Any time The Good Wife deals in culture clashes — whether with the military, foreign nationals or just hyper-rigid judges — it’s the viewer who ends up winning. This week is no exception, as Lockhart & Gardner takes on the highly rarefied world of sports doping. In French, no less. 

Despite airing opposite The Golden Globes — where Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi were robbed! —  “Je Ne Sais What?” more than held its own. Much of the credit goes to the return of friend-of-the firm Elsbeth Tascioni. Let’s dive right in.

The Case in Evidence

When a running-shoe company tries to stiff an Olympic silver medalist on an endorsement deal, they claim it’s because she violated the contract by using a banned substance during the Olympics. The girl, Anna, has exactly one weekend before her next race to prove that she’s innocent. 

Anna’s biggest problem, however, may be that her attorney is the daffy-but-brilliant Elsbeth Tascioni (True Blood‘s Carrie Preston). It’s a problem because Elsbeth is in jail out in suburban Skokie — and it’s the weekend, when the suburban judges take time off.

While Alicia pulls all kinds of levers to get Elsbeth back to Chicago for a bond hearing, Will goes to the appeal hearing with the Court of Arbitration for Sports. (Anna, the opposing attorney, and the judges all say they miss Elsbeth.) Although the Swiss-based CAS finds a local venue to conduct the proceedings, everyone speaks French, putting the non-Francophone Gardner at a distinct disadvantage. Will convinces the panel to use English, but he knows he’s flailing. He calls in Diane to help. Who knew she spoke fluent French?

Anna really is innocent of doping, but her blood contained traces of suspicious substances because she was pregnant. (Apparently, pregnancy hormones mimic dope.) To avoid publicly admitting she had an abortion to race in the Olympics, she forces Will and Diane to find another line of attack. They challenge the chain of custody of the drug test. 

Just when that fails, Elsbeth — out on bond — joins the proceedings. The endearing (and French-speaking!) lawyer has one more trick up her sleeve. She turns the judges against one another by inflaming nationalist sensibilities: the German judge learns the French judge caused the banning of a famous German cyclist, also for doping. Chaos ensues, and they agree that the charge against Anna may be unfair. 

Surprising Turn of Events

Back at Florrick HQ, Zach accidentally discovers evidence that Maddie Hayward will go after Peter on charges of being racially biased. Eli takes him seriously, but Jordan — now embedded in the campaign — tells him to downplay it. 

Peter decides to pursue it further, however, and asks Geneva Pine, one of his ASAs, if he is indeed racially biased. Geneva tells him frankly that, yes, he is. A stunned Peter listens intently, wanting to do better — and wanting to counter Maddie’s attacks.

Against Jordan’s advice, Peter makes a speech to the Minority Rights Coalition. He alienates his audience with blunt talk about race, and it seems Eli’s decision to pursue this issue has blown up in their faces.  

But despite Jordan’s “I told you so” to Eli, a recording of the speech goes viral. Suddenly, Peter gets credit for giving a straight-on talk about race, for “speaking truth to power.” But before Eli can lord it over Jordan, Peter cautions him to support the younger man. As long as Eli’s under investigation by the feds, the campaign needs Jordan around. 

Eli shows up at the Lockhart & Gardner offices while Elsbeth is toasting the team for their victory. He tells Alicia that he thinks he’s being pushed out of the campaign, and it won’t stop until they put the investigation aside. Since he can’t hire L&G (they’re under investigation, too), he realizes his best choice is right in front of him. Looks like Elsbeth has a new client.

A Brief Recess

Still not sure where Alicia and Peter stand? Neither is Peter. When Alicia comes to visit the candidate at his campaign trailer, he thinks it’s for dinner. But she’s there for a booty call. In keeping with the French theme of the evening, Edith Piaf’s voice rises on the soundtrack, singing “Je Ne Regrette Rien” (I Regret Nothing), and the Florricks begin making out.

Even though the trailer’s rockin’, Eli comes a-knockin’ — he thinks Peter is sulking after the seemingly disastrous speech to the Minority Rights Coalition. Imagine his surprise when Alicia comes out a few minutes later, reassuring him that “It’s okay. It’s just the wife.” 

The Best Evidence

A few of the highlights from “Je Ne Sais What?” — in English:

The Elsbeth factor. Any episode with Elsbeth Tascioni is a happy episode, in my opinion. If ever a role seemed to fit an actress, this is it. Whether she’s flunking a psychological examination at the Skokie jail or having a sudden insight into why Anna flunked her drug test, Carrie Preston is a true delight. Above all, in spite of her flakiness, she makes us believe Elsbeth is a great lawyer. 

How great is she? Throughout the doping appeal, the European judges keep complaining to Will about “Rambo” tactics. He thinks it’s because he uses American trial methods. But it suddenly dawns on him, after Elsbeth manipulates the judges into their national pride free-for-all, that she is the Rambo they’ve been talking about all along. 

New Jersey mobsters make great Chicago judges. Let’s give it up for Vincent Curatola, the late, lamented Johnny Sack of The Sopranos fame. As the no-nonsense Judge Politi, he grows increasingly fed up with the maneuverings of both Alicia and her opponent (Geneva again). He also gets off one of the best lines of the night: “If the law is an ass, then someone’s got to kick it.” Gotta love the Dickens reference, and gotta hope we meet Judge Politi in the courtroom again soon. 

Cherchez la femme! All three of the main Good Wife women get their moments in the fashion spotlight. Elsbeth compliments Alicia’s jacket, which turns out to be Elie Tahari. (Love him!) She also repeatedly comments on how “elegant” Diane is, and who can disagree? (Diane also turns the French judge’s head. Considering he’s played by Ronald Guttman, aka Megan’s dad on Mad Men, I’m not too surprised.) Finally, Kalinda purposely shows off her awesome legs under a leather mini-skirt at the appeals hearing — a move that definitely gets the attention of the all-male panel.

Summary Judgment

You don’t have to speak French to enjoy this week’s Good Wife. With no talk of the firm’s bankruptcy troubles, this one definitely fell on the lighter side. I continually appreciate how, even in season 4, TGW balances these episodes with ones focusing on heavy, life-and-death situations.The show is never predictable, in a satisfying way. 

The big exception for me is still Jordan, who seems so eager to topple Eli that’s he’s veering toward the annoying. Maybe the writers are going somewhere with his storyline that I’m not seeing yet, but right now his motives are so blatant he just isn’t much fun. Even Maddie Hayward threw a curveball at us by first befriending Alicia, then opposing Peter. However, we’re not even close to being in Nick territory here, so for now I’ll enjoy having T.R. Knight around and hope that his character grows more complex.

Thanks to the upcoming AFC Championships, there’s no new episode next week, but you never have to miss The Good Wife. Be sure to download the BuddyTV Guide mobile app and add it to your watch-list today!

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV