March 8, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
The chaos of everyday life can hide blatant truths from us, burying the obvious beneath the surface. So many little thoughts and micro-decisions cloud our vision every day that it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, not just what’s at stake, but who is playing the game. A sense of self can be swallowed up by a job, or a task, or a crowded social calendar. Who you are can start to slip away from you, to become a function of convenience, to become something that is malleable based on who it is convenient to be in any given moment. What we do defines us, but that definition can all too frequently be obfuscated by the million little things that keep us from thinking about who we want to be and who we might become based on our current paths.
The Good Wife is always a show about an island of collected competence in a maelstrom of crises, and the show gets much of its propulsive pacing from the idea that in Alicia’s life, there are always a million fires to put out, some of which must take precedence, and some of which must be put out pragmatically rather than morally. It is also frequently a show about finding a perspective, though this is a theme the show has only fully begun to explore this season. The show often places us within someone else’s perspective and situates us with them, allowing us to see the world as they do, or to experience a moment or a memory as they might. Think of how “Dramatics, Your Honor” put us in the mind of Will’s killer, how “Shiny Objects” showed us Elsbeth’s mile-a-minute mind at work, or how “A Few Words” played out years of guilt, regret, fear, and longing as a series of fleeting memories, focused on an elevator door that almost closed, and then didn’t. “Mind’s Eye” is a beautifully executed hour-long sojourn into the subconscious of Alicia Florrick, a gimmick episode that doesn’t feel at all forced or desperate, another example of the show finding Alicia as she finds herself.
This is an episode that unfolds in movements, backed by the brilliant work of series composer David Buckley, who is in fine form throughout tonight, using the sweeping score to guide us through Alicia’s fraught afternoon, and to ground us, not in some conception of reality vs. fantasy, but in the more interesting mooring of Alicia’s emotional state. The Good Wife frequently takes digs at its darker, more high-minded television rivals, but “Mind’s Eye” owes a debt to Hannibal for the way it deftly blends dream and reality in an attempt to get at a greater psychological truth. Most of our lives are lived internally, in the recesses of our minds where feelings are processed and decisions are made, and this is perhaps truer for Alicia Florrick than for most of us. Robert King’s excellent direction and some highly detailed production design allow “Mind’s Eye” to flow, dreamlike, through a complex series of emotional shifts and decisionmaking. Notice the framing in those fantasy sequences and how it tracks Alicia’s focus from moment to moment, even when what we see isn’t matching what we hear. For example, Zach is in the center of the shot, cold and alone in the frame, while Peter is contained in the bottom half of his shots, more a cursory distraction than anything else. Similarly, while Finn Polmar gets to be at the center of the frame and in close-up, we aren’t hearing him; Alicia isn’t quite ready to let her feelings for Finn dominate her life or her headspace at the moment, while John Elfman takes up more of her thoughts, but only those focused on pleasure.
The episode uses every tool at its disposal to put us in Alicia’s headspace, down to the tiniest of details (look at the advertisement on the bench Zach sits on, which asks “Need a lawyer?”), and it wracks focus as quickly as she is often forced to, as the visuals can barely keep up with the pace of her thinking. Her problems with Canning, Bishop, Prady, her lovers, and her children all bleed together in moments, and inform how she thinks about the other issues she’s dealing with. There’s common ground across the board, of course, and that’s what Alicia begins to realize as the episode comes to a close. In each of these issues, the real problem she is facing is a concern about her place in things, where she fits, where she might want to fit, and where she will be expected to fit. Her conflict with Canning comes down to what, exactly, she might mean to her most enigmatic foe, and what he might mean to her. The Bishop problem isn’t a matter of opposition research, so much as an internal conflict about who she is and how she might have compromised herself. Alicia’s romantic woes remain, at bottom, about the conflict between who she wants to be and who she thinks she is expected to be, about the space between what she wants and what she thinks she should want. When it comes to her children, she is worried about the role she is playing in their life and how it might diverge from what she wants—is she compromising Grace’s faith with her atheism? Is she leaving Zach out in the cold when he might need her most? Is she being a good lawyer, a good candidate, a good mother, a good wife? Does she, at the end of the day, even care?
There’s a sense, in moments across this show and tonight when Alicia snaps “I am really sick of you guys playing into this good girl thing, making me feel guilty” that maybe she doesn’t. But I’ve never read it that way, nor do I think “Mind’s Eye” wants us to. Alicia would love not to care. She would love to feel free and uninhibited, and to give in to what she wants. Sometimes she takes the reigns and does just that. But ultimately, her greatest conflict is that she does care about what those roles mean and how she fits into them. After all, who are “you guys” in that sentence? Alicia is entirely within her own head. There are plenty of societal expectations and deeply ingrained social mores that influence Alicia and frustrate her efforts to figure out exactly who to be, but its her own desire for control, for perfection, for goodness that drives most of her existential anxiety and ethical dilemmas. Alicia doesn’t just want to appear to be good, we’ve learned this season. She just isn’t always sure if the space between appearance and reality is as vast as it seems. Maybe if she plays the part well enough, it becomes her reality.
Reality is a funny thing in “Mind’s Eye,” for the way it is largely shaped by Alicia’s perception. We don’t see all that much actually happen this episode, and most of what we do see is the build up to things happening. But we do see Alicia go to the hospital to see Canning, not because it’s a smart chess move nor because he would do the same for her. She does it because she thinks it’s the right thing to do, and in a day (and a life) where she very often has to make complicated, compromised choices in hopes that the benefits will outweigh the costs, she chooses to do an act of simple kindness because its open to her, because she can. Alicia didn’t need to go to that hospital. No one else bothered to show up to see if Canning was ok. She may lie in her interview, or cross lines with John she doesn’t think its right to cross. She may lead Grace astray from her faith or isolate Zach due to her own anger at him. She may make mistakes, and she may make decisions that she isn’t fully satisfied with. But when Alicia sees the big picture, even if it happens rarely and fleetingly, in moments where she finds a calm at the eye of the storm, she does good. It may not be much, and it may happen because its easy, but it says more about her evolving sense of self than anything we’ve seen in a long time. “Your voice sounds better,” John tells her as she prepares to walk into the interview. She smiles, and tells him in a strained tone that not so subtly symbolizes her current struggle, “I’m finding it.”
- Let’s talk about Will, because of course we have to. Hearing Josh Charles’ voice (and it was his voice) brought up a huge amount of emotions for me, just as it did for Alicia, and Will’s presence in the dark spaces of this episode is beautifully done. He’s still there for Alicia, even as she says goodbye to him here, and even as she tries to replace him with Finn or John, just as the show itself has.
- “You don’t have a case, Mr. Canning.” “Come on, Alicia, you’re a chess player. Think it through. This one, I’ll win.”
- “Good morning, everyone. How are we doing? Ooh, bagels…”
- “We don’t talk this way, and you know it.”
- “Why is it all good for you, but not for me?”
- “You’re not really here, are you?”
- “You use compassion like it’s a currency, Mr. Canning.”
- “Sometimes words have to mean what they say, or else they just mean whatever you want.”
- “Would you lie if you were State’s Attorney?” “No I would not.” “Then I don’t think you should run.”
“Mind’s Eye” is a beautifully executed hour-long sojourn into the subconscious of Alicia Florrick, a gimmick episode that doesn’t feel at all forced or desperate, another example of the show finding Alicia as she finds herself.