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The Good Wife S05E10: "The Decision Tree"


I mentioned in the sidebar section last week that I had been re-watching Season 1 of this show, and was fascinated at how through this season, The Good Wife has been echoing itself. I'm now just starting Season 3, and they're still creating echoes. For instance, I'm rather surprised we never really discussed Diane's covert attempt to split off from the firm with David Lee and Julius Cain in Season 2 and how that weighed in Alicia and Cary's departure, both in terms of character and narrative parallels (I admit that I had forgotten about this subplot). With the formation of Florrick/Agos, the show shifted its focus and premise, and granted the show the ability to interrogate its own past.

It has also allowed the characters to interrogate their own pasts, their own feelings. We saw it a bit last week as Diane and Will made their first visit to the Florrick/Agos offices, and we saw it again this week as Matthew Ashbaugh (John Noble) returned in flashbacks after the discovery of a will in which he left $12 million to Alicia. Unsurprisingly, L.G. is contesting this will on the behalf of Ashbaugh's widow, turning this into yet another skirmish in the War Between the Firms.

It's been a point of contention in the comments, this focus on a near-constant battle between F/A and L.G., and it's a point of contention that I share. Not every case involved Jonas Stern after he departed the firm, and not every case involves Louis Canning or Patti Nyholm or Nancy Crozier. Yes, all the characters I just mentioned were guest stars to the shows compared to Will and Diane being regular characters, but a break is welcomed every now and then. The threat starts to mean less and less if we're always exposed to it all the time. It's why Canning's tricks, Nyholm's games, and Crozier's pseudo-ditziness still thrill us after five seasons: They haven't overstayed their welcomes as the opposition.

Of course, this critique of the two firms always at one another's throats is a slippery one when we're given an episode like "The Decision Tree." It's not only the show's 100th episode -- a very nice milestone marked by Kalinda's speedometer right at the start of the episode -- but it's probably the best episode of the season since "Hitting the Fan" in no small part because this battle over Ashbaugh's will is explicitly about more than just the will. It's about what Alicia's departure meant to Will, and why Will isn't letting it go. The critiques don't mean less, but they're adjusted when they've given significant emotional intensity. It's not just business; it's personal.

I had no idea how prescient I would end up being when I wrote in the "Hitting the Fan" review about Will turning to the law to get satisfaction because it's the only way he knows ho to get satisfaction. Certainly his wartime mentality is an aspect of this, but watching him breakdown how to question Alicia on the stand, watching as his imaginary questioning stops becoming about her undue influence on Ashbaugh and becoming about her influence on him was emotionally charged and totally engrossing. Peppering in the flashbacks to their time in New York City -- "This is crazy romantic." "This is the happiest I've ever been." -- only strengthened the notion that Will's using business as a distraction, a coping mechanism from his pain (the bracketed descriptions are my own): 

Alicia: No. I cared for him [Ashbaugh]. I liked him. 

Will: So it was all right to use him? 

Alicia: You make things sound so simple. [holding back tears] I'm married. 

Will: You always use that, don't you? Married. [Will now in his imagination proper, in a suit, arguing with her on the stand] You're conveniently married when you want to be. 

Alicia: That's not fair. I love you. 

Will: You made me believe that so you could steal my clients.

Alicia: No...Will... [all but crying at this point]

Will: Stop it. I don't like it when you're weak.

It's a masterfully put together sequence by director Rosemary Rodriguez and editor David Dworetzky that exploits the show's fondness for point-of-view shots for all their intensity, from the normal close-up of Alicia in Will's mind and the occasional tight close-up on Will in his home office. It's not a huge change of style for the show, but it's a shift in it use. So many of these close-ups tend to focus on documents (still used here as we look at Will's notes), photographs, and computer screens, often with cuts and/or movement within the shot, so to have them put on people, and often in such a static way sold the sequence's emotional intensity. We're invited to study every bit of Alicia and Will's facial expressions, and while it's emotionally showy, it's not in an extraneous one; it helps, it doesn't hinder.

There's other small touches, like Will imagining Alicia in a snow white jacket -- which ended up being nicely juxtaposed against the black embroidered lace top she actually wore to court -- but at its core, we're seeing Will grappling with his feelings, unable to express them beyond hostility and hooking up with Isabel. He has no outs, just "a whole lot of of anger."

The downside to the terrific part of the episode was that it only highlighted how hollow the Kalinda and Damian stuff was. If you've been longing for Kalinda to do something badass again -- like engage in a high speed chase with Damian while listening to high-octane covers of Christmas songs -- then I imagine you were pretty happy. Me, I was just shrugging my shoulders at the spectacle. Yeah, it was action spectacle as a replacement for foreplay and sexy times -- fast moving cars in lieu of fast-moving dialog you'd find in a screwball comedy doing the same thing -- between the two characters, but I have no idea why I should even care.

Last week I argued that Damian fit snugly into the same vein as Blake and Nick. I can't believe I'm going to write this, but I think I did a disservice to Blake and Nick by doing that. While I'm not a fan of either character -- and their plots with Kalinda -- they at least felt motivated by character. Blake kept dropping hints about Kalinda's previous identity as Leela Tahiri and his shady connections to a Baltimore gang created understandable tension between the two. Nick, for all the ridiculous posturing he did, at least seemed to have some hold over Kalinda as her ex-husband, a hold that she struggled to break. There was a history there, one the show might've explored had they not so poorly conceived of and executed the character 

Damian is missing the character aspect. He and Kalinda are both having fun with their little game of cat and mouse, but Kalinda's putting a lot of work and risk into vetting a guy who is an acknowledged mob lawyer. His mystery (likely) doesn't tie back to Kalinda in some way, and I'm not all that interested in finding out what Damian's big secret is. It's a plot for the sake of a plot, and while I don't mind that sort of thing, I need a reason to care, and that hasn't happened yet. If it's that Kalinda could find a new relationship in Jenna (Jordana Spiro), then maybe I'll pay a bit more attention, but until then, I'm not all that interested.

Which left us with the holiday party. I was expecting this to be a much bigger aspect of the episode, but, hey, it was still fun. Until Marilyn had to go and ruin it. I'm going to pretend that she's yanking Eli's chain -- such a great spit take! -- and leave it at that for the moment. However, I really have no sense of Marilyn as a character. She's got the pouty lips and breathy voice that made her an obvious lure for Peter, but as they've unspooled her character, what with the vomiting and the pop tarts and the baby sound system, I'm not getting the sense of her as an antagonistic force for Eli that she originally seemed to be. Character course corrections happen, but this feels like an entirely different journey now from where Marilyn was at the start of the season. 

The rest of the holiday party-related stuff was a series of nice pressure relief valves from the court case. Veronica's always good for an excellent overreaction, and her suggestion that Jackie drink more to kill the bug up her ass was worth the price of admission. Smaller bits of business, like "Lemond freakin' Bishop" showing up -- AND WANTING TO DISCUSS CHARITY PLANS WITH PETER -- or Eli's happiness at Colin Sweeney not being there -- is Sweeney actually a client? -- were likewise chuckle-inducing.

What I did like about the holiday party guest list concerns was that it still tied into this sense of the show's past. Sweeney being there would have been a pain for Peter, and Bishop being there was a surprise for everyone, but it showed how no one's fully able to escape the past, even at a business level. 



SIDEBAR


– I like it when Ashbaugh appears. It makes the use of my Bach playlist when I write these reviews feel even more purposeful.

– Lots of TV shows feature sex; very few of those shows are actually sexy. The Good Wife is sexy. It always has been, and when this episode intercut Will's decision tree-ing with steamy, broadcast-friendly chair sex, it was a nice reminder of how limitations on content can be more of a boon than having no limitations at all. It joins "All Things Considered" in the bathroom and "Am I? Going too hard?" as some of the show's hottest moments.

– So here's a potential idea about the firm's expansion plans, another bone of contention for a lot of you, though it's one I don't have a problem with: There's a production reason for it that I suspect is due to Josh Charles' contract. Unlike The Good Wife's other series regulars, Charles only signed on for four seasons while everyone else signed on for six. He agreed to do one more season—this one—earlier this year, after which his contract must be negotiated again. I suspect that the New York expansion is way to allow Josh Charles to exit the show gracefully should he choose not to re-up for a hypothetical Season 6. While it may not work for some folks narratively, we may end up being thankful for it in the long term.


– Man oh man, was I laughing like a loon when Clarke questioned Ashbaugh's 9-to-9er. So much lovely, pitch-perfect consternation from Nathan Lane.

– I had forgotten how horrible of an actor Donna Brazile is. Oy. Sometimes The Good Wife's love of incorporating real-life political figures really just kills a scene.

– "I have a Hanukkah, too."

– Jason O'Mara did have some killer deliveries with "Ergo ergo this will is invalid." and "Oh no, he ruined my presentation." I think I'd like Damian more if he was just another quirky opposing lawyer who cropped up occasionally during the season, instead of a Kalinda mystery.

– "Sometimes I think of you as mom, and other times just as this interesting person who lives at our house."


What'd you think of "The Decision Tree"? What are your feelings on the season thus far?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 11/23/2014

Season 6 : Episode 10

Next Episode

AIRS ON 1/4/2015

Season 6 : Episode 11

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