April 12, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
Much of season six of The Good Wife has taken place within the mind of Alicia Florrick. Even discounting “Mind’s Eye,” which took this premise literally, this has been a stretch of episodes less concerned with the world in which Alicia lives, and more concerned with how she decides to live in it. All season long, the show has eschewed big events—like the debate or that crucial interview—in favor of showing us the build up, the way Alicia approached the event, how she conceived of it and what it meant to her. It’s a trick that has lead to very mixed returns, but one that I can appreciate in theory, even if I have to somewhat dismiss in the execution. The Good Wife is Alicia’s story, and to tell it increasingly from her perspective is a storytelling decision I can completely understand. Sometimes it has resulted in messy plotting that forgets anyone in this world besides Alicia is a character. Sometimes, its engrossing enough to paper over the problems, even if it can never erase them entirely.
“Winning Ugly” is the latter sort of episode, one that is enjoyable enough to watch, the various flaws in it become less pronounced, even if no less troublesome. This is an episode that dwells on Kalinda’s increasingly nonsensical conundrum, that introduces Ron Rifkin as a fascinating character only to turn him into yet another mustache twirler, that squanders another hour on a building action, threatening to render much of this season moot. If Alicia does decide to concede, to walk away from all she’s built, what will she have learned in the process? If your answer is “that politics is a dirty business,” I have to wonder what show you’ve been watching for nearly six seasons now. We’ve learned much about Alicia this season, but the question still stands: what has she learned about herself?
The voting fraud scandal played out better than I had worried it might, at least so far, but it is still little more than a retread, a quick plot fix to a storyline the writers seemed increasingly less interested in writing. The Good Wife has been a machine of reinvention over the course of its last two seasons, but each reinvention has felt less meaningful, more driven by a desire to recapture that glorious run of episodes when Florrick Agos was formed, when the show broke out of its premise and put everyone we knew and loved at odds with one another. Neither Diane’s joining the firm, nor Cary’s arrest, nor Alicia’s victory in the State’s Attorney race has been able to recapture that sense of wondrous momentum, and the more it tries, the more desperate this show seems. If Alicia folds in the coming weeks, if she decides to give in and to cede her position as State’s Attorney, I can only hope the show figures out what wheels its been spinning all season, and whether its traveled anywhere in the process.
Though these problems still haunt “Winning Ugly,” it manages to be the best episode this show has done since “Mind’s Eye,” and one of the better episodes in the back half of this season, if only because it regains a sense of momentum. The metadata plotline goes where we all knew it was going, and gets there quickly enough my mind didn’t have time to wander as we moved from Diane’s being placed in Cary’s position, to Kalinda planning to take the fall, to Cary agreeing to sacrifice himself for her in very quick succession. And while Alicia’s storyline wasn’t necessarily a positive step forward, Ron Rifkin was great fun as Spencer Randolph, and Alicia’s growing desperation was more riveting than her stasis over the past several weeks.
“Winning Ugly” comes across so well because it ultimately underlines one of the chief themes of this show: that politics is a dirty business, and that it threatens to tarnish even the most noble if they’ll allow themselves to be seduced. This is not my favorite mode of The Good Wife, nor is it the most original. But a story about Chicago corruption and how it can tear down even the best intentions is one that this show can tell well, and “Winning Ugly” is an entertaining episode even if it fails to attain true greatness. Season six has been a bumpy ride with an uncertain destination. If the show lands the home stretch, all of this may start to seem worth it. If not, well, at least it’s all over soon.
- “It doesn’t end, does it? You win the election, you think it’s over. But it’s never over.” “I wish I could tell you you’re wrong, but you’re right. Life…sucks.”
- “Statistics are nonsense. Shiny nonsense, but still.”
- “I wanna marry him.”
- “Was it just flirtation with Will?” “No, it wasn’t.” “You lied?” “Yes.”
- “He tried to bribe me before I ran.” “Well that’s not good. Has nothing to do with me…”
- “Dear God, I need a drink.”
- “There is no next round.” “In politics, there is always a next round.”
“Winning Ugly” is enjoyable enough to watch that the various flaws in it become less pronounced, even if no less troublesome.