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'The Good Wife' recap: The loneliest woman in the world

December 12, 2011 |  9:43 am

One of the things that’s always seemed off to me about “The Good Wife” is Alicia’s glaring lack of friends. Once upon a time, Alicia was an obedient political spouse living in the manicured suburbs of Chicago, but once Peter’s scandal broke, the other Stepford Wives cast her out of their circle (long-time viewers will recall an early episode in which Alicia has to go back to her old neighborhood, Highland Park, to defend the son of two former friends.)  Alicia had not just been betrayed by her husband, but also by her so-called friends. To be honest, I never really bought this aspect of Alicia’s back story. I’m sure she made plenty of fair-weather friends out there in the 'burbs, but you’d think a woman like Alicia -- smart, loyal, funny, a good judge of character – would have retained one or two faithful gal pals, despite it all.

I always thought Alicia's friendlessness was simply a matter of narrative priority. As “The Good Wife” evolved and grew ever more complicated, the writers just didn’t have much opportunity to develop that aspect of Alicia’s life. Between her resurgent career, her messy relationships with Peter and Will, and her kids, neither Alicia nor the show had much time for a social life. For a while, Kalinda filled that void, and the introduction last season of Alicia’s brother Owen served two vital functions: filling out Alicia’s back story a bit, and also giving her a much-needed confidante. Alicia has made glancing references to her lack of friends in the past, usually after a few shots of tequila and/or glasses of wine. But only now, halfway through the show’s third season, do we get an episode (with the apt title “What Went Wrong”) that explicitly addresses this issue.

With Will once again out of the picture, Alicia is once again alone, a fact that becomes painfully obvious when the kids go to Peter's for the night. Alone in her apartment, Alicia doesn’t know what to do with herself. Feeling lonely, she picks up the phone and sets up a mystery date. Next thing we know, she’s at a shadowy bar pounding back shots of tequila. For a moment there, my heart fluttered in anticipation. Was Alicia going out for a drink with Will? Or maybe even Kalinda? Nope, her mystery date is none other than her brother, Owen. Fine. Not that I don’t love Owen to bits, but you know, it’s just not quite the same.

Over several drinks, the siblings discuss her breakup. Owen is pro-Will (yet another reason I like him) and encourages Alicia to call him, but Alicia explains the reasons for the split. It was useful to hear her articulate her rationale (call me crazy but the nightie-tossing wasn’t quite sufficient). She doesn’t think she was in love with Will, just in love with “the attention,” not to mention “the raw animalistic sex” they were having. But she didn’t like the lying, or the energy and attention the relationship was siphoning away from her children. Fair enough, I suppose, but as Owen points out, being a parent doesn’t mean you’re not a sexual creature.  Speaking on behalf of “Good Wife” fans everywhere, Alicia argues that what she really needs isn’t a sexual relationship, it’s a few platonic ones. “I need friends,” she says. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And so Alicia goes on a friend-finding mission. There was something a tad self-conscious about the storyline, like the writers were quietly admitting that Alicia’s social isolation doesn’t really make much sense, but it still worked for me.  Alicia meets an old friend for lunch, but it doesn’t go well. She fibs and says things are fine with Peter, to which her friend gushes, “You’re Bill and Hillary." I’m guessing this is exactly the sort of trite, superficial observation that Alicia doesn’t want to hear. Then, sounding like she stepped right out of a Paul Mazursky movie, the friend blathers on about the Mosou people of southwest China who “organize their lives around a woman’s sexual desire.” Alicia is horrified. “What if I’ve spent a decade of my life making the wrong friends?” she  wonders to Owen. (All I could think was, “Really? You’ve spent a decade making friends?”). 

Which leads us to Alicia's most recent ex-BFF, Kalinda. This week Alicia finds out that it was Kalinda who rescued Grace from the sinister clutches of a skateboarding, Jesus-loving evangelist on the South Side. (You have to love the bravery of a network show that’s willing to make a Christian the bad guy.) So when Cary has Kalinda arrested on a nuisance charge of juror harassment (you know the saying: hell hath no fury like a deputy state’s attorney scorned), Alicia goes into attack-dog mode to get her released from jail. What a glorious sight it was to see her threatening Cary with a lawsuit. I hope these two never bury the hatchet.

Having effectively terrified Cary, Alicia picks up Kalinda from jail. In the car, Kalinda nervously breaks the ice by thanking Alicia, who in turn asks why Kalinda wanted her role in Grace’s “rescue” to remain a secret. “Alicia, I haven’t changed. I’m the same person,” Kalinda explains. I wasn’t sure how to interpet this response. Was Kalinda saying that she’s always been the kind of loyal friend who’d do this, or that she’s just as slippery as she’s always been and that she didn’t want Alicia to fall back into her web because she’d performed a simple favor? As the scene ends, Alicia issues a curt but genuine thank you. It was hardly the tearjerking reunion we’ve all been waiting for, but it was a tiny step in the right direction. One thing I can’t understand, though, is Alicia’s stubborn grudge against Kalinda, especially now that she seems to have forgiven Peter for his numerous transgressions.

In lieu of actual friends, at least Alicia has Diane, who this week stepped into the role of mentor. When Diane told Alicia she wanted to have a talk, I was convinced Alicia was in trouble. After all, wasn’t Diane threatening to fire her just a few months back? But it turns out that Diane only wanted to give her a friendly lecture about getting on partner track. As the episode ends, Diane joins Alicia for a drink at the bar. A sign of things to come, perhaps?

There’s a really elegant parallel in “What Went Wrong” between Alicia’s personal life and the case of the week. Alicia’s client Lauryn is on trial for the murder of her husband. Faced with the option of accepting a plea bargain or waiting for the jury to weigh in on a more serious charge, Alicia offers this telling advice: “They’re your peers, and I’ve never understood my peers.” When the jury finds Alicia’s client guilty, the team has to find some reason to get the verdict overturned. It’s interesting to see them working backwards, literally digging through scraps to try to figure out why a reasonable group of people would turn on a seemingly sympathetic defendant. In the end, Alicia discovers that Judge Dunaway friended one of the jurors, a suspiciously guileless button enthusiast named Lisa, on Facebook (excuse me, “Facebranch”), and the verdict is dismissed. At one point, Alicia apologizes to Lauryn for having given her such “unadorned” advice, but Lauryn appreciates the honesty. “People say nice things, smile, and they never came to visit. I can deal with things less adorned,” she says. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, Alicia and Peter are conspiring to get Grace and Zach into Capstone, a fancy private school. When charm falls short, Peter shamelessly exploits his status as state’s attorney to get his kids into Capstone, showing up at the office of the “headmistress” (an unfortunate job title, no?) and tossing around threats about background checks. It was a stark, chilling reminder that “old Peter,” the vindictive, ruthless, power-abusing politician, hasn't really gone anywhere.

Again, there’s a nice symmetry here. The Florricks are using their prominent position to get preferential treatment for their kids, as Will is under investigation for allegedly buying influence with various judges. In a jaw-dropping last-minute twist, Wendy tells Will that the person she’s really after is Peter, who apparently used to take part in his nefarious basketball games. Even Will is taken aback by Wendy’s duplicity. “Only in Cook County,” he muses. I suppose Will deserves credit for not instantly leaping on the opportunity to rat Peter out, but I sort of wish he had. I’m amazed at how juicy this ethics investigation is getting, and what a terrific job the writers are doing at peeling back the mystery, layer by layer. It’s obviously going to be a while before we get to the bottom of this storyline, but for now I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Stray thoughts:

--What are the odds of a Peter-Alicia reunion? She seemed downright smitten this week, after seeing Peter in action with the headmistress. Don't fall for it, Alicia!

--I loved when Alicia sat down to watch TV and stumbled across a smutty show about Joan of Arc, a not-so-subtle dig at raunchy historical series like “The Borgias” and “The Tudors.”

--Will and Alicia’s one interaction this week was super awkward, and I have no idea how to interpret Will’s statement (“You have no reason to thank me Alicia, no reason at all”). Judging by the confused look on her face, Alicia doesn’t either.

--Dana is really working on my last nerve, especially with that side ponytail.

--“Lisa’s World of Buttons” gets 45,000 hits a day? Sounds like I need to rethink this TV blogging thing.

--Judge Dunaway on Lisa’s blog: “I’d love to jail her for syntax alone.”

--When Alicia told Peter she was happy to pay for private school, my feminist heart skipped a few beats.


"The Good Wife" recap: No more distractions

"The Good Wife" recap: A series of showdowns

"The Good Wife" recap: A fatal exception

— Meredith Blake

Photo: Chris Noth as Peter Florrick in "The Good Wife."

Credit: CBS/David M. Russell