Closing Arguments

The Good Wife is playing out its final three episodes of the season like the three acts of a play — an innovative one, part tragedy, part farce. Last week, Alicia confronted, and banished, her husband. This week, she confronted, and wounded, her closest friend. Next week’s season finale? Who knows what’s in store with an episode bearing the ominous pun title “Closing Arguments?”

Once again, crucial elements played out before this week’s opening credits. “You slept with my husband,” Alicia said, and Julianna Margulies delivered her lines here with a judicious mixture of anger and anguish. Reacting to Kalinda’s attempt to explain her betrayal, Alicia snapped, “It is selfish to say anything after that.” Then, as though she’d been slugged in the jaw, Kalinda literally staggered out into the hallway and entered an elevator, where, alone, she broke into a wracked sob.

Even the opening-title music couldn’t recover quickly enough from that; it was different this week — more somber, subdued, almost funereal: It signaled the death of a friendship. One of the many things The Good Wife is good at is in portraying friendship — or the lack of it. Alicia had no friend other than Kalinda; her life was filled by her children and her work. Her relationship with Will is friendly but fraught, so tied up in romantic attraction and fantasy (on the part of both of them), that they can never be tight, confiding, chummy pals.

If Kalinda initially became a friend by convenience — she was there in the office a lot, she was neither Alicia’s boss nor someone Alicia supervised, so their status was equal. And so Kalinda slowly, surely became an ideal friend, in part because of the investigator’s instinctive gifts as a listener, her discreet reticence. This was exactly the sort of person Alicia has needed over the course of the series: Someone who won’t judge or excessively advise Alicia, since what Alicia needs more than anything is someone who’ll just listen. She gets enough analysis of her motives from her children, her mother-in-law, a boss such as Diane, and the media that is perpetually covering Peter’s past.

How inexcusable is Kalinda’s sleeping with Peter? The show was determined to put forward something in the way of Kalinda’s defense. She said she slept with Peter once, which, she noted, is her habit in most, nearly all, of her relationships. (Coming from anyone else, that would seem almost unbelievable; given what we’ve gradually learned of Kalinda, it made sense.) Kalinda had the ability to compartmentalize the woman she was betraying as an abstract — “the Housewife,” Kalinda said; I’ll go further: the Joyless Wife; the Unfulfilling Wife; the Wife This Guy’s Going To Leave Anyway. For someone who gets off on dangerous liaisons of all sorts (the title of the episode was “Getting Off,” although mostly for another reason), bedding Peter was a bagatelle for Kalinda.

So, excusable? No. Forgivable? Ah, there’s the problem. Standing back from the situation, I’d say, with the passage of time, you and I and, yes, Alicia, could arrive at a point at which context and emotion and logic would combine to conclude that Kalinda, at bottom a decent person, might be forgiven. Trust? That’s another question — especially for a person whose job often involves exploiting the trust of others. Work skills seep into one’s interpersonal skills.

In any case, there’s a level on which Alicia and Kalinda broke each other’s hearts. The devastation currently seems irreparable, yet given the fact that she’ll remain at the firm…

Okay, I’ll pull myself away from Alicia-Kalinda to talk about the week’s excellent jury case. Sarah Silverman was superb as Stephanie Engler, the owner of an “adultery website,” and client defended by Lockhart/Gardner. For the prosecution: Mamie Gummer returning as faux-innocent Nancy Crozier.

The episode title, “Getting Off,” was blatant to fit Engler’s business, helping married men find suitable cheating partners… until one of them ends up dead, with his penis lopped off. To a large extent, the Silverman character was put in front of Alicia to challenge and be challenged about the responsibilities of marriage and commitment — a bit too obviously, you could say, except for the fact that Margulies and Silverman (who dropped all of the winking, little-girl-voice coyness she uses as a comedian) engaged so intently upon their debate. Silverman really sold that character, even right up to the final scene of her passionately making out with her open-marriage/murdering husband, a daring decision by the producers that could have led us to dismiss Engler as a nut, but she was not. “OK, that didn’t go the way I thought,” indeed.

The trial was integrated smoothly into the Alicia-Kalinda plot, since it was Kalinda’s investigation and deductions that broke the case the way it did.

Sorry, but I have to return to Alicia: Her scenes with Jackie were amazingly charged, pointed, and yet never over-the-top mean. “You need to hear things two times to absorb them.” Wow: cold. But so accurate. Hah!

I think the two most brutal lines of the night were also the powerful. Alicia sneering at Kalinda “How was my husband; was he good?” was the verbal equivalent of a knife to the throat. And Kalinda’s final line, “I never have to confide in anyone” summarized everything, past and present, about this character. She was guarded as part of her job and as a philosophy of her private life; but now, she’s completely shutting down. There’s no one for her to confide in any more; her poker-face takes on a new hardness. The heartbreaking thing is, no one in the office except Alicia will even know that there’s been a fundamental change in that mask — everyone will think, oh, that’s just the way Kalinda is. Her life is very nearly as shattered as Alicia’s is.

Good Wife benefits:

• There’s a porn film based on Alicia, and Peter’s scandal — indeed a “trilogy” of them, said Silverman’s Engler.

• The scenes between Alicia and Zach Grenier’s David Lee, discussing how a divorce proceeding might go, were marvelous. You could almost see David consciously allowing himself to reveal his rare sincere side, all while giving Alicia hard-headed, sensibly aggressive counsel. For which he billed her.

• Jackie’s parting line — “I know what happened at your house” — was this a reference to something we don’t know about yet? Was Alicia’s “I have no idea what that means” supposed to be our reaction as well?

• The scenes of Kalinda considering a new job with an old friend (Kelli Giddish from Chase — boy, I wish that series had been better, because it had a lot of promise, and Giddish was really good in it), were fascinating for putting Kalinda in the position of actually needing something from someone.

• Cary’s “I’m staying put,” working in newly-elected Peter’s office, permitted him to resume his devious ways, feeding information to Crozier. This seemed flagrant and something Cary could have been called on by the judge (John Pankow — who’d have guessed, with this and Showtime’s Episodes, he’d have a better post-Mad About You career than Paul Reiser?).

Twitter: @kentucker

Episode Recaps

Closing Arguments
The Good Wife

Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, and Chris Noth star in the legal/family drama.

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