"Hitting the Fan" was not ONLY the culmination of Season 5's biggest ongoing plot, nor was it ONLY The Good Wife at the height of its storytelling power in terms of acting, writing, direction, and music. It was both of those things, of course, but it was also one of the single best episodes of television I've watched this year.
It's very impressive, as commenter MarieLaureDep noted last week, for a show to still be going this strong in its fifth season. I countered that it's even more impressive for a show to reach new heights in its fifth season. In either case, many shows have by this point settled into comfortable rhythms, foregoing much in the way of ambition in favor of sticking with what works, racking up episodes for syndication money and just coasting. But The Good Wife said "To hell with that!" and decided to reinvent itself this season, to blow up a significant portion of its premise and start over. In a way, Alicia's words to Will at the start of the episode—"It's time I tried something new."—were also the show's words to us.
I sort of don't know where to begin, so let's just start with Will. I advised you to keep in mind his and Alicia's exchange from last week—"That was weird, wasn't it?" "Talking about two years ago? Yeah, that'll be on my mind for the rest of the day." "Just the rest of the day?"—and I love how that line set up Will's state of mind as he charged into Alicia's office. He was initially dumbfounded, flashing back to their time together—this show has gotten so much mileage out of those romantic, dreamy cut-aways—and it lingered in his mind. How could she do this to him? Because he never saw it as a betrayal of the firm, as Diane did (more on her in a bit). Alicia's insistence that it was professional fell on deaf ears: "I don't give a damn." Will framed it very much as a betrayal of Will.
"You were poison," he snapped, reminding Alicia that everything she has—including the ability to abscond with clients—she has because five years ago, he fought for her to be in this position. His word, and him calling in a favor with David Lee, were the reason she even had a job in the first place. The joy in the complexity of this drama is that the personal argument collapsed as Will's only way to respond to attack on a professional front. He can't hurt her emotionally (not too much, anyway), but he can damn sure do his best to destroy her professionally. That's partly because, while they still share a bond, that bond isn't as strong as it was just two years ago, and partly because the law is everything to Will. His response in this situation was no different than his response to Diane's interview: He was using his personal brand of Chicago-style legal maneuvering to obtain some measure of satisfaction, because it's the only way he knows how to get any satisfaction.
Alicia, on the other side of this, was equally compelling. The sheer force of will and determination behind her "No." in response to Will firing her came from the same place that has allowed her to survive her various ups and downs, but it also demonstrated just how far she's come in five years. Even in Season 2, I don't know that Alicia would've stood up to Will like that, pointing out the legal necessities that were required to actually fire her. The sheer degree of self-confidence required to pull off this defection, combined with how smoothly she operated in the first half of the episode, spoke volumes about where Alicia is now. She's holding back emotions, but she's not letting them control her. She's thinking clearly through the haze of Will's anger, only allowing herself to break down in the elevator—The Good Wife loves few things more than having people have breakdowns in elevators—and then completely casting off the Saint Alicia persona to do battle with Will.
Before we get to legal battling, though, let's talk about Diane and Cary. Last week, there was a lot of discussion in the comments about Diane's reaction to the departure, questioning not only whether it made sense, but whether she had the moral leg to stand on with regard to her reaction. While she provided an explanation—"I don't like betrayal; I like this firm."—it still didn't come off as anything more than just Diane trying to right the wrong she did to Will and the firm with the interview.
The narrative needed this scene, though. Cary's motivations for leaving are, at the core, similar to Alicia's, in that they both want to make something of themselves, for themselves. Where Alicia is spurred on by a desire to be her own person in light of so many external events pushing her around, Cary's motivation comes from not being appreciated at Lockhart/Gardner, and seeing the inequities of how firm operates, from being fired in favor of Alicia while working his ass off to the bait-and-switch of the partner promotions from last season. This difference, I think, is going to be very important to how things progress at Florrick/Agos.
The entire first half of the episode was a mini-masterpiece. James Whitmore, Jr.'s direction and David Buckley's score pushed everything to a fever pitch that invoked speed chess as Will and David Lee tried to block and fire all of the departing fourth years plus Alicia, while Alicia and company tried to stall them to get more files. Move after move after move took place so quickly that even though I've watched the episode three times now, it's still a delightful haze of opponents exploiting the office's glass walls, the camera as a character watching the events unfurl, beautiful string arrangements playing in background, and David Lee relishing each and every opportunity to fire someone.
What elevated "Hitting the Fan" for me is that its second half didn't betray the show's format. It would have been so easy to stretch this whole thing out, especially with a hunt for the fourth years, but instead we had a case of the week! There's always a case of the week, and this time it just happened to be "Red Team, Blue Team" but for real. That's just dedication to your show and knowing what it is, even as you rearrange everything.
It helped, of course, that the case was really just an extension of the main plot, but "Hitting the Fan" still hit all those delightful Good Wife procedural twists and turns while also highlighting just how crafty both Will and Alicia are as legal strategists and, well, badasses. This was really more important for Alicia than for Will, however. We know Will is cutthroat and ruthless as an attorney—we had a whole arc about it—but Alicia has sometimes hesitated to go that extra mile. She's done underhanded things before, like interrupting Jonas Stern in court knowing it would throw him off due to his dementia, or trying to get a different judge by exploiting a Jewish high holiday, but it's not her normal course of action. Here, though, she was dangerous and angry and rude—I loved the hand-gabbing motion during an objection, not even looking up from her notes—in her drive to keep Chum Hum. I mean, going to one of the judges who got burned in Will's suspension to get a restraining order? Brilliant. Totally something that Will or Peter would've done.
Speaking of Peter, boy oh boy. If you're an Alicia/Peter 'shipper, I'm sure you were practically giddy at the "Oh my gawd, can we please have sex, like, right now?" eyes Alicia gave him, followed by the quickie—"You want me to lean in? How’s that?"—but Peter completely and totally stepped in it when he made a quick mention of state tax burdens and e-commerce as a way of signaling to Chum Hum that they needed to bring their business to Florrick/Agos. Add in his decision to reconsider Diane as a State Supreme Court judge, and suddenly Peter's declaration that he intended to run the most ethical governorship in Illinois history is already in serious doubt. He may've "handled" all of this like a husband, just like he said he would during that deliciously hatred-filled phone call with Will, but he used his political position to do so, and it's going to come back and bite everyone. Hard.
So where are we left for next week? Alicia and Cary have a new firm, but no offices for at least two months and fewer clients than they originally planned on. Diane is likely out a judgeship, but thanks to no one signing her exit package, I expect she'll be back at the firm in some capacity. Peter's in an ethical quagmire, and only Eli seems to be worried about it. Then there's Will. The paranoid king of a crumbling kingdom, with Kalinda on his left and David Lee on his right. Except he's reinvigorated and determined—now more than ever, since (for now?) he lacks a check on his own worst impulses.
I don't know about you, but I simply cannot wait to see what happens next.
– There were some good moments of humor in this episode. Whether it was Cary's use of protected classes to stall the firings—and David Lee's disappointment in not getting to fire people—to the switch in tone as Will informed Alicia that Grace need permission for a faith-based field trip, they provided some much needed chuckles.
– "My peeps on the West Coast aren't too thrilled with the idea of me leaving Lockhart/Gardner for what's essentially a start-up." I love Neil Gross.
– "That's right. Walk away. Juuuuuuuudas." "We're coming after you. All your clients. Every single one we worked to make happy while you swept in at the last minute to take credit. We're taking them. And then you know what you'll have? A very nice suite of offices."
– "We've got ten minutes, otherwise they're going to start making some bad decisions out there." This line, while funny, also encapsulates just how much of a struggle this new firm is going to be. Never mind that this is the same woman who suggested bringing Chicago's top drug lord to the new firm.
– I feel horrible for assuming that Carey was chatting up Grace, but he was totally chatting up Grace and JUST YUCK. YUCK YUCK YUCK.
What'd you think of "Hitting the Fan"?
AIRED ON 12/1/2013
Season 5 : Episode 10