Let’s face it: there will never be another Kalinda Sharma. But when Alicia and her new partner Lucca get their first real case in this episode of The Good Wife, “Payback,” investigator Jason Crouse may be exactly what they need right now.

But while Jason’s scoring points with Alicia — possibly in more ways than one — Eli Gold’s troubles continue. When his daughter proposes an enticing offer that would remove him from Peter’s sphere, will he take it? Have we seen the last of Eli?

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The New Partnership’s a Go

Alicia and Lucca have a real, non-bond court case (yay!) from a poor college grad with little money (boo!) who wants them to stop a bill collector from harassing her. Maggie paid her debt, but Bob the collector won’t leave her alone.

But turnabout’s fair play, as Jason proves when he calls Bob and makes it clear that his life will be ruined if he doesn’t stop. Bob says don’t blame him — blame his boss at APY Collections. A & L gives Jason the go-ahead to investigate APY. 

Office manager Grace nudges Mom about increasing the firm’s hourly rate. They need working capital, she says. Mother and daughter have a running discussion throughout the show about taking on bigger cases for more money. This is what starting out is like, Alicia says. (By the way, does anyone else wonder why Grace is around all the time? Is it summer? What about school?)

Eli Sees an Opening

Peter’s starting to campaign in Iowa, though he denies to reporters that he’s running for anything. Eli watches the TV footage in the governor’s offices and snorts at it. This isn’t how he would run Peter’s campaign.

His daughter Marissa (the adorbs Sarah Steele, in a welcome return) awaits him in his broom closet with a proposal: get out of these luxurious digs and find another gig. No dice — he can’t give up hope that Ruth’s strategy is ruining Peter’s chances to snag the VP spot. Maybe Peter needs him!

And maybe Eli’s on to something. Peter’s getting bad press about his tour of Iowa. He charges furiously into Ruth’s office. Eli, desperate to hear the conversation, eavesdrops through a vent in his closet. Running into Ruth’s office full of “concern,” Eli offers to help out. Imagine his fury when he discovers Ruth has poll numbers showing that voters love Peter, even if the press doesn’t. Curses — foiled by Ruth Eastman again!

Old (Really Old) Lawyers’ Tales

Cary visits newest Lockhart, Agos client, the head of the Food Services Union. Technically, Ronnie Ericson is Howard’s client (courtesy of Howie’s new gal-pal, Jackie Florrick), but Cary wants to make sure everything’s going smoothly. All’s well until he realizes that Ronnie’s administrative assistant is eyeing him suspiciously and taking items off the shelves for safekeeping.

It turns out Howard told Ericson that Cary spent time in the slammer. When Howard admits it, Cary accuses him of crossing a line. They bicker like toddlers. Howard threatens to sue the firm for ageism if Cary doesn’t back off. Diane calls the partners together to calm the waters. Better mediation than a lawsuit. 

Howard tries to prove he’s a victim of ageism, and not just from Cary. Diane says everyone jokes about everyone; it’s harmless ribbing. But Howard says it’s not harmless; it hurts. Howard says the young associates look up to Cary; it’s humiliating how everyone treats him. Diane is mortified.

By the end of the episode, the entire Lockhart, Agos office undergoes ridiculous-looking sensitivity training to help them understand what it’s like to be 80. Howard clearly enjoys the whole thing, even shedding fake tears to help everyone understand how traumatic his life’s been. 

No one mentions him not wearing pants in the office or how he makes crude remarks about the female staff. Winner of this round: Howard Lyman. (As much fun as this segment is, I have to throw in that it seems to have come from another show. Nearly zero overlap with the rest of the episode.)

Time to Shake the Money Tree

Jason’s investigation into APY Collections reveals that Maggie was the victim of a scam. A hacker (posing as an APY employee) instructed her to send her final payment to a different address than usual. Unfortunately, this means Maggie really does owe APY another $8,000 — money she doesn’t have. 

But you know who might have money? Coliseum University, the for-profit school Maggie attended (and which is about to be sold to a big holding company). Alicia and Lucca decide to charge the school with selling a defective product. After all, Maggie can’t find a job in her field (dental hygiene) despite paying the school a small fortune.

Just one little drawback: Maggie signed an agreement with the school saying that all disputes must be settled in arbitration, not court. And time is running out to bring a case.

Our gals want to prove that the school gave Maggie a substandard education, but they don’t make headway. The arbitrator orders them to stop focusing on why Coliseum isn’t Harvard and instead bring evidence that the school lied to students. At the same time, Jason’s found the abandoned offices of the phony debt collectors’ mail drop. He even discovers some (sizable) uncashed checks.

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Will Alicia Push Eli Out?

Back at the closet, Marissa tries to get Eli out of his rut. She encourages him to take a job as campaign director for a powerful Israeli politician. Before he can decide, Marissa visits Alicia. She begs Alicia to fire her dad so he’ll take the job overseas — the job that will put him back on top.

Thanks to Jason’s undercover work at Coliseum, he brings back evidence that the school puts a hard sell on student, possibly illegally. Coliseum’s attorney, Schmidt (guest star Christian Borle), counters by proving that Maggie rarely went to class. Heck, she never even bought her books! 

Maggie knows it looks bad, but she and her study group all lived the same way — sharing notes and books to make ends meet. Alicia calls the entire (large) group to her apartment/office to gather information. 

Before they can begin, Alicia tells Eli she needs someone else, someone more like Ruth. He’s sure Marissa’s talked her into dismissing him, but she convinces him that it’s her idea. They need to part ways. “We both need a fresh start,” she says. “I know it won’t be easy, but it’s time. Goodbye, Eli.” He looks stunned. Is this the end of Eli Gold?

But he’s not quite done yet. He overhears Alicia telling the group she bringing a class-action suit because of the arbitration clause. As he’s leaving, Eli drops an idea in her ear: you can’t bring a class-action suit, but you can call a debt strike. 

Alicia and Lucca bring the threat of 300 students refusing to repay their loans to Coliseum. The people who want to buy the school probably won’t be too happy about that, right?

Mixed Messages

Peter and Alicia make a campaign appearance together. The union president from earlier accuses Alicia of being a hypocrite. At the same time that Peter’s questioning the effectiveness of unions, his wife’s proposing a debt strike.

Ruth is furious with Eli. She guesses correctly that he gave Alicia the idea of the debt strike. You’re hurting Peter’s campaign, she huffs at him. But I’m not running Peter’s campaign, he huffs back. He smirks as she leaves, then calls the Israeli politician. Thanks for the offer, but I’m staying put, he says. 

After talking to one of the scammed students, Jason learns that the hackers are calling students with a new phony drop address. He tracks them down and follows them back to their place of business. He knocks on the door, brandishing a tire iron. (Shades of Kalinda and her baseball bat!)

Guess Who’s Back? 

Eli waits for Alicia at her apartment/office. “I’m staying on,” he says. “Okay,” she says with a small smile. “Sounds good.” (Whew!) Just then, Coliseum’s lawyer, Schmidt, arrives. He’s serving her and Lucca with papers for interfering with the sale of the school. 

Lucca thinks the suit is bogus, but Alicia’s worried. This time, Lucca’s called it right. The school’s stock starts falling and suddenly the shareholders aren’t happy about the school violating its fiduciary duties. With the likelihood that the sale will fall through, Coliseum caves and forgives the debt of all the students it served poorly. 

Afterward, Jason brings by Maggie’s missing check from the scammer. How did you get it back? Alicia asks. “I persuaded him,” he says. (No mention of the tire iron.) Alicia doesn’t seem too interested in learning more. She does seem interested in inviting him into her apartment for a drink.

Summary Judgment

Maybe it’s just because I’m a big Jeffrey Dean Morgan fan, but I really enjoyed this episode. He seems to be just as good (and fearless) an investigator as Kalinda, which Alicia and Lucca can really use right now. Will his fearlessness (and tire iron usage) get him in trouble? Will he and Alicia act on the sparks that fly between them? 

As an equally big Alan Cumming fan, I’m happy that Eli’s still in the game and not taking Alicia’s “no” for an answer. And really, how could he go off to Israel when he has a shot at taking down Ruth Eastman (so well played by Margo Martindale)? We can only hope there’s a cage match still to come!

The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9pm (barring football overruns) on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV