November 1, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
“Payback” is largely about mirroring. From the early shot where Alicia’s arbitration is mirrored with the mediation going on at Lockart Agos & Lee to the way the subplots of Eli and Jason tend to run in the same basic directions, this is an episode that is structurally fascinating to behold. It’s a clever way to visually and spatially orient the story beats so that they play off each other and create new resonances. It doesn’t really make the goings on at Lockhart Agos any more relevant to the show as a whole than they have been in recent weeks, but it does make them feel more substantial as a part of the episode, like the in-fighting at the firm matters even remotely as much as Alicia’s tuition fight. The direction, by Craig Zisk, is largely responsible for bringing the whole thing off, and “Payback” is another strong episode in a season that may be going to some interesting places.
One of those areas of interest is Eli Gold, who tonight refuses to leave the Florrick campaign despite a better offer in Israel and Alicia functionally firing him. Eli remains open about the fact that he is using Alicia and that he is out for himself, but that makes him a more dangerous and compelling character than ever before. Eli’s machinations to date have been pretty childish, focused on throwing softballs at Ruth and hoping one hits her in the head, but his determination is what makes his current situation fascinating. Eli has frequently been a near-omniscient character, so to see him down on his luck and desperate for a win is a great new direction.
Over at Lockhart Agos, Howard gets some actual pathos in the face of what appears to be very real ageism and harassment due to the glib remarks of the other partners. This story still feels like so much filler, to give the firm half of the cast material to play until they become more relevant to the story. Yet the episode uses Howard smartly to tie into its larger theme: Howard is pushing all of this so hard as a sort of revenge against Cary, who has made him feel unimportant and foolish. That ties Howard to Eli’s struggle, as two less-than-righteous men pursue somewhat righteous goals for their own selfish purposes. Howard may very well be right about ageism at the firm, but that matters less than the idea that he should matter more.
Then there’s the case of the week, in which the students of Collosseum choose to seek comeuppance from a university that has left them saddled with debt and unprepared to function in the world. The episode does a great job of laying out both sides of the issue of predatory loans and for-profit colleges, tying in various threads without putting too fine a point on anything. Too often The Good Wife is didactic when it tries to take on “issues,” but “Payback” is smart and nuanced both in how it presents the issues and how the case is resolved.
“Payback” is an incredibly smartly constructed minor episode of the show, one where the various threads flow seamlessly together, bouncing off each other and creating a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Even Jason’s subplot, where he track down the scam artist and gets the money back, is mostly about a complicated person crossing lines in service of a complex goal they can only partially acknowledge themselves. There’s none of the bombast here that makes for great episodes of the show, but pretty much everything works toward a cohesive end, even as some threads of the show still feel too disparate for now. It’s a fine piece of television, one that shows how a little work on connecting various plotlines goes a long way on a show like this.
- “In order to sue someone, you’d have to know how.”
- “Flacido Domingo. That one hurt especially, given my devotion to the opera. And my sexual prowess.”
“Payback” is another strong episode in a season that may be going to some interesting places.