March 1, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
After an episode that will go down as one of the worst in its entire run and a hiatus of nearly two months (after a winter break of over a month), The Good Wife needed to come back strong tonight. The show needed to put its best foot forward, to regain some seriously lost momentum and a modicum of good will. “Dark Money” is not a bad episode of the show, not by any stretch (and definitely not compared to “The Debate”), but its hardly an earth-shattering one either. This is a mediocre episode that doesn’t so much serve its purpose of pulling us back as exist as mid-season filler. In all likelihood, this episode was produced without knowledge of exactly how it would be broadcast, and of its place in things, but what we’re left with is an episode of wheel-spinning when what we really needed was forward movement.
Things can’t even fully be saved by the return of a scene-chewing Dylan Baker, here devouring even more scenery than usual in a dual role as both Colin Sweeney and a pretentious Australian actor who basically played Colin on TV. It’s a gimmick that’s perhaps a step too arch for The Good Wife, especially since the episode doesn’t really lean into the comedy of it at all. Baker is marvelously fun in the role of Colin Sweeney, but “Dark Money feels almost like it has lost interest in the character. The episode doesn’t give him much to do, playing his presence neither for comedy nor for lascivious shock value. Instead, he’s seemingly there because we haven’t seen Colin Sweeney in a while, and because Dylan Baker had room in his schedule. That’s reason enough to write another Sweeney barn-burner (even if his multiple-acquittals for multiple-murders style is a bit too Boston Legal for this show’s usual tone), but not reason enough to slot him in as a lackluster B-story to an episode in desperate need of a stronger center.
That final scene, when Alicia breaks down at the idea that she is the best person Grace knows, is another great moment that feels entirely misplaced from the episode that preceded it, a growing trend in this sixth season. Yes, Alicia took money from Guy Redmayne, who seems like a terrible person, but this is hardly the worst thing she’s done, and something we haven’t really even seen affect her before her breakdown. Julianna Margulies is one of the most wonderfully subtle and quietly expressive actresses on television, yet there isn’t a hint that Alicia has been pushed farther than she is used to in accepting Redmayne’s money, nor in the conversation with Prady that comes near the episode’s end. A few instances of dirty politics pepper the episode, but nothing more than we’ve seen before, and if the idea is that this is all wearing on Alicia over time, that’s something the episode doesn’t do the work to set up. We’re left with a great moment that feels totally unmoored from the rest of the episode, a beat in an arc we haven’t seen built up.
“Dark Money” exposes one of the central issues of this season—the decentralization of one of TV’s great ensembles. Alicia is off in her campaign story, Cary and Diane are in court (yet even as they appear together, they don’t really interact outside of the courtroom tonight), and Kalinda is off in a Bishop subplot that just feels increasingly like a long, unnecessary build up to Archie Panjabi’s departure. None of these stories really connect that well, outside of Alicia calling Diane a few times, and while they remind us that The Good Wife keeps a lot of plates spinning all the time, the episode leaves me wondering whether this season has decided to take on this diverse array of storylines more out of a sense of obligation than because they make narrative or thematic sense to a larger plan. If any one of these stories was absolutely firing on all cylinders, it might make up for the relative blandness of the others, but when all seem to be coasting, it makes it hurt more that none of the characters are even spending any time together. Everyone is alone with their own mediocrity, an idea that might work if it felt at all intentional.
Instead, what we’re left with is an episode that feels less than the sum of its parts, and a series of parts that don’t feel like much to begin with. The case-of-the-week is an uninteresting retread, barely enlivened by one of the liveliest performances this show has to offer. The Kalinda storyline reminds us that Lemond Bishop is a dad, which, ok? And Alicia had to take money from an asshole, a thing that doesn’t cause her consternation at all until all of a sudden it means she is a bad person in a way that doesn’t fully cohere. We’re coming close to the final stretch of the season. Here’s hoping the show finds some interesting things to do with the time it has left.
- “He’s a cartoon!”…says Colin Sweeney
- “Does it matter to me that you’re unhappy? Not so much.”
- “Diane and Cary don’t like me.” “I don’t like you either.” “Don’t be silly.”
- “I’ve got the testicles of a 20-year old.” “Where? In your briefcase?”
- “Guess I need to move those gloves…”
- “I’m not talking about denigrating. I’m talking about banging that bitch ‘til she screams like a $5,000 a night whore!”
- “You’re disgusting.” “Right, but I’m rich, so it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
- “Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Be a parent.”
- “I think campaigning is a lonely profession. And the only one who shares that loneliness is you.”
“Dark Money” exposes one of the central issues of this season—the decentralization of one of TV’s great ensembles