It’s election time on The Good Wife again. But for Alicia Florrick, there’s even more at stake than whether she’ll be First Lady of Illinois. 

With a spectacular roster of guest stars, The Good Wife ushers out a stellar season 4 on a high note. Even better, it ends with a surprise move that I doubt most of us could have seen coming.

Night Court

In “What’s in the Box?” Zach’s back with his cellphone camera, just as in season 4’s premiere. This time, instead of catching a corrupt cop, he thinks he’s spotted election shenanigans while early-voting — possibly a stuffed ballot box. He brings his photo to his mom, thinking the Kresteva campaign’s out to steal the election. With polls showing a neck-and-neck race, Eli and Peter want their hour in court. They need every vote.

Armed with her son’s evidence, Alicia ends up in a late-night session with the eccentric Judge Abernathy (Denis O’Hare), who’s on call to handle election-related cases. Alicia stands up for Peter’s side, and none other than Patti Nyholm (Martha Plimpton, who won an Emmy in this role last year) represents the Kresteva campaign.

Will and Diane quickly join Alicia. The threesome take turns trying to prove Kresteva’s people tampered with the box in question. Patti — with two of her babies in tow, naturally — does her best to make Zach seem like a troublemaker with authority issues. (Kudos to Zach for keeping cool under fire.)

The judge announces that he’s had the ballots counted. Surprise! Most of the 30,000 votes were cast for Peter, not Kresteva. Suddenly, the Lockhart & Gardner team sees no reason to worry about the ballots, and it’s Patti’s turn to ask the judge to rule on fraud. In a Bizarro World sequence, every poor witness has to troop back through the late-night proceedings. Now the lawyers ask the questions from the opposite angle, right down to Patti praising Zach for standing up to authority. (Plus, Oscar-winning cameo alert! That’s Estelle Parsons as a polling-place volunteer.)

But before the judge can rule, he says their proceedings must wait. A federal court must consider an injunction against the entire election. All the lawyers rush out of the room. 

Surprise Witness

In a special federal session, Judge Patricia “In My Opinion” Lessner (Ana Gasteyer), is hearing a third-party candidate’s request to throw out 800,000 early ballots. The man’s campaign manager turns out to be the scorned Jordan Karahalios (T.R. Knight). He claims a misprint on the ballot — leaving out the apostrophe on the name O’Dell — will cost his candidate valuable Irish votes. This time, Patti and the L&G team stand on the same side. They just want this case thrown out. 

New P.I. Robyn saves the day when she clues them in that Mr. “O’Dell” isn’t Irish at all — he’s Jewish and changed his name. Without an actual Irish heritage to impugn, the typo means nothing. Judge Lessner lets the ballots stand. Case closed in federal court. Everyone runs back down the hall to the state court.

More Kissing, More Talking

There’s more on Alicia’s mind than ballots, however. While waiting for Judge Abernathy to return from a break, an exhausted Ms. Florrick sits in Will’s car. She admits their recent (very hot) kiss reopened her feelings for him. As though reminding herself, she tells him, “I’m with Peter now, and I can’t figure my way out of this one.” 

They kiss again — and it’s another long and hot one. “Oh, God,” she says. “What do we do?” Suddenly, Diane knocks on the (now steamy) window, and they break apart. “When this night is over, we talk,” he says. When she says they can’t, he won’t take no for an answer. “To hell with the bad timing — we talk,” he says.

Back in court, Patti calls a new witness to the stand: Jordan. She gets him to admit that when he still worked for Peter, he and Eli talked about finding ways to “sweeten” the vote. Whether that meant actual fraud can’t be proven, but the judge decides to hold the votes back from the election totals, awaiting an appeal. Eli and Peter think this means it’s over.

At Peter’s Election Day hotel suite, Eli tells Alicia that if Peter loses, he’ll really need her. He loves her, he adds. (Do you think he senses something’s up with Alicia and Will?) Right now, though, she’s got other fish to fry. She wakes up a napping Zach and drags him back to court.

The boy testifies that Eli wasn’t the campaign manager when Jordan claims they discussed possible voter fraud. Despite Jordan’s protestations that Eli still worked as a consultant to the campaign at the time, that’s good enough for Judge Abernathy to reconsider his ruling. 

It’s Decision Time

There’s a slight problem with the votes, however. Kalinda digs up surveillance video from the polling place that shows who tampered with the box Zach saw. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Kresteva’s campaign — it was Peter’s! She shows Will the footage of Peter and Eli’s operative, Jim, toting the stuffed boxes into the building.

What’s a lovelorn lawyer to do? Will takes the evidence to Peter, who seems innocent of involvement in the scheme. In fact, Peter’s angry at Will for bringing him the video — and for pursuing his wife. Will reminds him that if the evidence of 30,000 fraudulent votes goes to the judge, he’ll lose. 

“Then I’ll lose,” Peter says. “This seems to be a lesson in mutual hypocrisy, which I’m not going to participate in. Do what you want. You want me to lose, show it to the judge. You want me to win, don’t. I’m not owning this decision.” He walks out, leaving the lovelorn lawyer to make his own choice.

That choice — bury it — becomes crucial when the judge announces that he’s reversing his earlier decision. The votes go into Peter’s win column.

And … he didn’t need them. That night, Eli and Peter watch in awe as the vote totals roll up, giving Peter the governorship by more than half a million votes. Bad polling data, apparently.

Cary On, My Wayward Son

Throughout the two days of “What’s in the Box?” Cary balances his time between helping the L&G team win their election-fraud case and picking out office space for his new firm. Quality office space comes at a price, so the other fourth-years want Cary to lower his offer to Kalinda. They point out he’s not objective when it comes to the lovely Ms. Sharma, what with his sleeping with her and all.

While they’re arguing the point at a restaurant, they’re approached by Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker), serial wife-murderer and one of Alicia’s biggest clients. He toasts the group on its “little rebellion” — turns out he owns the building they want to rent in. He offers them discounted space if they’ll give him free legal services. Imagine his disappointment when Cary tells him Alicia’s not coming with them.

We don’t have to imagine for long, actually. Sweeney calls Alicia, urging her to jump ship with Cary. (She hangs up on him.) A furious Alicia threatens Cary with revealing his plans to the partners if he doesn’t stop trying to steal her clients. He protests that Sweeney made the offer to him, not the other way around. And he still wants Alicia on board.

He still wants Kalinda, too — just not at her asking price. She tries to bargain with him, but grows disenchanted when she discovers he’s also made a bid to hire Robyn as well. Cary seems to be alienating everyone these days, doesn’t he?

Who’s in the Hall?

Well, maybe not everyone. Back at the election night festivities, Alicia slips away to freshen up after congratulating Peter on his win. She’s clearly got other things on her mind than becoming the governor’s wife. She makes a call, asking the person on the other end to meet her at her apartment. (It’s Will, right? Gotta be Will. Or Colin Sweeney. But probably Will…)

She heads out of the hotel for home. Waiting, she has a glass of wine, folds laundry and waits some more. Finally a knock. She opens it to find … Cary!

“What are you thinking?” he asks. “I’m in,” she says, with a big smile. 

Whoa! Just whoa.

Summary Judgment

In my opinion, this episode rivaled the season 2 finale (with the infamous elevator scene) for suspense and emotional payoff. It’s been a roller coaster of a year, with Lockhart & Gardner pulled from the edge of bankruptcy, Peter’s campaign and Alicia’s partnership.

While Alicia seems to have gotten what she’s worked so hard for, she’s also learned being a manager in a big firm isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She’s been disappointed by Will and Diane. Heck, she’s disappointed herself, no more so than when she made partner over Cary and the other fourth-year associates. This could be a real chance to chart her own course — one that’s not reliant on Will’s whims or Peter’s political ambitions.

As with the best season finales, of course, this raised a ton of questions for next fall: where does this leave Lockhart & Gardner? Now that Peter’s won, will Diane get that State Supreme Court judgeship? What about Will and Alicia? Peter and Alicia? And what about Jackie and her boy-toy, Cristian, who won’t take Peter’s $25,000 hint to keep away from Mama Florrick? (Not as important, perhaps, but something’s up with those two.)

Thanks to show creators and writers Robert and Michelle King for a bang-up finale to a bang-up year. It’s risky to set our heroine off on a whole new professional — and possibly personal — journey. I’m looking forward to seeing that risk pay off in the fall.

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(Image courtesy of CBS)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV