Pardon the hyperbole, but there has never been a more aptly titled Good Wife episode than “Hitting the Fan.” The proverbial shit did indeed hit the fan when the Lockhart/Gardner partners discovered Alicia (Julianna Margulies), Cary (Matt Czuchry), and the rest of the fourth year associates’ plan to leave.
Tonight’s episode capitalized on the tension that has been building up not only since this season’s outstanding premiere, but also since the first season. “Hitting the Fan” is so momentous because of the degree to which it contrasts with last week’s equally excellent episode, “Outside the Bubble.” That episode felt rather like the calm before the storm as it juggled multiple storylines and we saw the lawyers at Lockhart/Gardner united against a common enemy: a paralegal suing the firm for sexual harassment. This week finds them desperately fighting each other over clients in the wake of the exposure of Alicia and Cary’s exit plans.
When the episode opens, Will Gardner (Josh Charles) is seen talking to Joely (Erin Dilly), a publicist who, ironically, wants to sell Lockhart/Gardner as a stable company. She says Lockhart/Gardner is different from other firms because of the apparent absence of “constant screaming and back-biting.” To her, Lockhart/Gardner is “just one big happy family.” The irony would be all the more enjoyable had it not been for the heart-wrenching scene to come.
Diane (Christine Baranski) interrupts Will’s meeting to tell him of Alicia and Cary’s intentions to leave the firm with of some its top clients. Whereas last week’s episode placed the spotlight on Diane and was one of Baranski’s best performances on the series, this week’s gives Josh Charles his moment to shine. Will initially doesn’t realize Alicia is also leaving. In the scene, shock, bewilderment, and acceptance flash across Charles’ face as he digests the news. Once Will comes to terms with the news, he determinedly stands up and makes his way to Alicia’s office.
“You’re leaving?” asks Will. Alicia replies, “No, I just got here…what?” Will then asks again, “You and Cary. Are you leaving?”
Alicia half-heartedly tries to defend her decision by saying that it’s time that she tried something new. And then it all goes to hell. Will violently throws everything off her desk and lets her have it: “I took you in. No one wanted you. I hired you. I pushed for you. You were poison! This firm got you back on your feet!” In this moment, it is clear just how disgusted Will is with Alicia: “God, you’re awful and you don’t even know how awful you are.”
This scene was even more powerful because of the pained expression on Will’s face as he made his way to Alicia’s office. It was clear that he was genuinely hurt. The intense confrontation in Alicia’s office is even more exceptional when juxtaposed with a brief moment in last week’s episode where Alicia and Will reminisce about the time they had sex in Will’s office. In Good Wife time, it has only been 24 hours since that sexual tension filled moment. That’s nothing.
As he walks out of her office, Will goes into full “commando mode” and assembles the partners to vote Alicia out and to fire the other fourth year associates. The episode’s pace quickens, as does the music’s tempo, and turns into what Co-creator Robert King aptly called “Rossini mixed with Bourne Identity.” As I noted in the season premiere, it is amazing how effectively The Good Wife uses music to set the tone. The scene in Alicia’s office is one of the few moments in the episode that is not scored by the rushing violin accompaniment. That’s why it resonates.
Even more effective, however, was how The Good Wife’s recurring elevator motif was used in the episode. Will orders the security guards to escort Alicia to the elevator. Once inside, she turns and says “This was never meant personally,” to which Will responds, “I don’t give a damn.” The doors close, Alicia cries alone. Elevators have been used at important emotional moments in Alicia and Will’s relationship. This scene, if anything, reminds us that Alicia’s decision to leave the firm is actually quite personal.
We are treated to another great conversation between Governor-elect Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) and Will when Peter tries to call Alicia, but gets Will, who had confiscated her phone. In the past, Will has held his tongue whenever Peter has tried to get a rise out of him or has accused him of sleeping with Alicia. This time, when Peter yells at him for both sleeping with Alicia and firing her, Will quips “I’m just trying to figure out what I should feel bad about.” Peter ends the phone call with a warning that Will would have done well to heed: “You do not want to make me your enemy. And you certainly do not want Alicia and me together.”
Margulies’ performance, combined with great writing, solidified Alicia as a force to be reckoned with. Alicia’s performance in court was reminiscent of the fourth season episode “Red Team, Blue Team,” which also saw Alicia channel her inner badass. Nothing can top the menacing threat she delivered to the partners after David Lee (Zach Grenier) calls her Judas: “We’re coming after you. All your clients. Every single one we worked to make happy while you swept in at the last minute to take credit. We’re taking them. And then you know what you’ll have? A very nice suite of offices.”
In that moment, Alicia was the most dominant presence on screen, and her threat was even more intimidating than Peter’s. Moreover, she wastes no time in striking Will where it hurts by using his bribery scandal against him. The best of it all, however, is how empowered Alicia sounds as she brags to Peter that she’s too busy being a badass. Unfortunately, this moment is undercut by the ensuing sex scene between her and Peter. The sex scene comes across as just another instance where she returns to Peter because of either problems with Will, or other external events, and not because of her feelings.
This was a great episode for Will as well. The situation with Alicia leaves him hardened and more determined. In a scene near the end of the episode, he asks Kalinda if she’s with him because he’s “building this firm into the biggest in the country starting today” and plans on “destroying the competition.” In that moment, Will has fully embraced the figurative dark side.