On the face of it, the return of The Good Wife to our televisions last night was a victory—my heart was in my throat as Cary teetered on the brink of imprisonment, with last-minute evidence, some fudged, some authentic, coming in to save the day. And it was hard not to punch the air as Alicia planted one on her campaign manager Johnny Elfman (Steven Pasquale) in triumph, since any romantic progress away from her estranged husband is worthwhile.
But the many convolutions of “Hail Mary” just don’t hold up to closer inspection. As much as I’m emotionally invested in Cary avoiding prison, the ice around Kalinda’s heart melting, and Alicia jumpstarting her love life, the episode prioritized inorganic plot moves over the characters. It followed the structure of a typical Good Wife episode: There’s a race against time to turn a case around, with Kalinda doing whatever she can to bend the law to her will; meanwhile, we get some lighter fare with a political plot (this time, it’s Alicia in debate camp).
The “race against time” aspect was particularly crucial to what didn’t work here. We’ve already suffered through Cary’s prison ordeal for ten episodes, grimacing along with countless twists and turns as the State’s Attorney’s vengeful prosecution tried to drag him into jail, unfairly, for representing Lemond Bishop. Witnesses were uncovered who could testify to his innocence, and then killed off minutes later. Bishop promised to offer help, then double-crossed Cary at the last minute. There’s already been far too much whiplash around this particular plot, and yet we were treated to a manipulative cliffhanger in November (Cary taking a plea deal) and an hour of merciless teasing last night where Cary prepares for life in the slammer with a tough-talking prison consultant (Domenick Lombardozzi, a.k.a. Herc from The Wire).