Matthew Goode as Finn Polmar and Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrickin the season premiere of ‘The Good Wife.’

Image: David Giesbrecht/CBS
By Nora Grenfell2014-09-22 05:00:42 UTC

Last season, The Good Wife pulled off some of the most dramatic shifts ever seen on network television, but the Season 6 opener proves that this show is not done putting its characters through the wringer and is still capable of producing some of the best television on network or cable. [Spoilers ahead]

Season 5 of The Good Wife — one of its best — divided into four arcs: espionage, outright corporate war, tragedy and aftershock. At the conclusion, Alicia found herself still ungrounded in the wake of Will’s death, Diane was plotting an exodus to Florrick/Agos and Cary (Matt Czuchry) wasn’t happy about Diane joining the firm he worked so hard to build beyond Lockhart/Gardner’s shadow.

In the opening moments of this breakneck premiere, it feels like we’re back in the early part of last season. Eli is scheming to get Alicia to run for State’s Attorney and Cary is still bristling about Diane joining the firm. Then, about two minutes in, Cary is thrown to the ground by two police officers and the episode spins into new territory.

Juliana Margulies may be the only Good Wife actor minted with an Emmy this year for her performance, but here, Czuchry’s Cary is given the most to do. As we move through the episode with Cary, his confidence and his freedom are stripped away. We feel his pain and confusion as he is led through a Kafka-esque maze after his arrest, unsure of what charges have led to his arrest.

Cary eventually learns that his arrest is tied to Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter), Florrick/Agos’ most notorious client, and yet another entry in The Good Wife‘s arsenal of fantastic guest stars.

Colter’s portrayal of the Chicago drug lord is simultaneously charismatic and terrifying. Even as we see him threaten to cut off Cary’s finger this episode, we also get a glimpse of Lemond Bishop as a devoted father picking up his son from school. In addition to being a kingpin and a father, Lemond Bishop is a valuable prize to the State’s Attorney’s office, one for which they are willing to dehumanize an affluent lawyer.

At one point, an exposition-heavy guard tells Cary that the line running down the jail’s hallways separates the “people” from the “scum.” Throughout the episode, we see Cary, who insists on his sixth amendment rights in the pre-credits opening, turn into a man who wordlessly suffers his hand being sliced open in a jail cell by the end of the episode. He has accepted his place on the other side of the line — invisible even to Kalinda in the episode’s final moments.

While Cary’s crucible propels the episode, dividing lines abound for all this week’s players. Alicia and ASA Finn Polmar — allies, friends and potential love interests — are separated by their positions as prosecutor and defense attorney; Diane has stepped over the line dividing Florrick/Agos and Lockhart/Gardner; Alicia may finally step over the line into politics.


Alan Cumming as Eli Gold in the season premiere of ‘The Good Wife.’

Image: Jeff Neumann

This episode belongs to Cary and Alicia, but The Good Wife keeps several other plots spinning. In addition to rocking some great necklaces and defending Cary in court, Diane is trying to covertly abscond from Lockhart/Gardner with her top clients, but Louis Canning and David Lee are worthy adversaries and this showdown is going to be a thrill to watch play out.

Meanwhile, Eli is trying his best to convince Alicia to run for office and keep Peter’s interns wearing underwear, neither successfully. This episode was jam-packed with plotlines, and though Peter’s can tend towards the cliché, Eli’s energy — and his repeated utterance of the word “panties” — was enough to sustain interest when our attentions were shifted to the Governor’s office

Though The Good Wife has always been superb at taking on technology (no other show has so intelligently tackled Bitcoin, the Silk Road, search engines and the NSA), this episode returns to a more 20th century topic: the war on drugs. After raising thought-provoking questions last season about government surveillance, this episode opened the door to ask some tough questions about the government’s execution of justice in service of prosecuting drug crimes.

Last season, it was State’s Attorney James Castro’s harsh methods of intimidating defendants on trial that contributed to the events around Will Gardner’s mid-season death. Castro lurks menacingly in the background of the episode’s climax, exacting the same methods of brutal pressure on Cary. The Good Wife is making a habit of placing its leading men in harm’s way.

“The Line” opened with Eli insisting to Alicia that they need a woman to fill the State’s Attorney’s chair. In antagonizing Cary, Castro may have just given Alicia the incentive she needs to step into the ring and defeat him.

It’s not just Eli drawing attention to Alicia’s female edge this episode — almost everyone is reminding her about it. Diane wants to helm the largest female-led firm in the country with her and Cook County polling reveals that every woman loves her: liberals and conservatives; the old and young.

Six seasons ago, some may have seen Alicia’s gender as a weakness. She enters the fray this year bearing her gender as an unquestionable strength.

What grade would you give the season premiere of ‘The Good Wife’?

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