The personal has always been political on The Good Wife. That’s especially true this week, when marriage itself is on trial. But as this episode reminded us, there are all kinds of marriages in this world. Whether weak or strong, romantic or pragmatic, no marriage is simple, especially to the people involved. 

That’s not all we learned, however. First, when it comes to Alicia and her mother, the apple fell pretty far from the tree. Second, Diane won’t sacrifice an innocent man even to challenge an unjust law. Finally, Cary can take a licking and keep on ticking.

Trial Briefs

Here’s what you need to know about this week’s episode, “A Defense of Marriage”:

What’s in a marriage anyway? Lockhart & Gardner must defend the CFO of a tax preparation company who is accused of fraud alongside his co-defendant, the company’s CEO. When the judge rules that a wiretapped conversation between the CEO and his wife is inadmissible because of spousal privilege, Diane and Alicia seek the same protection for their own client, Dale Lamborn. Dale is also married and the subject of wiretaps. The difference is that he’s gay, so his spouse is a man. Our team asks the judge: don’t the same protections apply? The judge asks the L&G team to prove that Dale is in a “real marriage.”

Seeing an opportunity to get a test case before the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act), hotshot attorney Jeremy Breslow offers to join the case pro bono. It soon becomes clear he’s only interested in furthering his own agenda. He even convinces Dale to reject a generous plea bargain from the US Attorney’s office; Breslow wants Dale and his husband to serve as symbols for marriage equality. 

But though Diane hates DOMA as much as Breslow, she can’t stand the thought of an innocent man serving jail time. When Kalinda finds evidence that the CEO was actually the guilty party, the feds drop the case. Much to Diane and Alicia’s delight, Dale goes free. A furious Breslow warns Diane that the nation is now “stuck with DOMA for another 10 years.” 

Of course, he’s not so angry that he misses an opportunity to appear on television. When he says a man’s innocence is more important than a test case on marriage equality, Diane can’t help but laugh.

Like mother, not like daughter. Wherever Alicia gets her steely resolve, it’s not from her mom, Veronica. After a two-year absence — just when her beleaguered daughter needs her most — Veronica shows up. She needs legal help to gain an inheritance from her recently deceased husband, her third. (“They either die or bore me,” she says.) The man’s son claims that his father changed his will at the last minute because Veronica cheated on him. She denies it, and we really don’t know the truth.

With the help of David Lee, Veronica wins her case, but only after dragging her son, Owen, into the mess. More important, she learns (a little bit) from Owen about Alicia’s feelings for Will. This leads Veronica to believe the only reason her daughter won’t divorce Peter is to prove she’s different from her mother. Veronica ignores Alicia’s protestations that she’s living the life she wants. During a family dinner, Veronica even tells Peter to let his wife go so she can be happy. (Thankfully, she doesn’t mention Will’s name.)

Mom’s ploy backfires when her daughter overhears the conversation. A fed-up Alicia makes a snap judgment: if it’s happiness she’s supposed to go for, then that’s what she’ll take. She pulls a startled Peter into her bedroom and begins undressing him, as the camera moves away to a discrete distance. 

Cary apparently has “slayer healing.” After suffering what appeared to be a savage beating at the end of last week’s The Good Wife, Cary returns to work with no visible injuries but a black eye. (Whew!) Though he doesn’t come out and say it, it’s apparent he suspects Nick of setting up the beat-down. Not one to shy away from a conflict, he visits Mr. Kalinda on the job. He’s ostensibly there to warn Nick that his lawsuit against the city isn’t going well. Yet he also manages let Mr. Kalinda know that “as your attorney,” Cary knows all about Nick’s business dealings. Oh, and he still has friends in the State’s Attorney’s office who can give him insider info. 

Nick isn’t dumb, however. He assures Cary that “as your client,” he takes these issues very seriously. Like Nick and Kalinda, I have a strong feeling that the Nick and Cary story isn’t over, either.  

Star Witness

Whoever cast Stockard Channing as Alicia’s mother, Veronica, deserves a round of applause. Besides bearing a plausible resemblance to Julianna Margulies, Channing brings a believable complexity to the role of a woman who puts her own happiness before others’, including her children. (I love it when Jackie lets Veronica know that caring for the kids over the last couple of years gave her a stroke. Way to twist the knife!) 

Veronica’s an irresponsible flirt dependent on the men in her life — exactly what Alicia doesn’t want to be. At the same time, she forces her daughter to examine whether there might be better balance in her life. Could that balance include Peter? Maybe her mother can’t make a marriage work, but Alicia looks like she’s giving it another chance. 

And I have to give a shout-out to Bruce McGill (who’ll always be “D-Day” from Animal House to me). He makes a convincing legal heavy, even if it’s on behalf of a good cause. Am I the only one who wants to slap him when he insults Alicia in court for interrupting his “rhythm”?

Summary Judgment

More than any other so far in season 4, this excellent episode provides us with a consistent theme. What is a marriage? Is a marriage where heterosexuals commit adultery more “legitimate” than a gay union? What if the gay couple has an open relationship — does that make it less “real” than the straight couple’s marriage? Should a woman forgive a husband who strayed just to prove she can hold her marriage together? Is happiness the main goal of marriage or is there something more at stake, like responsibility and commitment? 

This episode doesn’t really try to resolve these questions, because The Good Wife isn’t about offering simple answers to complex questions. That’s just one of the reasons I love it.

Another reason is the “good wife” herself. I love Alicia for being a pillar of strength, but it’s always a pleasure when she’s recognizably human, too — such as when she gets exasperated with her feckless mother. Or when Mom pushes one too many buttons, and Alicia takes matters into her own hands with Peter. If she’s thinking of Will at that moment, I certainly can’t see it. Can you? 

One other question this week’s show doesn’t answer: what’s going on with Nick and Kalinda? They share no scenes this week, but the description for next week’s episode says, “Nick takes action that forces Kalinda’s hand.” Perhaps Cary will get his revenge, Nick will get his comeuppance, and we’ll get a much-needed break. Tune in and see — with a football-overrun start time of 9:30pm on the East Coast. 

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(Image courtesy of CBS)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV