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'The Good Wife' recap: The agony and the ecstasy

February 16, 2011 |  8:20 am


As wonderful as "The Good Wife" is, it also can be one of the most vexing shows on television. Tuesday night's episode, which featured some of the best writing and acting I've ever seen on the show, also included a long, silly R-rated sexual interlude and ended with Alicia's predictably disastrous confrontation with Will. It's a prime example of why "The Good Wife" makes for such thrilling, if frustrating, viewing -- and yes, those two things are probably related. 

Let's begin with the "case of the week," which in this episode isn't so much "inspired by the headlines" as it is a direct cut and paste.  Diane gets a call from Viola (played by Rita Wilson, the latest biggish name to guest star), a lady lawyer pal out in California (while we're on the subject, did the green-screen palm trees bother anyone else?).  She's representing Patric Edelstein (Jack Carpenter), a twentysomething programming whiz and internet bajillionaire.  He's also the subject of a new biopic that plays fast and loose with the story of his life. No points for guessing this case is inspired by/based on "The Social Network" and Mark Zuckerberg. Edelstein is suing the studio for defamation, and Viola wants to outsource depositions to Lockhart, Gardner & Bond because, as Diane explains to Will, Illinois is more favorable to defamation suits.

Oftentimes, the case of the week is the weakest aspect on "The Good Wife," though that's usually only when it's a more run-of-the-mill murder situation (those are such a drag, am I right?). I enjoy the show the most when episodes have a case of the week inspired by real-life political or cultural issues -- such as the Cameron Todd Willingham execution in Texas, or the Muhammad cartoon controversy. Some of these episodes have almost a cheat-sheet quality, like just by watching them I get a primer on certain legal issues. Will decides to change the legal strategy in the Edelstein case, suing for "right of publicity" rather than defamation. Since the studio used Edelstein's public profile and name recognition to sell merchandise and sign lucrative product-placement deals, he has a right to the profits. The studio argues, unconvincingly, that the film is a "transformative work of art" and not merely a commercial product.

Lockhart Gardner & Bond's victory is sealed when Will asks the car-company executive the pivotal question: Would they have paid for product placement if the movie had been about a fictional computer programmer?  Studio lawyer Burl Preston (played by the wonderful F. Murray Abraham, a.k.a. Salieri in "Amadeus") immediately folds. There's plenty to consider here: "narrative truth" versus the facts, art versus commerce, the right to privacy versus the right to free expression.

The scene in which Will takes deposition from the film's screenwriter, Rand Blaylock (Stephen Kunken), is one of the smartest discussions I've heard regarding "The Social Network."  Like "Social Network" writer Aaron Sorkin, Rand is contemptuous of Internet culture and, like Sorkin, has struggled with drugs. "This whole movie was my attempt to get back at the Internet," he admits. Just when I thought there wasn't anything else to say on the subject of this exhaustively discussed film, "The Good Wife" proves me wrong. It's also interesting that this episode, which questions the right of the artist to take liberties with someone else's life story, was doing exactly the same thing. At one point, Rand dismisses Will's criticisms, daring him to "write your own movie making fun of me and get Mr. Edelstein to finance it." If Mark Zuckerberg were planning to finance a critical Aaron Sorkin biopic, he can probably save his pennies for something else. Now the question is, should Aaron Sorkin be upset that "The Good Wife" stole "his story" and depicted him as an egomaniac?  Whatever the case may be, it's only appropriate that this show, where technology is so often the foe, should weigh in on the definitive movie about the Internet era.

Now, if anyone has the right to be mad at the Internet, and technology in general, it's Alicia. On a road trip from Oregon to Chicago, Alicia and Owen spend the night in a wood-paneled motel room somewhere in Idaho. They're both dressed down in cool-yet-casual winter apparel, looking like models from a J. Crew Christmas catalog. (Wasn't it nice to see Alicia without all that makeup, for once?) Owen has the ability to ferret out all of his sister's deeply suppressed anxieties, and he quickly discerns that she has some unresolved feelings for "Mr. Georgetown." After several glasses of wine, she blurts out the truth. "Will phoned me to tell me something, but I never got the message." Alicia tells him the whole sordid tale, blaming the lost message on her phone, which "gobbles things." (See what I mean about technology?) Owen mocks Alicia's technical ineptitude but then very sincerely urges her to put on something nice -- "businesslike, not too slutty" -- and confront Will. I assume that Owen's move to Chicago means that the fantastic Dallas Roberts will be featured more regularly going forward. His scenes with Alicia, so vital and authentic, have easily been the highlight of the show for me this season. I am glad he'll be around to be the devil constantly hovering over Alicia's shoulder.

At Owen's encouragement, Alicia finally works up the nerve to talk to Will about the deleted voicemail. She even gets dressed up in a sexy yet office-appropriate LBD, a detail that made Will's rejection even more painful (as any woman can tell you, getting dumped is at least three times worse if you're wearing heels). I am not going to lie to you, my heart was racing this entire scene, and I actually screamed bloody murder at the outcome (sorry, upstairs neighbors!). When Will shut his office door, I was sure he was going to tell Alicia the truth. In retrospect, I should have known this was not going to happen and that he'd use the opportunity to save face -- much as Alicia did a few weeks back. (Those of you who are gluttons for punishment can relive the rejection above.) So, the tide has turned, and now it's Alicia's turn to feel rejected and pine away in silence as Tammy and Will blather on about three-pointer this and three-pointer that. I understand the need to keep this situation unresolved for as long as possible, but 'The Good Wife" is a serious tease. The question is, now that Will knows Alicia never got the mesage in the first place, is he going to second-guess his decision? The correct answer to this is "duh."

Before I go, I must quickly discuss the Kalinda and Blake situation. Although Kalinda's ruthless bed-hopping is, on one hand, a wonder to behold, there's a "Skinemax" quality to these scenes that is just way too over-the-top for me, especially in an episode that was otherwise delightfully understated. I have a feeling that "Good Wife" fans fall into one of two camps: those who love the increasingly kitschy Kalinda stuff and those who really don't. I adore Archie Panjabi and revel in the fact that a bisexual investigator of color is the undisputed hero of a network television show, but I do wish the writers would come up with something for her to do other than mumble sexily and grab people's crotches. There's an ever-so-fine line between sexy and silly, and I think it's been crossed.

So, there you have it: the finest two-thirds of a "Good Wife" yet.

What we learned: Baltimore gang MS13 is expanding to Chicago to partner with Lemond Bishop. Blake's into Georgia O'Keefe. Kalinda equates sex with takeout food. And, oh yeah, she's married.

Further questions: Did Kalinda break into Dr. Booth's office, or did Blake frame her? We still don't have an answer. Was Blake sent to Chicago to pave the way for the MS13-Bishop merger or the Lockhart, Gardner & Bond one? How long are we going to have to wait for Will to second-guess his decision?

Real-life inspiration: Do I really need to tell you?

-- Meredith Blake


Complete Show Tracker coverage of "The Good Wife"

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'The Good Wife' recap: Breaking up is hard to do

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