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'The Good Wife' recap: Those 3 little words

October 17, 2011 |  9:52 am

THE-GOOD-WIFE-Feeding-the-Rat-Season-3-Episode-4-5

I confess: I was a little worried going into this episode of “The Good Wife.”

The third season is still fresh, but until now there's been no overarching narrative to tie the show together, and the "cases of the week" have been more prominent than usual. I wondered: Without the drama of a lengthy political campaign, would “The Good Wife” devolve into a better-than-average procedural, rather than the incisive, timely and unapologetically wonky show that it has been for two seasons now? Say it ain't so.

The previews for this episode, "Feeding the Rat," which touted the story of a wrongfully charged suspect, did little to quell my fears and as the first act unfolded, I remained nervous. A youngish man named Travis tries to withdraw money from an ATM, but he has insufficient funds; he wanders into a convenience store and, in a bit of foreshadowing, considers buying a cheap plastic water gun. Then a robber shows up with a real gun, shoots the store clerk and runs off. Travis, whom we know to be innocent, soon becomes the prime suspect. Would this episode be a rehash of last year’s excellent “Nine Hours,” when Alicia and Diane raced against the clock to stay the execution of wrongfully convicted man? Not that that would be so terrible, exactly, given how thoughtfully “The Good Wife” has handled the failings of the criminal justice system in the past, but it certainly wouldn’t have been groundbreaking.

I needn't have worried. In typically nimble fashion, “Feeding the Rat” morphed into something else entirely by the time the opening credits rolled: a lofty meditation on the purposes of the legal practice. At the risk of embarrassing myself with a prediction that may not come true, I’m guessing this will be the overarching theme of the season. Since Lockhart-Gardner is actively involved in the city’s pro bono program, Alicia is assigned to represent Travis. The case takes her away from more pressing (read: lucrative) duties at the office, and Diane, in a fit of recession-induced panic, decides that the firm can no longer afford to do pro bono work and that it should, instead, focus on bankruptcy — which, sadly, is the one area of the law that flourishes in harsh economic times.

It just so happens that Celeste, who is Will’s ex, is taking her firm’s bankruptcy division with her, and Will gets the unenviable task of trying to woo her to Lockhart-Gardner. So, to summarize: The firm can no longer afford to represent poor folks for free and, instead, needs to start capitalizing on the fact that so many people are going broke. Warms the heart, doesn’t it?

Will’s efforts to lure Celeste to Lockhart-Gardner do not go as planned. He tracks her down at some ghastly convention full of doughy, overworked lawyers who like to unwind a few times a year by dancing around with lampshades on their heads. Sexy but slightly unhinged, Celeste is a veritable goddess among this army of dweebs, and clearly she thrives on being the good time girl, always game for an all-night poker match or an illicit tryst with a powerful older lawyer. It’s a particularly nightmarish vision of the legal profession, less cynical than pathetic.

Despite Will’s overtures, Celeste won’t agree to join Lockhart-Gardner. That’s because she’s actually chasing Will, both professionally and romantically. In a slightly goofy twist, Celeste reveals she’s actually starting her own firm and that she may be able to get Will the one job he can’t get at Lockhart-Gardner: baseball commisioner. [Updated at 11:50 a.m.: An earlier version of this post mistakenly suggested the job offer was an NFL position and has been corrected.] The offer came out of the blue, and Will promptly decided against taking the bait. It felt like there was a scene missing from this subplot, didn’t it? One minute Will’s thinking about accepting Celeste’s offer, the next he’s walking out of an all-night poker game and telling her, “Not everyone can pursue their dreams. Someone has to work.”

I am sure Celeste will be back at some point, but for now she’s already served her dual narrative purpose: making things extremely awkward between Will and Peter and, even more critically, opening up Will’s mysterious backstory. Now that Blake is gone from the scene, Celeste is Will’s only active connection to his shady past life in Baltimore, which I think is why she makes him so jumpy — that, and the fact she’s obviously a bit of a bunny-boiler. It’s still far from clear what Will’s “wild” former life entailed, other than late-night carousing at drab corporate hotels, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.

Meanwhile, Diane stops by Legal Aid to break the news in person. Naturally, she shows up in her proletarian finest — a leopard-print blazer and an enormous string of pearls. As Diane walks into the Legal Aid office, she’s on the phone negotiating Celeste’s insanely cushy compensation package. It’s not exactly a subtle contrast, but it’s effective. Diane diplomatically breaks the news, but the visit — and the agency’s financial troubles — stirred her conscience. First, Diane decides to lend her support to Travis’s case; then in a last-minute about-face, she announces she’s sick of being careful and that Lockhart-Gardner will provide office space for Legal Aid (cue the triumphant music). Yes, it was all a bit sudden, but one thing I appreciate about Diane is that, as much as she likes money, she’s never quite able to contain her bleeding heart. As Will quips, "You should have broken up on the phone."

So now the firm itself has become a kind of microcosm of liberalism: On one end, you have the earnest do-gooders at Legal Aid, fighting on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised; on the other, you have venal operatives like Eli Gold. I am sure that Lockhart-Gardner will become more involved with Legal Aid, and that, as Diane predicted, this will irritate Eli. In turn, he’s doing his best to work out the hierarchy at the firm. In a riveting yet also extremely expository scene, Kalinda gives him the Cliffs Notes. Diane has more power in criminal, and Will in civil, she says, advising that “if you want to persuade Will, you persuade Alicia.” I guess on some level, we knew all of this already, but it was interesting to hear Kalinda say it all so explicitly.

Ah, let’s not forget the other big development — or should I say slip-up? — this week.  On the phone with Alicia, Will mindlessly blurts out those three little words: “I love you.” Kudos to Josh Charles, who played the scene so perfectly. It was clear that Will meant what he said, even if he didn’t intend to say it. Embarrassed, Will goes to talk to Alicia and tells her, quite sweetly, that though it was an accident, he’s not interested in seeing anyone else. She squelches the conversation, reminding Will of her motto, “No muss, no fuss.” So far, Alicia’s the reluctant one in this quasi-relationship. Maybe she’s just trying to protect herself — and her family — or maybe Will’s in for a little heartbreak. We shall see. 

A few more morsels of thought:

-- I loved the guest appearance by Harvey Fierstein, who played yet another easily manipulated judge.

-- I’m also intrigued by Imani Morehouse, the (drop-dead gorgeous) new assistant U.S. attorney (and granddaughter of a fictional civil rights leader, obviously) assigned to be a sentencing watchdog at Peter’s office. Do I smell a romance between Cary and Imani? Why, yes, I think I do.

-- In a counterintuitive twist that’s typical of “The Good Wife,” it turns out that the black eyewitness wrongly identified the white guy.

-- Can we talk about Alicia’s increasingly blinged-out wardrobe this season? That purple blazer/gold chain combo looked as if it had been pulled straight out of Diane’s closet.  

-- It was interesting to hear Will admit that he'd never met Alicia's children, wasn't it? There's still so much they don't know about each other.

-- What do you make of the fact that Will was looking at Celeste when he slipped up and told Alicia "I love you"?

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— Meredith Blake
twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Julianna Margulies and Harvey Fierstein star in "The Good Wife." Credit: David M. Russell / CBS

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