September 28th, 2010
I will admit to loving a good ironic title, and I’d argue that “Taking Control” somewhat misrepresents the state of The Good Wife heading into its second season.
I’ve seen a lot of divergent thoughts on the premiere: some seems to think the show is still in fine form, while others felt that it was “off” in some way. I’ll admit to being slightly in the second camp, albeit with a better sense of how, and more importantly why, the show feels this way. While I do think there are a few creative missteps here, I think the general function of the premiere was a good way to enter into the season (if not necessarily conducive to a particularly strong premiere).
Alicia Florrick really has no control in this hour. A message which might have changed her plans for the future is erased by her husband’s campaign manager; she is forced to take on a position assisting the WikiLeaks-based defendant by a power tripping judge; she gets assigned a mentor, the new Baltimore-based partner, instead of getting to make her own decision. Even the episode’s big scene, as Peter performs oral sex on Alicia as she was brushing her teeth, is about Alicia sitting back and allowing someone else to drive. The much-talked about scene also nicely points out that losing control isn’t always bad, although the rest of the hour seems to problematize the loss of control pretty fiercely.
I think that’s why the episode seems off: that “One Week Later” chyron seems to have destabilized more than just Will and Alicia’s relationship, as everyone is unable to control their circumstances. Kalinda meets her match in Scott Porter’s rival investigator character, who is either a step ahead or lurking in the shadows every time; Peter and Eli are unable to stop the media from returning to his scandal in the wake of another, and Peter refuses to use Childs’ divorce to even the playing field (although he may think differently when he finds out his children are being targeted). The only character in complete control is Peter’s mother, able to manipulate Eli quite effectively, but even she faces resistance from members of her women’s group (who seem to suggest, if I heard correctly, that it is Alicia and not Peter who deserves an award).
This theme makes a lot of sense: being a show about the law, there are always concerns over controlling the jury and the flow of information, as we saw with Alicia’s wrangling of the central case. It was about controlling the thoughts of that single juror, and then getting to the point where they could potentially win out. However, in the end they have to cede control once they have it: their control allows them to keep the gun from entering into evidence, allowing them to cut a plea agreement despite his obvious guilt. While I felt the case seems a bit hokey in how it was introduced, with the judge’s behaviour seeming a bit too broad and contrived, the actual result was thematically interesting if lacking in any sort of emotional context. Alicia’s attentions were clearly elsewhere, which gave the case a very functional, practical presence as opposed to taking over the rest of the episode in the way other cases have.
However, as much as I may feel that there was some thematic purpose to the sense of disorganization rampant in the episode, I think that they took it a bit too far. I thought this was especially true in the case of the new Baltimore partner, who is sort of haphazardly introduced – perhaps this was more clearly foreshadowed last season, but I had no recollection of it, but the show chose to throw us into the deep end without any sort of exposition. I know it’s rare for a critic to argue for more exposition as opposed to less, but I still don’t quite understand what’s happening: are Will and Diane purposefully trying to make the new partner uncomfortable to convince him to leave? I got that sense from their discussion of how they intended to use the situation to their advantage, and while I understand the value of mystery I think this is more confusing than intriguing.
This isn’t a particularly abnormal strategy: numerous season premieres return to an unstable environment in order to force the audience to experience the same sense of isolation and dislocation that the central protagonist is suffering from. However, for a show that was so carefully plotted last season and known more for its subtlety than for its conflict, “Taking Control” seemed out of whack in a way that the episode didn’t quite acknowledge thematically. While I don’t think it was a disaster by any means, and I think there is a lot of potential in many of the new elements introduced, the episode crossed the threshold from conceptual to unorganized at some point in its running time.
I think it’s because the show so marginalized its foundation. I understand that its serialized elements are its most lauded quality, but without the solid legal/workplace grounding I think the show wouldn’t be half of what it is. And yet with Carey at the Prosecutor’s office, even the legal side of things becomes a question of rivalry and conflict, and not in the same sort of playful way that we saw with Martha Plimpton’s lawyer character or other recurring elements. It seems like they’ve gone bigger with just about everything, and while some of those risks paid off (the intensity of the bathroom oral sex, for example) the others seemed to muddle the show’s previous clarity.
It isn’t going to be muddled forever, as I think the show will return to that foundation (if not entirely) in the weeks ahead. The whole point of “Taking Control” is emphasizing the destabilizing elements, and one hopes that next week Alicia, Kalinda, and everyone else starts to fight back. If they don’t, the show could become something much less successful (if perhaps more narratively “interesting” objectively speaking) in the weeks ahead, but I’ve got some faith that this was a purposefully rocky, and slightly miscalculated, re-entry as opposed to a sign of an unfortunate new direction.
- Glad to have Scott Porter back on my television, and his character serves an important purpose: while he’s a bit too rigidly defined in terms of Kalinda right now, which could become a problem over time, Kalinda needed someone to challenge her almost precocious authority over investigative techniques in the series, so he’s functional in that sense.
- Curious to see how they work Matt Czuchry into the story: will The Good Wife start stealing The Whole Truth’s thunder on a weekly basis, or will he remain a basic recurring courtroom menace? I’ll be curious to see.
- Ratings were above what the show was garnering in the demo when it ended its first season, but below its premiere, so I’m curious to see where the show settles this year.
- Jacob Pitts did some moonlighting here, after being more or less left behind by Justified (although not to the degree of Erica Tazel) as that show ended its first season – enjoyed seeing him get a bit more material to play with.