May 3, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
Much of this season of The Good Wife has been about the way that Alicia’s perceptions have changed over time, the way her ideas about what is good have shifted, the ways her views on the law and how to use it have moved. “Don’t Fail” puts a fine point on this evolution by looking back at a younger, more idealistic Alicia and seeing how Alicia in the present day has become a lot closer to the thing she used to detest in Cary. How much that change is evolution (more “experience,” as Kalinda frames it) or devolution (into cynicism or expedience) is something of an open question, and one that’s worth debating. But when Alicia talks to Cary, she asserts two things: that she is a better lawyer now than she once was, and that she used to look at the law as something good. That those ideas might comfortably coexist, and, in fact, that one might inform the other gives the episode its discomfiting bedrock. Does being a better lawyer mean being a worse person? If so, what does Alicia really have to do to be good?
The flashbacks serve several purposes here, but the most blatant one is also, perhaps, the most frustrating. After last week’s seeming departure, the flashbacks contain scenes with Kalinda (and her first scene with Alicia in a very long time), functionally undoing all of the power of her apparent final hour. I actually liked the way Kalinda’s departure was handled last week, so to have her back here, immediately, and apparently appearing in the finale next week is a big pain, the sort of weird, inexplicable decision by the Kings this season has been full of at every turn. Kalinda’s presence here undercuts the power of last week’s episode, and turns what was a fitting goodbye into a lengthy, probably increasingly unwieldy and ineffective one. It’s an incredibly annoying move, and while watching Kalinda and Alicia interact as friends again is nice for nostalgia purposes, I don’t know that it is worth the negative effect on the power of the character’s exit.
The early scenes of Alicia going stir crazy in her apartment were a lot of fun, but they underline just how much our Mrs. Florrick needs direction to sustain herself. This deep need may also explain how quickly she sheds the cynicism these past weeks have enveloped her in to jump to an old client’s defense, and then, to ask Finn to start a firm with her where they will only take cases they believe in. This decision is somewhat at odds with the way she handles the Tatro case, where she uses her “experience” and cynicism to bend the rules and get the case thrown out, only technically suborning perjury and then lying herself to the judge in the process. Were I in a more charitable frame of mind towards this show, I would probably read these contradictions as evidence of Alicia’s internal tensions between idealism and pragmatism, and the episode almost makes that work, but as it is, it feels a little disjointed, as if the show thinks Alicia can be this optimistic and this cynical at the same time. If “Don’t Fail” had pushed a little bit to see how delusional Alicia is, or whether there might be a way to reconcile her two attitudes, it would have been a better episode for the effort. As it stands, there are some good moments, but the whole comes across as slightly more muddled than it should.
The episode, like the season for which it serves as the penultimate chapter, has a lot of good questions on the mind but can’t ever quite get to a place where it is addressing them coherently. This season about a conflicted Alicia who isn’t sure exactly who she is has often felt equally conflicted about its main character, her motivations, and how much she is deluding herself. The show seems to have lost sight of Alicia Florrick by trying to pull her out of the gray area in which she has existed for most of the series. She is neither hero nor villain, when the show is at its best, just a person trying to get by in a complex world where right and wrong are not always easy to suss out. But by directly asking the question of whether Alicia is a good person, the Kings seem to have become divided over how best to answer it, resulting in a season that has veered between Alicia as idealistic crusader and Alicia as cynical pragmatist who just needs to get the job done. I’m not very hopeful that next week’s finale will tie all of this together in satisfactory ways. But I can at least laud the show for asking some difficult questions, even if those questions have mired it in a mess of incoherence from which it probably cannot gracefully recover this year.
- “Well, I’m having a crisis of confidence, and its taking up most of my time.”
- “I can’t take another failure.” “Oh, well then, don’t fail.”
- “We don’t take cases like that anymore.”
- “This is not the way I want to practice the law.” “Oh boy, you mean successfully?”
- “You always thought I was more competitive than I really was.” “You were competitive!” “Yeah, I was.”
- “You know what? We’re better lawyers now.”
- “Yeah, but there’s still something I miss about it.” “What?” “Looking at the law as something good.”
- “That doesn’t seem right.” “I know. But its legal.” “I think I have a lot to learn.”
- “God, you’re such a cynic.” “No. Just experienced.”
If “Don’t Fail” had pushed a little bit to see how delusional Alicia is, or whether there might be a way to reconcile her two attitudes, it would have been a better episode for the effort.