At some point in the life of a lawyer or cop show, you can expect to see a death-row story. The race to either free an innocent man or prove a wrongdoer’s guilt is a natural for hour-long dramas. (Heck, even Grey’s Anatomy covered the topic memorably a few years ago when Meredith witnessed the execution of a former patient.)

Few lawyer shows do the death-row story as well as this week’s The Good Wife, however. And not just because Barry Scheck, founder of The Innocence Project, makes a cameo appearance as himself (the political cameo being a TGW specialty). Mainly, it’s the nuanced way that characters examine what they believe in, what’s really important to them. And because TGW rarely goes for pat answers, you don’t even know till the last minute how it will come out. Will the man be executed?

The story takes place over the course of nine hours (also the episode’s title). It’s the amount of time the Lockhart-Gardner-Bond team has to stop the execution of Carter Wright, who has sat on death row for 10 years, found guilty for the arson death of his wife. His appeals have nearly run out, and Diane (looking exceptionally ninja-sleek in a severe black outfit) waits with the man to see if the firm’s last-ditch efforts will pay off.

One of the things that makes this episode work so well is the lack of political discourse on the death penalty. Even with the uber-liberal Diane on the case, the story instead unfolds as a near-real-time thriller. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions (though the presence of Scheck might be a tip-off as to the writers’ feelings).

Multiple cliffhangers include: Will Alicia be able to write an addendum to their appeal that causes a judge to halt the execution? Will Kalinda get an affidavit from the original arson investigator that says changes in arson science throw Wright’s guilt into doubt? Will the prison’s warden find a new supply of one of the drugs necessary for the lethal injection cocktail? Will Wright’s estranged daughter make it to the prison in time to see her father before he dies?

The answers: Yes, yes, yes, and no (though a sympathetic guard lets the daughter see her father as he’s transferred from his cell). The ultimate question is, of course: Does Carter Wright get a new trial? The answer: yes.

The case forces Alicia to reassess her life from several angles. After all, what are her problems compared to those of a man who has nine hours to live? “Life has been playing tricks on me lately, and I think it’s best not to take it too seriously,” she tells a concerned Kalinda.

But she has a lot to think about: What about Will, whom she had a hot dream about at the opening of the episode? Should she stick with Peter? Has she forgiven him for his infidelity? This same question rears its ugly head during Peter’s first live debate with Glenn Childs and Wendy Scott-Carr that same day. (Peter’s profane response about family-related queries brings the debate to a crashing halt, but we won’t see the aftermath till a later episode.)

At the show’s end, Zach and his friend Neesa congratulate Alicia on her victory. Zach tries to take advantage of Mom’s good mood by telling her he wants to get an ear pierced, just like Brad Pitt. And Mom, he’s serious! The notion of what “serious” means to one person versus another causes Alicia break into a rare laugh.

Lots of good dialogue this week, but hands down the best lines are Alicia’s, as she pleads her case over the phone to an appellate-court judge. If there’s a chance Wright is innocent, he might call a new trial. But the judge questions whether he should accept the word of the arson investigator. After all, he changed his testimony so easily.

“But he didn’t so easily change his mind,” she says. “He changed his mind in the face of a man’s innocence. [Pause.] So much of my day is working between right and wrong. But this has to be right. To do this to a man — it has to be right.”

After Alicia hangs up, Kalinda tells her simply, “You did good.” Alicia’s not so sure — but it turns out Kalinda was right. Alicia (and the rest of the legal team) did indeed do good.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV