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'The Good Wife' recap: A fatal exception

October 31, 2011 |  9:40 am


This season of “The Good Wife” got off to a sputtering start, but after three solid episodes in a row I’m ready to declare that the show has its groove back. Like last week’s episode, “Marthas and Caitlins,” “Affairs of State” had three distinct, solidly written story lines that organically tied together. It was also the funniest installment of “The Good Wife” so far this season, and not just because of Parker Posey.

“Affairs of State” is a pun that works on at least three different levels. Most obviously, it refers to the case of the week: Lockhart-Gardner is representing Chen Jin-Pyn (Derek Mio), the son of a Taiwanese diplomat. He’s accused of attempted rape and murder of a drunken college girl on a “booze cruise.” The diplomatic immunity thing is a narrative device that TV writers really seem to love (see also: Indian burial grounds), but in typical overachiever fashion, “The Good Wife” adds a twist to the twist: Because the United States does not maintain separate diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Chen is not entitled to immunity after all.

Diane asks Eli if he knows anyone in the State Department who might be able to help get Chen released. Eli turns to his ex-wife, who’s working on the Obama 2012 campaign, for help. I have to take a moment to acknowledge the brilliance of casting Parker Posey as the ex-Mrs. Eli. She's one of the few actresses out there with the ability to be ambitious, hilariously bitchy and vulnerable all at the same time. Vanessa is willing to put in a few calls, in exchange for a favor from Eli. She’s mulling a run for state senate, and wants Eli’s help. He agrees and asks Kalinda to run a through background check on his ex -- “as thorough as her enemies will be,” he says.

Kalinda discovers that Vanessa cheated on Eli with a wealthy Arab developer who also happens to be Osama bin Laden’s second cousin. (Affairs of state, indeed.) Eli confronts Vanessa about the affair and expresses his dismay at “the thought that my semen mixed with Bin Laden’s.” Amusingly, Vanessa defends herself by arguing “The semen doesn’t just stay in us.” Thanks for the biology lesson, guys. Gross scatological conversations aside, it's an effective way to humanize Eli, who's always teetering on the brink of caricature.

The third “affair of state” this week involves Cary, who’s suddenly got a new love interest at the office. As the episode begins, he’s putting the moves on sexy co-corker Dana (Monica Raymund), who’s leaving the job at the end of the week. (What? Just like that? But we just met her!) Both Dana, and Cary’s attraction to her, seem to have materialized out of nowhere. Conveniently Dana just so happens to be an expert in U.S.-Chinese relations, and to top it all off she's also related to Daniel Golden (Joe Morton), last seen in Season 1 convincing Alicia to testify on Peter's behalf. She is what you might call “babus ex machina,” a character created in a petri dish in order to carry out several narrative functions at once.

So, yes, Dana is totally contrived, but at least her story line is good fun. Jealous, Matan warns Dana that Cary has a thing for “ethnic women." She confronts Cary about the allegations -- which, come to think of it, might just be true. "That’s not true … unless that’s a good thing," he responds. Cue sexy seat belt unbuckling. After a long losing streak, it's nice to see Cary finally #winning this week, and not just romantically. Matan dumps the Taiwan case on him and moves him to a rinky-dink cubicle, but Cary manages to apprehend Chen on his way to the airport -- thereby scoring a victory against his archrival, Alicia. In the end, he’s rewarded with a sweet office of his own, and the title of Deputy State’s Attorney. Well done, Cary.

On the home front, the Florrick kids are beginning to wonder what their mom does with herself while they’re off at dad’s. In her very best “no big deal” tone, Alicia says she sometimes goes to dinner with friends. “What friends?” Zach asks. (Nothing like having your kids remind you that you’re a loser.) As if on cue, the phone rings and it’s Will. 

Later, Zack stops by Alicia’s office to fix her laptop (we see a close-up on the error screen and assume Alicia’s still trying to figure out what’s gone wrong with her computer; cut to a shot of Zack sitting at her desk. It was one of several funny fake-outs in this episode.) Will sees Zack and takes the opportunity to introduce himself,. Clearly nervous, he tries to play it cool, but the results are excruciating — e.g., his parting words to Zack are “Keep on keepin’ on.” It’s obvious he has no idea how to act, not necessarily because he’s bad with kids but because his status with Alicia is so uncertain. As painful as the whole scene was, it was also kind of sweet. Obviously it matters to Will that he make an impression on Alicia’s child. (The whole thing reminded me of the "Mad Men" episode when Faye awkwardly tried to make chit-chat with Sally Draper.)

Likewise, it matters to Alicia that Zack doesn’t scare Will off. Trying, but failing, to be nonchalant, she asks Zack about his meeting with Will. She’s obviously dreading the moment when she has to tell her kids about Will, so when Zack pauses on the way out the door, working up the nerve to ask her a difficult question, a look of terror crosses her face — oh no, he’s going to say something about Will. But no. He wants a car. Alicia is so relieved she practically writes him a blank check right then and there.

In the final moments of the episode, Will tells Alicia he was “lame, babbling” and asks her if she wants him to meet her kids in a more formal way. “I could probably make a good impression,” he says, adorably, but Alicia says no. “I mean, really, thanks Will. But it’s not necessary.” Will plays it off like he’s relieved, but it’s evident that he’s a little hurt by the way Alicia’s keeping him at arm’s length.

Will leaves his office and Caitlin is standing there clutching her iPad to her chest, looking like a schoolgirl with a crush on her English teacher. We already saw her flirting with Will, so our suspicions have been piqued. Plus, if there’s one thing "The Good Wife" has taught us it’s that blonds are not to be trusted. Caitlin tells Will “she’s sorry about earlier,” but it’s clearly just an excuse to talk to him. He tells her she’s free to talk to him anytime she wants. Is Will just being a nice boss, or is something going to happen between these two?

Before I go, I just want to briefly discuss what was probably the funniest scene in the episode. Kalinda goes to interview Maya's boyfriend, and catches him at the tail end of swim practice. Soaking wet in a Speedo, he’s a conspicuously chatty guy who rambles on  about the sushi waitress he’d been spending time with recently. “She’s a mother of three, I just liked talking to her,” he says. Kalinda graciously tells him she’s not really concerned about that, and asks the boyfriend if he’d talked to “her” on the night of the murder. “Who, the waitress?” he replies, the joke being he’s totally unfazed by his girlfriend’s death, and completely preoccupied by this waitress. The scene is perhaps two minutes long, but it’s a wonderfully rich character sketch: You can’t help but wonder who this kid is, how he can be so effusive yet also so emotionally detached at the same time. Given how peripheral he is to the story, the boyfriend could have been a bland frat boy stereotype, but he’s not. “The Good Wife” is brilliant at spinning these throwaway moments into magic. (Remember the talking lion from last season?)


--Daniel Golden is back. I have absolutely no idea what this means for Alicia, but it can't be good.

--It’s been a few weeks since Diane announced that she was going to give space to Legal Aid. So when is that actually going to happen?

--No Celeste this week! Could this mean we’ve seen the last of her? (As if.)

--I loved the crazy campaign manager Vanessa and Eli meet with, who spouts meaningless catchphrases and drops lots of references to "Moneyball."

--Another great comedic moment: Angry IT guy.

--I’m beginning to think Chris Noth must have a prohibitively high per-episode salary, because the producers only seem willing to use him when it’s absolutely necessary. You'd thing Peter would be the one to tell Cary about his promotion, but nope.


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— Meredith Blake

Photo:Parker Posey and Alan Cumming in "The Good Wife." Credit: Gabe Palacio / CBS