In The Good Wife, Alicia Looks to the Dark Side

During an episode populated with over-the-top villains, the candidate for state's attorney had to charm a sexist billionaire into helping fund her campaign.

The return of The Good Wife to television every March begins an uninterrupted 10-episode run to the end of its season, always with heavy emphasis on the year-long arcs the show has brewing. The first episode back underlined the show’s sixth-season weaknesses: The acting and production values remain top-notch, but there are two big plots that'll get most of the attention in the coming months—Alicia’s run for office and Kalinda’s ongoing embroilment with Lemond Bishop. Unfortunately, in “Dark Money,” neither showed much potential.

The episode underlined how much season six of The Good Wife has relied on the saga of Cary Agos’ imprisonment and the battle to clear his name; the plot grew increasingly absurd as his case dragged on, but always remained entertaining. It was eventually clear that Cary would wriggle free from long-term consequences, even as his situation seemed more dire, but the story took 11 episodes to run its course. With Cary free and clear, the show is ever more mired in the saga of Alicia’s race for state’s Attorney, which has become a repetitive lecture on the griminess of political campaigning.

Every episode, Alicia is confronted with some unsavory truth about the nature of politics. This week, she met with a wealthy, eccentric billionaire named Redmayne (played by Ed Asner) in an effort to claim his titular “dark” money for her PAC campaigns. Asner seemed to be playing some lunatic cross between Sheldon Adelson and Archie Bunker, a man who spouts homophobic slurs and creepy sexual fantasies with gleeful abandon. His behavior was so textbook obnoxious that it briefly seemed as though he was playing some advanced mind game, testing to see whether Alicia or her rival Frank Prady (David Hyde Piece) would condemn his behavior and spurn his money, thus proving themselves worthy.

No such luck. Alicia wanly smiled through Redmayne’s rantings and earned his respect, which has a huge dollar value for her campaign but little else. Prady wouldn’t tolerate it and walked out of the room—and for the first time, he had the moral high ground all to himself on this show. Before now, he'd seemed as susceptible to the pitfalls of campaigning as Alicia, but the narrative increasingly suggests that she’s going over to the same dark side that thrust her husband into higher office. The Good Wife has always been about the ethical gray areas its characters have to make their peace with in order to do their jobs well, but it usually does so with great intelligence. Asner is an entertaining actor in any role, but his Redmayne lacked even a modicum of depth: The best Good Wife villains tend to have a bit more subtlety.

On that note, “Dark Money” had a case of the week featuring Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker), the rich, wife-murdering maniac who continually evades legal consequences with the grudging help of Alicia and the firm. This time he was suing a Law & Order-style show that ripped his case from the headlines to satirize him; Baker had fun in second role as the pickled Brit actor who plays Sweeney’s fictional doppelganger. Baker has always done delightful, hammy work on the show, but more than anything “Dark Money” proved how much Sweeney may have run his course—even Alicia, who can’t associate with such an unsavory figure now that she’s running for election, seems tired of him. The show-within-a-show mockery of Sweeney served as (perhaps inadvertent) evidence for his irrelevance: If even The Good Wife’s version of SVU is parodying him, can Colin Sweeney still be at all influential?

The over-the-top nature of these two plots wasn't entirely out of character for this show, but there’s usually more traditionally dramatic material to help balance out any goofiness. This week, that task fell to Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter), the drug kingpin whose association with Alicia’s firm almost dragged Cary into the slammer. As a result of her efforts to save Cary, Bishop now has his claws in Kalinda, and this week mysteriously ordered her to babysit his son as part of repayment for some grand favor she owes him.

Bishop is always a quietly imposing figure, but his plot with Kalinda this season has played out in an especially creepy manner, with the usually unflappable investigator shakily calling him “sir” as he barks orders at her. That dynamic was in full force in "Dark Money," but it paid off as a disappointing, facile twist: Bishop might be a scary criminal, but he’s also a doting father, and he was worried about his son getting bullied at school. This would be cheesy if it hadn’t already been covered by the show—but it has, extensively, and past appearances by Bishop’s son have helped humanize the character in Alicia’s eyes.

Unfortunately, there was no doubt that Kalinda’s embroilment with Bishop is going to pay off in some big way over the coming weeks. With Cary free and clear, that’s the only long-running thread the show has going outside of Alicia’s election, and it has even less story potential. The Good Wife is certainly allowed a slow start out of the gates for this final run; there’s just not much evidence right now that it will start building up momentum.