The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 8, “Red Zone”
November 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
It’s a painful truth, not often acknowledged, but perspective is everything. We never really know the people around us, and they never fully know us, either. All we have is our perception of them, and that is a thing all too easily manipulated. This isn’t even necessarily a malicious act. We’re all of us, constantly editing ourselves for an audience, playing up the version of ourselves we hope we are or the one we like to think we are. There’s as much spin going on in our own heads as there is in our external behavior. We hide inconvenient aspects of ourselves from others, but all too frequently, we also hide them from ourselves. We are our own best spin-doctors, our own most gullible rubes. There’s a chasm between what Alicia does on her first visit to the soup kitchen and her second, and the response to each is completely inverted. It’s a fairly simplistic test for Alicia Florrick’s morality, and “Red Zone” plays coy about the results of it.
Sure, Alicia goes to the soup kitchen the first time to help people (or, at least, to fight off her own self-doubt after she hears the woman in the focus group call her selfish and entitled) and seems genuinely opposed to restaging her charity work as a photo op, but Eli makes a strong case that goodness has nothing to do with winning elections, and the appearance has everything to do with it, and Alicia is sold. “Anne doesn’t need help on a housing application; her name might not even be Anne. All that matters is how selfless Alicia looks in front of the cameras, how involved she appears to be, even if that is entirely a pretense. It says something about Alicia that she is willing to make the stands she does, both last week and this week, in favor of running a better campaign. And yet, it is equally significant that in both cases, she functionally folds, and quickly, in the name of expedience. Earlier this season, I argued Alicia Florrick has less a moral compass than a strong sense of pragmatism. The last two episodes have less challenged that than revealed that Alicia believes herself to have a strong moral compass, or at least wants to see herself as the sort of person who has strong convictions. Neither last week’s leak of Prady’s law review article (and how quickly Alicia allowed him to become an enemy) nor this week’s soup kitchen incident overtly contradicts the idea that Alicia is trying to stand for something. In both cases, however, the easier image wins the day. Its simpler to view Prady as a heartless adversary, just as its easier to appear to be selfless instead of actually doing something selfless.
This theme of appearance, and the way it often bleeds into reality makes “Red Zone” a perfect moment for Louis Canning to reappear. Canning is a sick man, to the point that he may be hovering near death at any given moment. The true extent of his illness is always in question because he leans on it whenever it might provide him an advantage in court. Canning will appear as ill as he needs to, but that does not change the fact of his illness. He doesn’t have a kidney transplant operation next week, but he does need a kidney transplant. He isn’t dying now, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that he is dying soon. Louis Canning is sick, just not necessarily exactly in the way he presents himself to be. Alicia Florrick is volunteering at that soup kitchen, just not in quite the way she appears to be. Both are playing roles that suit their aims, but query how closely they resemble the parts they are playing, and whether that affects our assessment of their deception.
Look also at the way Alicia’s sense of justice clashes with Jodi’s in the case of the week. What Alicia does here is almost certainly selfless and just in some sense (she leaps to it far more naturally, and with less ethical prompting, than it took her to go to the soup kitchen too). She is not taking this case for the image it will project—if anything, it is riskier to take it than to not from a political perspective. She is also not taking the case because she is on a quest to prove anything about herself, either internally or externally. Alicia takes the case because she hears a girl needs help, because Owen asks her for a favor, and she legitimately wants to make a difference. And when Alicia elevates the case into a class action, it simultaneously comes from her desire to do right by Jodi and her feelings that there is a systemic wrong to be righted here. In an episode about forced and feigned selflessness, Alicia’s work here is pretty much purely righteous.
And yet, she misses the little details as she barrels forward on her quest for justice. Jodi doesn’t want a big show. She doesn’t want to press charges, she doesn’t want to drag her attacker through the mud any more than is necessary. She doesn’t want to be part of a class action. She just wants her rapist expelled so he isn’t constantly in her life. Alicia doesn’t do anything wrong in her representation of Jodi, and her thoughts are always on what she sees as the best interests of her client and women like her, yet she loses sight of the actual human being in front of her in the process. As Jodi quietly walks out, Alicia tries once more to connect with Canning about his illness, and how much of that stems from her actual selflessness isn’t immediately clear. Yet I have to believe Alicia sees in that moment the mistake she made with Jodi, and tries to correct it with Louis by taking him as he is, by treating him as a difficult to read human being instead of a series of cheap legal tricks made flesh. Canning is both of those things, but Alicia alters her perspective momentarily and engages with him on a different level.
Everything going on in Alicia’s plotlines this week is so good, it’s a shame Kalinda’s Sexy Funtime Murder Mystery Hour also showed up to remind us all how incorrigible that Kalinda is, with her lies and her promiscuity (can we talk about how the show tends to paint Kalinda that way, even though she has had the same two partners for basically seasons now?) and her inexplicable ties to Lemond Bishop. I understand Kalinda is trying to help Cary, and that that may involve keeping Bishop happy, but he is no longer a client of hers, and it is probably not in Cary’s best interest for his firm’s investigator to be colluding with Bishop in any case. This mostly just felt like the show wanted to remind us Bishop is out there being spooky at the fringes of this story for when he matters again (seemingly as early as next week) and remembered it had nothing for Archie Panjabi to do except roll around in a sheet burrito and drink wine in a silk bathrobe with Agent Delaney, who continues to be less a character and more a sentient plot point with an inexplicable fetish for being completely rolled up in her sheets at all times.
Even Kalinda’s story goes back to this episode’s main point, though. As an outsider, Kalinda is colluding with a drug dealer to help his lawyer get out of conspiracy charges. Yet Kalinda actually acts as the strongest anti-Bishop force in this season tonight, lying to his face and thwarting his attempts to track Lana with that keycard. The feds and the State’s Attorney haven’t gotten anywhere fighting Bishop. Alicia dropped him as a client but still takes his money to finance her campaign. In an episode all about the spin and the underlying reality, Kalinda comes across as the show’s biggest white knight outside of Finn Polmar, who probably saves a kitten from a tree on his way home from the soup kitchen, and then cures a blind woman’s eyesight on the elevator up to his apartment. That is an interesting place for Kalinda, who generally revels in ambiguity, to end up, and while her plotline this week was eye-rollingly nonsensical in standard Kalinda-style, it hints at some ways the character might become vital in her final season on the show.
Season six of The Good Wife continues to be a brilliantly nuanced look at morality, and the place it has in politics, law, and the characters’ personal lives. “Red Zone” shows us several characters doing good and looking bad, and doing everything they can to look good whether their actions amount to much of anything. It’s smart about the space between perception and reality, but the true brilliance of the episode is its point about how those two things tend to bleed together the more you try to separate them. Alicia Florrick is all of the things that focus group thinks about her, and she is none of them. She’s someone who sees injustice and sets out to right it, without always noticing the people along the way. She wants to help, but she also wants to be seen as someone who wants to help. She’s more than can be encapsulated in any episode, in any season, more than can easily be put into words in this space or the one below (though please feel free to try in the comments). The Good Wife wants to get a handle on Alicia Florrick’s morality, and it is attacking that idea from all angles. Because often, the right thing is a matter of perspective.
- “Alicia, what is the case?” “Rape.” “Oh great. Because rape is never controversial.”
- “What, so she’s some kind of feminist activist now?” Ugh. Just…ugh.
- “What are you doing?” “Scrubbing a pot.” “Yes, I can see why you have to go.”
- “I’m Marie Antoinette.” “That’s good for you.”
- “Stop acting like this is about you becoming a better person. It’s about you appearing to be a better person.”
- I guess Castro is just not running anymore? That news blurb is an astoundingly odd way to tell us that one of the show’s biggest antagonists is just kind of going to fade away now. I wonder if Michael Cerveris became suddenly unavailable? Otherwise, this is a deeply odd storytelling decision.
Season six of The Good Wife continues to be a brilliantly nuanced look at morality, and the place it has in politics, law, and the characters’ personal lives.