For many fans of The Good Wife, gay or otherwise, having Diane Lockhart defend gay marriage against religious freedom is a veritable pop culture wet dream. Well, dreams come true, y’all.
Sunday night’s episode of The Good Wife, “Loser Edit,” was among the wildest cases of art imitating life in recent TV memory. Though it was written and filmed in February of this year, the episode contained a major arc in which Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) defends a gay couple in a lawsuit against a wedding planner who refused to work with them because she is a Christian who does not believe in same-sex marriage.
The timing of the episode is astounding given the very real tension between the rights of religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws being debated, as legislation from Indiana and Arkansas supporting the rights of business owners to ignore laws that conflict with their own religious views—specifically their views on gay marriage—make national headlines. With donations in support of an Indiana pizzeria whose owners declared they would refuse LGBT business approaching nearly $1 million, Sunday's episode of The Good Wife is essential viewing.
Yes, “Loser Edit” is insanely well-timed to provoke and generate necessary conversation. But more than that, it crafts a respectful, carefully paced discourse that approaches sheer bliss as Baranski gloriously, eloquently advocates for the legal rights of the community that has turned her ferocious, classy lioness in a power suit, Diane Lockhart, into a gay icon.
The most impressive thing about the episode, however, is that Diane never preaches from a bully pulpit or turns the courtroom into a soapbox. Instead, and with just the slightest glint of gay rights-crusading twinkling in her eye, she works through a logical, irrefutable legal defense that uncovers the hypocrisy of commercial enterprises that cite religious accommodation as justification for what is so clearly bigotry and unlawful discrimination.
It picks apart every clichéd refrain used by pro-religious freedom supporters to defend their stances, illuminating why this national debate amounts to more than just “what self-respecting gay couple would serve pizza at their wedding anyway?”
Diane is hired to defend the plaintiff in a mock trial by a conservative businessman named R.D. (Oliver Platt), who is actually funding the defense of the wedding planner. He loves a worthy adversary and thinks Diane is the perfect person to rip his side to shreds and expose how weak or strong his case actually is. The beauty of the episode—and the mock trial—is that it's not a shamelessly one-sided damnation of the religious and a screed in support of gay marriage at all costs. It’s more nuanced than many dramas dare to be with such hot-button social issues, trying to pinpoint where religious freedom ends and anti-discrimination laws begin.
Both sides argue provocative points. Diane just argues hers better.
Perhaps the smartest decision made is the characterization of the wedding planner plaintiff, who is not a crazy Christian bigot but a kind-hearted, open woman who is staunch in her beliefs. “I’m not trying to stop anyone from getting married,” she says. “I just don’t want to be the person planning the wedding.”
This is when the hypocrisy of the religious defense is skewered with a clarity and simple logic that I’ve never seen before. Diane picks it apart via a series of pointed questioning that will make any supporter of gay rights leap to their feet and applaud at the TV.
“How many times did Jesus condemn homosexuality?” Diane asks the wedding planner, who fortuitously also appears to be a Biblical scholar. (Every TV show requires a little suspension of disbelief.) After the planner says Jesus never does, Diane goes on: “And how many times did Jesus condemn divorce?” “So you never planned a wedding for anyone who has been previously married?” “So your religious exemption is selective, at best.” “No more questions.”
But the wedding planner, again, isn’t painted as a heartless fool. She even calls on the age-old defense to prove that she’s not anti-gay, just doesn’t believe in gay marriage: her friend is a florist, and he’s gay. And she loves him!
The episode really goes hard on the whole “I don’t have a problem with gay people! I tangentially know one and he is nice!” argument, unpacking it and exposing it for how ridiculous it can be as not just a legal defense, but a defense of a person’s own moral conscience. Platt’s character, who is funding the wedding planner’s case, has a gay nephew. “I love my gay nephew. I want him to be happy,” he says.
So shrewdly, Diane casts that gay nephew (played by Wesley Taylor) as the plaintiff in the mock trial, for Platt’s R.D. to watch as the lawyers he hired tell him his love doesn’t deserve unequivocal legal protection. When it’s actually that person whose right to love—or have the wedding celebrating love planned, or have pizza as its entree—is called into question, and you really do want that person to be happy, it should be painful to watch a case like this tried against them.
R.D. actually criticizes Diane for taking what was supposed to be a legal battle and making it personal by casting his nephew in the mock trial. That’s when Diane gets her second moment of glory, and her second standing ovation from at least one writer watching the episode in his living room. (That writer is me.)
“The law is supposed to be fair, not impersonal,” she says. “In fact, I would say that the law is always personal. It has to see the human side, too. Or else it’s meaningless.”
But, to belabor the point, this episode was fair.
Sure, Diane won the mock trial. Sure, Diane perhaps exposed the hypocrisy of religious accommodation better than anyone has before. But it’s R.D. who gets the last word in the storyline, and it’s a respectful, honorable last word, too, about the need to support those who have the courage of their convictions—especially when those convictions are rooted in religious beliefs—at a time when political support for social issues is transient and flippant, changing with the tide of public opinion.
It takes a highly intelligent, uncannily aware writers’ room to have such an attuned finger on the pulse of the sociopolitical climate to craft an episode like this in advance of real-life events coming to a head the way they have this past week. By producing the episode in February as a proactive storyline and not a ripped-from-the-headlines reactionary one, “Loser Edit” skirts the Very Special Episode trap that other shows airing timely episodes couldn’t fully escape the shackles of. As rousing as the Ferguson-themed episode of Scandal was this year, for example, it fell victim to a little bit of that.
It was also brilliant to juxtapose Diane’s storyline against the major arc of emails detailing Alicia’s affair with Will Gardner finding their way to the press. Here are people defending the sanctity of marriage against a committed same-sex couple when the show’s protagonist is trying to figure out how to keep her extramarital affair from turning into a scandal.
A TV reporter played by Lily Rabe—who changes the course of the entire season with one sentence in the last seconds of the episode—keeps referring to Alicia as “St. Alicia” as she sets her up to be taken down. But “Loser Edit” confirms that we’ve all really been worshipping the correct holy one all along: St. Diane.