A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Good Wife, like Homeland for example, often runs with story lines that are as the saying goes “ripped from the headlines”. Sometimes the headline rips lead to thoughtful ruminations on difficult topics, like the aforementioned Homeland and the War on Terror. Being a legal procedural, The Good Wife has been blessed with using the courtroom to explore these topics and generally the show has done a decent job in that regard, if not a fantastic one. Tonight’s episode may be the most explicit indication of ripping off of headlines this show has done, but it comes at an odd time where the social implications of what could possibly happen have spilled out already. The Debate decides to use the police killings of unarmed black men as a narrative point and uncharacteristically, the writers completely botched it this week. There’s moments of “Aha!” in a good way when people point out how stupid it is for Alicia and Prady to talk about race relations when both of them are privileged white members of the top one percent. Yet there’s an empty vastness that is heavily prevalent throughout the entire hour, as if the framing device that is indicative of a fairly egregious issue in this nation is casually being swept aside to focus on narrative arcs that feel as if they’re being thrust down our throats.
The ultimate sin committed by showrunners Robert & Michelle King this hour is that the case of the police officers being found not guilty of killing an unarmed black man becomes the background for everything else. It’s a mere backdrop for everything else to come forward and as such, the entire event comes across as a mere plot device despite the sheer amount of screen tim given to it. Especially considering how this past year has gone for race relations in America, this comes across as particularly offensive. Understandably, the episode was written before the Ferguson grand jury decision came in, but nevertheless if you are going to tackle a topic as egregious as this, you honestly have to be willing to provide it with the proper amount of respect that it deserves. The Good Wife normally allots that respect but their refusal to do so here is baffling. Storytelling can’t simply throw out reality in the hopes of a “aha!” moment that displays how smart it is. It has to integrate it faithfully and in a germane fashion. This episode does not do that. It’s frustrating in the extreme because there are scenes here that are quite telling but are washed out by the sheer stupidity of everything else.
The central debate in question is partially fascinating, bogged down by what may be the most vapid set of rules I’ve ever seen for a debate. Debate rules are more often than not stupid (Miss America, for example, is a shining edifice), so making fun of them ought not to be a tiresome task. This episode takes that satire and pushes it so far off of the cliff that it instead becomes a parody in and of itself. It’s remarkable that Alicia and Prady kept their sanity in check because I would have certainly lost it with ten and fifteen second responses. For heaven’s sake, even television spots for films are thirty seconds long. Heading the debate is none other than Chris Matthews from MSNBC, who seems particularly ill-suited for the job of allowing someone else to talk over himself. It’s also fairly irrational that Matthews would be covering the debate for the Cook County State’s Attorney race. Yes, it’s a massive county and the governor’s wife is running in a high profile electoral bid. But Matthews is on a national cable news network. He simply wouldn’t bother being there, that is all. Outside of being a mere cipher in the episode named after it, the debate was an ill-suited affair with a singular silver lining. Alicia’s blistering response to a reporter asking about the Peter and Ramona affair was absolutely perfect, expertly played by Julianna Margulies. I did appreciate the payoff to the Alicia and Grace storyline the show has been building up so carefully. Having the two of them bond over the debate was one of the few genuine emotional moments in this rotten episode. As it was, it seems that Alicia knocked the debate out of the park, thanks to the kitchen snafu that ironically was the episode’s worst scene by far.
The kitchen sequence can be taken as a problematic scenario for race relations in general, as a black employee notes how ridiculous it is for two wealthy white people to stand around and argue about race relations. Indeed, it is ridiculous and not because it’s just the two of them talking. That would have been a different, more nuanced discussion if the writing had doubled down on that irony without literally spelling it out in front of the audience. To top the proverbial cherry off, everyone starts applauding Alicia because she makes rational sense and in that moment everything becomes far more staged than it ought to have felt like. Her husband, meanwhile, is jostling between brilliance and stupidity. Stupidly he still has an affair going on with Ramona, which is ending but after there’s photographic evidence of them being in a single apartment. On the brilliant side, the sight of him standing on the steps with the shooting victim’s wife and community members is the most powerful we’ve ever seen Peter. He stepped up that evening and cemented something for himself. Perhaps that’s where we’re headed, a powerful political duo at the helm of one of the largest states in the Union? When Alicia coldly and confidently says “I’m going to win,” it seems like a definitive statement for The Good Wife. This episode, despite its best intentions, was a massive misfire that turned the tables on its own social commentary on its head. But despite this snafu, I have no doubt that the show can confidently move ahead and tackle more prescient issues in thoughtful manners while not sacrificing its narrative simultaneously.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Diane saying “Kick ass” is one of the best things ever
+“Race riot? Really?”
+Alan Cumming is a national treasure
+“No, I’m not a big voter. I’m in my 20s.”
+“It just happened.”
-The entire subplot with Neil Gross and the divorce case with David Lee was stupid and didn’t belong in this episode
-Alicia’s comment about sexism regarding Diane was a phenomenally stupid piece of writing
Note: I really wanted to punch Cary in the face at the end of the episode. Ugh, that smugness. Dude, do you even remember how tough Season Six was for you?
Title: The Debate
Written By: Robert King & Michelle King
Directed By: Brooke Kennedy
Image Courtesy: Next Projection