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'The Good Wife' recap: Déjà vu all over again

April 16, 2012 |  7:23 am

Alicia Jackie The Good Wife

Alicia finds herself back in an all too familiar place in the closing moments of the latest “The Good Wife,” appearing with Peter as he formally declares his bid to become governor. The image of the faithful spouse standing by her man has become a recurring motif in this series, with each recurrence indicating the latest step in Alicia’s personal development. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

 There was, of course, the iconic moment from the series pilot when Alicia stood, dazed and silent, at Peter’s press conference. And she was there—if rather distracted by her feelings for Will—once again when Peter announced his unlikely campaign to win back the office of state’s attorney. It wasn’t until the end of last season, after discovering Peter’s dalliance with Kalinda, that Alicia finally left her husband to face the public on his own.

But this time Alicia's there to endorse Peter’s gubernatorial campaign, and behind the scenes she’s frantically trying to buy back the house they once lived in together. It’s a state of affairs which, quite frankly, fills me with dread. (My notes on this episode end with this trenchant observation: "UGH NOOOOOOO!") To those on the outside, at least, it looks like she’s stood by her man the entire time, as have so many real-life spouses like Hillary Clinton and Silda Spitzer. But, as is often the case on “The Good Wife,” the circumstances are far more complicated than the triumphant photo op might suggest.

It’s hard to tell what, exactly, is running through Alicia’s mind at this point, but there’s little doubt her well-justified dislike for Peter’s chief rival, Mike Kresteva, is a large motivating factor. Compared with Kresteva, who lies with the chilling ease of a psychopath and is, as Eli succinctly puts it, “like, Blagojevich dangerous,” Peter seems like an altar boy. (Kresteva isn't fooling anyone with all his Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain quotes.) Alicia has always respected her estranged husband’s political abilities, and this time around her role is more active—she’s endorsing Peter, not merely supporting him. (Note how Peter even shows her off to the audience; he knows he’s lucky to have her.) So maybe Alicia just wants what’s best for the people of Illinois, even if that means pretending everything in her marriage is copacetic? If we are to take Kresteva’s warning seriously, the irony is that Alicia is the one who’s going to suffer the most acutely as a result of Peter's campaign.

Speaking of which, how are we to interpret Peter’s decision to forge ahead with his gubernatorial campaign, despite Kresteva’s promise to make Alicia’s life a living hell? Depending on your perspective, Peter is either selflessly putting the public interest before that of his family, or he’s once again letting his ego call the shots. (Of course, it’s probably a little bit of both, isn’t it?) In any case, I have a sneaking suspicion/hope that Peter’s ambitions are unlikely to endear himself to his estranged wife.

 Alicia’s rivalry with Jackie also seems to have contributed to her willingness to partake in the happy marriage charade. Alicia isn’t even quite sure if she wants her old life back, but the very idea that Jackie could own her old house, and — even worse — that her kids and husband might live there without her, drives Alicia to the edge.  You have to love that Jackie remains as awful as ever, even when she’s incapacitated by a stroke. Did anyone else think for a second there that Jackie might apologize to Alicia in the hospital — and promptly laugh out loud when she instead whispered, “I forgive you”? I’d love to see Jackie face off with the Dowager Countess.

This week’s case, another thinly veiled riff on real-life headlines, also heightens this episode’s murky sense of morality and motivation. Diane and Alicia are defending Lindsay, one of three young women convicted of murder who now are faced with a difficult choice. Either they must agree to stand trial all over again, or they must file an Alford plea, which will allow them to go free but will preclude them from suing the county for crime lab infractions, and will also mean a lifetime as convicted felons. Robert and Michelle King no doubt took inspiration from the West Memphis Three, who last year were freed after 18 years in prison after agreeing to an Alford plea.

Beyond its obvious real-life parallels, the case also complicates our idea of “fairness” — which, come to think of it, is more or less the theme of the entire episode. Is pleading guilty to a crime you didn’t commit worth it if it means getting out of prison? On a less dramatic scale, is it worth it for Eli to abandon Vanessa’s campaign in order to ingratiate himself — and, by extension, Peter — to Democratic Party operatives? And is it right for Alicia to ignore Kresteva’s allegations about meddling with the blue ribbon panel, even if it means he gets away with lying? What this show continues to do brilliantly is show how, all too often, idealism is a poor antidote for the cynicism — and outright corruption -- of contemporary politics.

“It’s getting murkier by the day,” Cary says when Alicia asks about his sudden disillusionment with the state’s attorney’s office, but it could easily be the show’s motto.  



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-- Meredith Blake

Photo: Alicia (Julianna Margulies), left, confronts Jackie (Mary Beth Peil).

Credit: Giovanni Rufino/CBS