This is my favourite episode of the third season so far. The theme of this season, at least for now: characters realizing what they have become (who they were, how they have changed, what their priorities are), and deciding the implications. There were so many moments in this episode in which characters caught themselves doing something they didn't want to do and made conscious changes because they weren't happy about where things were going (Will walking out of the poker game, Diane wandering "her" halls, deciding to do what's right instead of what's profitable).
The structure of the episode was perfect for the content: on the one hand, the episode was about the personal consequences of the changes that have taken place (both changes in terms of relationships and the economic climate the firm operates in), but this was also the first time that The Good Wife portrayed how these changes affect the very work of the lawyers (and the fate of the clients). If Alicia had settled for a plea bargain as the partners wanted, an innocent guy would have gone to prison. If Kalinda hadn't worked the case and switched full-time to Eli's cause, he wouldn't have been proved innocent. If the firm didn't allow the lawyers to work pro bono any more (and if those non-profits still offering services for free went under), who knows what would happen to people in a similar situation as this week's client. It was necessary for the viewers to know that he was innocent to make clear what the stakes are.
Eli asks the partners to give him Alicia and Kalinda full-time ("I don't like sharing", he explains to Kalinda). Will naturally doesn't want to lose Alicia. He also tells Kalinda that he wants her to work for him if (or rather, when) he leaves the firm ("It is gonna happen because i'll make it worth your while: more money, more power, more self-reliance."). The episode had many moments in which someone painted a picture of an alternative future: Kalinda and Alicia working elsewhere, Will chasing his dream of becoming the baseball commissioner, Diane having to give up her idealism for financial reasons...
Lockhart and Gardner doesn't have the departments that are doing well in the "double-dip recession" the country is heading into: bankruptcy and tax law. Diane asks Will to get Celeste and those parts of her former firms now looking for a new home to join them, but it turns out that Celeste is heading towards independence and is looking to get Will on her team.
Will: Have you noticed that no matter how high we go, we're still dancing to someone else's tune?
Diane: Welcome to leadership
Will had to deal with the question of who he wants to be in his confrontation with Celeste (his past), who offered him the dream he (or the old version of him) always had.
Celeste: Do you know what it means to fit the rat, will?
Will: Do I...no.
Celeste: You can live your sweet little domesticated life, you can date your cute little apple-cheeked lawyer...
Celeste: But eventually you have to feed the rat, return to the wild.
Will: That's fascinating. We're not going above three percent.
Celeste: You need to feed the rat, Will. You are killing yourself trying to be normal.
Will: I am normal.
"It's the one thing George Bush wanted more than the presidency"
This ties in well with the conversation Will had a couple of episodes ago, when he tried to explain to Kalinda that he never really feels how he is expected to feel, and the old question of whether he truly loves Alicia: in this episode, he accidentally says "Love you" before ending a phone call and tries to take it back afterwards, stunned by his own Freudian slip. The answer to the question, I guess, is when he leaves the poker match and turns Celeste's offer down.
Will: What a sad thought that is, losing what I love now to chase something in the future.
Celeste: What do you love? You said losing what I love now.
Will: My job.
Celeste: I don't believe you. I don't believe you love it. What you love is winning. And you can't win big enough at Lockhart Gardner. This is your dream, what happened to persuing your dream?
Will: What happened to work? Not everybody can persue their dream. Someone has to work.
Celeste: Wow. That is so sad .
Will: Not really. Take care.
Alicia's old argument against being with Will was that she needed someone with a plan. This was, sort of, Celeste's point when she set up the awkward confrontation with Peter ("Oh, Alicia Florrick, huh. Well, she works with Will, she's married to you, that must be quite an arrangement. Discuss."): Will hasn't even met the children yet. His old self wouldn't have wanted anything to do with something so serious (and neither does Celeste), but Will is struggling against the notion that he is still that person he once was, and he even tells Celeste that he didn't like BEING that person when he was that person. (and his little insight about "someone has to work" is also a meaningful insight into how the recession happened in the first place, I think). But when he makes his decision in the end and goes to talk to Alicia about the "love you" incident, she doesn't want to talk about it because she seems quite comfortable with the idea that their arrangement isn't serious. Someone's gonna get hurt!
Will: Do you think we should talk?
Alicia: No, I don't actually.
Will: You don't?
Will: You're sure?
Alicia: I'm so sure, I've never been so sure.
Will: I'm not interested in anyone else.
Alicia: Will. You're talking about it.
Cary is trailed by a new character who is there to make sure that his plea bargains don't benefit white people more than people of colour. She saves his ass via name-dropping but eventually the client's innocence is proven when Kalinda figures out that the eye-witness was the killer.
Kalinda worked on Alicia's case, but they never communicated directly (Kalinda mostly talked to the other lawyers involved, whenever she was in the same room, it was back to the old angry glances and stuff.
Eli: I feel like you're cheating on me.
Kalinda: Only for money.
Eli: You think that makes it better? Between WIll and Diane, who holds more power?
Kalinda: It's equal.
Eli: It's never equal.
This scene was central because Kalinda enjoyed discussing the office politics (because, not unlike Eli, she IS interested in hierarchy and she does know what buttons to push to get results) - until he mentions Alicia, which is when Archie Panjabi does this amazing thing with her face, making Kalinda vulnerable all of a sudden but still trying desperately to hide it.
Eli: Alicia, where does she stand in all of this. ... yes?Diane tries to tell legal aid that the firm needs to stop providing pro bono work, the guy there tells her they are about to lose their office space and says the magic words ("Eventually someone steps up"), because Diane has always seen herself as the person who steps up when it is really necessary (this also one of the answers to Eli's question: the firm is at its best when Will's realism and Diane's idealism are balanced, when they discuss what needs to be done, make compromises, and see each other's point of view). Diane decides that they will be the one firm that steps up ("I don't wanna be careful anymore. I don't wanna count every penny and worry more about failing than doing what's right.") and Will agrees, because he too has just made a decision about who he wants to be.
Kalinda: She's only a third year associate, but yes, she matters.
Alicia: Because of her husband.
Kalinda: Various reasons. She can persuade people.
Alicia: People as in...Will.
Kalinda: What are you looking for, Eli?
Eli: The hierarchy. Usually i can figure it out but this place is like a mom and pop store.
Kalinda: It's all Will and Diane. If you wanna persuade Diane, you persuade David Lee. If you wanna persuade Will, you persuade Alicia.
GUILT IS FOR THE WEAK!
YOU SHOULD HAVE BROKEN UP ON THE PHONE!