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Saturday, December 7, 2013

THE GOOD, er, Awesome WIFE Hits 100 Episodes

Article first published as THE GOOD, er, Awesome WIFE Hits 100 Episodes on TheTVKing.

CBS's excellent drama The Good Wife, which is barely a procedural any more, thankfully, has never been better than it is in its fifth season. Recently, the show marked its fall finale with an important milestone: the 100th episode. The installment, which is entitled "The Decision Tree," is both very special and very typical of a standard entry at the same time.

The story is simple enough. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is surprised to find herself in a legal battle over deceased client Matthew Ashbaugh's (John Noble) will. He left her an extremely sizable sum of money, and Lockhart Gardner insists on trying to deprive her of it. Or, more accurately, a hurt, betrayed Will (Josh Charles) wants to make Alicia suffer.

Will and Alicia's romance is a brief footnote for The Good Wife, but one that was much anticipated, and has had a lasting impact. Their relationship came as Alicia's marriage was falling apart, and when she chose to try to repair it, Will paid the price. Funnily enough, though, Will understood Alicia then. He didn't begin taking the break up personally until Alicia quit his firm.

Why has Alicia striking out on her own hit Will so hard? Did he think that as long as she worked for him he'd have another chance with her? Did he believe that they still cared deeply about one another, even if they couldn't be involved? Is Will starting to suspect (wrongly, of course) that she was sleeping with him just to further her career?

Whatever Will's reasons may be, he is very, very angry at Alicia, and wants to cause her pain. We see this when Will questions Alicia in his head, preparing for court, anticipating her answers and trying to hurt her as much as possible. It's a moving, emotionally charged sequence, which continues when he actually confronts her. Their past comes to back him, something he can't move on from, and it really informs his reaction in the present.

Alicia, for her part, handles Will beautifully. She knows he's off his game, allowing emotion to rule him, and takes a more detached approach. I don't think this paints Alicia as cold, as we see that she does have to steel herself to go into court, tampering down her feelings, not being without them. Instead, it just means she's more mature and can compartmentalize more effectively. And that she's a winner.

As much as Cary (Matt Czuchry) helps Alicia in court this week, a crack in their partnership is exposed as they plan their new firm's Christmas party. The turnout is expected to be low until Cary convinces Alicia to invite Peter (Chris Noth). Then, he jumps the gun and announces Peter's attendance, which inflates their guest list but annoys Alicia, who doesn't want to use Peter to help build the business.

It's easy to put oneself in Cary's shoes, and Alicia's, too. Their law firm has a trump card that can really help them soar, but Alicia is reluctant to play it. In a competitive world, they need to use every resource at their disposal. However, it's also understandable that Alicia doesn't want to be seen abusing her husband's reputation for her own financial gain, and it's up to her to block such an occurrence, as Peter is only too willing to step in, even when it's not wise in regards to his own career. So it's a sort of awkward situation. Alicia and Cary have been through worse, though, so as long as they take time to talk to one another, I think they'll eventually strike a balance that works.

Of course, whether their firm succeeds or flops may not be completely up to them. The new partner Will recruits, Damian Boyle (Jason O'Mara, Terra Nova, Life On Mars), is clever and devious. He seems to want to prove his loyalty by taking down Alicia and Cary. They're smart, too, and his early efforts have inflicted more boo-boos than major wounds, but he may still be sizing up his competition, biding his time before a damaging blow.

Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) isn't sure whether Damian can be trusted. She tails him to try to figure him out, a splendidly hilarious scene that ends in her arrest by Damian's friend, Jenna Villette (Jordana Spiro, My Boys, The Mob Doctor).

Kalinda and Jenna sleep together, which is kinda great. I love their chemistry, Kalinda needs a new partner, and I'll take any excuse to have Spiro on my screen. However, I really thought The Good Wife was building towards a Damian-Kalinda pairing. Granted, Damian seems awfully similar to Kalinda's abusive ex, which was a very unpopular plot arc, but it really felt like that's where "The Decision Tree" was going earlier in the hour.

Damian may not be Alicia's only problem. "The Decision Tree" ends with Marilyn (Melissa George) telling Eli (Alan Cumming) that she's going to name her baby Peter. As Peter's ethics adviser, it seems very unlikely that Marilyn means to say that the baby is biologically Peter's, which would be a huge violation of the public's trust in Peter. On the other hand, Peter does have a history of cheating on Alicia with blondes, and Eli certainly falls for the jibe, spectacularly spitting out in his drink in a hell of a cliffhanger.

I don't think Peter and Alicia could survive him fathering a baby with someone else. They've been through a lot, but this crosses too many lines and shows he hasn't changed as he claims to have done. If Marilyn is carrying his baby it could explain why he's been so overeager to be attentive to Alicia, or he may try to blame her avoidance of his help on why he strayed. But it all adds up to an implosion of their marriage, should Marilyn's implication turn out to be true.

Besides the wonderful recurring parts played by Nathan Lane, Mary Beth Peil, George, Spiro, and O'Mara, "The Decision Tree" gives us more of less-seen great performers like Noble, Stockard Channing, Kurt Fuller, and others. Toss them in with an already-stellar across-the-board cast and a guest appearance by Donna Brazile as herself, this episode is bursting with terrific people doing what they do best, making The Good Wife highly engrossing.

The focus of The Good Wife is now solidly on the characters. When Zach (Graham Phillips) tells his mother she's a very interesting person, he's right, and viewers will agree. It's easy to fall in love with the various parts, and the way each is written so authentically, often leaving disagreements with more than one reasonable side. The writing is as excellent as the acting. As far as broadcast network dramas go, this one is tops.

The Good Wife will return January 5th on CBS.

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