Sunday, May 10, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Good Wife' - Alicia and Kalinda Share One Final Drink Before Kalinda Leaves Town Again in 'Wanna Partner?'

CBS's The Good Wife - Episode 6.22 "Wanna Partner?" (Season Finale)

Alicia's professional future hangs in the balance as she decides what's next for her career. Meanwhile, when Alicia gets a suspicious call from a client, she discovers that he's being held in a secret police facility where people are detained without being officially booked.

This has often been a frustrating season of The Good Wife - with the biggest problem being the weird pacing and lengths of its individual story arcs. There were so many different facets of this season. And yet, so many of them didn't really work at all. Cary's arrest had this claustrophobic urgency to it at the start of the season. It was a story that pulled all of the characters together in an exciting and intimate way. It seriously made Matt Czuchry worthy of being in the Emmy conversation. And yet, all of that intensity disappeared during the second half of the season and wasn't replaced with anything half as interesting. Alicia running for State's Attorney was too isolating of a story. So much of her screen time this season was of her not interacting with the other regular characters and instead focusing on this race that she didn't really belong in. This season proved that she is not a politician and relished way too much in driving that point home. And then, there was the back-and-forth between Kalinda and Lemond Bishop. That story needed to be edited and condensed down because it was such a slow burn but not in a way that showed the dramatic and emotional nuances of the characters. The story wasn't subtle at all and it dragged along across several episodes.

All of these concerns have built up to a lackluster season - to the point that by the end of the season the show itself isn't entirely sure what direction it should head in. There has been so much plot turnover in the last few seasons of the show. It has helped the series maintain a sense of relevance amongst the competition in the medium. However, it has also harmed the characters in that it's no longer safe to assume that they will stay where they are for that long. As Charles Lester notes, the firm has changed its name so many times over the course of the series. Now Diane, Cary and David Lee are running the place while Alicia is off as an independent entity feeling things out with Finn. It's an awkward story beat to center the finale around because it doesn't feel like it's a culmination of the season that was building up to it.

"Wanna Partner?" is a spastic episode but it's not messy in a way that has dominated so much of this season. The characters all have a singular purpose in this episode. Sure, most of it feels like it is either setting up story for next season or saying goodbye to Kalinda one last time. That's not inherently bad. The show is trying to move forward and not spend too much time dwelling on the past - with the sole exception being Kalinda. It's great having Alicia in the courtroom again. She's proceeding over cases that are unique. They may not be as captivating as the personal drama happening amongst the characters. But it's still a structure that is a genuinely a part of the show's DNA. It does law drama consistently better than political drama. That's why these last two episodes of the season have felt like a step up while still keeping things simple. It's fun seeing Alicia baffled by how these police officers are taking the law into their hands with complete disregard to her client's rights.

However, the legal story of the episode is basically all about the emotions happening between Alicia and Finn behind-the-scenes. They are an effective unit. They are awkward in the courtroom a little bit. They don't always know who should speak and when. But they still do an efficient job in helping this man who is being denied his rights in order for these officers to do their jobs. However, the story is much more about their ongoing flirtation with each other which they both recognize but don't want to act on. First of all, why? Because Finn wants to make things work with his ex-wife isn't an explanation - especially considering the audience has never met her. It's still the same kind of dynamic that has been played out between the two of them one too many times before. They recognize the flirtation but choose not to get any closer than to give in to their urges. There's nothing new established here even though it's the finale which is incredibly disappointing.

In fact, the tension between Alicia and Finn plays out the way that it does solely for the purpose of setting up the question posed at the end of the finale. Alicia was all in on starting a new firm with Finn. And now, he's out because of his personal feelings for her. That makes her more open and willing to accept Louis Canning's offer when he shows up at her doorstep wanting to know if she'll partner with him. It's all a part of his new vengeance against the main firm that is established throughout this episode. It didn't feel all that natural which keeps the final reveal from feeling like anything other than a glimpse of what the future holds for the characters. Cary, Diane and David Lee do nothing in this episode except make Louis angry at them for firing his wife. It's a weird story to be featured in the finale. And again, it's just so Louis can show up at Alicia's with some kind of meaningful buildup. It's not much which makes it a rather lackluster final reveal.

Despite everything else that happens in this episode, it also features the onscreen reunion between Alicia and Kalinda. The show's handling of those two over the last few seasons has been awkward. It still wants to say that the two of them have a friendship despite them haven't sharing the screen in over 50 episodes. Their friendship was so crucial in the early days of the show. It's fantastic watching them share tequila shots again. And yet, it also comes with a sense of awkwardness. So much has happened between the two that their dynamic no longer feels genuine. They are both given these big elongated and emotional speeches about how sorry they are for how their friendship has been as of late. However, there's something very peculiar about how of it is filmed with each big moment happening in close-up. It's great that these two characters have some kind of closure since Kalinda is leaving town. And yet, it's not as emotional and satisfying as it could have been - and that's entirely because of the awkwardness of the past storytelling decisions.

Kalinda has always been a character the show has struggled with providing satisfying story. So much of her appeal has been in the way that she carries herself as a mystery. And yet, that mysterious aura dominated every single story beat of the character. She had great moments every once and awhile - like beating a car with a baseball bat in Season 2 - but usually she was just in some awkward romance or flirtation. It was a narrative choice that lost meaning the deeper into the series the show got. It's fitting that the show and Archie Panjabi are willing to move on from all of that. It will be interesting to see what Panjabi does next. But The Good Wife stopped knowing what to do with Kalinda years ago. And so, this exit seems fitting. Perhaps now, it will allow the show to focus on a story that connects all of the main characters together in a meaningful way. That's the hope, at least

Some more thoughts:
  • "Wanna Partner?" was written by Robert King & Michelle King and directed by Robert King.
  • Wallace Shawn really is fantastic as Charles Lester. He is actually very intimidating in the role which is always a welcome surprise. And yet, neither Alicia nor Kalinda are threatened by him. They are powerful woman who are able to keep their composure while also getting this man out of their lives.
  • Also, Alicia is pissed by the notes that Eli has for the ghost writer working on her new memoir. Couple that with Peter's announcement that he is being considered as a vice president candidate and Alicia is done with just about everything concerning politics. And that is a good look on her.
  • Alicia and Louis vs. Cary, Diane and David Lee seems to be the direction for the next season. I'm not opposed to it as long as there's more to it than just Louis being upset that his wife got fired for no good reason.