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'The Good Wife' recap: Who you callin' Caitlin?

October 24, 2011 | 10:05 am


There wasn’t a wasted moment in this episode of “The Good Wife,” easily the best of the so-far uneven third season. The writing in  “Marthas and Caitlins” was dazzlingly efficient: There were significant developments to virtually every subplot in the series, plus an interesting case of the week. Until this episode, it was unclear if the Kings had figured out a long-term narrative strategy for this season, but nearly every scene in "Marthas and Caitlins" set the stage for future conflict. It was all so well done that I didn’t even mind having Celeste back.

“The Good Wife” tends to cram a lot of narrative switchbacks into its extended opening act, and this might have been the most jam-packed one to date. Within the first minute or so of the episode, a whistleblower testifying against an aerospace company kills himself.  The backup plan is to use his videotaped deposition in lieu of testimony, but the judge won’t allow it. In a convenient twist, it turns out Colin Sweeney, everyone’s favorite wife killer/venture capitalist was advising the aerospace company on its IPO and was blind-copied on emails regarding the faulty plane, and Alicia has the unenviable task of convincing him to testify in the case. 

While all this is unfolding, the writers toss several more balls into the air: Will and David ask Alicia to hire a new first-year associate; Will warns Alicia not to let Celeste get under her skin; David advises Alicia on her divorce; Alicia and Peter discuss Grace’s eccentric tutor; and Eli asks Kalinda to dig up some dirt on Adam Spellman, a businessman who’s being groomed to give the coveted keynote address at the 2012 Democratic convention. In less than 10 minutes of airtime, the show deftly weaves together no fewer than six separate story lines, and does so without seeming jumbled or overstuffed. Folks, this is how you write good television.

I confess that I was anxious about the return of Colin Sweeney, a character that “The Good Wife” writers seem to love but whom I’ve always found too self-consciously derivative — and even a little kitschy — for a show that otherwise strives for a certain level of realism. But this time around, the Sweeney excesses were kept in check. Yes, it was predictable that he wasn’t going to cooperate with the testimony unless there was something to be gained from it.  But the scene where Sweeney, wearing a wire, gets his neo-Nazi pal to confess to orchestrating a murder on the outside, was totally riveting. The staging of the scene was also pretty great: Alicia, Cary and Imani watch the action in the courtyard via grainy surveillance footage that somehow made the whole interaction more menacing.

The Sweeney subplot also brought Peter and Cary back into the fold in an organic way. Alicia has to negotiate Sweeney’s release with Cary, who in turn has to get approval from Imani. At the same time, Peter is committed to eliminating corruption in the state’s prisons, but he’s also worried about letting an infamous murderer (correction: manslaughter-er) out of jail. Peter warns Eli that he’s going to be in the news in the coming days, which makes me certain this will not be the last we hear of Sweeney’s release. Will he strike again and become Peter’s Willie Horton? And is it wrong that I’m pretty excited by this possibility?

Eli continues to plot the next phase in Peter’s political career. He wants Peter to give the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic convention — the spot that went to a then-obscure Illinois state senator named Barack Obama in 2004. The party establishment has already tapped Adam Spellman, a successful black businessman, to give the speech. At Eli’s behest, Kalinda does some digging and finds that Spellman’s wife, a devout Baptist, contributed money to support the Defense of Marriage Act. Eli asks Kalinda to do some more investigating, but she declines once she finds out that Eli’s working on behalf of Peter. Naturally, this piques Eli’s suspicions.

With Spellman effectively disqualified, Eli meets with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile to make the case for Peter. She likes his story, but she’s concerned about the rumors about his marriage (in the bizarre world of American politics, patronizing prostitutes is forgivable, divorce is not).  It’s been a while since we’ve had a political cameo on "The Good Wife.” Brazile’s appearance was pretty fun — even if she’s not going to win any Emmys for her performance. It seems obvious that Eli is going to scheme to get Alicia and Peter back together somehow. “We should talk some time … about the future,” he tells Alicia ominously.

As for Alicia’s future, it’s impossible to know what it might entail. I was excited — if that’s the right word — that David and Alicia met to discuss her divorce. He seems like exactly the kind of attorney you’d want in that situation: discreet, unsentimental, realistic.  He and Alicia are hardly buddies, but he is, by default, Alicia’s only real confidant.  That’s why it’s doubly humiliating when David lashes out at Alicia for not wanting to hire his niece, Caitlin (played by Anna Camp, one of two “Mad Men” cast members who appeared in this episode). “You were given this task because you are unimportant and you can take a hint,” he says. Way harsh, bro.

Of course, Alicia wants to hire Martha, a brunet who likes French New Wave movies and moot court, instead of Caitlin, a blond who’s into “trampboarding.” (Just wondering: Does “The Good Wife” keep some kind of youth-culture consultant on retainer?) In the end, the hiring committee overrules her and Caitlin gets the job. Alicia confronts Will about the vote and learns that he voted to hire Caitlin. His explanation? He owes David a favor because “there was a Martha” — in other words, a more favorable candidate — when they hired Alicia. “Caitlins often surprise you,” he says. At first, Alicia seems moved by the confession, but as she walks away from Will’s office, you can see the doubt washing over her face. Did Will really owe David a favor, or was he just trying to stay in David’s good graces?

David’s showdown with Alicia has at least one unintended consequence: She ends up bonding with Celeste. When David barges in, Celeste and Alicia are in the middle of a  tense conversation about Will. Celeste calls their relationship “very vanilla” (if only she knew what we know …) and Alicia fires back by accusing Celeste of being stuck in the past. Alicia is obviously annoyed by Celeste, but you also get the sense she's desperate for Celeste to spill the beans on Will. So when they go out for drinks, it’s not quite as surprising as it might have been.

This might have been my favorite scene of the episode, and not just because I always like seeing Alicia getting a little tipsy. (Our girl really loves her tequila, doesn’t she?) It was also nice to see a more human, slightly less crazy side of Celeste — though with her, it’s all relative. Celeste says she wants to break up Will and Alicia, and all she needs to do to make this happen is to tell Alicia about his past. “Will is like me. He’ll always disappoint you,” she warns. It’s a great scene because it’s impossible to know exactly how to read Celeste, and you can almost hear Alicia wondering to herself: Is she jealous? Genuinely concerned for a fellow female? A bit of both? Alicia doesn’t know the answer, but her willingness to endure Celeste’s craziness suggests she’d really, really like to find out.

Stray thoughts:

— I love that David can’t use “the Cull divorce” as a safe word with Alicia because now he’s actually working on a Cull divorce.

— It was also mice to see Geneva back this week, though did you think maybe she was a little jealous of Imani and Cary?

— The tutor subplot is still not working for me. I understand why it’s there (Alicia always has to have some domestic fires to put out), but still, it’s just … off.

— It’s always nice to see Aaron Staton (a.k.a. Ken Cosgrove), but I wish he had a little more to do.

— Assuming Will isn't fibbing, I wonder who was the Martha to Alicia's Caitlin?



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— Meredith Blake

Photo: Archie Panjabi and Alan Cumming star in "The Good Wife." Credit: Jeffrey Neira//CBS.