The Good Wife and Philosophy
Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, Robert Arp
US: Sep 2013
Week after week The Good Wife on CBS presents viewers with compelling drama that seems to be in tune with some of the most important news stories and issues that occupy the minds of Americans. Watching Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) try to make a name for herself in a male-dominated world provides viewers with hints of girl power that only make her personal problems even more fascinating.
Will she leave her philandering husband Peter (Chris Noth) for her boss Will (Josh Charles)? Will she support Peter’s political career even if it means sacrificing her own identity? Will she step aside from the law firm she’s fought so hard to be a part of in order to save her soul?
With so much going on in the show, it’s sometimes easy to forget that at the core of The Good Wife there is a profound interest in the law and what it means in our society, which is why The Good Wife and Philosophy makes for a wonderful companion to the show. Edited by Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray and Robert Arp, the book subtitled “Temptations of Saint Alicia” is a fascinating compilation of essays in which scholars, television critics and philosophers discuss how even within its high drama, the show finds a way to make viewers think about the world around them.
The very first chapter, entitled “Ethically Speaking” delves into a complex study of whether it’s possible to actually practice “legal ethics”. An essay written by Judith Andre uses key moments of the first seasons of the show to prove how the main characters, all of whom are supposed to be defending the law, use technicalities to go around it and defend the interests of their clients. This leads us to question if justice is a universal term, or if it’s only applied to what lawyers do for their specific clients.
Another essay discusses the profoundly disturbing fact that wars are now being fought over computer consoles and hundreds of lives can be put to an end with the click of a button. The episode discussed, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, seems strangely poignant in retrospect, if only because writer Jai Galliott makes an excellent point of showing how themes that seem to be used as plot-forwarding devices in the show, can actually be great points for conversation for months to come.
There’s an entire chapter dedicated to discussing what is it exactly that makes Alicia, the “good wife” of the title and in an essay by Céline Morin—who uses ancient history to demonstrate how little the concept of being a wife has evolved—she creates a curious dichotomy between Plato and Gloria Steinem to make us wonder if the Greeks were right after all. Morin points out how by breaking free from norm, Alicia discovers being bad isn’t as terrible as she was educated to believe. “Alicia’s tasted freedom and it might not be easy to get and to defend but she likes it too much to go back to doing housework” she writes. This might be the most enjoyable article in the entire book, and it also helps highlight what makes the collection feel so coherent together and it’s the fact that all the collaborators seem to really have a passion for the show.
In “Doing the Wrong Thing for a Good Reason”, James Edwin Mahon sums up what makes the show so appealing without sounding like too much of a fanboy, he points out that the show is great TV because it depicts morally ambiguous characters who are forced to put lifelong beliefs at stake when confronted with extreme dilemmas. There are cases when “the moral evaluation of an action’s motive is distinct from the moral evaluation of the action itself” he writes, before evoking Kant to examine the way in which Alicia’s good intentions don’t always come off being as morally correct as she thinks they are.
Another interesting article is the one written by Skyler King and Robert Arp titled “Peter’s Peter Problem”, the sardonic essay explores Peter Florrick’s inconsistencies when it comes to his political and sexual life. Quoting everything from The Bloodhound Gang to Plato (he figures highly in terms of quotes and references in the book), King and Arp create something akin to a comedic essay that merely help us reaffirm what the show has told us many times before: Peter Florrick is a bonafide SOB.
For a book that deals with a show that might look too prestigious and serious, The Good Wife and Philosophy is a surprise mostly because of how pleasant and bubbly it is. Is this truly philosophy more than pop culture analysis? Perhaps not, but it’s edited in such a smart way that it should result interesting for people who don’t know much about the show, because all the essays tend to concentrate on the archetypes and the shared humanity the show promotes.