Alicia's Little White Lies Get Bigger on The Good Wife

The show continues to explore the idea of ethical compromise as its hero runs for State's Attorney and tries to reverse her public stance as an atheist.

For five years, one of the major themes in The Good Wife was Alicia having to bend her morality for her job, using questionable ethics as a high-powered attorney defending known criminals. It was fun and enthralling, but occasionally heart-rending to watch Alicia as she learned to flick on the cold-heartedness required of the gig. Last year, when a drug lord showed up to his mom's holiday party, Alicia's son Zach watched with a mixture of admiration and horror, saying, "Sometimes I think of you as mom, and other times just as this interesting person who lives in our house."

In this sixth season, Alicia's has to re-invent herself yet again as a political candidate. And once again she’s skirting rules she once would have strictly followed. The question this time is: What exactly is motivating her? When she took the job at Lockhart/Gardner, Alicia was basically acting out of self-preservation, asking an old friend (Will Gardner) to hire her so she could support her family while her husband was in prison. Moving on from that firm and striking out on her own with Cary was a logical progression as she advanced at her job, but to strike into public office is a little more left-field.

One thing I've loved about the "Alicia for State's Attorney" plot in season six so far has been that while her family is baffled by her run for office, which troubles Alicia a little bit, their reaction isn't evidence that she's doing something wrong. The Good Wife excels at never coming across as some morality play that condemns Alicia. She may have less time with her kids, she may have left her husband (quite justifiably), she may have betrayed former colleagues, but throughout she's remained a three-dimensional person whose decisions always have a logic to them, even if it's not apparent to everyone else.

This week, Grace was surprised as she was called on to coach her mother on the subject of religion before an important TV interview with a local Christian leader (Frankie Faison, making his third appearance as the mellifluous Jeremiah Easton). Since Alicia had been on the record as holding atheist beliefs, she had to walk those back a little to make herself more palatable to the Chicago public. What better tool to employ than Grace, whose interest in Christianity is self-motivated and genuine? The show did a great job this (and last) week with Alicia's conversations with Grace about the Bible, where Alicia never comes across as scornful of her daughter's beliefs; Alicia's more nonplussed or even envious of her certainty. It's not hard to believe that Alicia sees some comfort in religion, even if she can't give herself over to it. But it is quite a surprising progression for her to go on TV and say that Will's death and her own daughter have motivated her to get in touch with God. Julianna Margulies, as always, makes you feel Alicia's roiling emotions behind her cool exterior with just a twitch or a pause.

A couple weeks ago, Alicia's mother and brother were distressed at the notion of her running for office; Zach, over the phone, was also confused at the idea. Now Grace is unsettled by her mom's public transformation, which she knows is stage-managed trickery designed to work over wavering voters. Alicia's personal sacrifices are playing out on a much larger stage; but again, the magic of this show is that it is not judging her decision. We're still finding out just what it is that's motivating Alicia's to run, but it's not just that Eli nudged her into it, nor that the current State's Attorney angered her, nor that she sees herself as some feminist icon. Those are all factors, but there's a larger message at work here about the intersection of power and politics. Alicia knows the tremendous value in elevating herself and seeking more influence, though she has to make sacrifices to do it. In a way, she's still reacting to the lessons she learned from her husband's original betrayal, which laid the groundwork for her to never be beholden to anyone in the same way.

That's why it was especially brilliant for last night's episode to pair Alicia's interview alongside her and Diane's ruthless move to take Lockhart/Gardner's office space away in favor of their renegade firm. Now, Alicia is re-cloaked in the ostentatious dressing she and Cary shed to strike out independently. Cary remains perturbed at that image (it remains to be seen whether his fears of turning into the old bosses play out), but there's quite a deliberate note of triumph in Diane reclaiming her office and Alicia taking Will's to end the episode, despite the melancholy that comes with it.

There was so much else happening in this episode: Elsbeth Tascioni's (Carrie Preston) adorable-but-somewhat-clichéd romance with compelling weirdo Josh Perotti (Kyle MacLachlan) got a lot of screen time and saw both actors playing up the delightful weirdness of their two characters as they hesitantly wooed each other across the courtroom. I can't deny being entertained, but there is something a little tired in the idea of a hard-charging pro like Elsbeth being tongue-tied and teenaged around a boy she likes, though the show managed to make up for that by having her deploy superior legal tactics than him by the end of the episode.

More interesting was the quiet but powerful support Alicia threw Cary as he once again got in trouble with the law for skirting his bail obligations (by taking an Uber that briefly crossed into Indiana state lines, which my friends in Chicago assure me is quite unlikely for someone who lives downtown). Cary's weariness at his barrage from the State's Attorney's office has been well-played by Matt Czuchry, and I bought it when he proposed taking a step back from the practice in general. Alicia quietly but firmly overrode him, promising to have his back even as the two skirmished over which office their firm should occupy. I took that as a crucial underlining of Alicia's inherent compassion, which won't be eroded under any circumstances; for all her developing ruthlessness, that's the fundamental argument for having her in office. Her edges are getting sanded off as she tells white lies on television; whether she'll have to make more fundamental compromises remains the crucial draw of this season's arc.