Sometimes a show that is already great produces such an amazing episode, I am enthralled by every second and want to talk about it to everyone I know. The latest example of this accomplishment was last week’s fall finale of CBS’s The Good Wife, entitled “Nine Hours”. The plot was practically ripped from the headlines, timely and interesting. Real stakes were on the table, and the characters had to stretch themselves, trying desperately in a last ditch effort, and making mistakes along the way. This scramble had a (spoiler alert!) happy ending, but I wasn’t sure it was going to until the end. Sure, it was likely that things would work out for our heroes, but it wouldn’t be the first time a show tossed a twist in that ruined everything. However, though it took the easy ending, it was not a disappointment.
The episode began when Alicia (Julianna Margulies) got an early Saturday morning phone call asking if she planned to add an addendum to an appeal to stop an execution she had filed the night before. The file clerk was breaking the rules to tip her off that she may have a chance to save her client, Carter Wright (guest star Chad Coleman, The Wire). Immediately, she called Will (Josh Charles), who was heading out of town for the weekend, and he called Diane (Christine Baranski), who was at the prison visiting their client. All sprang into action, calling in a whole team of lawyers to the firm on their day off to try to save Carter’s life.
One of my (and many fans’) favorite characters is Cary (Matt Czuchry), Alicia’s competition in season one, who now works for the District Attorney. Cary had worked on a project with the clerk, and Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) sought his assistance, which he was reluctant to give. Cary is not a bad guy, but he is a bit bitter with the firm, you see. His emotions towards them are completely understandable, even if most viewers wanted Alicia to win, as she did. I think we all know how Cary feels, not getting recognition he believes he deserves. I wish he had more screen time this season, because every time he graces the stage, he gets some good meat. In this episode, a call from the director of the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck (guest starring as himself), convinced him to join the cause. This was great, even though regrettably Cary had almost no screen time after he agreed to help.
Diane also had some great stuff. She was simultaneously wanting to help her firm with their legal case, but also attempting to convince Carter’s daughter (Alexandra Metz) to visit her father, and the warden (Michael Pemberton, Damages) to extend visiting hours so that she could. These aims came into conflict when Diane acted on something she overheard, temporarily helping a last minute court hearing, but also losing goodwill at the prison. It’s this type of actions have consequences storytelling that makes The Good Wife so compelling, though those consequences aren’t usually as quickly apparent as they were this week. Life is complicated, and these types of touches make the show feel authentic.
Besides the major legal plot, Alicia’s family had some drama brewing of its own. Her husband, Peter (Chris Noth), was preparing for a debate. We assume he did well, until asked if his wife had forgiven him for his affair, and then he was stumped. Has Alicia? The show rarely has explicit conversations between the two of them, stating exactly how they feel. Alicia has been sending plenty of mixed signals this season to that effect. Peter has to be confused and doubtful. Sure, he’s back living with his family, but he sleeps in the maid’s quarters (alone; they don’t have a maid). It’s a pretty neat tactic, one not seen often on television, trying to rely on physical cues and inferences to tell a whole major story arc. As a viewer, I felt as speechless as Peter. How could he possibly answer that when he, and we, don’t know ourselves? The show does not seem poised to answer it too quickly, as Alicia is clearly considering acting on her feelings for Will.
And on top of all of that, Alicia’s daughter, Grace (Makenzie Vega), was finding God. Religion is not a common theme in The Good Wife, none of the principal characters being particularly spiritual, though it does rear its head from time to time. Grace’s family obviously is uncomfortable with the teen praying openly and wanting to attend a religious camp. Sure, church attendance in the 21st century is down, but here’s a look at a real family, and how non-practicing parents might deal with a daughter who wants to believe. Though, Peter himself also dealt with religious issues this year, so he may be more understanding than Alicia. This was just the beginning of an arc sure to continue in 2011 episodes.
Crack writing, tight editing, brilliant acting, interesting direction, and a world that seems so realistic, sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s fiction. These elements are demonstrated consistently in The Good Wife, and it is the reason the show received so many Emmy nominations for its first season. With episodes like “Nine Hours”, it can expect to see more of the same next year. The Good Wife will continue its sophomore season on January 11th.