The Good Wife, Season 6, Episode 9, “Sticky Content”
November 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
Peter Florrick is a piece of shit. We’ve known this for a long time; in fact, its baked right into the premise of the show, revealed in The Good Wife’s very first scene. Peter is not some permanent penitent who learned from his mistakes, at least not in the long term. He’s a cad, plain and simple, a guy who has been cheating on his wife for at least sixteen of their twenty years of marriage, and who is cheating on her still, even after he managed to claw his way back from scandal and rejuvenate his political career. Peter Florrick is a cheater. Peter Florrick is a bad man.
Of course, nothing is ever quite that simple on The Good Wife. One of the smartest things the show ever did was showing us that Peter was, in fact, a flawed man trying to make better in the years after his dalliance with a hooker was revealed. How much Peter’s finding Jesus and trying to win Alicia back was legitimate and how much was feigned for political convenience was never entirely clear, but I’ve always sort of bought that aspect of Peter’s journey. A lot of people who make big mistakes, who do something really terrible, try to be better. They hope to learn from their mistakes and to grow. Here’s the thing, though: most of them fail. Real self growth is a very difficult thing. True progress is hard won every step of the way. Backsliding is simpler. There is always an easier road to take than the high one, and most people end up on it. Peter Florrick, like his estranged wife, is much more than simply a “bad man.” He’s corrupt (though usually in fairly benign ways, give or take a stolen election), he’s a philanderer, and he’s more than a bit of a bastard. But he’s still a human being who we’ve seen try before he failed.
This is all a necessary reminder to keep this review from devolving into a rant about Peter’s idiocy and selfish horn-doggery, because make no mistake: You cheat on Alicia Florrick once, you’re a fool, but to do it consistently and brazenly puts you on my list. Again, I can be even-handed here: Peter and Alicia are together in name only, and they do, technically, have an understanding about the possibility of seeing other people. But Peter isn’t just “seeing other people”: he’s having an affair with an employee whose daughter is probably his, and he’s not being very careful to conceal it. Like Anthony Weiner’s second batch of sexts, this starts to look less like mere infidelity (itself far from an admirable character trait) and more like stupidity. Peter has literally been photographed having an affair with a blonde woman before, when he was in a less prominent position and being less closely scrutinized. Yet here he is again, in public, leaning in close with Ramona. It’s almost like he’s flaunting it.
The sequence where Alicia and Peter do their “couple interview” and she then berates him in the car is a master class in acting by both Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth. In front of the camera, they play the happy couple, but the cracks show in subtle ways (Peter and Alicia aren’t half the actors Noth and Margulies are), in side-long glares and slight vocal shifts from Alicia, and in a fidgety sense a shoe is about to drop from Peter. The best moment in the scene, and one of my favorites in the episode, comes as the two conclude the story of how they met. “I was a real smooth operator then,” Peter says, visibly nostalgic and not even clear how smug and gross that sounds. “I don’t think I’d ever had a happier moment in my life,” Alicia replies. These two aren’t having the same conversation. They don’t have the same memories. Even their foundational moments are a failed connection, with Peter playing a game and Alicia being ensnared. She fell in love that night in Georgetown in the rain. Peter Florrick scored.
“Sticky Content” makes much of the subtext of this season (and this series) more textual. In addition to Peter’s infidelity becoming more than constantly implied, Alicia and Finn’s attraction surfaces more openly than ever before, as she clearly visits him hoping to kiss him and comments on how much she always hated that her new office has glass doors (a weird comment to make since Finn presumably knows this used to be Will’s office, but there you are). I’ve maintained before that the show has set Finn Polmar up as such a Boy Scout I will find it hard to swallow when he becomes involved with a married woman, and it seems the show itself cops to that, as Finn awkwardly shows himself out after Alicia basically admits she wishes he would file some briefs right there in her office. I’m still unsure I like the direction this story is headed in, for the way it threatens to breach a delicate connection these two have formed and to compromise Finn Polmar’s white knight status, but it is being very well handled for now, as the two functionally admit their attraction but go nowhere beyond that for the moment. Finn tells Alicia things can be simpler if she just lets them be simpler, and he’s right, of course. Alicia Florrick is often her own worst enemy. She is the biggest obstacle to her own happiness, because she is always concerned with appearances, with how she fits into the roles expected of her, and with the consequences of her actions. Alicia Florrick doesn’t want to have fun; she’s too busy thinking about how much the clean up is going to cost.
The rest of the episode questions Alicia’s default cynicism by contrasting her with two men who try their best to be earnest. Frank Prady comes to Alicia and tells her he doesn’t want to go negative, not as some sort of campaign trick, but because he really does want a fair fight. Alicia can’t bring herself to agree at first, because this just seems too good to be true, and our Mrs. Florrick has never found a motive she can’t question. The episode makes a fascinating point in this storyline: Frank Prady is almost certainly correct about what is the right thing to do, but Alicia Florrick is right to be cynical. Sure, Prady can promise not to go negative, but he can’t stop his PAC from leaking dirt, and any damage control he engages in after they do will just be closing the door after the horse has left the barn. Alicia enters the agreement because she is truly trying to be high-minded about her campaign, yet before the episode is even out, both sides have fired shots at the other. Simply wanting the world to be a better place doesn’t make it so, and living in the world as you see it rather than the world as it is generally leads to pain.
That’s certainly the case for Cary, who has spent most of this season (and its five predecessors) trying to will Kalinda into a committed relationship she just doesn’t want, and tonight, looks a dangerous drug dealer who just admitted he ordered Cary killed in the face and smiles, actually assured Bishop isn’t going to kill him. Cary’s earnestness about all this mirrors Prady’s. Both men think that by doing the right thing and being living examples of the world they hope to achieve, they can create change around them. But politics is still politics, and Lemond Bishop is still a man who has killed people who are much smaller inconveniences than Cary before.
“Sticky Content” is about what stays in people’s minds in the long term. The title itself is a reference to Alicia’s communications team’s efforts to create an ad that will stick with people, but it applies equally to the way all of us tend to remember the negatives in our relationships and our past far more than the positives. Alicia clings to her various scars to turn them into a shield against future pain. It is a smart way to be, but it is not always a good way to be, and it costs her dearly at every turn. She has no friends (save Finn, who she thinks of as more) and few allies because she has trained herself not to open up, never to let anyone in. Alicia has internalized betrayal after betrayal, and that’s what sticks with her. Politicians go negative, she says, because it works. And it works because the bad things stay with people more than the good things. It’s a pretty cynical outlook, but Alicia Florrick lives in the world as she finds it and just hopes it won’t eat her alive.
- “Wouldn’t you rather win without bloodying each other in the process?” “I don’t have an opinion on that.” “I doubt it.” “That’s your right.”
- “I’m not a martyr. I just think I can win a fair fight. So I want it to be fair.”
- “You want to be re-elected? You want me to be elected? Then zip up your pants, shut your mouth, and stop banging the help.”
- “I always hated that these offices were glass.” “Ok, I’m gonna leave now.”
- “All I could think about was being home with my kids…which I wanted to be…because child services said I had to be…”
- “We’re bad people.” “I know.”
“Sticky Content” is about what stays in people’s minds in the long term.