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'The Good Wife' recap: No more distractions

December 5, 2011 | 11:14 am


If you ask me, Grace Florrick has a lot to answer for.

For weeks now, "The Good Wife" has been foreshadowing the end of Will and Alicia's steamy relationship, but it was a surprise that Grace's Christian fervor played such a part in what was otherwise an inevitable break-up. Grace just solidified her reputation as the most annoying character on "The Good Wife." I'm being a tad facetious, of course, because the (very legitimate) point of this episode, "Parenting Made Easy," is that it's time for Alicia to realign her priorities -- and to discover that, alas, Will is not one of them. It's a sensible decision on Alicia's part, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to hold it against Grace forever.

As some critics have pointed out, this season of “The Good Wife” has gotten a little crowded with subplots and supporting characters, a trend that only intensified in this episode. In addition to Wendy Scott Carr, who re-emerged a few weeks back to spearhead the Will investigation, this week we also got Martha, the first-year associate Alicia wanted to hire instead of Caitlin. Having been thrown aside for a legacy hire — and a blond one at that — Martha’s now thirsty for revenge. While I understand Martha’s frustration, Alicia’s right when she says, “You’re a little young to be holding a grudge.”

Martha’s now working for none other than Lewis Canning, who sweeps in to provide some guidance on The Case of the Week, an arbitration involving a right-wing, anti-gay professor (played by Jennifer Carpenter of “Dexter”) allegedly dismissed for her political views. It had the potential to be very serious and thought-provoking — one of those moments of liberal self-reflection that “The Good Wife” does so well — but the case is mostly played for laughs, especially “Mr. Arbitrator,” who, paid by the hour, adjourns the case every five minutes. I have to admit, it was oddly thrilling to root for Caitlin, the pretty blond who got her job through family connections. Somehow Martha, the underdog, had become the enemy. “The Good Wife” is fantastic at these counterintuitive little role reversals.

It’s been a while since we last saw Canning, but he’s still trying to woo Alicia away from Lockhart-Gardner, this time with the enticing promise of a flexible schedule and more time with her family. His professional philosophy is that he does whatever it takes at the office to be with his wife and kids as much as possible. Or, as he tells Alicia, “We’re cutthroat. But you’ll always get home in time to see your kids.” You can tell she’s tempted by Canning’s offer, that is until she finds out he rifled through her bag during the whole Grace debacle. (Ever the lawyer, he insists he waited until Grace was OK before he started rummaging. I’m almost convinced that makes it all right.) 

The third “Ghost of Good Wifes Past” to appear this week is super-dad Andrew Wylie, possibly my favorite recurring character, who's hired to do some freelance investigation on behalf of Peter's office. He shows up at one of Will’s basketball games with his daughter in tow. As he questions Will about the exact nature of the games, she circles around them on her tricycle. Not since “The Shining” has a kid on a tricycle seemed quite so threatening.

Andrew’s reappearance further underscores the theme of the episode — that is, the difficulty of balancing work and family life. Alicia’s parental anxiety has been building for weeks now, since her uncomfortable dealings with death-row inmate Ricky. As this episode unfolded, I kept wondering when the kidnapping plot was going to kick in to action. Then, around 45 minutes in, Alicia gets 12 missed calls from Grace. She calls Zach, then Peter, and they go into crisis mode, but of course it turns out Grace was just butt-dialing her mom while on a surreptitious mission to get baptized (Teenagers are crazy! Amirite?) It was a bold move for the writers to delay such a big plot twist for so long, and to wrap it up in essentially one act, but it was also a good call. Had the writers milked Grace’s disappearance for any longer it might have felt more exploitative than it did.

Still, something about the incident did feel rather forced. Despondent and convcined of the worse, Alicia spies one of her sexy nighties in the bedroom, and angrily throws it in the trash. It’s not the subtlest moment in the history of “The Good Wife,” nor is it the most effective: After all, Alicia wasn’t with Will when Grace “disappeared” for an hour, she was at work, though I suppose these two things are conflated in her mind. I'm not saying Alicia didn't make the right decision -- I can perfectly understand her decision to eliminate the distractions in her life -- I just didn't buy the rather explicit connection implied between the Grace incident and Alicia's "sexy time" with Will.

Will and Alicia’s relationship was in trouble nearly as soon as it began; remember that dire look on Alicia’s face at the very end of the season premiere? Nearly every episode since has ended on a similarly dubious note, so while the end of the relationship wasn’t exactly a surprise, it was interesting that it was Alicia, and not Will, who finally ended things. The break-up scene was mature and touching given its brevity, but I suppose that’s why I also found it all a bit disappointing. Not that I wanted histrionics, exactly, but couldn’t they have talked it out some more? We barely got to see Will and Alicia together outside the bedroom, so we really don’t have any sense of how (or if) they worked as a couple, and now they’re dunzo. Did they really have a connection, or was it just sex? We’ll probably never know. Either way, it looks like Will is the one who’s going to be hurt by the break-up. “You did the right thing. She’ll get over it,” Diane says, bringing Will a conciliatory glass of scotch. “She will,” he says, emphasis on the “she.”

Like Will, I’m also perturbed by Alicia’s tearful embrace with Peter. She looked downright relieved to be back in his arms. Was their fleeting reunion just a desperate reaction to the frightening circumstances, or a moment of foreshadowing? Is Alicia going to run back into Peter’s familiar arms because the alternative — single motherhood — is just too scary? Oy, I really hope not.

The other frustrating thing about the break-up is that, since Alicia instigates it, Will never has to tell her about the investigation — or to come clean about his (possibly) sketchy past. It’s unclear to me how much Alicia knows about the investigation at this point, if anything. Way back when, Diane stopped by Alicia’s apartment to ask if the firm should agree to a voluntary audit, and Alicia said no. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the last time she was told anything about it. In any case, Alicia would probably be troubled if she knew that Peter was targeting not just her firm but also her boyfriend, but she breaks up with Will before he can tell her about it. How convenient. Of course, Alicia’s going to find out eventually … but on this show, “eventually” can take an awfully long time.

Other thoughts:

--Speaking of “eventually,” Alicia was especially nasty to Kalinda this week. How long is it going to take for her to get over her grudge? I understand why Kalinda asked Grace not to say anything about her involvement, why the show didn’t use the incident as an easy catalyst for a reconciliation between the former best friends, but come on! Without Will, Alicia now has exactly zero friends. Something’s gotta give.

--What’s with all the scotch lately? Suddenly “The Good Wife” is turning into “Mad Men.”

--Anyone else getting a little sick of Dana? The joke is she’s a wannabe Kalinda, but that doesn’t make her feel any less like, well, a wannabe Kalinda.

--The Eli subplot was a blip this week, albeit a funny one, and his conversation with Will was particularly interesting. I’m guessing that, as the ethics investigation intensifies, Eli’s relationship with Peter may become an issue — or maybe an asset.

--I love how scared Zach was when Kalinda traced Grace’s cellphone to Englewood. “The South Side?!” he says, his voice cracking out of panic.


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Photo: Anna Camp, left, Archie Panjabi, and Julianna Margulies star in "The Good Wife." Credit: Jeffrey Neira / CBS