The closing minutes of this week's Good Wife saw Alicia Florrick announce her campaign for Chicago State's Attorney in the way she wanted to: introduced by Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode) and with her husband, the governor, by her side. As Peter spoke, the show cut to news footage putting images of this press conference with those of the one from six years ago, where Alicia stood mutely by as Peter apologized for having sex with prostitutes. The difference, to Good Wife viewers, is stark: Before, Alicia was being used as a prop; now, Peter is the prop, essentially cowed into appearing because Alicia is more politically popular than him.
But stripped of sound and context, in both pictures we see basically the same thing: Peter talking at a podium while Alicia stands by silently. One's image, especially as presented by mass media to the casual bystander, remains maddeningly difficult to control.
Sunday’s episode featured a legal case that trod similar thematic lines: a high-powered woman alleging that her dismissal from a prominent tech firm amounted to gender harassment, and the firm arguing back that she was a bad employee and unlikable boss. There were obvious shades of Jill Abramson at The New York Times—Alicia herself admitted that the client was probably "a bitch on wheels," but said that similarly domineering behavior from a male boss would go unnoticed. I was reminded, also, of the Times' coverage of New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn last year. She was portrayed, behind closed doors, as hot-tempered and exacting. But it seemed newsworthy more because Quinn was a woman; no doubt there are countless male politicians of whom you could say the same.
So much of this wonderful season of The Good Wife has been about the importance of public perception, and the way sexism almost always plays a role in shaping it. As Alicia prepares a run for public office, the excitable Eli Gold and her new campaign manager Jonathan Elfman (Steven Pasquale) repeatedly remind her that a huge part of her appeal is the fact that she stuck with her husband but also struck out on her own, starting a law firm and balancing motherhood, marriage, and a career. No man would be expected by the public to do all of that. Peter Florrick is governor of Illinois in part because the public is so impressed that he publicly reformed after a stint in prison. Alicia is vulnerable to the very notion that she might not stick by her husband after he was brought down by a public sex scandal.