Look, I know my job doesn’t involve digging ditches under a burning summer sun or tightrope-walking between Chicago skyscrapers like Nik Wallenda. But that doesn’t mean recapping The Good Wife‘s current sixth season hasn’t been a seriously harrowing experience.
I mean, I didn’t think I was embarking on the long, lost Season 7 of HBO’s Oz, and yet now it looks like sweet, pale Cary Agos is just a few days — or maybe minutes — away from fighting for his life in the mean prison yards of the Illinois penal system. I never even watched the pilot of Boardwalk Empire, and yet I’m biting my nails as Kalinda Sharma seemingly swaps her chic boots for cement shoes expertly made to carry her to the bottom of Lake Michigan. And with even carefully coiffed State’s Attorney candidate Alicia Florrick threatening knife violence against a humble public-school teacher, it seems there’s no escape from the CBS legal drama’s flirtation with “darkness at noon.”
The overarching theme of this week’s Winter Finale — titled, quite simply, “The Trial” — seems to be that the brand of justice offered by the U.S. legal system can be capricious at best, deplorable at worst. Rushed along by a judge seeking wedding-anniversary tickets to a Neil Diamond concert, plagued by a well-meaning juror with hearing issues and betrayed by a star witness whose instinct for self-preservation outweighs all other concerns, Cary winds up in the most horrifying of situations: pleading guilty to a crime he didn’t commit (and damning himself to at least two years in the clink), rather than standing up for himself and risking 15 — or running away to Barcelona and risking his soul.
Let’s recap the action — along with raising key questions about how the remainder of Season 6 will play out:
ALICIA THE GRIZZLY MOM | Our heroine has big problems on the campaign trail (even though they turn out to be the comic relief of a very intense hour). Seems she wrote a joke note threatening violence against Grace’s gym teacher if he didn’t let her sit out during an illness — the letter quotes Darkness at Noon, so how can anyone take it seriously? — and after Grace shows it to her civics teacher as an academic exercise, it gets used for political leverage. One might think the plot thread’s main point is to allow Jackie this damning line — “Alicia is a good mother: She would never stab a teacher.” — but I wonder if body woman/Eli’s daughter Marissa has the most important philosophical point to make: “Sometimes, it’s funny to say the thing that will never happen.” Maybe Robert and Michelle King have Cary on the brink of a felony conviction just because, well, it makes for good TV? Maybe it’s the funniest thing to make us thing he’s going to live by the law, die by the shiv? Whatever the case, after Alicia refuses to say yes to patronage, Peter intervenes and offers Grace’s teacher and principal some very appealing board seats – and the problem goes away, much as it often does for people of wealth and privilege. Good thing Grace is such an upstanding kid in spite of it all, no?
Alicia’s potentially bigger scandal, though, involves her regular meet-ups with Finn Polmar — and the flirty duo decides harshly lit pancakes in busted diners is a better way to advance their friendship than cocktails in dark, mahogany bars. Mrs. Florrick, however, is seeking something deeper – and no, I’m not talking about melting into Finn’s sumptuous eyes. She asks the former assistant U.S. attorney for help in clearing Cary — and he gives her an envelope of pics featuring four major drug dealers dropping by Bishop’s house. Is it possible our Chicago drug lord has gotten a little careless after reaching the top? Let us explore further in the next paragraph…
KALIDA IN PERIL | Kalinda confronts Bishop about the shady characters under his roof, but when his nonchalance starts to borders on arrogance — “You shouldn’t be here with such a weak weapon” — Kalinda engages in the pissing contest and promptly has the drug dealer neck-deep. “This is not about you. This is about Dylan,” coos the enigmatic investigator, who simply is not about to let a man intimidate her without any good reason. “There’s enough here for children’s services to take your son away.” The direction of the scene is pure visual poetry, with Bishop’s face in extreme, uncomfortable closeup, while Kalinda bobs and weaves in closeup. It looks like Kalinda has won the round — getting Bishop to locate the last remaining living crew member on the surveillance tape that’s the state’s biggest piece of evidence — but Bishop’s not about to play lamb to Kalinda’s lion, as we’ll see in our next point of discussion.
CARY, PLEAS | What a haunting opening image: Cary Agos, man wrongly accused and man who knows every side of the legal system all too well, walks silently through an empty courtroom, pondering his fate. Instead of this defendant’s-eye-view, however, the show’s writers treat us to the POV of a harried judge who’s miffed by the inability of his staff to get him a carrot muffin, an assistant district attorney (the always welcome Geneva Pine) who’s gotten mixed up romantically/extramaritally with her star witness, and a sympathetic juror who’s plagued by “auditory processing disorder” — a condition that causes him to miscompute words and phrases when he’s under stress. (He’s eventually kicked to the curb… a crushing blow to the defense.)
Bottom line: The judge would prefer a plea deal — in other words, one less case on his shoulders. But Geneva’s six-year sentence/three years served offer is Rated NB (no bueno) for Cary and his right-hand legal force Diane. Alas, though, while La Lockhart easily proves MIA government witness Trey Walker turned up dead a mere 48 hours after agreeing to meet with investigators, Geneva’s overlord (aka rat bastard Peter Castro) shows up and asks Geneva if she “knows what to do.”
Putting Kalinda on the stand, however, does little good for Geneva and Castro. But they hit the mother lode when Bishop slips into a pew at the moment his crew member Dante takes the stand. The shifty fellow refuses to refute the government’s selectively recorded audio tape, taking Kalinda by surprise and sending Cary into a desperate, last-gasp-of-free-air walkabout.
And that leaves Mr. Agos with one of three options. Bishop finds him on a sidewalk and offers to help him escape to an easy life in Barcelona (Plan A), where he’ll serve as a European consultant to the dealer. But Cary’s already seen the ice-slicked slope of the felon’s life, and (at least from what we can tell) declines. Geneva offers Plan B: Reduce his sentence to time-served (plus six months probation) if he testifies against Bishop— a far better bet than four years on conspiracy charges (with two in jail) or a potential 15 years in the clink via jury vote.
But Cary is a man who has not much fight left in him. “I go from one nightmare to another — and I just want it to be over,” he finally says. And despite Alicia, Kalinda and Diane in his corner, he can only come up with one solution: “The smart deal here is to take the plea.” Cary hugs Alicia, they both tear up, and he asks if she’ll come and see him, that he doesn’t want to be lonely. Maybe he’s going to Barcelona. Maybe he’s not talking about years in prison. And while I want to picture the most idyllic outcome — this can’t be the end — The Good Wife has never been a show that provides easy answers, that tells us everything works out happily ever after for our central protagonists — even if they’re essentially social royalty.
Cary stands in court in the fall finale’s final shot, gulps down his emotions, and makes a decision about changing his stance. “Yes, Your Honor, I would like to plead guilty,” he says. And that’s where the story ends… at least ’til the show returns in 2015.