You know the adage you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? Well that doesn’t apply to The Good Wife. I’ve missed this show from the moment it took six weeks off.
Let’s bitch it out…
The Good Wife populates its first episode back with a number of familiar faces as Alicia (Julianna Margulies) grapples with the reality of bad people doing bad things (and getting away with it).
The show has always had a fascination with bad compromises that our protagonists make for their work, and the situation is no different in ‘Dark Money’. What’s changed is Alicia’s ability to excuse her own actions and characterize herself as “good”, as evidenced by the final scene when she confesses to Grace (Makenzie Vega) that she’s acted badly and cries. Clearly the weight of her decisions are taking a toll on Alicia. What is less clear is whether this moment occurs in passing or if it is symptomatic of a change in attitude.
Alicia spends ‘Dark Money’ divided between her campaign, which has hit a bit of a financial snag, and advising killer Colin Sweeney (the compulsively detestable Dylan Baker) on his defamation of character suit against a TV show entitled ‘Call It Murder’. Although the two don’t really overlap aside from Sweeney’s blackmail threat to reveal the origins of her PAC money, there’s a clear throughline regarding the nature of the people she’s dealing with. She needs to put up with the homophobic, dirty old man talk from Redmayne (Ed Asner) because she needs his deep pockets to finance her campaign. She also needs to placate Sweeney because he’s an asset to the firm and he has a(n unhealthy) fixation with her.
There is no doubt that both of these men are “bad” men in their own ways. The Sweeney case takes care to remind us not only how much of a handful he is, but also how convoluted his history on the series is. This is a man who is a murderer in everything but name, who proudly extols his deviant sexual interests to the court and barely bats an eye when delivering unlawful threats. As a character on a fictitious show, he’s incredibly entertaining. As a client for our protagonist, he’s a complete nightmare.
‘Dark Money’ suggests Alicia’s intolerance of Sweeney more than ever before. Her lack of patience with him is new; previously she’s handled him with kid gloves because she was in a subordinate position, even though he’s always been on the wrong side of the law and needed her just as much (incidentally this is Sweeney’s first appearance when he has not been charged with something). With her newfound confidence as a partner and States Attorney candidate, Alicia is out of patience with the wife-murderer and, as a result, their interactions are much more curt and frosty. Sweeney doesn’t appear to mind much – he’s probably turned on by it and only appears to take offence when he thinks that she’s not paying him enough attention. For Alicia, however, representing men like him, and accepting money from men like Redmayne and Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter) is becoming increasingly difficult to rationalize.
We spend very little time with Redmayne considering how integral he winds up being for this episode. He has two brief scenes, in the same location, each time with his model-esque daughter seated mere feet away as he spews hate, slurs and suggestive remarks. Alicia gets to him first after spotting his name on Frank Prady’s (David Hyde Pierce) phone during one of their “back channel” meetings and she tolerates not only Redmayne’s inappropriate remarks about her looks, but his homophobic remarks about Prady. She does this because Mariner (David Krumholtz) and Johnny (Steven Pasquale) tell her that she needs to win the old man over. So that’s what she does. Alicia is politically savvy enough to know that she needs the money: she’s down in the polls and Frank is pulling in bigger investors. She’s still opposed to homophobic robocalls like the ones Frank attributes to her during their initial meeting because she can plausibly deny knowledge of those (blame it on the open public Toby Ziegel Twitter account and the PAC). And yet when it comes to a face-to-face interaction with the same offensive content, Alicia takes it, thanks Redmayne and walks away richer. Prady doesn’t.
‘Saint Alicia’ this ain’t, but you have to hand it to The Good Wife writers: they’ve never shied away from making Alicia morally ambiguous. She’ll provide Colin Sweeney with tips to avoid perjuring himself on the stand as easily as she’ll take money from a misogynistic homophobe, but it doesn’t mean she won’t cry about it later. She’s human – complicated and ambitious, fragile and burdened all at the same time. It’s one of the reasons why she, and by extension this show, is so damn good.
Welcome back The Good Wife. I’ve missed you.
- Sweeney’s case is only won on a technicality when ChumHum is used as heavy hitting leverage. Despite having what appears to be a clear cut case, including the use of real names and dialogue and hiring an identical lookalike (also Baker, clearing enjoying playing a second caricature), Sweeney ultimately sinks his own case. His on-again, off-again relationship with wife Renata (Laura Benanti) and his unlikeable behaviour on the stand both sink his case. Like I said, he’s a bad guy!
- Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) spends the episode as a kindergarden cop after Bishop calls in his favour. This storyline is a denial of expectations on two fronts: 1) the resolution to Bishop’s son’s bullying storyline humanizes the drug dealer when he acts like a normal parent instead of doing something outrageous like putting a hit out on the other boy and 2) the black SUV following Dylan and Kalinda home never ultimately turns into anything. I have a feeling that this may still be revealed as a police detail gathering intel, but for now, it’s a non-starter. Still, my ominous sinking feeling remains; as Kalinda becomes further embroiled in Bishop’s affairs, I’m increasingly resigned to the fact that this won’t end well for her.
- Naturally Marissa (Sarah Steele) bonds with Renata. Who wouldn’t get along with the body woman?!
- I’ll admit that I thought that Redmayne was testing Alicia and Prady to see which of them would refuse to take his money because of his reprehensible behaviour. But no, he’s just a truly terrible old man.
- Finally, how much mileage would this episode of ‘Call It Murder’ really get after so many years? I imagine that a ripped from the headlines crime series would use more contemporary material.
- Marissa (after learning the campaign is financially screwed): “I’ll get cookies.”
- Sweeney (seeing his actor on the stand): “He’s a cartoon”
- Sweeney (when Alicia insists she doesn’t like him either): “Don’t be silly”
- Alicia (after Redmayne indicates he has the testicles of a 20 year old): “Where? In your briefcase?”
Your turn: are you happy to have the series back? Is Alicia’s break down a momentary blip or does it foreshadow a larger moral problem with the campaign? Did you think Redmayne was trying to trick Alicia and Prady? Were you glad to see Sweeney again? Disappointed Cary and Diane didn’t have more to do? And is Kalinda’s fate all but certain? Sound off below
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9pm EST on CBS