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'The Good Wife' recap: Both sides now

November 14, 2011 |  9:52 am

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“The Good Wife” is a show that skews left, but executive producers Robert and Michelle King obviously strive for balance in their storytelling: They like to humanize conservatives as much as they enjoy painting liberals as hypocrites. This week's episode, “Death Row Tip,” feels like the counterweight to last year’s fantastic “Nine Hours,” in which Alicia and the gang saved a death-row inmate from wrongful execution at the last minute.

This time around, the inmate in question, Ricky, is guilty, but he’s also the only person who knows the identity of a gang member responsible for killing two people whose bodies were recently uncovered in Douglas Park. Lockhart-Gardner's client has been charged with one of the murders, and they win a stay of execution for Ricky so they can get him to squeal. The cynical strategy is to play up the hardship of Ricky’s youth, so Alicia and Justin stop by his mother’s house, hoping to take some “photos of sadness and squalor.” Only it turns out he grew up on a nice, semi-suburban street in a loving family. There’s some great dark humor to the scene, as it rapidly becomes clear that Ricky’s childhood was more “Leave It to Beaver” than ”Angela’s Ashes.” He even got tons of presents at Christmas.

Ricky’s crimes — the rape and murder of teenage girls — hit  home with Alicia, and she isn’t terribly excited about having to defend him. She and Justin have a thoughtful, if somewhat contrived, conversation about whether Ricky deserves to die. Justin says it would still be wrong to execute him; Alicia isn’t so sure. It’s nice to see Alicia get all morally indignant once again; it’s been awhile since we saw her so squeamish about her work as a lawyer.

In the end, Ricky proves to be the monster Alicia believes he is. As they wait to enter the prison on the night of his execution, Alicia tells the family priest, Father Jim (played by "Breaking Bad's" Mark Margolis, in yet another fun Sunday-night crossover) that Ricky helped with the case. Father Jim is relieved to hear there may be some good in Ricky after all, but he’s quickly proved wrong.  As he’s being escorted to the Indiana death chamber, Ricky bids farewell to his family by telling them, “You can burn in hell, both of you. I want you to suffer every day of your life thinking of me.” It was an indelicate way to remind us that many people on death row are not just guilty, but rotten to the core. It’s a valid point, but I wonder whether the Kings might have made it in a more nuanced way (the funky music cue and Ricky's mom's exaggerated look of horror didn't help in the subtlety department). Couldn’t Ricky have been a cold-blooded maniac who also loved his family — or at least knew how to pretend that he did? After all, that's what psychopaths do best.

As with seemingly everything on “The Good Wife,” it’s also incredibly timely, given the high-profile execution of Troy Davis in September. Like Davis, Ricky is granted a brief stay of execution but is eventually killed. In another coincidence, if you ask me, “Death Row Trip” airs the very same weekend that Werner Herzog’s new death-penalty documentary, “Into the Abyss,” in which one of the killers suffered from neuroblastomas as a child, as Ricky supposedly did, arrives in theaters. Was the French documentarian in this episode a wink-wink reference to Herzog (who is German, but still), or am I  over-thinking this?

Kalinda has been relegated to the sidelines this season, so it was nice that she received so much air time in "Death Row Trip." Unfortunately, the Dana-Kalinda-Cary love triangle was too rushed to really work as a storyline. It all begins when Kalinda stops by the state’s attorney’s office in search of her old pal, Cary, but runs into Dana instead. They both present their hypotheses regarding the bodies buried in Douglas Park, and to be fair, Kalinda’s makes a whole lot more sense. (Did Dana really believe that the victims of two totally unrelated crimes were simultaneously buried within a few feet of each other? Because that’s crazy.) But that’s beside the point. Their exchange is competitive, but there’s a strong undercurrent of flirtation, so when they wind up at a bar sharing some tequila, it’s not terribly surprising. Dana asks Kalinda for information about Will’s relationship with Judge Baxter, and Kalinda, in turn, asks for footage from the anti-gang camera. I think Dana might be more of a Kalinda than Kalinda is these days: She’s the one who wanders over to a booth from the bar, and she’s the one who flirtatiously asks Kalinda about her jacket.

Whatever the case may be, Cary’s warning to Dana — “I know a lot of people who weren’t anything until they met Kalinda” — feels a tad premature, as does his confrontation with Kalinda. Still, the showdown itself was great: After a scary gun fight, Cary and Kalinda are both feeling emotionally vulnerable. She thanks him for protecting her, he asks what she wants from him, and they make out. But then Cary walks out the door, leaving Kalinda all alone. Is he protecting himself, or does he feel loyal to Dana? I tend to think it’s the former, and that Dana is a kind of stand-in for Kalinda, but I could be wrong.

Further complicating the issue is Kalinda’s relationship with Will, who’s just about her only friend — or quasi-friend — these days. She tells Will that Dana’s been sniffing around for info on his relationship with Judge Baxter. He denies paying off Baxter but rather cryptically, admits that “I think I know why they think I did.” Kalinda promises to help Will out, and he replies, “I feel like hugging you.” You get the sense that he’d be happy to do a whole lot more than that — and maybe he has already. I sure hope not.

There isn’t much interaction between Will and Alicia this week, but what we do get is pretty great. “Diane’s been eyeing us like we’re a lawsuit waiting to happen,” Will says, and they begin to discuss the idea of taking a break when, naturally, Eli interrupts the conversation. This sets us up nicely for next week, when Diane confronts Will about their relationship and the liability it’s becoming for the firm.  It promises to be a juicy episode. 

Rounding out the episode is another mildly farcical Eli plot. Mickey Gunn, the show’s thinly veiled version of James Carville, asks Eli for help in dealing with his client, Rob Mulvey, a Republican-turned-Democrat with a minor scandal on his hands. An old photo of Mulvey performing a lewd act on a grinning plastic Santa statue has surfaced, and Mickey and Eli have to do some damage control.  They decide to leak the story to Chris Matthews (in yet another pundit cameo) framing it as a piece about how political campaigns will change as “the Facebook generation” comes of age. Only problem is Matthews unearths photos of Mulvey doing naughty things to statues at the National Gallery. It’s a riff on the real-life case of congressional candidate Krystal Ball (yes, that’s her real name), whose campaign was derailed by some embarrassing Christmas-themed photographs taken when she was barely out of college.

The story is played for laughs, and it’s very funny — especially when Eli notes that “Santa’s expression does not help” — but I wonder why Eli actually name-checks the Krystal Ball scandal. The show did the same thing with its spin on Mark Zuckerberg and “The Social Network,” which was equally weird. I don’t see why the show needs to point out its real-life inspiration; it undermines the whole conceit, doesn’t it? Anyway, it’s a minor quibble with an otherwise very amusing storyline. My favorite joke is the nickname that the press gives Mulvey: “Santa’s Little Helper.” Ho-ho-ho.

Other thoughts:

-- I’d like to see “The Good Wife” dabble a little bit more into the world of juvenile justice, which it flirted with in this episode: A 14-year-old wannabe gang banger confesses to the murder, and even though no one really believes he did it, the cops want to make an arrest. Now that’s something I’d love to see dramatized on this show.

-- Are Marissa and Zack going to get it on? I love this show’s willingness to exploit Zack’s love life for the sake of drama.

-- Classic Eli: “Ben, Hal…Do you date anyone with more than one syllable?”

-- What was Grace’s tutor up to with the body paint? It was a funny punchline, but, man, that subplot will not go away, will it?

-- Jackie, who desperately rifles through Alicia’s things looking for signs her daughter-in-law's sexual activity, has officially hit rock bottom.

-- Funny that Chris Matthews starred as himself in this episode but that his interview with Mulvey aired on some fake local news show, not MSNBC.

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— Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Archie Panjabi, Matt Czuchry, Christine Baranski, Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, Chris Noth, and Alan Cumming star in "The Good Wife." Credit: CBS

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