Talk about for better or for worse.
After her powerful state politician husband, Peter, is thrown in jail on corruption charges and caught in a tawdry sex scandal, Alicia Florrick reboots her life as a defense lawyer and single mom. It's easier said than done. Alicia must battle the shame that came with her husband's personal failings and political missteps, the pain of losing friends, the heartache that comes from watching her children undergo a humiliation they never asked for and don't deserve—all while re-learning a career she left behind oh-so-many years ago.
She proves to still be pretty good at it. The Good Wife showcases a confident and talented Alicia, winning cases for her clients even as she navigates the often murky ethics of this made-for-television justice system. She's well respected by the firm's take-no-prisoners leaders, Will Gardner and Diane Lockhart, and even her adversaries.
By CBS' standards, The Good Wife is top of the line, roping in solid ratings and getting itself nominated for a bevy of Emmys year after year. But from an ethical standpoint, like many of the clients Alicia defends, it's down a few rungs from that.
Alicia is still technically married to Peter—now out of jail and back in his old job. But the two are separated now, and Alicia's affair with Will is not-so-ancient history. Still, she and Peter try to do right by each other and for their children (not the easiest thing to do under such circumstances).
Content concerns vary wildly. Some episodes are fairly staid. Others revolve around ticklish moral issues, gory crime scenes and/or burgeoning, outside-the-office sexual relationships. Kalinda Sharma, the firm's investigator, is bisexual, and her dalliances with lovers—including Peter—often make their way into plotlines. Characters utter mild profanities and make sexual references.
But it's the show's ethos that is most consistently problematic. Alicia's high-priced law firm is paid to get its often well-heeled clients off the hook, and its attorneys will do nearly anything to keep that reputation intact—sometimes breaking the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. The district attorney's office seems little better. In The Good Wife, justice is regularly served in spite of the legal system, not because of it.
Clearly, outside Alicia, the lawyers here are not to be taken as paragons of virtue. And the legal system we see in The Good Wife is fraught with ethical conundrums that seem intended to inspire deeper thought and dialogue—not to be excused or forgotten. But it does make the show a bit prickly to pick through. And for those who treat the series as watch-enjoy-and-forget-it television, the stories' complexity can fade under a gauzy film of legal showmanship.
In one episode, Will tries to get his client to cop a plea—and in so doing, send the client's girlfriend to prison. He asks Alicia whether he's making a mistake or not.
"I can't tell what's a mistake anymore," Alicia responds. And therein lies the danger of The Good Wife. With so much legal wrangling, subterfuge and shady dealing, it's easy to lose sight of what's up and what's down. It's easy to forget what's right and applaud instead what's clever.
"Battle of the Proxies"
In Chicago, Will defends a client in a horrific murder trial. Meanwhile, in a nearby county, another man is being tried for the same murder, and Alicia feeds the prosecution in that case choice bits of information. She struggles with her obligation to defend a man whom she learns is guilty.
When Alicia discovers that a search for condoms was done on her computer, she quizzes teenage son Zach, who says it wasn't him (and that he would know to clear his browser history if it was). Then she asks daughter Grace, who recently started dating someone. "And he's a Christian too?" Alicia asks, referencing Grace's faith. Grace insists she's being a "good girl." But later, in the privacy of her own room and at her own computer, she begins typing in the search word sex.
Kalinda's shady ex-husband appears to threaten Alicia. And Kalinda hits one of his henchmen with a car, knocking a gun out of his hand. She uses the gun to open a car trunk and discovers a cache of drugs. There's the suggestion that Kalinda might then kill her ex.
We see pictures of a bloody baseball bat and a murdered woman who is facedown on the ground, garbed only in panties. We hear "h‑‑‑" four or five times, and God's name misused two or three. Lawyers buy and quaff drinks.
"Blue Ribbon Panel"
Alicia is drafted to serve on a panel examining the police shooting of a civilian. While most panelists want just a cursory hearing to clear the police officer's name, Alicia digs into the facts to try to uncover the truth. But when some of those facts lead uncomfortably close to Peter, Alicia steps down. A prayer is said before the blue ribbon hearing begins—one in which Alicia conspicuously does not take part. But a pastor on the panel sides with Alicia in trying to uncover what really happened, graciously ceding his own questioning time to Alicia.
A female FBI agent looks into Kalinda's business affairs—with an entirely different kind of "affair" in mind. She even goes so far as to use her position of authority to coerce Kalinda into a relationship. To make a point, Kalinda goes to lunch with her, stroking the agent's hand and suggesting they get "intimate" right there. As she expects, the agent balks, embarrassed by the thought of being seen.
Racial issues are raised. A politician tries to protect an officer at the expense of the truth. There's a line about "dirty and sweaty" being a turn on. Someone asks about finding good Internet porn sites. Characters say "p‑‑‑" once and misuse God's name.
Alicia's firm defends a college student against a murder rap, encouraging him to turn against his pregnant girlfriend. Will tries to convince the boy that his girlfriend was having an affair, plopping down her phone records as "proof"—even though Will knows she was calling her ob-gyn. Will also tries to "lose" the murder weapon by telling an apparent street thug where it's at, hoping he'll take it. And in his mind, doing so is merely "on the line," ethically. For the record, Will's client eventually confesses to the murder—even though his girlfriend actually pulled the trigger—to keep her out of prison.
Owen comes to visit after cheating on his (male) lover. He has a conversation with their mother about his sexuality—touching on whether homosexuality is genetic or a choice. "If it's so good, they should be allowed to choose it, shouldn't they?" the mother says. Owen says fellated twice. His mother frets that Alicia's middle school-age daughter might be homosexual after she sees Grace holding hands with another girl.
Characters drink to excess. Will and his girlfriend kiss, and she says she wants to take his pants off. They joke about her having an affair. There's lots of lying and subterfuge. "D‑‑n" pops up, as do irreverent uses of God's name.
Alicia takes on a new client named Kenny—an aimless but harmless teen who's been charged with murder. But the case is trickier than it looks. For one thing, Kenny's buddy has turned into a prosecution witness, and he's now lying that he saw Kenny kill the guy. For another, Kenny's the son of one of Alicia's ex-best friends—a woman from the same wealthy neighborhood Alicia used to live in when Peter was the county's attorney general.
We see Kenny cart around a small bag of weed. And he's eventually charged with trespassing and possessing a drug, and he's sentenced to community service and mandatory drug counseling. The light treatment makes it seem like his drug use isn't that big of a deal—though when Alicia talks to the boy's father, he expresses his pained disappointment.
A smattering of profanity includes "h‑‑‑" and "a‑‑." God's name is misused. And someone makes an obscene gesture (out of the camera's focal range). A flashback shows Alicia and Peter in bed together; Alicia gouges a fingernail into the headboard during sex.