Sunday, May 3, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Good Wife' - Alicia Returns to the Courtroom to Represent an Innocent Man From Her Past in 'Don't Fail'

CBS's The Good Wife - Episode 6.21 "Don't Fail"

When a former client (Dorian Missick) calls Alicia after being charged with murder tied to a case from 2009, Alicia reviews the old case, prompting memories of her early days as a lawyer.

There's a simplicity in the story and structure of "Don't Fail" that is incredibly refreshing for The Good Wife this season. In recent years, the show has taken some pretty big swings that resulted in major shakeups and changes to the show's narrative identity. Alicia and Cary split from the firm, Will died and Alicia ran for State's Attorney and won only to be taken out of the job due to a new scandal. Not all of those stories worked. The narrative of the sixth season has been problematic because the characters have put too much distance between themselves. Alicia running for State's Attorney was a lackluster story that dragged on for too long - all for the purpose of paralleling the journey, elections and scandals Peter has had over the course of the show. It was messy but in a way that didn't work all the time. This season has put more emphasize on ongoing stories - to the point that the character dynamics started to feel one-note and less engaging then they were before.

"Don't Fail" comes as Alicia is once again at a very low point in her life. She has no job and her family is off living their own lives. She's embarrassed by the scandal that has just occurred and worried that all the time and money she spent campaigning was all meaningless. She has no purpose and that's incredibly sad. She feels the need to hide her identity whenever she goes out in public. That hat! She believes herself to be that important of a public figure and that this scandal is a big deal. And yet, all it takes is a pep talk from Finn and a new case to work on for Alicia to find that spring in her step again.

It's been awhile since a case-of-the-week plot was the A-story of an episode. It is a return to roots of sorts. It's an episodic structure and case that would be commonplace in the early days of the show. And yet, that's also matched with the latter seasons enjoyment of using narrative tricks in showcasing a different side of the past. This case that Alicia takes on is a continuation of a trial she and Cary worked on during their first year at the law firm. Diane was their boss and they were still fighting for the one associate position available to them. Those were much simpler days when Alicia was aspirational about the law while also trying to figure herself out again in the face of scandal. It seems only fitting that she has to do so again and with a case that she started on all those years ago.

The case itself is pretty straight-forward with a man being accused of killing another man in the parking lot of a strip club. But it also brings up questions of morality and how the Alicia of the present sees the law differently than the Alicia of the past. In the past, her strategy worked and got these charges against this man dropped. But now, she has more experience and has to take on a new approach. She willfully embraces the gray areas of the law. When she learns that her client's alibi wasn't true and that he and several other witnesses perjured themselves at the first trial, she doesn't report it to the judge but instead keeps it buried because it would only hurt their case after the fact. Her past self would never do such a thing. Plus, it's incredibly important that Alicia is using this moment to teach a woman who is just learning how to practice the law herself. Aya Cash is phenomenal on FX's You're the Worst and here she serves as Alicia's co-counsel. It's not a completely thankless role. It shows how Alicia has come to accept the moral gray area of practicing the law. And yet, it wasn't completely necessary either because Alicia was in charge of the defense and seeing her opposite her past self was enough without having to add a present day character who filled the same role.

This trial helps remind Alicia of what she was passionate about the law in the first place. She has been happy working with Cary, Diana and company over the past few years. She's grateful that Cary is still willing to help her when she takes on this case once again. Even though they wouldn't let her come back to the firm, it's still nice to see that Alicia and Cary are still friends who can share details of a case over wine together. More importantly though, Alicia now wants to take on cases that she's actually passionate about. She ran for State's Attorney in order to make a difference in her community. That didn't work out for her because of the politics of it all. It was devastating. But now, she has found her purpose again by making a difference in one's person world who desperately needs it the most. She wants to represent the innocent who face an uphill battle against the judicial system.

Of course, it all hinges on the idea of Alicia wanting to start her own firm - again. The show already did that plot with Alicia and Cary last season. The only difference now is that she wants to partner with Finn (who, remember, already has a firm that he started). They've become great friends and drinking buddies as of late. He has great advice for her and actually helps with her case. But the setup of her wanting to make a difference by starting her own firm is a recycled plot device. The new firm with Cary eventually evolved right back into the old firm - complete with a move to the old offices and the addition of David Lee. That move made the whole firm split feel pointless. And yet, the show has always been at its best when its about the firm dynamics and the practice of the law. This episode had both. This new firm likely won't create the same tumultuous story stakes as the previous one did. There's no animosity over Alicia starting her own business. But let's hope it's a quick development that the show doesn't linger too much in creating.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Don't Fail" was written by Robert King & Michelle King and directed by Nelson McCormick.
  • Alicia's flashback of sharing a drink with Kalinda was so bittersweet because it helped remind the audience just how close they were in the early years. And then, that later scene happened that was clear that they weren't in the same room at the same time. All of that backstage drama really is effecting how the show tells its stories.
  • Alicia and Grace bond over redecorating Zach's old room - only to learn that he's coming home the next day and that they'll have to put everything back. At least, Alicia and Zach are talking again though.
  • Whatever happened to Jackie? She pops up on one of the tape recordings but she hasn't been seen in the present day in a long time.
  • The episode didn't wallow in the flashbacks all that much but it still had to skirt around the lack of Will's presence.
  • Aya Cash had to take a picture with Alicia for her mother because who wouldn't want to do that?