A lot went wrong in a lot of different ways in the weakest episode of The Good Wife's seventh season.
The Good WifeAirtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Julianna Margulies, Matt Czuchry, Alan Cumming, Christine Baranski, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Vanessa Williams, Cush Jumbo
Subtitle: Season 7, Episode 9 - "Discovery"
Air Date: 2015-11-29
"Maybe we’re just on the wrong side of this one."
Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) admits as much to Jason Crouse (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) more than halfway through "Discovery", this seventh season’s ninth episode. It’s said as the two investigate this week’s case -- Divya Feldman (Nilaja Sun), an African-American restaurant owner, has gone out of business. She blames her failure on the ChumHum search engine, because ChumHum’s maps tool outlines unsafe neighborhoods in the city. Her restaurant was located in one of those unsafe neighborhoods.
The problem is that a good chunk of the unsafe neighborhoods (as outlined by ChumHum, at least) is also home to a large portion of African Americans. Therefore, Feldman says, the company is racist -- i.e., the only unsafe neighborhoods are the ones that have African Americans living in them. Turns out, she’s not entirely wrong: not only are ChumHum’s employees primarily Caucasian, but the person who worked on the sorting software wrote some things in some emails that … well … yeah, the guy’s an idiot. Plus, an image search on ChumHum shows that if you type the word “animal”, a picture of an African American woman pops up.
Yes. This only gets uglier (the whole email sequence with Alicia, Lucca [Cush Jumbo] and Jason was just so damn cringeworthy).
All things told, it was a weird week. I couldn’t help but have a plethora of questions run through my head as the story progressed. If ChumHum is involved, why isn’t Neil Gross (John Benjamin Hickey) present, hoodie and all? Why would that prospective Lockhart, Agos & Lee intern, who herself is African-American, return to Lockhart, Agos & Lee with this case after she tried to take them down earlier this season? How did Alicia and Lucca get back on good terms with Canning (Michael J. Fox), when only a week ago, they were poaching his clients? And, of course, why were those banner ads on the websites so unbelievably generic?
It appears that The Good Wife's cross to bear in the first half of this season is discrimination (the Howard Lyman ageism arc; the fourth episode, "Taxed", which centered around an African-American woman shoplifting; and the sixth episode, "Lies", which kicked off the African-American intern’s story). But there’s something about the series’ approach to these things that seems inherently off.
First, the Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler) stuff felt so forced that its absence in the last few weeks has been a welcome wrinkle. I’m not saying the series didn’t make a worthwhile point -- ageism certainly plagues the workplace almost as much as it plagues the celebrity sector of popular culture in America -- but creators Robert and Michelle King could have found a more interesting way to broach the subject than to marginalize two of their strongest players: Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry).
And secondly … holy moly, The Good Wife got in its own way this week. The larger point about racism was spot on: the most visible forms of it aren’t the things the public should obsess over; rather, it’s this embedded mindset within people that excuses most anything discriminatory as long as it’s meta. But how were we supposed to focus on that finely nuanced point when we’re still fretting over Jason’s past, his relationship with Alicia, and a very elongated law-abiding discovery process? Racism is a hard-enough social idiom to address as it is. Let’s not convolute it even more in the name of drama. Even the blatant admissions of subtle racism between Canning and Lucca didn’t translate well -- was his reasoning for asking Ms. Quinn to help with the case and her subsequent eye-rolling response meant to be played for laughs? Because it was legitimately hard to tell.
Also hard to decipher? What’s going on with Jason and Alicia. More than anything, that story seems to be at the center of this week’s episode. We’ve been waiting on pins and thick-framed glasses for two months now to see when the other shoe on our gray-bearded hero would drop. It hasn’t fully hit the ground (yet), but it’s clear that the stomp is in motion. Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) is tasked with getting in the way of any blossoming love after Ruth Eastman (Margo Martingale) sees the two smile and goes all George Bluth on everybody (no touching! no touching!). It’s all for the good of the campaign, of course, but Eli seems to be oddly attached to Alicia and commissions Nora (shouts to Nicole Roderick!) to sit guard at the Florrick apartment.
Here’s what I don’t get: When Eli and Jason have the Silver Fox Confrontation To End All Silver Fox Confrontations near the end of the episode, and Jason explains that the reason he’s investigating Alicia is because he only wanted to know more about who he was working for … well, what’s so wrong with that? Investigators gonna investigate. Plus, as he says earlier in the episode, "There’s nothing I do that makes me uncomfortable". So, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that Jason wanted to know what he was getting into before getting into it, especially if he was going to go to work for a woman with such a publicly complicated personal life.
Besides. Why must we always have these investigations in order to help move stories from one place to another? It’s classic The Good Wife. Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter) is a bad dude. But because he’s being investigated, he’s gotta mess with everyone else. Peter sleeps his way through half of Chicago, which leads to everyone and their mother’s mother to investigate everything about his family. Will (Josh Charles) helped bring Lockhart/Gardner to prominence through endless hard work and billable hours, although he was investigated for something he did back in Baltimore.
Can’t we just find out that Jason is a mass murderer or something, and that’s the only skeleton he’s attached to? Don’t get me wrong. I’ll continue to play your silly game, The Good Wife, on account of consistent awesomeness through the years. But just know that I, for one, am beginning to run out of patience for your endless investigative plot twists.
And for this week, at least, just know that you, much like Alicia and Jason said, were, for the most part, on the wrong side of a narrative that could have been handled much, much better.
Approaching The Bench
You know, through all of this, I’ve never even considered the idea that Eli might be in love with Alicia. When Courtney Paige (the great Vanessa Williams) said that, it made a weird amount of sense to me, almost right away. It’s clear that his revenge on Peter (if that’s still a thing) is going to be his attempt to take Alicia further than Peter could go in the political world (if there’s a season eight, it’s gotta be filled with “Alicia For President” buttons, right?), but what if he’s angling for something more personal?
Please know that I am 100% fully on board with any Lucca/Cary (Matt Czuchy) romance. That could really make things fun in the second half of this season.
And speaking of Cary, it was good to see him back in the mix this week. Very, very good.
I briefly mentioned it above, but it’s worth pointing out again: No Neil Gross means no ChumHum. Period.
Ok, so here’s a problem that ought to be addressed sooner rather than later. What made Michael J. Fox and Louis Canning such a welcome addition to The Good Wife universe was that he mattered. And I mean mattered. He was always scheming, always finding ways to really screw up everyone’s world. This week, for perhaps the first time ever, he was simply used as a prop, and that’s dangerous. When I would see the name "Michael J. Fox" pop up in the beginning credits in past seasons, I would instantly become excited for the episode, knowing that Canning would ultimately find some way to make things interesting. It hardly even felt like he was part of the episode here. If the Kings continue to diminish some of these characters’ value by way of marginalization … umpf.
Was anyone else surprised to see Courtney kiss Eli in the offices like that?
Exactly whose idea was it to highlight things like "coon" and "spic" and then keep the process going and going and going and going, making a 30-second montage feel like eight and a half days?
We need to talk about Alicia. She’s become a brat. Like, honestly. A brat. This overtly blasé look on her doesn’t translate well, mostly because it’s too blasé and too overt. A word like "smug" doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. It’s almost hard to watch her interact with Eli anymore, because of how much she wants us to know that she JUST DOESN’T CARE. OK, so he’s got the campaign’s best interests in mind, we all know that. But do we really think he doesn’t respect or admire or believe in Alicia as a human, politics or not? I don’t. Not even a little bit. So, stop the power plays, Mrs. Florrick. He’s just trying to help. It might annoy you at times, but chill out a little, man. Really.
“Yes. I’ve gotten over words.”
Crazy Prediction of the Week: Alicia and Eli get married and run off to live in rural Louisiana, where James Carville agrees to run a presidential campaign for … Eli Gold.