Sometimes the race goes neither to the swift nor the strong–but the one with the best connections. As Alicia learns to her chagrin in “Marthas and Caitlins,” it pays to have friends in high places.

Besides that teachable moment, we also see the return of one of The Good Wife’s best villains ever. And as one famous Martha always says, that’s a good thing.

The Case in Evidence

On the face of it, this week’s case–about a deadly plane crash that killed all 40 aboard–might have promised some courtroom fireworks. But this is one of TGW’s periodic episodes where the case itself takes a backseat to the behind-the-scenes conflict.

The real action kicks off when Lockhart-Gardner’s star witness, a whistle-blower from the jet manufacturer, kills himself before he can testify. Diane (representing the families of the passengers) and guest co-counsel Celeste (representing the crew’s families) try to submit the dead man’s video deposition into trial, but the defense protests. (There’s a blink-and-you-missed-him cameo by David Conrad as the judge.)

What to do? Some sleuthing by Kalinda reveals there’s another potential witness to the manufacturer’s problems. Unfortunately, that witness is none other than the notorious Colin Sweeney, the wife murderer so memorably played by Dylan Baker in two previous episodes. (Sweeney was the financier for the company’s IPO, so he heard several discussions about faulty wing de-icing equipment.)

Sweeney originally agrees to testify–mostly as a favor to Alicia, whom Diane sends into the prison to sweet-talk him. (Yes, Celeste makes a Clarice Starling crack.) But then Sweeney changes his mind: He wants to trade his testimony for his freedom.

Cary only agrees to the deal if Sweeney will first wear a wire in prison to get the goods on a neo-Nazi who orchestrates hits on people on the outside. Alicia’s against it–she’s worried that the murderer, Pike, will kill “her” murderer, Sweeney. But, while wearing a wire, Sweeney cleverly convinces Pike that he wants his old business partner taken out. How does he know if Pike is capable of getting it done? The neo-Nazi’s ego and greed get the better of him, as he brags about contracting hits from inside.

Sweeney gets his release, heads to court, and testifies against the aerospace company. Because this is one of “those” episodes, we don’t even see the outcome in court. We later learn–almost as an afterthought–that the manufacturer offered to settle with the families.

A Change of Venue

Interestingly, the original title of “Marthas and Caitlins” was advertised as “Colin Sweeney Agonistes”–implying that Sweeney is wrestling with internal struggles. But apparently the producers thought better of it. After all, Sweeney doesn’t suffer over his crimes; he’s a sociopath who just wants to cut his sentence short. The real suffering takes place in Alicia’s head. Besides having to deal with Sweeney again, office politics deal a blow to her self-respect.

It doesn’t start out that way. She’s given the seemingly plum assignment of hiring–and then mentoring–a first-year associate. She’s thrilled, taking the responsibility very seriously. Her top choice, the titular Martha, seems perfect. But partner David Lee makes it clear she’d better hire her second-place finisher, Caitlin. Oh, by the way, she’s my niece, he tells a stunned Alicia.

When she moves ahead to hire Martha anyway, David gets the hiring committee to choose Caitlin, putting Alicia firmly in her place. A humiliated Alicia demands that Will tell her why they went through the charade of putting her in charge. Will says it wasn’t a charade–David made a plea to the hiring committee, and they voted for Caitlin over Martha. And he voted for Caitlin, too, because he owed David a favor. She forces him to explain.

She’s stunned to discover the favor was … her own hiring. Three years before, Alicia was the “Caitlin” to another candidate’s “Martha.” Will asked David to back him then–hence, the favor he owed the other man.

He reassures her that, as with her, everything will turn out all right. “Sometimes Caitlins surprise you,” he says.

Legal Briefs

  • Keynote or Bust. Eli maneuvers to get Peter a keynote address at the upcoming Democratic convention as a way of promoting his candidacy for governor. Getting to that point requires digging up dirt on a possible opponent and then promising guest star (and real-life political bigwig) Donna Brazile that Peter’s marriage is solid. A skeptical Brazile says she’ll think about it.
  • Grace Note. Alicia has a run-in with Grace about her tutor, Jennifer. She’s okay with the tutoring, not so much with the street videos the young woman has been making with Grace. The tearful teen accuses her mom of breaking up her only friendship, so Alicia offers to rethink the situation. I still think that this is setting up something bigger, otherwise why bother?
  • Top Notes. Speaking of being friendless: Alicia confesses to Celeste–with whom she spends much of the episode–that she has no friends, male or female. (She doesn’t mention her broken relationship with Kalinda.) For a moment, it seems that Celeste and Alicia could actually be pals. As they work on the Sweeney release, they start to bond, even though the specter of Will stands between them. Celeste tries to warn Alicia off herself and Will by saying that “we’ll both disappoint you.” But after Will tells Alicia about her hiring, is Alicia looking wistfully at Celeste? Could Celeste’s new firm hold an attraction for our heroine?

Summary Judgment

Though not in the top tier of TGW episodes, “Marthas and Caitlins” had its distinct pleasures. To name a few: The scene in the prison yard as Sweeney approaches Pike, which was as tense as any good cop show. Alicia and Celeste bonding over work, men, and friendship. (It figures that it took until the great Lisa Edelstein’s final appearance–for now, anyway–to make me enjoy Celeste.) Sweeney’s bantering with Alicia as he tries to make her like him.

Most important: Alicia’s realization that she’s only at L-G because Will called in a favor. Once again, her idealism takes a blow. But if we know our Alicia, she’ll use this knowledge to grow a little wiser. Because as she’s proven over and over at the lawfirm, sometimes Caitlins can surprise you.

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV