By Ken Tucker
Updated September 25, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

The third-season premiere of The Good Wife, an hour titled “A New Day,” was a sustained series of pairings: Will and Alicia; Alicia vs. Peter; Alicia vs. Cary; a Muslim student accused of murdering a Jewish student; Kalinda and investigator Sophia; Eli and a crisis-management client; Grace and her new tutor; and, in the end, the twosome that provoked the crime that was the legal case of the week.

The pairings were emphasized, as directed by Brooke Kennedy, in the visuals. At the beginning of each of the first two scenes, a solitary figure emerged energetically from an elevator (first Alicia, then Will), the opening doors and full-front close-ups emphasizing their renewed vitality. The dialogue, in a teleplay by show creators Robert and Michelle King, had its own agenda, either pushing the new, single-lady-lifestyle Alicia is living (“You look different,” said a pleasantly puzzled Eli, not merely referring to Julianne Margulies’ snazzy, Theda Bara vamp half-bangs) or making with the puns (“Diane thinks I’m going too hard on you,” said Will to Alicia as he pushed up against her in his apartment).

If the plotting here was a bit kitchen-sinky — Palestine/Israel tension mingled with its depiction in violent videogames complicated by the sexual preferences of a couple of characters — it was a vibrant messiness that not only mimicked the complexity of real life, but also threw into sharp relief the crisp clarity that delineated the various twosomes.

What The Good Wife understands more than most network dramas is that we will watch people obsessed most intensely if they are presented on television in the most crisply metaphorical versions of obsession. Thus the show can address Middle East tensions in a manner that doesn’t have the exhausted air of debate, and can constantly root around in the well-rutted arena of office flirtations and romance without reminding you of a score of Steven Bochco/David E. Kelly dramas from the ’80s and ’90s.

(Sidebar, your honors: How is it that Kelli Giddish can have whatever contract she must have with NBC that’s put her in two of the Peacock Network’s series — Chase and currently Law & Order: Special Victims Unit — yet it’s her brief appearances on CBS’ The Good Wife, scissoring her legs across the screen and flirting with Archie Panjabi, that have shown her strengths to best advantage?)

Special attention must be paid to Chris Noth, putting in a season-launching appearance to make sure that Peter — who I presume, as was true last season, won’t be around every week — has been lodged firmly in our minds to set the tone for the States Attorney office attitude that Matt Czuchry will have to embody in most episodes, as well as being the charming, chilly man Alicia really did have to get away from in order to warm up. “You’re happier without Dad”: Indeed.

Twitter: @kentucker