This is my first post on The Good Wife. I’ve heard all the praise since about this time last year and I knew that it was surely a good, even great television program. But you know, time and stuff. I unfortunately can’t watch everything all the time, but The Good Wife was at the top of my catch-up to-do list. Over the holiday break, I dove in to season one and the first nine episodes of season two and of course, loved it. I thought about writing up a full post about my viewing experience, but decided against it because it felt like I could probably work some of those thoughts into this review of last night’s solid episode, “Breaking Up.” So if you feel like I’m meandering and talking about past episodes or plotlines, that’s why. I just wanted to give you fair warning.
This is probably wrong of me — actually, I know it’s wrong of me if you asked Myles McNutt — but I stayed away from The Good Wife at first because of its placement on CBS. I know that in this day and age, network and network ideology shouldn’t scare me away from watching good television, but when it comes down to me deciding whether or not to spend another hour of my time watching a new series, sometimes that’s a deciding factor. But as anyone who watches the program knows, The Good Wife isn’t like CSI: or its various spin-offs. Heck, it’s not even like the generally fun and well put together NCIS. The series is a soap opera, political thriller and workplace drama all masquerading as a legal procedural. There are always cases to be solved and problems to be fixed, but the series does a nice job of mixing up the kinds of cases Alica and company deal with, whether that means the actual content of the case, the place where we’re dropped in as an audience or any other sort of framework that keeps the audience on its toes enough.
However, on that point, “Breaking Up” does sort of follow the same sort of time crunch framework the series has used a few times here in the first part of season two. In fact, the last episode before the break, “Nine Hours,” had a similar sort of limit for Alica, Will, Diane and Kalinda to do their thing. I’m not saying that’s a major problem and it’s perhaps just more noticeable to me because I just watched “Nine Hours” four hours before “Breaking Up” aired, but right now, The Good Wife‘s ability to make the cases interesting is a major strength that keeps it infinitely watchable on a week-to-week basis. I don’t want that to change, I’m sure Michelle and Robert King feel exactly the same. Just pointing out something.
Of course, the other thing The Good Wife does is make sure the cases somehow reflect a feeling or moment in Alicia’s life. “Breaking Up” thankfully does a really nice job of executing this approach really well. Cary is in fine form when he tries to turn a college couple (one played by Leelee Sobieski) against one another when he knows they were involved in the shooting of a drug dealer. Will gives Alicia the directive to defend both members of the couple since one is the son of a wealthy, important client. When Cary really kicks the cunning smarm into another gear, both Will and Diane have to get involved and all sorts of tension is in the air. Cary begins playing the couple against one another in hopes of getting them to flip, which is sort of like what is happening to Alicia.
After sort of regaining her confidence in the decision to stick with Peter, Alicia has spent the last few episodes leaning back towards Will. But when Will makes a few questionable decisions in hopes of stopping Cary’s prosecution efforts — including messing with the murder weapon and trying to make the guy Jonathan feel like Sobieski’s character is cheating on him with a guy that turns out to be her OBGYN — she’s reminded of the kind of guy Will can be. Taking big, illegal risks is sort of valiant when you’re trying to help a victim, but when you’re trying to cover up a legitimate murder and ultimately failing, it’s not good. Will’s sort of pushed Alicia to do toe the line of legality before, but this is pretty messed up stuff and I think she recognizes that the grass isn’t always greener. Even when she convinced herself that Will’s lack of plan is an obstacle that could be overcome, I think she sees in “Breaking Up” that he isn’t some white knight that never does wrong or is a much better person than Peter.
Meanwhile, Alicia also finds herself under pressure from Diane and her plans to start a new firm. Diane smartly plays on Alicia’s desire to be an independent and intelligent woman and I certainly believe she wants Alicia on-board, but obviously this is all about Eli. And if Alicia continues to see the Will she had to deal with in “Breaking Up,” there might just be a chance that she decides it’s best to avoid any sort of drama or temptation and go along with Diane. Compelling stuff.
In my splurging viewing of the first 30+ episodes, I found Diane to be the least developed character, but still a genuinely interesting and likable one. I think this new plot is promising, but it still doesn’t tell us a lot about Diane as a person. But that’s one of the interesting things I found with this program: most people are a secret. The series has been really good at making the audience feel a lot like Alicia. It has a nicely defined perspective where we see all these other people through her eyes and she’s just so busy with work, the kids and all the drama with Peter that she honestly probably doesn’t have a lot of time to spend on really getting to know what is up with Kalinda or Diane or Cary. We’ve seen her ask questions, them deflect or answer and that’s that.
Similarly, The Good Wife writers are good at not making the mysteries of the characters into such a big deal that it overrides the series. Sure, there’s been a lot of talk about who Kalinda likes to kiss and Diane is certainly paranoid about Will, Blake and Bond’s dealings, but the series never lets an entire episode or plot really rest on the fact that we’re unsure of people’s past or even current motivations. Those things are important, but they’re never too important and I like that.
By the end of this episode, Diane’s plans are out in the open, she and Will have it out. Will is really good at avoiding fessing up to any of the charges she throws at him, but it’s clear he’s hiding something. The three-person partnership apparently isn’t going to work out for Lockhart, Gardner and Bond and now Alicia has found herself stuck in the middle of another triangle that she never really wanted. She’s still working through her feelings on Peter and Will and now she has to make yet another choice, this time between Diane and Will. Based on her inability to really stick to her guns in reference to the first one, I can’t wait to see how she handles this new decision.
A few stray thoughts:
- I didn’t mention it above, but it’s nice to have Dallas Roberts’ Owen back. The dude is just a treat to have around, no matter what program we’re talking about.
- In terms of an overall series criticism, I have to say that I actually like how the series finds ways to work the kids into the plots without overdoing it too much. They act like real kids, make stupid decisions and Alicia (and to a lesser extent, Peter) have honest conversations with them about their roles in the family. They’re sometimes a bit annoying, but far less so than most kids on programs like this one