Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) is a woman who just can’t help herself.
Let’s bitch it out…
‘Red Zone’ is an interesting character study for The Good Wife‘s protagonist. We’ve seen Alicia Florrick: kick ass lawyer. We’ve seen Alicia Florrick: the wife who stuck by her cheating husband. And now we’re seeing a new version of Alicia Florrick: States Attorney candidate. This version, unfortunately, is not quite up to snuff yet.
One of Alicia’s biggest challenges is that she Just. Can’t. Help. Herself. She honestly can’t resist the allure of a new case where someone is being bullied or mistreated (ex: representing a Chicago Polytechnique rape victim whose complaint is not given due process). She also can’t stand knowing that people don’t like her, especially people who don’t know her or have what she considers to be a misconstrued opinion of her. And finally, she can’t stand being wrong, especially when Eli (Alan Cumming) is involved.
These character traits cause no shortage of problems for Alicia in ‘Red Zone’, but they’re mostly her own fault. As soon as she sees the footage of the focus group woman – Sally, she of the pursed lips and memorable sound bite – it’s clear that Alicia will act on her internalized issues. The use of Sally as a literal representation of Alicia’s insecurity isn’t subtle, but at least it’s used sparingly – Alicia usually shakes off the fantasies of Sally supporting Alicia after a moment or two. But they still linger and drive her actions: hence her visit to Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode) and, by extension, the soup kitchen. I don’t doubt that Alicia can benefit from some good ole’fashioned philanthropy, but the soup kitchen and its disastrous photo are strictly the product of Alicia’s innate desire to appeal to the imaginary wants of Focus Group Sally. And that is not the way to win the States Attorney job.
This need for acceptance is shown to be Alicia’s downfall, so much so that Eli effectively turns it into a “lesson of the week.” Just as we’ve seen with Peter (an unseen Chris Noth), Eli is only as good as his candidate will allow him to be. Alicia thinks that in order to win she has to be liked (apparently by everyone, but mostly by middle class uppity bitches). The unfortunate reality – one that Eli confirms rather simplistically with a staged redo at the soup kitchen – that is all she needs is some good (manufactured) press. It’s not the way that Alicia likes to operate, but thus far, what we’ve seen of her campaign is that she is going to have play by a completely different set of rules to come out on top of this one. The kick ass lawyer and the woman who stood by her cheating husband won’t cut it.
The same can be said for Cary (Matt Czuchry). The golden boy is inching ever closer to ten years in prison and in the absence of other witnesses, he decides to take the stand in his own defense. We know that this is a mistake. Alicia knows that this is a mistake. Diane (Christine Baranski) knows that this is a mistake. Hell, even dreaded opposing counsel Viola Walsha (Rita Wilson), who has been brought in to prep him, knows it. The problem is that, like Alicia, Cary doesn’t know it yet (or he does, but he refuses to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong). It’s all there during witness prep, though: he’s evasive, condescending, and even a bit smarmy (basically he’s S1-2 Cary). He’s a disaster and everyone knows it; at more than one point in the episode, someone tells him that he’s got to get his head in the game.
The head in question is firmly ensconced in thoughts of Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), the third person of interest examined in’Red Zone’. It’s been clear since Cary first glimpsed Kalinda sneaking off with FBI agent Lana Delaney (Jill Flint) that he would obsess over her and her polysexual tendencies. This is tricky because we’ve been here before, so this storyline isn’t exactly covering new ground. What is new is a more thorough examination of Kalinda’s side of the story. Cary stages a confrontation late in the episode that enables him to get what he needs: the brush off from Kalinda that allows him to resume his cool-as-a-cucumber attitude in witness prep. Had we only seen his side of the story, it would have been far less interesting. Instead we continue to dig into Kalinda’s uncomfortable situation as Lemond Bishop’s (Mike Colter) errand girl, forced to investigate Delaney’s case load and plant a featureless white card that oozes menace in its lack of identifying features.
The escalating nature of her relationship with Bishop is another step in the vindication of Kalinda as a character. This storyline has the potential to be a meaty and morally twisty, which is gratifying considering Panjabi’s considerable talent and how relegated to the background she’s been for the last several years. It’s not quite there yet, but it has a great deal of potential. Of course that potential also seems to be pointing to a bullet in the head or a trip to the witness protection program for Kalinda by season’s end…
- The fact that Alicia solicits the opinion of Finn, a man she is sexually attracted to, and openly mimics his actions continues the steady burn between the pair.
- Speaking of sexy bits, is it just me or do many of the Delaney bits verge on gratuitous and unnecessary nudity? I’m not generally prudish but some of the sex stuff is like D grade softcore lesbian porn shot amateur-style by misogynists (that may only be a slight exaggeration). It’s like CBS gave the Kings a memo advising them to increase the skin factor in any way they could.
- The case of the week seems to exist more in service of positioning Alicia’s mindframe, but it does offer the latest in her continuing mental battle with Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox). There’s obvious comedy in his continued abuse of his deteriorating condition to solicit sympathy in the courtroom, but I really appreciated how he and Alicia have a few conversations about how he’s doing legitimacy. The character is antagonistic, but Fox has been a marvel in the role so I hope there’s plenty more of him to come.
- Finally, how disappointing is it that we learn that Castro (Michael Cerveris) has dropped out of the SA race courtesy of a quick reference in Elfman’s (Steven Pasquale) focus group? What a cop-out!
- Kalinda (after Cary pouts): “You came here to bang me so let’s go.”
Your turn: are you surprised that Alicia was so easily manipulated by the focus group responses? Should she have said no to Owen (Dallas Roberts) when he asked her to get involved in the rape case? Were you happy to see Canning back in court? Is Cary making a bad decision by testifying? Does Kalinda’s storyline have potential? And what was the card Bishop gave her? Sound off below
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9pm EST on CBS