The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 6, “Old Spice”
October 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
Elsbeth Tascioni is one of the great recurring characters The Good Wife has ever come up with. She’s whip smart, eccentric but never in a way the show judges her for, and incredibly, fascinatingly good at her job. Elsbeth is a great lawyer on a show full of them, one whose adept legal mind is masked behind a veil of quirks that force people to constantly underestimate her. Yet these last two episodes have done something I cannot abide with the character: they’ve undermined her in ways that feel totally unearned and somehow beneath the Elsbeth we’ve come to know and love. Sure, she is easily distracted and prone to tangents, but the idea, posited last week, that a colorful magazine page would render her basically inoperative, or that Josh Perotti’s presence in court would cause her to make drastic strategic miscalculations feels wrong somehow.
There is also something to be said for the problematic nature of her romance with Perotti. This mostly works for me, because Carrie Preston and Kyle Machlachlan are immensely charming performers whose quirks mesh incredibly well, and yet there’s an ick factor to the whole thing the show seems happy to ignore. At this point, Perotti has basically stalked and harassed Elsbeth into submission, and for all of the adorable sidewalk grate business that goes on this week, this is a guy who has hounded her over her constant objections, harassed her in ways that are deeply inappropriate and highly unethical, and who destroys evidence without a second thought (query whether Elsbeth would do the same on this latter point, but then, remember, she doesn’t work for the government). Having Elsbeth fall for him isn’t necessarily out of character in any way, but on the heels of what we’ve seen her do in the last two weeks, it feels like the show has lost a handle on the character for the moment, or else, is turning her into grist for some plot machine without paying much attention to whether what she’s doing makes sense for her.
“Old Spice” makes the odd decision to background Alicia’s interview on religion and the careful spin that requires in favor of the case of the week, which never fully coalesces. The case feels more like a random assortment of court scenes than a fully thought through legal proceeding, and while each scene works well enough on its own, they amount to very little. Meanwhile, the show has spent enough time showing comedy yokel Alicia try to deal with religion that I would have liked to see them delve more into the ways she reshapes herself for the camera. In some ways, the interview Alicia gives tonight is a microcosm for a big facet of her character. Alicia Florrick is obsessed with being presentable, with making herself palatable to whatever audience she is about to see. But she has also proved steadfast in her refusal to conform to the religious expectations of those around her. She charts a middle course this evening that I found deeply unconvincing, yet the episode never goes internal to see how she reworks herself to make this calculus, and it seems convinced that Alicia’s interview is successful in ways I’m not sure it is. I appreciate the show’s commitment to the difficulties of being elected to office as an atheist, yet Alicia’s answers are so transparently calculated to be inoffensive and nonresponsive, it feels like they would be easily seen through. If the episode had spent more time on Alicia’s prep and what that meant for her personally and politically, the interview might have played better in that different context. But here, it felt sort of like that callback to the pilot last week: a potentially huge, iconic moment for the show that is oddly forced to play out in the background, like a headliner consigned to being an afterthought for reasons that don’t seem well thought through.
Florrick Agos also returns to Lockhart Gardner Canning’s office space this week, for reasons that completely pass understanding to me. It would make sense as a budget saving technique if the Florrick Agos loft space hadn’t been in use for basically a season at this point, but it has. It would make sense if I expected that David Lee and Louis Canning wouldn’t be returning to the show, but they will, and in all likelihood, they’ll require new office space when they do so. As it stands, it mostly feels like the show circling back around, trying its best to undo the boldest decision it made during its fifth season. Rarely do I agree with Cary when he and Alicia spar, yet on this point, I think he’s right. It feels like the show is going back where it’s been before rather than moving forward.
If nothing else, though, the decision gives us that beautiful moment when Alicia realizes she’ll be taking Will’s office. Margulies perfectly plays the moment earlier in the episode where Will’s death is brought up in the interview, and she nails the accumulated weight of that and the fact that she’ll now be sitting behind Will’s desk. I’m not sure its quite enough to justify the closed loop the Florrick Agos defection has now become, but it almost is, and that’s saying something. Watching Alicia tear up at that desk, and then turn to smile at Diane, reassuring her that it will all be fine, is absolutely lovely. It is the sort of iconic moment the show has been eliding for the past few weeks or burying inexplicably, and it is allowed to play out with some space to breathe. Diane and Alicia lock eyes, and the past washes over them, threatening to overwhelm them. The accumulated weight of their history could sink them, but it doesn’t. Instead, they find hope in their new situation. They find each other across the way, ready to lend a hand and cognizant of all that has passed between them. They find themselves ready for whatever comes next, in part because of all they’ve already weathered together. Six seasons have lead us to this point, and its easy to feel all of them in that moment. It’s also easy to be excited for what comes next.
- I find it very odd that we have seen not a single scene in which Alicia discusses her decision to run and its possible implications on the firm with her partners. Her campaign is in full swing at this point, but neither Diane nor Cary has brought up the fact that the young firm would be losing one of its major draws if she won. There’s a lot of potential drama to be wrung out of this, and I imagine the show is just waiting for the right moment to drop it, but for now, Alicia’s campaign feels divorced from the rest of her practice in ways that feel inauthentic.
- “…I’m gonna go.”
- “Grace, its Mom. Religion is in my life again.”
- “I’m listening. If it’s one thing I hate, its people who don’t listen. I’m open.”
- “I don’t like pretending to be someone I’m not in an interview.” “Really? You’re good at it.”
- “Baby lotion. Dear God!” This is so funny. And so creepy.
- “My physical presence, and I, will be in my office, should you need me.”
- “Thank you both. Now we can go back to suing you for $23 million.” “Oh, I can’t wait.”
“Old Spice” makes the odd decision to background Alicia’s interview on religion and the careful spin that requires in favor of the case of the week, which never fully coalesces.