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'The Good Wife' recap: The gambler

November 7, 2011 |  9:47 am

THE-GOOD-WIFE-Hope-Season-3-Episode-7-7

"The Good Wife" is officially on a roll. This season took a little while to hit its stride, but the show has moved from strength to strength in recent weeks. Sunday night's episode was edifying and hugely entertaining, as wonky as it was hilarious.

The case of the week involves an American named Marwat who was arrested and tortured by the Army because of his alleged links to terrorism in Afghanistan. He's suing the U.S. government for his treatment. The case is a point of contention between Diane, a well-disguised bleeding-heart liberal, and Will, something of an apologist for torture. "Our government took steps to prevent another 9/11," he says.

One of the things that distinguishes "The Good Wife" from other procedurals is how cleverly it uses relatively obscure legal issues to generate big narrative twists. This episode is named "Executive Order 13224," after a decree issued 12 days after the 9/11 attacks. The goal of the order was to disrupt the funding of terrorist networks, but it also allowed representatives of the Treasury to interrogate lawyers representing alleged terrorists, an intrusion on the traditionally privileged attorney-client relationship.

The order means Alicia has to testify before cupcake-loving Treasury representative Gordon Higgs, played by the excellent Bob Balaban. (Seriously, "The Good Wife" is threatening to surpass "30 Rock" as the TV show with the most impressive guest stars.) Good lawyer that she is, Alicia is reluctant to disclose the details of Marwat's case, but she's also terrified by the threat of a $250,000 fine and eight years' prison time, so she seeks legal counsel.

Alicia ignores Diane and Will's suggestion and hires Peter's old attorney, the flaky-but-ruthless Elsbeth Tasconi (Carrie Preston). In an ingenious ploy, Elsbeth "asks" Alicia for help with a case dealing with the insurance company representing Marwat's employer and — voila! — Alicia is a protected by a conflict of interest. It's all quite entertaining, especially when Alicia recreates her conversation with Elsbeth in the most stilted way possible. "I need help on this insurance case. I'm swamped. Look at all this paper," she says, gesturing robotically.

For more than a year, the show has hinted at the dark secrets in Will's past. This week, we finally find out what Will has hidden in his closet. Happily, there are no severed heads, only $45,000 he stole from a client to cover his gambling debts. (Suddenly, Celeste's goofy cereal poker makes a little more sense, doesn't it?) As far as deep, dark secrets go, it's a pretty good one, in the sense that it's bad for Will if it gets out, but it's probably not a romantic deal breaker for Alicia.

The problem for Will — and for Lockhart Gardner — is that Blake squealed to the state's attorney's office about the theft. Now Peter "Mr. Clean" Florrick wants an audit of the firm's practices, especially its dealings with drug kingpin Lemond Bishop. Given Peter and Cary's close ties to Lockhart Gardner, the investigation promises to be a dense thicket of personal and professional conflicts. Cary warns Peter against pursuing the inquiry, but Peter thinks the firm's ties to Bishop are strong enough that he can justify the decision. The investigation should provide a nice, juicy dramatic through-line for the remainder of the season, especially given that Cary and Dana are out for blood in a major way (Dana calls their visit to Will's office a "reminder with teeth," and it seemed she meant it literally.)

This week, the investigation leads to a fantastic showdown between Peter and Will. There was never any love lost between these two, but until this week, they managed to keep things cordial. Not anymore. In a tacit acknowledgement of his relationship with Alicia, Will accuses Peter of auditing the firm to get back at his estranged wife. "You're pitiful. Get a pair of balls and throw a punch," he tells Peter, who fires back by calling him a criminal. It was a wonder to behold, reminiscent of the scene in "Bridget Jones's Diary" when Colin Firth and Hugh Grant get into a fistfight. (Is it terrible that I'd love to see them throw a few punches?) Watching these two alpha males going at it, I also couldn't help but think that Alicia really has a type. I remain a proud member of Team Will, but there isn't so much difference between these men, is there? They're both cocky, smart and dangerously competitive.

For an episode that could have easily been weighed down by legalese, "Executive Order 13224" instead feels playful, experimental. Throughout the episode, we see  an imagined version of the redacted testimony, with a judge and lawyer speaking in long, bleeped-out passages. It's a stylistic departure for "The Good Wife," which rarely if ever has featured this kind of aside before, but it's a vivid and effective way to illustrate the absurdity of the task at hand — gleaning nuggets of useful information from page after page of redacted text. The depositions become an enormous word puzzle, and the language nerd in me got a little giddy when Caitlin discovered that one of the redacted names could be used to describe "short, one-word answers." (Answer: Curt!)

Another highlight was the sexual harassment video that Diane forces the entire firm to watch as an elaborate way of warning Will and Alicia. Diane knows something's going on — she overheard Alicia's distinctive cellphone ring when she called Will earlier in the episode — and she's not too pleased about it. "In the workplace, sexuality can easily become sexual harassment," warns the narrator in the low-budget video. (The lame synthesizer score was my favorite part.) Cut to a shot of Will and Alicia sitting next to each other. She looks like the cat that swallowed the canary. Will, on the other hand, is too preoccupied by the impending audit — and the revelation of his gambling problems — to worry much about the video.

As funny as the video was, the scene fit in with the pattern I've noticed so far this season. While we've only caught a few glimpses of Will and Alicia together in private, we've had several episodes in a row which end with an interaction between these two at the office. Each week, another red flag is raised. This time around, we're reminded that Will and Alicia's relationship could easily derail one or both of their careers.

Well into the show's third season, the Kings seem more willing than ever take formal risks, and this week their adventurousness paid off big time. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Other thoughts:

— I'm missing Kalinda this season. I'm hoping we get a big Kalinda episode in the coming weeks.

— Tiny quibble: While Higgs eats his lunch outside, Radio City Music Hall and a New York Sports Club location are clearly visible in the background. Has "The Good Wife" entirely given up the pretense that this show is set in Chicago?

— Is Grace going to plot to reunite her parents out of some misguided religious fervor? Also, Grace really is the most impressionable 14-year-old on planet Earth, isn't she?

— We all knew that Dana was never actually going to take that job, right?

— I think someone on "The Good Wife" writing staff must have a major sweet tooth. Higgs must be the fourth or fifth guest character with a fondness for sugary confections.

RELATED:

"The Good Wife" recap: A fatal exception

"The Good Wife" recap: Those 3 little words

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

— Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Makenzie Vega and Chris Noth star in "The Good Wife." Credit: David M. Russell / CBS

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