April 28th, 2010
The Good Wife is a lot like Fringe.
This likely seems like an odd statement, but both are shows which despite fairly substantial serialized elements largely present themselves as procedurals. Both shows are also at their best, when telling procedural stories, when those stories feel in some way distinct: like Fringe, the characters are usually interesting enough that a more mundane trial can largely be carried by the show, but The Good Wife (and Fringe) are both capable of twisty, complex narratives that embody the shows’ particular universes as different as they might be.
“Boom” eventually succeeds due to some interesting serialized elements and some nice work around the edges, but the central case feels like something pulled out of an episode of Law & Order. This isn’t a slight on Law & Order so much as a sign of The Good Wife’s limitations: this show isn’t as capable of “solving” a case in the way that show is, and the case eventually becomes a burden which interrupts, rather than complicates, the show’s other drama.
On Twitter, there was some negative response to the fact that Kalinda noticed something which was not listed in the initial explosives report regarding the bombing; the argument that Noel made, and quite rightfully so, is that it seems strange for Kalinda to be the one to pick up on this particular fact. Eventually, the episode offers a justification: it turns out the police did know about it, but they were holding onto the information until they had a lead on the suspect who set off the bomb. However, it raises an interesting problem: how far is the show willing to take the idea that these lawyers have to both litigate and solve these cases?
Noel made the argument that it was a problem with Kalinda’s character, but I think it’s more of a problem in terms of how the show uses Kalinda’s character: it’s one thing to do something that the police haven’t done (like hunting down the artist using graphic software, which wouldn’t be a priority), but it’s another to do the police’s job. In this case, it was figuring out something that the police simply had not released yet, but it still creates a dangerous precedent. We like Kalinda as a character, and her intense knowledge of explosives is a lot of fun, but the show has to avoid making her hyper-intelligence seem like an excuse to gussy up exposition which would never logically be revealed in that fashion. The show can use a character like Carey to get information from a fellow lawyer: he’s charming, the conflict between the two firms is an ongoing storyline, and it ends up being a nice little story for his character. The show is in dangerous territory, though, placing Kalinda five jumps, rather than one, ahead of the hoofbeats.
This wasn’t a story about a Mohammed cartoon (although that certainly made the episode seem far more topical than it was when it was written), but rather a story about men refusing to change despite being given plenty of reasons to do so. Jonah Stern is losing his mind, but his desire for power keeps him from stepping down, leading him to lose a case (and $100,000 for his client) through his inability to keep his wits together. Peter Florrick, meanwhile, finds religion in order to turn over a new leaf with his wife, but uses that religion to fuel the same sort of behaviour which shocked his wife in the first place as his desire for freedom forces him to overlook the very relationship he was trying to maintain. Even Carey, not one known for his loyalty, is devoted enough to Lockhart|Gardner that he shocks both his college classmate and himself by revealing the terms of Stern’s offer and helping the firm pull off their little power play.
The case itself really wasn’t necessary to make any of those points, and so it was sort of problematic when the twists and turns in that case never really amounted to much (especially since the Newspaper man wasn’t particularly engaging). The case was “ripped from the headline” in a way which was meant to shock us, or perhaps tape into sensationalist narratives, but that just isn’t how the show works, and there was no bite when that other newspaper man quite bizarrely gave himself up on the stand with an on-the-nose series of comments that made things way too convenient in terms of tying off the Stern storyline.
The stuff that matters here was more of Peter’s dark side, including Mary Beth Peil reminding us that it’s at least partially inherited, and Alicia’s final moment of defiance as she agrees to dinner with Will and Peter decides to put his freedom at risk in an effort to…do something. However, while some episodes feel like their procedural story is just as complex, something that is different from what other legal or cop shows are doing, this one didn’t have any of that dynamism, and so we drew a clear line between procedural and serial on a show that has nicely blurred that line in the past.
- I don’t really see Peter’s logic: he isn’t going to be able to hunt down Alicia (especially waiting for the elevator, especially since he has no idea where she’s going), so what does leaving really do for him? If it gets him sent back to jail it could be read as a sign of devotion, but it’s such a teenage thing to do that I don’t really know how to reconcile it.
- The contest between Alicia and Carey is the most important thing the show needs to resolve: I think both are great assets for the series, and so long as Czuchry doesn’t get a better job offer I really think he’s better off sticking around, so they need to find a job for each of them.
- I don’t know if Alan Cumming adds enough to the show to justify being a series regular next year, but he’s so damn fun in scenes like running into Peter’s Mother that I can see why they locked him in.
- Really enjoyed the opening as the scenes from the settlement were intercut with the cartoon being drawn – really evocative.