As Alicia's campaign lurches ahead and Cary's trial draws ever-closer, The Good Wife is having a lot of fun putting all of its characters in unfamiliar roles. This week, Alicia has to continue sublimate her personality to be a good candidate; Cary has to practice being a witness, a notoriously difficult task for any attorney; and perhaps strangest of all, Kalinda has to be a person with an ethical backbone as her brinksmanship with drug lord Lemond Bishop gets too dangerous even for her. Sunday’s episode, "Red Zone," mostly had fun with these new dynamics, but I must say, as much as it pains me to admit it, I won't miss Kalinda once she departs at the end of the season (as has been widely reported).
That's no fault of Archie Panjabi, who does consistently wonderful work on the show. But ever since the disaster of the hastily aborted season four plotline that focused on the return of her abusive husband, showrunners Robert and Michelle King have clearly not quite known how to use her. While almost every other cast member on the show has evolved into surprising new roles, Kalinda remains the mysterious bisexual investigator who's not afraid to sleep with someone to get information. More often than not, this leads to bedroom scenes that come off as shamelessly titillating and otherwise very dull; there was a lot of that in "Red Zone" between Kalinda and FBI Agent Lana Delaney (Jill Flint).
Lana has floated around as a recurring character since the first season of The Good Wife, and now is serving as a player in the investigation into Lemond Bishop. Once Bishop realizes Kalinda is sleeping with her, he demands she put a blank card (which contains some kind of tracking chip, one assumes?) into her wallet, probably so he can keep the Feds off his trail. As far as we know, Kalinda has no particular loyalty to Lana, but she's obviously turning into a real softie, since she snaps the card in two at the end of the episode. It's a nice moment, but since Kalinda's emotions are entirely sublimated at all times, it's not a particularly effective one in the short term. Has she fallen harder for Lana? If so, it doesn't show in their chemistry. Does she have some grander plan to stay one step ahead of Bishop? More believable, but even Kalinda seemed surprised at her impulsiveness.
I appreciate that Kalinda is crucial simply from a plot perspective—she can get around the law to help our heroes in important ways—but it’s tiresome to see her used as a sexy pawn in plot after plot. She particularly doesn't work as the object of Cary's angst as he weathers his pre-trial preparation. The two are required to keep 30 feet apart at all times as part of his bail terms, and I just don't buy that this is tearing either of them up inside. Their long-running romantic tension has never risen past cute, and this week his lamenting her sleeping with other people rang particularly false. Cary knows the deal with Kalinda—even under pressure, I don't buy that this is where he'd direct his frustrations.
Much better was his sweaty fury while preparing to take the witness stand at his own trial, a particularly tricky proposition than Diane tried to advise against. Attorneys, of course, are bad witnesses since they can anticipate every move being made against them and try get ahead of whoever's cross-examining them, which no jury would appreciate. Rita Wilson as Viola Walsh (one of the show's many great recurring attorney adversaries) was deployed wonderfully as a practice examiner designed to get under Cary's skin. I still find it difficult to believe there's not one big twist left in Cary's case—it's probably not going to trial without either Bishop or the Feds pulling another crazy maneuver—but trial prep in "Red Zone" served to settle Cary and give him perspective on his case after weeks of agitation. As furious as he might be at the State's Attorney's charges, he's an attorney. He knows he can't win by ranting angrily about injustice being done.
This perspective is brought into focus by Alicia, who tells Cary that he comes off as privileged on the witness stand. There's a good reason for that—he is privileged. He's mostly scandalized by these charges and the doctored recording being used against him because it's happening to him. One of the best thing about season six of The Good Wife is that it's swinging a wrecking ball into the cloistered lives Alicia, Cary, and company enjoy as wealthy lawyers and examining both the flimsiness and the power of their status.
Alicia is talking so much about privilege because of a jab from a focus-group participant. She's entitled, she's a cowardly wife, she's a fame-hog, she's a fair-weather feminist—she's a lot of bad things to a lot of people, but rarely all at once. Annoyed at being (anonymously) told that she isn't a good person, Alicia spent the whole episode looking for spiritual remedies, volunteering at a soup kitchen on Finn's advice. It backfires, spilling out onto the Internet and making her look opportunistic, which is the opposite of what one might expect.
Eli got a great moment explaining why this happened: Personal politics, he reminds Alicia, is all about image, and image is always stage-managed, no matter how authentic the celebrity or politician might seem. The Good Wife is largely avoiding the cliché that Alicia has to go her own way and eschew traditional politicking to forge a victory. No matter what her ideals and independence, she's being fed into a machine, and Eli knows how to work that machine, as he keeps reminding her. Her image has to be packaged and spooned out to the media, because that's the only way she'll look natural to the people at home.
This was nicely contrasted with Alicia's first significant challenge in the courtroom in the while—launching a class-action lawsuit against a university for its woeful approach towards dealing with accusations of rape from and against students. It's a plotline that is (sadly) very ripped from the headlines, and it worked perfectly as the kind of issue that would shake Alicia from her candidate reverie and lock her into the mode we all love and appreciate: kick-ass lawyer. Watching Alicia work doggedly for a student she just met was great on its own, but even better when examined in the context of the political focus group. She knows she's doing the right thing, but outwardly there's a hundred other takes people might have on her motives. No matter how pure our intentions, the image we project is not entirely in our control, especially in the world of politics. That is a lesson the show wants to continually teach, and it's doing a terrific job of it.
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