Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Good Wife

The Good Wife
Episode 12: Je Ne Sais What?
By: Carlos Uribe

The Good Wife is a show about Alicia Florrick and her career and scandalous personal life.

Spoilers Ahoy!

There are two weekly cases this week. Actually there's three if you count the initial lawsuit that Will is brought in on. The first has to do with Elsbeth Tascioni. She's the quirky lawyer that represented Alicia and Will in previous episodes. She got herself arrested. This is a problem for her because she can't get out in time to represent her client in hearings and cases. She's forced to recruit Will to represent her client while Alicia works on trying to free her. It takes the whole episode for Alicia to actually accomplish this. It makes sense from a narrative standpoint. If Elsbeth gets released too early then she takes over the other weekly case and then the episode would have to end early. This does mean that the show has to come up with multiple obstacles for the two to overcome. Whether it's a pysch test or trying to argue that the arrest was unconstitutional, the obstacles by themselves were entertaining. It's a testament to the show's writing that it's able to place these obstacles without making it feel convoluted or forced. This is because the show has such a strong handle on the law that it's able to use so many legal technicalities in it's favor. I'm not suggesting that they don't make up some of the law. I don't know if it does or not since I have never studied it but it at least is able to find a way to make it's legal fiction feel like something that actually exists in the real world. If they are making up or exaggerating some of these legal obstacles then that's just how good the writers are at being able to mimic reality. If they are actually using actual legal standings then it's even better because the show is able to make it really entertaining. Whichever is the case, it allows the Good Wife to drag out stories by bringing up realistic legal obstacles.

So what's the case that Elsbeth brings Will to work on? The second weekly case is some contract suit where a company isn't paying her client money for an endorsement deal. Will is confident because this is his arena but it quickly spirals out of his control when his client is accused of drug abuse. This means that in order to win the second weekly case, it must win the third. This is where Will has to represent the client in front of the Council of Sports in order to prove that his client didn't use drugs or cheat on the test. This might have to deal with the world of sports but he's completely out of his element because the council operates on a different legal foundation. It's based on Swiss law. This means that the accused is assumed to be guilty until proven innocent and actual evidence isn't necessary. I'm not sure I'm a fan of the Swiss legal system. What makes matters worse is that the court happens to convene in French. Just like how Will doesn't know the language, he's completely out of place in this court. It's always great when he's a fight-out-of-water as he's usually such a confident and arrogant lawyer. He calls Diane because she can speak French and she has the grace to at least make the judges respect them. Once again, I have no idea how realistic this was actually presented but it at least felt like the show had a handle on how these things work. It's this commitment to making it work that allows what could have just been a gimmick be integrated into the show's universe and therefore selling it to the audience.

Even with Diane, Will has problems winning the court. She might be able to understand their language and act with the necessary grace but she's still practicing in an unfamiliar legal arena. They still try to do their best to prove that their client is innocent. She really is. The drugs weren't of the performance kind but of birth control. She had been pregnant and gotten an abortion. She didn't want to tell the truth because she was ashamed and her family clearly considers this a sin. She would rather they think she be a drug user than someone who had gotten an abortion. Will and Diane have to do their best to defend her without revealing the truth. This makes it complicated for them to argue in a court case where the system is stacked against the defendant. It isn't until Elsbeth is set free that she's able to win the court case by turning two of the judges against the french one. It's nice that the show is able to grant her the victory because it really reinforces that she's as good as she is quirky. It also makes sense from a narrative standpoint for two reasons. It justifies why Eli would want to hire her and because Elsbeth is more familiar with the council of sports than Will or Diane. There's a reason her client had sought her out after all. Giving her the victory was thus crucial for the story to work because this episode was really about her. She's the one who brought in the lawyers to help her, she's the one the protagonist of the show had to free, and she's the one who Eli is going to hire. She's central to this episode and therefore she needed to win the case.

So why does Eli hire her? He realizes that he's being slowly pushed out of the campaign because he's being investigated. He can't hire the law firm because they're also being investigated. There's a conflict of interest there. He has to go out to find a new lawyer and he chooses Elsbeth because she's a pretty good one. Shes' the character who has been able to make the problems of other main characters go away and she was just able to remind people how good she was. Bringing her into his story is excellent because she's such an entertaining character. If anyone can bring life into the Peter campaign story, it's going to be Elsbeth. Okay, the Peter campaign story isn't too bad this week. This is only because the race issue isn't something that just comes up this episode but that has been developing within the series over a period of time. We have seen him demote and fire African Americans and this might actually hurt him.

This was a pretty great episode of the Good Wife. The two or three weekly cases that the show had were fantastic and entertaining. It's just yet another example of how this show is able to use the law in a way that most law shows can't: in a way where it really seems like the writers know what they're writing. The Peter campaign plot might be feeling like it's treading the same water but it does have signs of hope as the race issue has been bubbling under the surface since before the story began and because Elsbeth is now going to be involved.

Other Notes:

I wonder if real lawyers see this show differently than I do since they actually know the law. The law in the Good Wife might feel realistic to me because I'm ignorant of it. On the other hand, it's not like I ever felt Harry's Law, the Practice, or any other legal show has been able to present legal matters in such a realistic way.

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