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The Unraveling of 'The Good Wife' and How Alicia Florrick Lost Her Identity

By Lord Castleton | TV | November 28, 2014 |

By Lord Castleton | TV | November 28, 2014 |

So I was dropping my kids off to school this morning ruminating about what The Good Wife used to be and what it is now. It used to be a story of a woman reclaiming her identity in the shadow of a well-known and lecherous husband. It was about a modern woman reinventing herself, rediscovering the talent she had stored in deep freeze, and juggling the often conflicting roles of mother and worker bee. And, probably what was most interesting was the Kate Chopin-esque re-awakening of her love life, her post-marriage sexual identity and the surprising and marvelous connection she found with a co-worker.

The Good Wife - Will Gardner and Alicia Florrick Elevator.jpg

That was then.

Now? Hell, I’m not sure. It seems now The Good Wife is the story of a powerful, wealthy and glamorous public figure as she runs for a political position she doesn’t actually want while one of her law partners fails to defend another partner as he’s marched unceremoniously off the plank. There’s a lot of Cary, and not good Cary, either. Not the Cary that served as the Diane to Alicia’s Will. Not the Cary that came up with astounding 11th-hour trial strategies. Not even the good old fashioned slick-handsome Cary. This Cary is spent and broken and exhausted.

And he’s innocent. He’s innocent and he’s going to go to prison. Shouldn’t that kind of be the focus of Alicia’s attention? In “The Trial,” we only see Alicia as a peripheral character to Cary’s travails, showing up as a source of comfort for Cary after all of the real damage has been done. Understandably, she was too busy watching attack ads from her Laurel & Hardy campaign team to jump to the defense of her business partner and friend. Plus, you know, photo ops n’ shit. There’s just not enough time in the day!

Well that’s not my Alicia! That’s not the Alicia I thought I knew! Because I’ve been conditioned to believe that Alicia can do magic in a courtroom. But now she’s not really in courtrooms that much any more. Is it that the show wants us to understand that people change? Is the new Alicia battle-tested and more realistic than the girl we fell in love with a few years ago? Does she know a losing battle when she sees one? Because in the old days, you get the feeling that Alicia could have convinced Lemond Bishop to help Cary out.


A quick word about Lemond Bishop, played by Mike Colter. Every time he’s on the screen I want to shake hands with people around me because we’re all part of the same species as him. This is a gorgeous man. Dear god. And his affect, his mannerisms, his voice … holy shit, people. We did it. We made a real beaut. So feel free to lean over to your spouse or co-worker and high five them and say “Lemond Bishop. Smokin’. Amirite?” So how about we all generally agree not to muddy up all that panache with him barking sophomoric stuff at his girlfriend like “real adult!” And maybe I don’t understand how security in his house works, but it’s just cool for people like Cary and Kalinda to hang out with his son Dylan while he’s otherwise occupied? Feels weird.

The whole thing with Kalinda has been weird this season. Before the season started I hoped that every scene of Kalinda intel gathering wouldn’t require her to bang somebody. I’m not a prude. I like a little zing in my TV, but with Kalinda it’s so one note.

PERSON: Kalinda, are you using me for info?
PERSON: Okay cool. Whew.

Kalinda looks over her shoulder at them and bites her lip.

Rinse & repeat. Often with the same person who reiterates the same question. Ugh. And so with “The Trial” we see Kalinda hamfistedly threaten to have Lemond Bishop’s kid taken away. And this is after he ordered her to insert an electronic key card into her FBI girlfriend’s wallet a few weeks back. Instead she snapped it in half. What happened? Nada! That plot line just vanished like that blonde hippie chick that Will was grossly french kissing in his office at the beginning of season five. (I couldn’t even find her name. She’s not even in the Will Gardner Wiki!) Lemond gave Kalinda an order. She didn’t do it. And then she somehow is in his kitchen with his grade-schooler? What am I missing? There seem to be some rules of this world that have eluded me.

Like, for example, how Lemond Bishop is everywhere. He’s in court for like a three-second reveal. He pulls up to characters in his blacked-out Tahoe or whatever that is as they step onto the street. He’s in the waiting area of law firms when you least expect him. Don’t get me wrong, this dude embiggens me. I’m completely in favor of seeing him as much as possible, but again, I’m not getting the rules of this world. Lemond Bishop’s magic act? I can live with it. Kalinda’s bizarro bisexual non-subtle info smuggling? Less so.

And of course any dyed-in-the-wool fan of The Good Wife has read that Archie Punjabi is leaving the show, so every time she’s anywhere near Lemond Bishop I yell “This is it! This is the big one!” much to the consternation of Lady Castleton, who shushes me with aplomb.

If you read Dustin’s piece on the finale, you’ll see one point of view on The Good Wife. Tastes great, less filling. But I’d offer a slightly different point of view. Namely that we’re not actually getting the same high we once were. Let’s face it, when Will died, we all knew that nothing would ever be the same. I’m a huge — I mean huge — fan of Matthew Goode, so I’m all for him being her new love interest, but you really never can go home again. Maddie eventually has to hook up with David. The wheel of time turns.


And I’m not sure that the choices on The Good Wife are turning in a direction I love. The complicated, interesting Peter character has been all but squashed by the revelation of his affair with Ramona. Diane is perilously close to window dressing without Will across the hall. Eli seems to descend into caricature on a more regular basis. And he was all over the Peter-is-boning-an-intern fiasco (which Peter wasn’t) but he completely missed the affair with Ramona? Huh? Cary has been neutered and Kalinda is a dead man walking. And why is it that taking over the old Lockhart Gardner offices has crippled Canning Lee? We haven’t heard from those guys since they got booted. And where the hell is Taye Diggs? And why the hell hasn’t Alicia called Zach back? What’s her deal? And for the love of god, isn’t Howard Lyman a partner at Florrick Agos? What, exactly are we meant to be connected to?

There is a glimmer of hope for Cary in the form of the illicit affair of ASA Pine, (apparently she’s the only one who works in the prosecutor’s office these days?) but in general, this season has felt all over the place to me. The Good Wife is still top-of-the-network-TV-heap but what does that really say? I watched like three episodes of Constantine and couldn’t believe how bad it was. That’s the measuring stick? Shows like Two Broke Girls? I think the bar has to be how a show measures up to Pay TV and in that regard, The Good Wife is still in the running. But without a relatable lead, how long can that last? Are all of the amazing Elsbeth Tascioni’s of the show (and there are lots and lots of great bit players) distracting us from the fact that Will’s death was the natural end of the story?

I’m happy for Alicia, that she’s survived through a few tough years. I’m happy that she has divided and conquered. I’m happy that she seems to have settled into a place where she has some financial security, and an emotional wall to shield her from Peter’s shenanigans, but is she truly one of us any more? Somewhere in the annals of bareback-porn boyfriends and political PACs and renovated office space and Kalinda booty calls I may have lost track.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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