While most network shows have already gone into “fall finale” mode — creating a post-Thanksgiving programming lull — you can still be thankful for The Good Wife. For some of you, this week’s major plot development probably brought you an early Chrismukkah present.

When Alicia has to make a painful choice between enjoying her personal life and keeping her household on an even keel, she chooses home. That means, not counting the season finale last year, we got exactly 10 episodes of Will and Alicia’s affair. You certainly can’t accuse TGW’s producers of dragging out this particular plotline.

The Case in Evidence

This week’s case isn’t a courtroom battle at all, but rather an arbitration involving a college professor’s wrongful dismissal. Alicia has asked young Caitlin to handle it, since it has a cap of $35,000 in damages, so “it’s a good place for you to get your feet wet.” Caitlin’s nervous, and Alicia reassures her that she’ll do well.

But guess who’s facing her across the table? None other than Martha, the woman that Alicia had wanted to hire instead of Caitlin. Alicia tries to be gracious to her, but Martha’s continuing bitterness at not getting the Lockhart-Gardner job is evident.

A professor (played by Dexter‘s Jennifer Carpenter, guest-starring in the same timeslot as a new episode of her regular show) claims that she was dismissed by her college’s provost for refusing his sexual advances. But over time, we learn that she may have been canned for having right-wing political views, which raises the stakes to the level of a civil rights case.

The provost says he didn’t care about her views–she was argumentative and disruptive. A complex back-and-forth ensues, including questions about whether she’s “allowed” to have intolerant opinions, including anti-gay ones, because of her religious beliefs. Just as it looks like Caitlin and Alicia will win on religious-freedom grounds, we learn that the professor purposely hid her beliefs so that she could be accepted within her department. If the provost wasn’t aware that she’s religious, then he can’t be faulted for not upholding her right to her beliefs, whatever they are.

What makes the loss all the more painful for is the identity of Martha’s new boss–Louis Canning, the crafty attorney played by the always-welcome Michael J. Fox. Both Alicia and Louis get deeply involved in the arbitration, frequently taking the lead over their respective “children,” Caitlin and Martha.

Disorder in the Court

But the episode title “Parenting Made Easy” doesn’t pertain solely to the figurative children of experienced attorneys. Alicia is feeling more and more torn between balancing her work, home, and love lives. When she apologizes to Grace for being distracted over the last year, the girl recommends that her mother get rid of some of the distractions–and Alicia agrees.

Things come to a head when Grace doesn’t come straight from school and hasn’t left a message. After being unable to find their daughter, Alicia turns to Peter for help. He calls in a favor with the chief of police and a manhunt (teenhunt?) begins.

Kalinda, working with information from Zach, manages to track Grace’s cell phone to its last location. She finds the girl at a Methodist church on the rough side of town. But she’s not buying drugs, as Kalinda had suspected, but getting baptized by the hunky guy from the Christian website she’s always visiting. (There’s that religion thing again!)

When Kalinda returns Grace home safely, the family–Peter included–embraces tearfully. Will, drawn to the apartment by Alicia’s obvious panic, spies the cozy scene and backs away, unseen.

(Former) Friend of the Court

The Grace-is-missing-but-not-really incident forces Alicia to rethink her priorities, as does an offer from Canning to join his firm. He admits that some of their tactics are cut-throat, but at least it’s family-friendly. He tells her that Will and Diane don’t understand the commitment involved in having children. At his firm, she could even telecommute, making it easier to be there for her kids.

She turns him down, but he forces her to mull over her situation even more. When she returns to the office, she approaches Will–unaware that he’s been reflecting deeply as well, speculating about the possibility of making a commitment to Alicia if she wants one.

Alicia is all sadness. “Will–I can’t–it’s too much,” she says. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m going to miss you.” She begins to cry; they hug, and she turns to go. Diane sees it from her office, unaware that Alicia was the one brave enough to make the break, not Will.

Diane brings him a drink. “You did the right thing,” she says. “She’ll get over it.”

“Yes,” he agrees, “She will.” But will he?

Legal Briefs

Also percolating in the background this week:

  • The corruption investigation into Lockhart-Gardner continues, with Wendy Scott-Carr convinced it will take big bucks and at least a year. Peter advises her to live within her means, budget-wise. When she asks Cary to find her an inexpensive private investigator, Dana suggests Andrew Wiley, who has helped them before. The wily Wiley all but accuses Will of using his basketball-court friendships with local judges to win cases.
  • In a somewhat related subplot, we learn that Eli has been so intent on going it alone in his political advisory practice that no one at L-G will work with him. Diane urges him to walk around, chat people up, be a team player. And although Will is resistant to Eli’s overtures at first, he finally offers to help Eli land clients if he’ll poke at Peter for information on the investigation.

Summary Judgment

Compelling episode, with some classic Good Wife elements on full display and none of the odd tonal shifts of the last one. Take the big breakup, for example. On most shows, you might witness yelling, begging, wild weeping, or anything in between. It’s typical of The Good Wife that the show delivered this pivotal moment in a muted fashion. The main emotion on display was melancholy, not hysteria–and the scene was all the more powerful for the low-key treatment.

I also enjoyed the arbitration with its twists and turns. I especially liked seeing the underestimated Caitlin–at first a jittery mess, but ultimately a real fighter–take on the still-bitter Martha. Plus, Dexter‘s Deb as a Tea Party member? Nice.

What do you think? Did you welcome the breakup? Does this open the door for Peter to return to the Florrick household? Will Alicia and Will manage to stay apart? Should Alicia rethink Louis Canning’s offer to join his firm? Is parenting ever easy?

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Photo AlbumThe Good Wife – 3.10 – “Parenting Made Easy”

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV