A review of last night's “The Good Wife” coming up just as soon as we go without ordering or paying…
For a while now, it's been a running gag that Alicia is obsessed with “Darkness at Noon,” the Kings' thinly-disguised parody of “Low Winter Sun,” and their comic argument that “The Good Wife” shouldn't be ignored because it isn't yet another cable anti-hero crime drama. I've tended to look at the gag as low-hanging fruit, because “Low Winter Sun” wasn't any good – of course “The Good Wife” is a much better, more ambitious and more complex show than that.
“Oppo Research,” though, extended the joke so far by letting a good chunk of the episode play out while a “Talking Dead”-style postgame show aired in the background, featuring a cameo from “The Americans” creator Joe Weisberg (whose show is a much better example of a cable anti-hero drama) and discussion of the various cable tropes and fan obsessions that “The Good Wife” doesn't traffic in, like how many actual “badasses” the “Darkness at Noon” ensemble features. It was so elaborate and well thought out that I couldn't help but laugh (and very loudly at the shot of the deer in the woods, which has definitely become an overused cable drama trope), particularly as it was part of that long comic set piece at casa Florrick, as Eli and potential campaign manager Jonny Elfman(*) tried to prepare Alicia for the potential downfalls of the campaign, while “Talking At Noon,” Grace's church choir and her street performer friend Jennifer turned the condo into a circus.
(*) Played by “Rescue Me” and Broadway vet Steven Pasquale, and also of NBC's deservedly short-lived Jekyll & Hyde riff “Do No Harm,” which features one of Fienberg's favorite weird TV lines of all time: “Careful. Monkeys have been known to eat their young.”
And all the “Noon” parodying paid off thematically as well as comically, as Alicia's decision to run for state's attorney starts her on a path towards becoming an anti-hero every bit as complicated and badass (emotionally, if not physically) as her cable peers.
Alicia has always had her dark side, which is one of the reasons “The Good Wife” has always been so compelling and tricky. She's not a pure white hat. She frequently does bad things for self-preservation and self-aggrandizement, and this run for office is just the biggest and potentially ugliest of those. I still don't buy 100% that she would actually do this, given what a mess it is going to make of her personal and professional lives, but this season has done a nice job of explaining why she might, and in a way that's not incredibly flattering to Alicia. Yes, she thinks Castro is a bully, and this is a way for her to get him out of office and save Cary, but then she'd just be another politician doing favors for friends who maybe don't deserve it. (There continues to be that tape of Cary stretching the spirit of the law, if not the letter.) And she's also done it because Eli has played her ego like a fiddle, with the call from Valerie Jarrett and (especially) the run-in with Gloria Steinem. Alicia isn't without vanity, and she isn't without blinders about about her own questionable morality, and she thinks she will be setting an awesome example for other women while serving without conflict or controversy…
… and then Lemond Bishop reveals himself as the man behind the PAC that had been feeding her self-love trip, and things get so much messier and more entertaining.
Even before the concluding scene put a pit in Alicia's stomach, “Oppo Research” had plenty of signs that Alicia is going to go full Heisenberg by the end of this campaign. That phone call with Zach was brutal – particularly the line, “No, Zach. Don't embarrass yourself by saying anything more” – and while her anger comes from a recognizable, justifiable place, it's still shocking to hear Alicia speak that coldly to one of her kids. And the gambit to silence the mother of the boy Veronica spanked mainly made me feel bad for the old lady the kid knocked down, who won't get financial remedy because Alicia has a campaign to protect.
“The Good Wife” has always painted in moral shades of grey, but it feels like this campaign story arc will only make those shades darker – even as the show's sense of humor and sense of pacing and composition makes it feel much less oppressive than a show like “Low Winter Sun” that had little to say besides the notion that black and white morality doesn't exist.
I haven't loved every story beat this season, but that was a damn fine hour of “The Good Wife” last night.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org