The Good Wife: Alicia Gets a Worthy Rival (Finally)

Just when it seemed like the State's Attorney race was set to be a dull affair, David Hyde Pierce raises the stakes.

One of The Good Wife's biggest strengths is that it usually has an answer for every narrative problem it runs into, and Sunday’s episode was no exception. I had feared, as Alicia kicked her State’s Attorney campaign into high gear, that the drawn-out race would be disappointingly one-sided. James Castro (Michael Cerveris), her incumbent opponent, is tough to love—a mean-spirited, small-minded fool who’s only prosecuting Cary Agos for political reasons. Alicia might run into hiccups in her personal life, but Castro didn’t really represent much of a threat—he even lacks the base, mustache-twirling villainy of Glenn Childs (Titus Welliver), Peter’s opponent in the same race four years ago.

But no longer can Alicia steamroll over Castro. She has a real opponent in David Hyde Pierce, who’s playing Frank Prady, a noted commentator and broadcaster. In typical Good Wife fashion we know next to nothing about him outside of the fact that he’s a “brand,” but we get it: It’s David Hyde Pierce. He’s smart and canny yet still sympathetic, and can run from the same apolitical territory that Alicia is currently staking out. Better yet, he can draw Alicia’s opportunism into sharp relief, since we know (even though she hasn’t fully acknowledged it) that her run is partly a personal vendetta.

Castro is difficult to like, and Alicia has good reason to think she’d be better at his job than he is. But what’s motivating her more than anything is Castro's prosecution of Cary, and his callous jab at her relationship with the late Will Gardner in their private conversation a few weeks ago. As it should, the show is pointing out Alicia’s deficiencies as a State’s Attorney candidate—outside of disliking Castro, she doesn’t have a lot of ideas for how to change the office. In an effort to sway Prady to her side before he’s made his intentions clear, Alicia trots out some platitudes about where she wants to devote her prosecutorial energies if elected, but it’s clear she’s reciting canned lines her staffers gave her.

The other big question is: Should viewers even feel bad for Cary? Yes, his prosecution is politically motivated, and yes, we know conclusively that the evidence against him was faked (something that can’t be proven, of course, since Lemond Bishop keeps knocking off witnesses). But still, he’s an attorney for a drug lord and is well-compensated for that work. He’s engaged in quite a bit of fast-and-loose behavior in his time on the show. And he’s benefitting from the finest legal services imaginable, something the average citizen charged with drug trafficking might not. As much as I love Cary, I grin every time the raging Judge Glatt (played by John Procaccino) shuts down Diane’s cross-chatter by banging his hand on the bench. He, at least, knows not to treat Cary any differently.
The progression of Cary’s case remains dizzyingly complicated. Kalinda finds the missing witness who can clear his name, but then he dies in a car crash that appears to be foul play arranged by Bishop. I’m not sure how much longer these opportunities can be dangled in front of Cary and then snatched away without it coming off as increasingly corny; I almost wish there were more mystery for viewers regarding his guilt. When Finn discovered evidence that Cary might have disappeared some seized cocaine for Bishop while working at the State’s Attorney’s Office, I liked that the show let it dangle in the air for a few minutes. Could Cary have a darker side we don’t know about? It turns out no, someone else was behind the missing cocaine, but Matt Czuchry’s twitching poker face as Finn presented the evidence was wondrous to behold.

Since we know that Cary is innocent, I hope his trial is resolved sooner rather than later, especially now that Finn is off the case, having resigned in horror at Castro’s general hypocrisy. Yes, this means he can rent office space right below Alicia, which should satisfy a growing portion of my Twitter feed that every week asks when those two are going to get together (one imagines that would pose a problem or two for her campaign).

Back to that campaign: Prady cleverly maneuvers Alicia into a box when she appears on his talk show, lobbing her softball questions about her family when she had prepped for tougher material. It’s a nastily effective way of marginalizing her—if she embraces the motherhood card, she can come off too soft, but if she rejects it, she looks callous and ungrateful. Immediately I’m more taken with Prady than I have been with a lot of Good Wife opponents, like Childs, Wendy Scott Carr (Anika Noni Rose) and Mike Kresteva (Matthew Perry), all of whom turned out to be outright villains. Prady seems more in line with Maddie Hayward (Maura Tierney), an interesting character the show largely wasted two years ago as a genuine intellectual foil for Peter.

By the end of this episode, Alicia has decided she hates Prady, since he’s acting like he’s above politics when he’s right there in the fray with everyone else. But her campaign is following a similar arc: With every week, Alicia is forced to make some compromise or another on the advice of Eli Gold and Johnny Elfman (Steven Pasquale). Besides her personal vendetta, what makes her such a special candidate compared to anyone else? She’s no villain, but The Good Wife continues to ask tough questions of its characters and revel in the moral ambiguity of the answers. David Hyde Pierce will only help make those answers murkier.