'The Good Wife' recap: Welcome back to the dark side
Are Robert and Michelle King, creators of "The Good Wife," copping story ideas from their colleagues at "60 Minutes"? A few weeks ago, correspondent Lara Logan reported on the case of Michael Morton, a Texas man wrongfully imprisoned for 25 years in connection with the murder of his wife. The prosecutor in the case now faces charges of misconduct for allegedly withholding key evidence from the defense.
In this week's episode of "The Good Wife," "The Penalty Box," the Lockhart-Gardner gang defended Richard Cuesta, a former prosecutor, now a judge, who is facing a court of inquiry –- which, from what I can gather, is like a court for judges and lawyers -– over his role in the wrongful conviction of a man accused of killing his wife. Chances are this episode was in the works well before the "60 Minutes" report aired, but I'm continually impressed by "Good Wife's" impeccable news judgment.
The show frequently does these kind of "ripped from the headlines" cases, but unlike other procedurals, it also tends to dig deep and explore the legal and ethical implications of the cases in question, not just use them as pre-fabricated story lines. The show is especially interested in the flaws of the criminal justice system, and it tends to take the side of the underdog (not surprising, given that the Kings’ previous show, "In Justice" was all about a lawyer who sought to overturn wrongful convictions).
This week's "Good Wife" elaborated on the same themes, but it struck a chillingly ambiguous note. For one thing, Cuesta seemed like a jerk; even his grown daughter hated his guts. It also seemed clear that Cuesta was overzealous in his prosecution, and may have even planted prejudicial photos of the defendant in a place where the jury foreman would see them. Initially, Cuesta was reluctant to place the blame on his co-counsel, Lloyd, which is obviously more than a little ironic. But under questioning from "Murph," the latest in a long line of wacky-yet-formidable "Good Wife" judges, Cuesta claimed that Lloyd never handed over key credit card receipts. Maybe Cuesta was telling the truth, but that long, slow zoom-in on his face was hardly reassuring.
As with last week’s case, it was a victory that felt less than completely triumphant, even though, as Will explained, the firm's defense of Cuesta would ingratiate it to other judges. Over beers with her former nemesis and brand-new colleague Cary (don't worry, I'll get to this), Alicia expressed her ambivalence about the win -– and about her job more generally. "There are moments when I think, what the ... what am I doing?” she said, almost dropping an expletive. Cary seemed at least as jaded, claiming that the only thing he's learned in his two years away from Lockhart-Gardner is that "people lie. And the people who judge, they lie the most." Heartwarming isn't it?
As the second season draws to a close, everyone on "The Good Wife" seemed to be in a mode of self-reflection. There was Will's suspension, and now two cases in a row that undermine the very concepts of justice and fair judgment. Of course, this show has never propagated any illusions about the nobility of the legal profession -– after all, the very premise of "The Good Wife" is Saint Alicia’s transformation into a slick lawyer -– but lately it does seem particularly interested in the uglier side of the business. To wit, there was Cuesta’s claim that lawyers make him think hell might exist after all.
As for Cary, he made his long-awaited return to the firm in this episode. It almost didn't happen: Howie preferred Callie, Will's incredibly annoying new girlfriend, to Cary, whom he thinks might be gay because he'd like to take two "boys" -– Thurgood Marshall and Keith Richards -– with him on a desert island. (Seems like perfectly sound reasoning to me.) Will had to fess up about their relationship, prompting Diane to ask maybe the greatest question ever, "Could you please keep your pants zipped?" (Answer: Probably not.)
So Cary got the offer, but he was darn lucky: Peter caught wind of his interview at Lockhart-Gardner and fired him, which struck me as pretty ridiculous. This is the legal profession, after all. It's not ideal to get caught interviewing elsewhere, but surely people move on all the time -– especially people who've been demoted. But let's just be glad our Cary has a nice, fat paycheck coming his way. Moving forward, the big question will be whether Cary can truly put his various beefs with Will, Kalinda and Alicia behind him -– that and who will be the firm's new nemesis at the state's attorney’s office.
Kalinda hardly seemed too fazed by Cary's return, probably because she has much bigger things to worry about -- namely, not getting killed by Lemond Bishop. After Lana started poking around his books, Bishop warned Kalinda and Alicia that they need to "limit his exposure." The scene is well-executed, as Bishop turned on a dime from charming and professional to utterly terrifying.
Kalinda decided to confront Lana, and I expected something big or revelatory or at least emotionally raw -- Kalinda has been in trouble before, but not like this -– but instead she did the same old seduction routine we've seen like 15 times by now. Kalinda has been on the sidelines most of this season, which is why after all this time it's disappointing to see the writers haven't come up with something new for her to do.
As much as I love Kalinda, the Pansexual Badass, it would be nice to see more facets to her personality. I don't think we've heard a peep about "Leela" all season long, which is both impressive and a little ridiculous. The writers on this show sure know how to keep a story line on the back burner, don't they? In any case, I'm hopeful that her rekindled friendship with Alicia -- they're even drinking together again, hurray! -- will be fruitful in this regard.
Professional soul-searching aside, it was a relatively quiet week for Alicia, whose various personal dramas -- including her husband's campaign against the weaselly Mike Kresteva and her feud with her ailing mother-in-law – are conspicuously absent from the episode.
I'm guessing the writers are setting us up for something big in next week's finale, but to be honest, I have no idea what it will be, or which of the half-dozen or so recurring story lines it will involve: Alicia's and Peter's estranged relationship? The internal power struggles at the firm? Kalinda's ties to Lemond Bishop? Will's new romance with Callie? All of the above? It's impossible to know, and the unpredictability is both exciting and worrisome.
"The Good Wife" is still one of the best -– if not the best -– drama on network television, but it feels like there's a lack of narrative momentum as the season winds down. Do you agree?
-- Meredith Blake
Photo: Julianna Margulies, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry and David Paymer star in "The Good Wife." Credit: Jeffrey Neira / CBS