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'The Good Wife' recap: Alicia versus the Internet

January 16, 2012 | 10:03 am

Mr. Bit Coin

Alicia Florrick isn't a Luddite, exactly, but she's always been suspicious of -- and intimidated by -- technology. Given the role the Internet played in her husband’s very public scandal, Alicia's wariness is perfectly understandable, but as a lawyer she has repeatedly had to confront her technophobia head-on. In this week’s episode, “Bitcoin for Dummies,” Alicia appears to have vanquished her digital insecurities once and for all.

Alicia’s latest client, Dylan Stack (Jason Biggs), is a lawyer representing the anonymous inventor of a digital currency called Bitcoin. Alicia’s other great foe, Gordon Higgs of the Treasury Department, is trying to shut down Bitcoin and arrest its inventor for the crime of creating an alternate currency. Stack argues that the true identity of “Mr. Bitcoin” is protected by attorney-client privilege, so Hicks goes after Stack instead, hoping he’ll cave under pressure.

Alicia is initially baffled by the very concept of Bitcoin, but by the end of the episode she’s become something of an expert, able to debate the finer points of IP addresses, code-embedding, and  “ghosting” computers. You can tell she’s pretty pleased with herself, and rightfully so. I’m sure there are entire law firms who specialize in cases like this one, so it’s nice to see the show acknowledge, however subtly, the difficulty of Alicia’s task. 

Apparently, Bitcoin is actually a real thing, invented by someone with the possibly pseudonymous name of Satoshi Nakamoto. I was totally ignorant of this phenomenon until I googled it after the show, and the discovery makes me sympathize with Alicia when she tells Zach, “This stuff makes me feel so dated.” Executive producers Robert and Michelle King must have anticipated this response from their audience, because the episode does, in fact, play rather like “Bitcoin for Dummies.” One of the things I like about “The Good Wife” is how it educates viewers about specific legal or political issues, but even still this episode veers too far into didacticism for my taste.

In a strategy session at the office, Will suggests they argue that Bitcoin is a commodity, and not a currency. Cut to the courtroom, where CNBC personality Jim Cramer enumerates the ways in which Bitcoin differs from real currency. It's useful, but it also feels a little like we're watching a very well-produced PowerPoint presentation. Thankfully, Higgs' cross-examination provides some levity: He asks Cramer if he is “the TV personality who regularly shouts and badgers on ‘Mad Money.’ " It’s entertaining stuff, to be sure, and it’s nice that Cramer is game for a bit of self-deprecation, but his appearance also feels conspicuously inorganic. Surely there are more qualified currency experts in the Chicago area? 

As she often does in these situations, Alicia turns to Zach for help with the Bitcoin case. In the process she overhears Zach and Nisa saying “I love you” to each other. Worried that the relationship is getting too serious, Alicia tells Zach that Nisa can't come over so often. Later, when she hears that her archenemy, Jackie, has said the same thing, Alicia practically spits out her Chardonnay in shock. Just like that, Nisa is back at the house on a nightly basis. I'm not sure what to make of this twist, as funny as it is: Are we supposed to think that Alicia has more in common with Jackie than she thinks, or that Alicia really is uncomfortable with Nisa’s race?

Like all episodes that lean heavily on the case-of-the-week stuff, “Bitcoin for Dummies” is something of a filler episode — a perfectly pleasant way to keep us occupied until things get exciting again come sweeps time. But it’s elevated by the focus it puts on Kalinda, who really gets a chance to shine. While Alicia’s trying to wrap her head around the concept of "crypto-currency," Kalinda goes on the hunt for the real Mr. Bitcoin. The investigation leads Kalinda to Decode-A-Con, a cryptography convention, where she meets two promising suspects: One is Elaine, an attractive blond she meets in the otherwise-abandoned ladies’ room, and the other is Bao, a Chinese “econophysicist.” After some impressive sleuthing, Kalinda figures out that Mr. Bitcoin isn’t one person, but three acting in unison — Elaine, Bao and Dylan. Sure, it strains credulity that a humble in-house investigator at a Chicago law firm would be able to solve a mystery that’s eluded the entire cryptography community, but so what? It makes me feel strangely proud to see Kalinda crack the case, and to do so without breaking any laws, bones or hearts along the way.

I do worry, though, about Kalinda’s relationship with Dana. This week we learn that when Will quit gambling, his bookie, Jonathan Meade, forgave an $8,000 debt. It’s an unusually generous gesture, especially for a bookie, which is why Will is worried it might be interpreted as a payoff in exchange for introductions to influential judges. Wendy tells Will and Elsbeth — whose scatterbrained, easily distracted shtick is really beginning to annoy me — that she won’t take his case to a grand jury if he’s willing to turn evidence. With help from Eslbeth, Will gets Wendy to reveal the name of the judges under investigation, but then pleads ignorance about their connection to Meade.

Feeling that she's been played, Wendy decides to fight back, using the possibly forged rider from last week as ammunition. Dana gives Kalinda an ultimatum: They will move to have Alicia disbarred unless Kalinda helps them get to Will. It’s a “Sophie’s Choice” scenario for Kalinda, who’s always been loyal to Alicia but has recently grown much closer to Will — this week, in a touching display of vulnerability, he even tells her how scared he is of going to jail. So how are we to interpret Kalinda’s decision to hand over the McDermott file to Dana, she of the evil side-ponytail?  Could she really have turned on Will that easily? Something tells me the truth is far more interesting than that.

 Other observations:

--There's a nice parallel between the BItcoin plot and Will's storyline. After all, what Will is accused of is its own form of illegal trading.

--At this point, I think the Kings might owe some royalty checks to the New Yorker, which ran a story about Bitcoin in October, and which also provided the inspiration for last season’s high point, “Nine Hours.”

--“I mix metaphors when I’m tired.”

--“Elaine Middleton, MIT.” “Kalinda Sharma, St. Mary’s High.”

--“What’s an econophysicist?” “I have no idea, but they’re very impressed with themselves.”

--Watching Kalinda traipsing around Decode-A-Con in her trademark leather boots and miniskirt, I kept thinking how she would probably be the fantasy girl for many of the computer geeks in attendance. After all, she is basically a video-game heroine.

--I wonder why the writers didn’t bother to come up with a fake name for “Bitcoin,” the way they’ve done with “FaceBranch”and “FactSwim” in the past.

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— Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Julianna Margulies and Jason Biggs. Credit: David M. Russell / CBS

 

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