Almost every episode of The Good Wife seems ripped from the headlines. Not every episode is so close to the bone that it starts with a disclaimer.

In this case, the producers begin “The Debate” with a statement that the show was written and filmed before the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson and Staten Island. So you know that “the debate” won’t just be about Alicia’s face-off with Frank Prady. There are bigger ideas at play.

Ferguson Redux?

After the disclaimer, we get a brief introduction to the case that’s got Chicago in an uproar: a black man has died at the hands of two police officers. The trial has just ended; the fate of the cops rests with a jury now.

It’s also debate night, and Alicia’s prepping for her big showdown with Frank Prady (David Hyde Pierce). She’s several points behind in the polls, and this is her big chance to gain ground. Media adviser Josh (David Krumholtz) recommends that she comment on the trial — if she won’t, then Prady certainly will. She’s more worried about the whereabouts of campaign manager Jon, but Eli waves off her concerns. (Is she still thinking about that kiss she laid on him last week?)

Chaos rules backstage. It doesn’t help that Neil Gross (John Benjamin Hickey) calls and demands to talk to Alicia about his divorce case. He’s unhappy that the Florrick, Agos & Lockhart litigator, Evan, has offered his ex way more than he agreed to pay. Gross threatens to pull all his Chumhum business.

Back at the office, Cary’s free to practice law again and happy about it. And none too soon, since Alicia gives Diane a heads-up about the Gross affair. “Affair” seems to be the right word because David Lee, Mrs. Gross’ attorney, has photos of Gross with his girlfriend. That could affect the settlement. 

But there’s more going on — Evan may be intimidated by David’s presence, since he used to work for him. Or he may be angling to return to Lockhart-Gardner (or whatever the old firm is called now). Diane asks Kalinda to look into it.

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Getting Personal Puts Alicia into Overdrive

As day turns to night, things remain tense everywhere. The city may break into a race riot depending on the verdict. Jon (he’s back!) warns Alicia that a reporter has incriminating pics of Peter and Ramona, his lawyer-lover. Eli warns Peter as well. Ironically, Peter was meeting with a group of religious leaders to discuss keeping the peace. 

Peter and Eli learn Chicago’s mayor is out of town — convenient for him, not so much for the governor. Peter warns the mayor’s chief of staff that the mayor better get back, and now.

Alicia and Frank begin the debate, with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews moderating. We’re watching it from Alicia’s point of view — she’s initially rattled by the lights. Or the lack of dinner. Or maybe she just didn’t like hearing about Peter’s peccadillos right before one of the most important nights of her life. She flails, and it’s painful to watch. 

Kalinda reports back on Evan. He wasn’t intimidated — he was worried about his son, who was undergoing surgery for cancer. Fortunately, Kalinda also has some dirty laundry on Mrs. Gross that she collected while still working for David at the old firm.

Speaking of affairs again, Alicia finally roars to life when she’s faced with a question about Peter’s infidelity. She cuts off the reporter with a tirade about separating her personal life from her professional. The audience actually boos the reporter when he tries to press her. Even Prady thanks her for standing up for the candidates’ humanity. 

Kitchen Politics

Unfortunately, showing Neil Gross photos of his wife in bed with his biggest competitor backfires. David says that such evidence would be veeeerry embarrassing if leaked. Now, instead of the $30 million he’d been asking for, he wants Gross to pony up $100 million. Mr. Chumhum isn’t humming a happy tune. 

At the interfaith meeting, Peter and the others learn the verdict: not guilty. This could be bad, since the mayor has put hundreds of police officers at the ready. Eli calls it “the full Ferguson.”

The TV network halts the debate for live coverage of the verdict. A starving Alicia goes off looking for food and runs into Prady in the station’s kitchen. They compliment each other; Prady comments that he and Alicia mostly agree, despite their competition. Let’s compare views, shall we? 

They immediately fall into an argument about the verdict. He thinks the system is inherently racist. She thinks the system is poorly run and needs reform. As they’re bickering, a black kitchen staffer notes the irony of two white people who are running for office talking about the need for more political representation by people of color. Touche! 

At the interfaith meeting, Peter watches the news and grows more and more concerned about the gathering crowds of protesters. He wants to go downtown. 

Watching the same news, David mentions that he’ll have a hard time getting home. Diane and Cary tell him he might as well go now — they won’t pay $100 million to his client. She slept with the CEO of Chumhum’s biggest competitor while still working for Chumhum, a violation of her employment contract. Take the $15 million Gross wants to pay or we’ll see you in court. 

Back in the kitchen, Alicia and Frank resume their debate — for an audience of kitchen workers. They discuss the pros and cons of changing how to prosecute drug crimes. Jon tries to get Alicia to come back to the stage, but the workers want the pair to keep talking.

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Can a Man Be Both Effective and Good? 

Peter shares a car with Pastor Isaiah, who had counseled him in the past. The reverend asks about Peter and Alicia’s marriage. Peter admits that life is complicated. The pastor asks if he can pray for Peter to be a good man. Peter says he needs to be effective more than good.

The kitchen debate continues. More and more staff members gather, and Alicia gains their applause with her views on the State’s Attorney’s office. Jon allows one of the workers to film her with his cell phone. Frank’s manager finally manages to get him away from the crowd before Alicia does any damage to his lead. 

Downtown, protesters gather. The reporter who confronted Alicia about Peter’s sex life taunts Eli about the news of Peter’s affair being buried by the verdict. Eli spots Ramona in the crowd and tells her to go home, but Peter pulls her into his limo. Eli’s spitting mad at being ignored.

There’s nothing much going on with the protesters, so the debate is ready to start up again. But first, Alicia asks to talk to Jon alone. She says the kiss didn’t mean anything — she was just excited about Cary’s verdict. He’s embarrassed, but she tells him she doesn’t have feelings for him. “We’re good!” she says. “It just happened.” 

But maybe he’s not good. They share a look. What’s going on here?

Chris Matthews stops by to say the debate is off for now: Prady wants to delay while the city digests the verdict. But Jon and Josh want to continue. They want Alicia to show she’s not afraid to discuss the major issues of the day, even while they’re happening.

One Loss, One Gain

Cary may have picked a bad day to return to work. Neil Gross is furious again. His wife is using knowledge of hacking with the Chumhum board. To stop her from going public with the information, he has to settle for $75 million, which means he’s down $60 million more than planned. David Lee has bested them. Gross fires the firm, telling Diane and Cary they need to get their act together. 

“That was unfortunate,” Diane says, in one of the year’s bigger understatements. Cary says, “You know what we need to do.” 

The pair approaches David Lee in the parking lot. “We want you back, David,” Diane says. He bursts out laughing. 

Protests continue in the streets of Chicago. Eli knocks on Peter’s limo — he needs to address the crowd. Ramona comes out first, looking grief-stricken. She informs Eli that Peter told her goodbye. They’re through. 

Peter approaches Deidre, the widow of the dead man, and offers his sympathies. The mayor’s chief of staff asks Eli to hold up on his press conference until the mayor can get there from the airport, but Eli refuses. They need to address the crowd now. Deidre quiets the protesters, and Peter’s support gains him kudos from the press. The mayor may hate him for hogging the limelight, but you can’t deny he’s effective.

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In It to Win It 

Alicia returns to her office and discovers David. He tells her they’re going to be partners again. (Um … yay?) She keeps her cool, but demands answers from Diane and Cary. Simple — they’re replacing Evan with David. 

Alicia’s upset they didn’t consult her. But she’s running for State’s Attorney now, and they can never reach her. Besides, now that Castro’s out of the race and Cary’s free, why is she still running? Once again, Alicia fights back. To her, their questions reek of sexism. They claim it’s just that they’re trying to run the firm on their own. But she’ll have none of it.

“I want to win,” she says, steel in her voice. “I want to beat my opponent. You wouldn’t even blink if a man said that. Why am I still in? Because I think I would make a better state’s attorney. There — you have a problem with that?” They’re speechless. 

She stalks back to her office. Jon’s there, ready to discuss campaign business. She’s ready to buckle down, even as she looks wistfully at Cary and Diane across the hall. 

Summary Judgment

Without stopping to catch a breath after freeing Cary last week, we’re back to full-on season 6 goodness. 

Let’s recount all the key plot points covered in 43 minutes (that’s minus the commercials): Alicia’s growing confidence is finally paying off in her campaign. Cary’s back in the saddle. Alicia discovers evidence of Peter’s affair, even as Peter breaks up with Ramona. Peter shows off his political instincts. Eli gets annoyed. Chicago doesn’t riot. Prady and Alicia agree more than they disagree. David’s back. And Jon may have fallen for Alicia. Whew!

For a show that didn’t win Best Drama at the Golden Globes (robbed by — wait for it — The Affair), this episode didn’t lack for drama or the typical Good Wife timeliness. No debate about that.

The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9pm (depending on football schedules) on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV