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'The Good Wife' recap: Family business

March 12, 2012 | 10:05 am

The Good Wife Julianna Margulies Christine Baranski

In this week’s episode of “The Good Wife,” titled “The Long Way Home,” two wildly different characters — scheming psychopath Colin Sweeney and pretty, competent Caitlin — surprise the gang at Lockhart-Gardner by opting to start families of their own. It’s an interesting, if somewhat overstuffed episode that tries to tackle issues as diverse as the state of feminism, workplace romance, legal ethics, incidental racism, and — oh yeah — parenthood in the space of 44 tightly-packed minutes. That’s a whole lot of ground to cover, and in the end I don’t think the episode quite coheres.  A running gag this week is Alicia’s constant “multi-tasking”: She spends a good part of the episode on the cellphone, juggling calls from her kids, her Realtor, Diane and Peter. It's a nice metaphor for the episode as a whole — good at everything it does, but overextended. 

Part of the problem, I think, is the continuing lack of an overarching narrative to the season. Now that Will’s investigation is over, and he’s already returned to the office, there’s no single storyline tying the show together week to week. And each time it looks like “The Good Wife” is about to go in one direction, it pivots and goes in another. I appreciate that the writers still know how to defy our expectations, but at some point you have to wonder if all the misdirection is indicative of a lack of direction. 

Take Caitlin, for instance. For weeks the show has been building to some kind of confrontation between Alicia and the ambitious first-year associate. Suspecting that Caitlin’s uncle David Lee has been advising her on strategy for the Sweeney case, Alicia gives her mentee a talking-to. The next day, Caitlin abruptly resigns from the firm — because she’s pregnant and getting married. (Weird, isn’t it, that David Lee doesn’t know this when he freaks out at Alicia?) It’s a double dose of surprise: First, that Caitlin never really turns out to be the adversary we expected her to be. Second, and more critically, the talented young lawyer chooses to give up her career even though she doesn’t really have to; she just prefers to be a mom. “The Good Wife” is one of the most staunchly feminist shows on television, and the Caitlin storyline is a terrific example of the show’s progressive gender politics, proving that women can get along in the workplace and respect each other's big life decisions. Who knew?

In the end, Caitlin is there to remind Alicia of her own journey from reluctant political spouse to high-paid corporate attorney.  “She’ll be back in 15 years, like you,” Diane predicts, but Alicia’s not convinced. To emphasize the point, Caitlin opts out of the workforce just as Alicia considers buying back the Highland Park home where she once lived with Peter and the kids. (Readers, this is what's known as "symbolism.") Alicia is at first repulsed, then seduced, then finally repulsed all over again by the idea of returning to her suburban life. In the closing minutes of the episode, Alicia tours her old home, breaking down in tears at the sight of the height chart — which, for some odd reason, the new owners have not painted over yet. The implications of her meltdown are pretty clear:  As friendly as she and Peter are these days, and as expensive as city living is, Alicia is not ready to go back to the way things were.

Even the case of the week, which marks the return of recurring crazy Colin Sweeney, is a meditation on parenthood and domesticity — albeit a patently absurd one. Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Sweeney storylines, which, though fun, are a tad farcical for my liking. I also find it strange that the writers keep bringing back a character who’s so derivative, like a high camp version of Hannibal Lecter. This time around, Sweeney’s bid to take over his company is stymied when an attractive former employee, Isabel (played by “Homeland” star Morena Baccarin) claims Sweeney sexually harassed her — and that he’s the father of her young son.

As usual, Sweeney is less than forthcoming about his relationship with Isabel, and in an intriguing subplot, Alicia turns to Will for advice: How should a lawyer handle a client who perjures himself on the witness stand? It’s an interesting legal question, but it gets lost somewhat in all the icky turkey baster, sperm-as-property discussion. In the end, Isabel and Sweeney surprise everyone by rekindling their, uh, romance and deciding to raise their son together. Their new arrangement just underscores Alicia’s domestic ennui: If these two scam artists are able to find happiness together, surely she should be able to as well. 

Rounding out an extremely dense — and rather graphic — episode is Cary’s storyline. When Peter hears a rumor that some employees had sex on his couch, he asks Cary to investigate. This, of course, puts Cary in an awkward position, given his relationship with Dana, but he dutifully makes the rounds of the office, bringing with him a color printout of Peter’s couch as “Exhibit A.” (For some reason, this detail really cracks me up, as if the guilty party will only remember having sex once they see a picture of the comically drab little sofa.) In a textbook “Good Wife” twist, it turns out the two lovebirds are gay men. Peter fires the senior employee — who also happens to be black. Geneva suggests that it’s just the latest in a series of racist decisions by Peter, who’s got a heavy trigger finger when it comes to dismissing and demoting employees of color, but refuses to fire Cary even after he confesses to a sexual relationship with Dana. I guess Cary and Dana deserve credit for not doing it on Peter’s couch the office, but still, Geneva’s got a point. What I’m wondering is whether Cary will leave Peter’s office and return to Lockhart-Gardner. After all, with Caitlin gone, they’re going to need a talented litigator. Could Cary’s homecoming be around the corner?

In the end, I think the component parts of the episode work well, but I can’t shake the feeling that this season of “The Good Wife” is adding up to less than the sum of its parts. Each episode works wonderfully on its own, but there’s a frustrating lack of momentum from week to week. Part of the problem, I think, is that this ambitious series continues to juggle a half-dozen or so storylines simultaneously, leaving some on the back burner for months at a time. This season lacks an obvious climactic event, à la Peter’s election, meaning that with just six episodes left to go, the show still feels like it could go anywhere. This lack of predictability is exciting, of course, but it also makes me a little nervous. Here’s hoping Season 3 ends with a bang — and not a whimper. 

What do you think? Are you frustrated with the show's direction of late, or do you think it's as solid as ever?

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— Meredith Blake
twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Christine Baranski and Julianna Margulies in "The Good Wife." Credit: John P. Filo/CBS Broadcasting Inc. 

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