somewhat surprisingly, that it is not. “Good. Because that would make it very complicated,” he replies. Again, there are two possibilities at work here: Either Alicia’s protecting herself by not admitting to her true feelings for Will, or she has decided that their relationship is more about lust than love. Either way, this is yet another episode that ends with a giant, flashing question mark. The show is methodically building a case against Will; I wonder when the indictment is going to come down.

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-- Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Josh Charles, left, Lisa Edelstein and Isaiah Whitlock Jr. star in "The Good Wife." Credit: David M. Russell / CBS

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