'The Good Wife' Review: 'The Decision Tree'
Welcome to the 100th episode of The Good Wife. It's somehow fitting that the show celebrates this milestone in the middle of a season where it's firing on all cylinders. And since this is also the midseason finale, it's really the perfect time for all the fireworks to come out.
When Kalinda tails loose cannon Damian (Jason O'Mara) to Florrick/Agos, that puts a seed of doubt in Will's mind. But Damian is just showing up for a meeting that David Lee was supposed to be at. He presents Alicia with her exit contract, which will officially sever her ties with Lockhart/Gardner, but then she leaves him unattended to handle an issue with her firm's holiday party. Cary wants Alicia to invite Peter to attract a bigger crowd, which she thinks is a bad idea, but Peter is perfectly fine with, as long as his mother gets to come, too. Because everyone loves having their mother-in-law around, right? Soon, Jackie is having an uncomfortable conversation with Alicia's mom (Stockard Channing), who wants to know why she wasn't notified.
As if that's not enough drama, Clarke (Nathan Lane) interrupts to tell Alicia that her former client Matthew Ashbaugh (Fringe's John Noble, in delightful flashbacks) has died and left her twelve million dollars. His wife (Kate Hodge from Level 9) is not happy about that, and who do you think she hires to contest the will? Even when it means bringing a call girl hired by her husband as a witness? That's not even the most awkward part: both sides are willing to put Alicia and Will's past affair on the table in order to win.
Now, we're really ready to move on past that, but if we've got to go to that well again, this is a pretty entertaining way to do it. Will's drinking while preparing his questions for his ex-girlfriend, and having uncomfortable flashbacks to when she wasn't his ex, turning the whole exercise into a vicious dissection of their short-lived relationship. The dude clearly has some unfinished business, and it's perfectly wrought in a thirty-second stretch that doesn't even involve dialogue, which is followed by the gut punch of Will attacking Alicia on the witness stand in his head. If you needed any more proof that Josh Charles deserves an Emmy, you just got it. And our heartstrings have just been ripped out.
The next day, after Will reluctantly proceeds with his plan to skewer Alicia, she surprises him by implicating David. That evening, he awkwardly calls Alicia and reveals to her that they discovered a safe deposit box that contained four other wills. Basically, this is something Ashbaugh did for fun. That means all the wills are going to be invalidated, and nobody is going to win anything. So, they've torn into each other for no reason, which at least Will seems to regret.
Meanwhile, Eli is baffled by pretty much everyone, which amuses us to no end. And Kalinda gets hit on by Damian just before she's arrested by a detective (Jordana Spiro, My Boys) that he just happens to be friendly with. Then they end up sleeping together. There's your romantic drama, if you were missing it.
By the time we actually get to the much-ballyhooed holiday party, Peter has invited Donna Brazile (playing herself), and Eli thinks "we have lost all shards of sanity." Plus, drug dealer Lemond Bishop has appeared, because Robyn thought Alicia wanted to court him as a client. The mothers are arguing. And Marilyn tells Alicia's mom that she's naming her baby after Peter, causing Eli to spit. Does anyone else wonder if he keeps bulk quantities of Advil in his office?
Landmark episodes such as this don't always shine. Too often, they become too full of pomp and circumstance, or efforts to do something big for the sake of doing it. That's what makes this installment of The Good Wife such a joy to behold. It's just a damn fine episode for the sake of being a damn fine episode. The subplots are entertaining, particularly Eli once again struggling to keep everyone under control, but at its core, this is letting a trio of wonderful actors - Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles, and even though he's in the past tense, John Noble - do what we already know they do so well. All their characters go through a variety of emotions in the hour, and they take us along with them.
It stands as a reminder that to make good television, you don't need a gimmick, a high concept, or even some twisty plot; just come up with some quality writing (courtesy of co-creators Robert and Michelle King), hand it over to veteran actors at the top of their game, and let the magic happen. When most shows start to flag, this is one that's picking up steam. We can't wait to see what the next hundred episodes have in store.
The Good Wife will be back with new episodes beginning January 5. If you missed it this morning, you can check out our interview with Mike Colter about the return of Lemond Bishop.