Tuesday 6 December 2011

Reaction Post - This is not about work, this is about what happens after work.

The Good Wife: 3x10 Parenting Made Easy.

This episode made me realize that the structure of this show fits the content perfectly. I assume that there is a group of viewers who watch The Good Wife for the cases-of-the-week, for the legal stuff, for the courtroom (and lately, investigative) drama - but I (and since I'm not a special little snow flake, let me pretend that I am not alone in this) watch mostly for the relationships - the cases are occasionally interesting on their own, but to me, their point is to reveal something new about the characters in how they deal with specific issues and clients and how they sometimes affect how the characters relate to each other - and sometimes, they just get in the way of things. You desperately want to see more conversations about feelings, more meaningful looks, more of those moments where a character makes a decision that is going to change, and instead you get a witty courtroom exchange on some legal technicality or Kalinda having a light-bulb-moment of finding decisive evidence or whatever, and the great emotional moment has to wait another week or maybe month or maybe it won't come until the season finale or whatever. BUT that's exactly how the characters feel, too! A relationship affects how well someone can do their job, the job affects how much time that person can spend with their family, family affects that relationship. The show makes choices about pacing the relationship-stuff and balancing the character development with the requirements of a procedural, and the characters decide what their priorities are. And then an episode like Parenting Made Easy comes along after nine episodes of quiet and subtle and glacial changes, and to me it felt like a breath of fresh air to see this one horrible thing cut through all the existing conflicts and alliances and priorities, and finally facilitate some of these radical changes (that, despite shippery shock and outrage, really have been a long time coming). It's an interesting episode on the meta level too, because it seems (and was promoted as) exactly the kind of ridiculous half-season stunt shows pull to gain a wider audience (there was even a parade of beloved guest stars returning!) and then it took about thirty minutes for the shocking! moment to arrive and it was resolved quickly and remarkably anti-climatically. 
I liked the way the show introduced all those tiny bits of information that contributed to Alicia's reaction when Grace went missing. All on its own, Grace calling 12 times unsuccessfully and not being reachable on her phone wouldn't have had such an impact - and Alicia probably would have waited longer than an hour before starting the massive machine at her disposal (where other families would have to wait 24 hours, Alicia has the SA office, a super heroic private investigator and the limousine driver of the opposing lawyer!) - but then there is the fact that the white supremacist she helped keep in prison via Colin Sweeney is having witnesses killed and might be out for revenge, there's the fact that she spends her day dealing with the fall-out of crimes, and that she's just spent a day with an eerie foreboding dream about Grace being abducted in her head (and that's how dreams sometimes work: you KNOW that taking them seriously is ridiculous, but there is still this strange wariness). All those elements, coupled with Alicia's general guilt for currently not spending as much time with her children as she should, lead to her assuming that the worst has happened (the moment when she quietly whispered "please don't let it happen" to herself...). 
Grace disappeared off the face of the earth for an hour to get baptised while butt-dialling her mum twelve times and the world stopped to find her - and never mind everything else that happened in the episode, because the best thing about it was how Kalinda got involved. Of course perceptive Kalinda who ALWAYS looks out for Alicia notices what is going on without being told. She overhears Zach's frantic conversations with his mum over the phone, and she steps in, the same way that Peter drops everything the moment he hears that his daughter might be in danger, the same way that Louis Canning, who also has kids, forgets about the case and offers to help Alicia when he finds out that Grace is missing. It's instinctual, in Kalinda's case (Will asks her if she has a second - and she simply walks by him, "no"). Previously, Caitlin called Kalinda to help with their case without asking Alicia first and we were treated to another frosty exchange just so that we could go into this whole thing knowing that nothing between Alicia and Kalinda has changed, that Alicia is still avoiding Kalinda at all costs, even if it means maybe not having all the necessary information to help a client. I also think that Kalinda would have been Alicia's first call after informing Peter if things were any different (and... I actually thought she would call Kalinda at some point despite of what happened, simply because Alicia knows that there is nobody more qualified to find Grace - I mean, she is the person you'd have on speed-dial in case of a zombie apocalypse, isn't she?). But Alicia didn't, so Kalinda did everything completely alone, one step ahead of the police (her entire success really depended on that one question nobody else asked Grace's friend - does she ever talk to people on the internet?). And when she found Grace and delivered her, she remained in the elevator (elevators!) and told Grace not to mention to Alicia that she was the one who found her (she literally says "I'm fine" to Grace's "But my mom will want to thank you"), because Kalinda didn't do any of this to get back into Alicia's good graces, to score points, to atone for her sins - she CARED, so she helped the best that she could, and the best that Kalinda can do is, like, be a superhero. 

There is actually a really great conversation between Alicia and Grace in this episode - sadly hidden between a conversation about Leviticus and picking and choosing (that carries into the court room the next day) and getting baptised while her parents think she is getting murdered by a supremacist: 
Grace: Is it about Will? Zach said he met him in the office.
Alicia: No, it's not about Will. Grace, I'm sorry it's been such a hard year. Are you good?
Grace: Yeah, I just wanna make sure that you are.
Alicia: I am. I am. There's just too many distraction right now, that's all.
Grace: Get rid of them.
Alicia: Okay. I will. 
I actually like Grace and I always find this specific kind of criticism that is usually aimed at (mostly female) characters of her age questionable - what, you say, she is self-involved, has strange interests and occasionally behaves as if she were the most important person on the planet? That pretty much sounds like every single one of my friends (and yeah, me) between 13 and 17. The conversation was a reminder that Grace isn't ignorant of things going on in other people's lives (Zach is just currently in a better position, information-gathering-wise, since he apparently runs the IT department at L/G now, genius hacker that he is). Her advice is sound too: figure out what's important, and if there are things that are mutually exclusive, get rid of stuff that is less important. The episode offers Alicia more than one option, too: Louis tells her she could always work for him and be home in time to spend time with her kids. She could always have that one essential conversation with Kalinda (really, I think not talking to Kalinda and therefore talking to absolutely NO ONE about her issues is currently Alicia's core problem). Or... she could really cut the Gordian Knot, break up with Will (she almost tells Grace about Will, but stops herself), make all the issues with Diane go away, and the looming scandal, and the things she can't tell anyone. There is an intentional compare and contrast between the moment Alicia and Peter share when Grace returns safely and Alicia alone in her bedroom, staring at a piece of lingerie (that is meant to symbolize her mostly sexual relationship with Will). She doesn't even know about the investigation when she makes the decision - and it's that old timing-problem again, the one that has been haunting Will and Alicia since they first started. Will goes into the conversation troubled because he has come to the conclusion that he is willing to commit (Kalinda told him to just figure out what he wants and get it - and he did, and tries), and Alicia goes into it knowing that she will break up with him. I'm guessing that's not the last of it. Diane thinks that Will broke up with Alicia - "You did the right thing. she'll get over it." She will. Will maybe won't. 
  • The case of the week featured Caitlin's first foray into the court room except it was only meant to be a minor arbitration hearing - until Martha, the ultimate holder of grudges (I bet Alicia is happy she didn't hire her now! See, Alicia, sometimes nepotism isn't all that bad!), arrived, meaning to showcase how much better an employee she might have been, at least until things got even more complicated and the case became a debate about whether hate speech is no longer hate speech when it is motivated by religion, and Martha's boss turned out to be Michael J. Fox' awesome Louis Canning, who, spoiler!, never really loses, ever. It's nicer to see him win when the victim of his questionable morals (well, he did wait until Grace was safe, so...) is a religiously motivated homophobe (The Good Wife enjoys casting well-known people in roles that are the radically different from their fame-making characters - this week, Jennifer Carpenter didn't say "fuck" once!). 
  • "Well. She sure is blonde. Pretty hair."
  • "Remember when I told you to just give a solid performance? Forget it. Kick ass."
  • Also, just to be clear: I do kind of feel like eye-rolling at TGW a bit for making the whole "oh look, the blonde girl isn't incompetent" story a thing. Nobody thought so! The gross aspect of the episode was how David Lee got her the job and merit never really was an issue in the whole process, regardless of whether she was qualified or not.
  • Kalinda is helping Will with the investigation he already knows is now all about him, and he subtly asks her to find out if it would go away if he broke up with Alicia - after having a conversation with Diane in which she basically told him to break it off, and not just for his own good since it also affects her life and the firm. 
  • I also really like Kalinda's wording of the question: "If you stopped being close with Alicia, would that change things?". If this were about anyone else, she wouldn't hold back. 
  • Peter, about the investigation: "You've been giving the steering wheel, but I still put the gas in the car." I guess that answers the question of how involved he is. Wendy Scott-Carr thinks that his concern is going too lightly on the firm... 
  • Things you shouldn't say when accused of sexually harassing a co-worker: "I'm a tactile person". 
  • Eli spends the episode staring at ceilings and walls (he also provides a fitting metaphor for what's going on at L/G: "you have a small hairline crack right here, I think there's a hole in your air duct insulation." - and Diane tells him to play nice so that other lawyers will send their clients his way. He tries with Will, who asks for a favour back - he wants Eli to find out why Peter is investigating him personally. 
  • More awesome symbolism humour: Wendy Scott-Carr gets Cary's cool investigator friend into the game (the guy who knows all about Leela - I wonder how that will play into future episodes), and his daughter circles Will with her tricycle on the court (where presumably most of Will's dealings take place) while he talks to him. 
  • Making videos of yourself with your age-inappropriate friend and finding god via youtube: Grace can do it all, Alicia! Because if there is one thing that can be said about this generation of children, it's that they are really good at multitasking.
  • What is Dana's deal? I like her because there probably aren't that many people who could hold their own the way she does in that little game she is playing, and Monica Raymund is brilliant in the role, but I do not understand her motivation, her end game, her feelings for either Cary or Kalinda, and it's going to be hard actually caring about her character if she remains so utterly unreadable (and this is odd too, because this is basically who Kalinda used to be, just that Kalinda chose to become less of an enigma through her relationship with Alicia). 
Dana: You haven't slept with Cary, have you.
Kalinda: You talk a lot about sex.
Dana: Oh, I find it interesting, don't you? Cary talks about you during sex.
Kalinda: Really.
Dana: Yeah. wanna know what he says?
Kalinda: I think you want me to know what he says.
Dana: I could go either way.
Kalinda: Yeah you could. You flirt with everyone.
Dana: It's a personal failing. We seem to share that.
Kalinda: No we don't. When I flirt, I follow through. 
In the beginning of the season, I was pretty convinced that the writers and producers of the show had the opposite opinion of Cary and Kalinda, that the show was heading towards a completely different relationship between the two than this messy, awful thing that has been developing ever since Dana appeared. I have grown to like Cary, but... and this is difficult to articulate, because it is an emotional reaction to his character more than anything else - I feel like they are horribly mis-matched, Cary because he wants something out of this relationship that he isn't going to get, and Kalinda because the way Cary is trying to strip away her defences is too intrusive and can't work unless everything we have previously learned about her is wrong. I am genuinely starting to wonder how dark this storyline will be allowed to get (and "I think you want me to know what he says" - already pretty fucked up). 

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