In “Another Ham Sandwich,” The Good Wife asks the question we’ve been asking for some time: will the affair between Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Will (Josh Charles) go public?
The show has always been smart about how the political is personal. This essential theme comes to a head in this episode, airing 29 January, as everyone at the office realizes — again — that they can’t keep their private lives from being hopelessly intertwined with work. The steamiest arc has been the triangle involving Alicia, her philandering husband Peter (Chris Noth), and Will. Here that story collides with another, as a grand jury considers whether to indict Will for judicial bribery, a case stemming from an investigation State’s Attorney Peter launched because he was jealous of Alicia’s affair with Will. Little does Peter know that the special prosecutor he so carefully chose, Wendy Scott-Carr (Anika Noni Rose), who lost to him in the State’s Attorney race, has her own agenda, which includes bringing him down by making Alicia testify under oath concerning her affair.
In an effort to sort out some boundaries, Alicia tells Peter his “sin” was not doing wrong, but doing wrong “against his family,” then asks if he targeted Will because of her affair. “Of course!”, he thunders (you might wonder how she didn’t guess this before). They must decide whether to stick together or let others bring them down because of their infighting. At this late hour, Peter sees that to destroy her or even Will is to destroy himself.
Peter’s insight doesn’t mean he backs off his presumed masculine privilege, of course, a privilege that helps to organize his world. If the jury does indict Will, the affair will be made public, dashing Peter’s hopes of running for governor, which requires “the good wife” by his side. As angry as they are with each other, she’s still valuable to him as the loyal and virtuous woman — but not as someone who makes her own choices.
While the series started with the highly public scandal of Peter’s infidelities with prostitutes and his jail time, it has since then focused on the private fall-out. When he was released from prison and reelected, Alicia maintained the front while fighting with him privately. This episode takes us back to that initial idea, how best to survive public scandal — perform as expected or resist?
For three seasons, the series posed and tried to answer the question, “What next?”, what happens after a wife performs as “good”? Can she ever be more than a tragic figure or a fiction for her husband? As Eli (Alan Cumming) exclaims to Alicia in this episode, “You’re a gay icon!” Her suffering womanhood has made her iconic. And trapped.
Alicia sees this now, in part because the scandal this time is premised on her desires and efforts to break free, in secret. While she lived with Peter’s Eliot-Spitzer-like hookers scandal, Alicia kicked him out when she learned he also cheated on her with Kalinda (Archie Panjabi). But nothing is ever just personal. Kalinda slept with Peter to get his help in changing her identity, illegally. As we know now, her sense of guilt led Kalinda to befriend Alicia, and in this episode, it prompts her to try and protect Alicia from the Will scandal. Though she finds a canny solution, the episode suggests that not everybody will survive these escalating political and legal war games. It’s a testament to the fully drawn characters that viewers also wonder about our own loyalties: which of them would we save?
This as we watch Alicia make decisions about whom to save, and how she might get out of this situation. On the stand, she stares down the special prosecutor as well as her recurring foe, Assistant District Attorney Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry), who has only recently realized that this investigation has gone too far. They hate each other, but they are suddenly comrades too, because they both believe an ethical line has been crossed — publicly. Cary wants to destroy Alicia, but not this way.
This ethical tangle is mirrored in a weaker subplot, in which Eli flirts with his competitor Stacie (Amy Sedaris). As both jockey for the same PR gigs with lobbying groups, they try to destroy each other while pretending a romance. Each accuses the other of “playing chicken” and both score hits. Like everyone around them, they’re caught up in wondering who will blink first.