The Good Wife, Season 6 Episode 21: “Don’t Fail”

After last week’s episode of The Good Wife, which I didn’t like very much, we suddenly got an episode of The Good Wife that would have felt right at home in its first two seasons. In everything that’s going on with the law firm constantly changing names and Alicia’s failed political career, it seems like a really long time since we’ve had a classic case of the week. I didn’t dislike this episode of The Good Wife, but given that I know what it’s capable of, it felt really strange to go back to where it all began. And it actually did go back, because the case was a carryover from an unseen case both Alicia and Cary worked on while they were first year associates.

Now that Alicia has pulled out of contention for State’s Attorney and the clients don’t want to work with her because of the whole voting fraud scandal, The Good Wife writers needed to find a way to have Alicia and Cary work together, and they came up with a flashback episode. Alicia and Cary helped a client walk away from an attempted murder charge six years ago when they were junior associates. Their pro bono client was a bouncer at a night club, and he was charged with beating a patron until he was unconscious. There were no CCTV cameras in the car park, so the case relied on proving the client’s alibi to be true. Fast forward six years, and the man who was beaten is now dead from a brain haemorrhage, and the State’s Attorney is now charging the same man of first degree murder. They have a smoking gun in that the defendant’s alibi is now dead, and there’s a rebuttal witness to the alibi.

First of all, let’s get the result out of the way. Alicia and her co-chair, played by Aya Cash, successfully quash the peoples’ case against their client in pre-trial motions. The point of the episode wasn’t that Alicia won – well it was a little bit, but it’s mostly about how her morals and understanding of practicing law have changed over the past six years. We see Alicia arguing with both Cary and Kalinda in flashbacks, because Cary’s telling an alibi witness to omit part of her story on the stand, and because Kalinda tells Alicia it’s not actually perjury. In the present day, the client has told Alicia that he was actually in the car park when the beating took place, but he didn’t commit the crime. This is after they’ve gotten the transcript from six years ago allowed as evidence for the client’s alibi. Aya Cash asks Alicia whether they should let Judge Dunaway know what’s happened, and Alicia says no; they were under the assumption that their client was telling the truth when the transcript was admitted into evidence, therefore they haven’t knowingly allowed their client to commit perjury. Remember the Alicia that had qualms about suing a man for his inhumane practices in China because it would allow Lockhart/Gardner’s client to get into the Chinese market? That woman is gone.

The title of the episode comes from something Finn tells Alicia when they’re having drinks. Alicia’s considering taking the case, but after pulling out of the election and losing her place at whatever permutation that law firm was in (they’ve gone through more name changes than the Suits law firm), she’s scared of failure. Last week we saw an Alicia who was at sea; after her husband’s scandal, she rebuilt herself from practically nothing and launched a successful law career. The voting fraud scandal hit her harder though; it wasn’t about her husband’s reputation, it was about hers, and how the Democratic Party was willing to sacrifice her in order to maintain the supermajority. Then she lost her law firm, and the best friend she hadn’t spoken to in four years. This week we see how unemploment manifests itself in Alicia Florrick – she does a bunch of odd jobs, goes to the hardware store and then waits until five o’clock to have her first glass of wine. It’s only through calling donors to thank them that she finds a client and suddenly she has purpose again.

Before The Good Wife started, Alicia was relegated to the role of wife and mother. She’s not that person any more; because her marriage failed, she defined her life by her work, and now she doesn’t even have that any more. Her husband’s off being governor, her son’s in college and her daughter’s meeting up with friends for dinner. Can someone please make some sort of video essay about the parallels in Boyhood and The Good Wife? That’d be great.

Despite having been at the centre of her own scandal, Alicia’s career is still defined by her husband’s, despite the fact that they’ve been mostly separated for nearly four years now. When she’s interviewing strippers at the club six years previously, one of them told her that she liked how she stood by her husband. In the courtroom, Aya Cash said her mother thought the exact same thing. When Alicia’s listening to her witness interviews from six years ago, one of them is taped over, and Zach and Jackie are talking about Peter. Then in the courtroom, Matan makes a comment about Alicia and Peter being about the same morally. That’s gotta sting.

This episode isn’t perfect; after the highs of The Good Wife’s fifth season, “Don’t Fail” would have been a solid B+ back in season two, but not so much any more. There’s some good character work for Alicia as she examines how being a lawyer has led to a change in the way she practices the law. Alicia’s a very black and white person, which is why she liked the law, but over the course of the series she’s discovered that practising the law is actually a grey area kind of job. This is also a setup for whatever’s happening next week; Alicia proposes to Finn that they start a firm together representing clients who really need them, and that’s great, but the season finale is next week. I don’t know if this show is going to be renewed for a seventh and hopefully final season, but we should learn its fate by the end of the week.

Other thoughts:

  • I really wanted to say something about how The Good Wife relates to Mad Men’s final season; Alicia attempts a career change and fails, just like SC&P fails to resist their dissolution into McCann Erickson. Mad Men is ultimately a show about people’s ability to adapt to changing times, and The Good Wife is a show about Alicia’s adaptability to changing circumstances both professional and personal, as well as her evolution.
  • That being said, The Good Wife didn’t have a moment that was nearly as good as anything that happened on Mad Men this week. That image of Peggy walking into McCann is now on my desktop.
  • I finished a contract a few weeks ago, so I could relate to Alicia wandering around aimlessly in her apartment. It felt true to life.
  • Apparently Kalinda’s final episode is next week. If anything I’m just glad that they’re wrapping up this storyline so I don’t have to think about it any more.
  • Where is Marissa Gold? I guess now that Alicia doesn’t have a job she can’t afford to pay Marissa, which is a shame.
  • Alicia and Finn still haven’t kissed.
  • Josh Charles has been cast in Masters of Sex. You should have just stayed on The Good Wife, Charles.

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