Not only was The Good Wife’s season premiere Sunday night a locked and loaded return to form for the series—firing as precisely as ever—we’re nearly certain that no green screen or special effects were used in the creation of any scene. (Though who could say how Alan Cumming really achieves that fierce, severe widow’s peak.)
That’s not to suggest that The Good Wife hasn’t been excellent. It is still unequivocally the finest drama on network television. But as with any long-running broadcast series, remaining edgy and elegant and insightful and still broadly appealing can be an entertainment exercise as precarious and trying as, say, a vaudeville performer spinning plates on poles.
The Good Wife dropped a plate or two last season, which may be expected when a drama is six seasons in and still brimming with ambition. But with Sunday night’s Season 7 premiere, it becomes clear that maybe some of those plates could’ve used replacing anyway. Now that the shiny new ones are here and spinning, the circus act is all the better for it.
When we last saw Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) in the sixth season finale, she was about to become a free agent. Her political campaign had been sabotaged, leaving Alicia with the embarrassment of another public scandal. She had been disowned by Diane (Christine Baranski) and Cary (Matt Czuchry), left at the altar by Finn (Matthew Goode) as they set out to start their own firm, and was last seen being approached by Michael J. Fox’s Louis Canning to join his firm.
Creatively, it’s the strongest position for the show to be in. Alicia is once again the underdog.
It’s been riveting and rewarding to watch Alicia’s steady, confident, often-fraught rise from broken political wife standing by her philandering man to powerhouse law partner in her own right. Alicia’s position at the beginning of the Season 7 premiere doesn’t erase or disparage any of that growth; despite not being able to find a job because she’s been tainted by the election scandal, she proudly tells Canning, “For the first time in my life I don’t have to answer to anyone. It’s just me.”
Now armed with cool intelligence, a weathered savvy, and the kind of controlled ruthlessness that the past six years have built in her, Alicia is an even more interesting underdog than before—but more importantly, she’s the underdog for the first time since Season 1.
When we catch back up with her, Alicia is at her first day as an attorney in bond court, where lawyers are paid per case and overloaded to the point of having just minutes to argue them. It’s thankless and hard work, and it pushes Alicia out of her element and forces her to fight to prove herself. The pace and anonymity of such assembly line law is an interesting change of scenery for the show, too, which is typically insistent on painting a vivid portrait of the client’s stories in its cases-of-the-week.
Not that we were deprived of those entirely. Because of Canning’s continued machinations aimed at wooing Alicia to work for him, she lands a case arguing against Lockhart & Egos. It’s an inheritance matter presided over by Jane Curtin, whose hilarious running commentary was a soaring example of what the show has always done so well: blend wisecrack comedy into an otherwise intense legal drama, all the while finding a way to be unabashedly nerdy about the science and technology in the cases while still making them accessible.
When a series of experts is brought in to argue the science of Post-It sticky notes, Curtin is flabbergasted. “You’re a what?” she asks when an adhesive expert is brought in. “Really? That’s a job?” Bless you, Jane Curtin.
Elsewhere, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) is launching a presidential bid that’s really a play at being selected as Hillary Clinton’s vice president. Margo Martindale is brought on as his campaign manager, and she is an absolute delight—especially when she’s put immediately at odds with Cumming’s Eli Gold.
It’s still unclear how Diane and Cary are going to fit into this new world, and it’s a bit concerning that their most dramatic plot point involved Cary’s anxiety about working with a lot of old people. But the series had some course-correcting to do, and we’re more than willing to let it breathe as it sets about doing that.
Because the truth is, the show had become lost in an unwieldy labyrinth of its own story lines.
The plots were all transfixing at points, zinged often, and stumbled occasionally. Working through the grief of losing Will Gardner (Josh Charles) and the bonding effects of collective mourning were and will likely continue to be the most affecting emotional through line the series has concocted. The battle of wits with Diane when Alicia and Cary started their own firm had a madcap, dangerous energy to it that was a blast—until more firms were started, folded, merged, and revived than one could feasibly keep track of and the whole thing ceased being fun.
Alicia’s own campaign was a fascinating diversion, too, especially with David Hyde Pierce as her adversary. Her ultimate downfall was shocking and unfair and a truly gratifying payoff, but that story’s end shined a harsh spotlight on the collateral damage the arc had on the series. Alicia had been so isolated from the show’s beloved supporting cast that the narrative seemed disjointed at best and, at worst, a disservice to the talented ensemble of actors left waiting in the wings.
Then there’s all of the attention that was stolen by the still frustratingly mysterious behind-the-scenes scandal. Why hadn’t Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda and Margulies’s Alicia shared a scene in 50 episodes, and why was the scene they finally filmed together to send Kalinda off so glaringly and offensively CGI’d, with the actresses not in the same room at the same time?
With the dirtiness of that drama behind it, The Good Wife gets a clean slate this season and it’s clearly taking full advantage of it.
Aside from the addition of Martindale, the most exciting new face is that of actress Cush Jumbo, Alicia’s early ally in bond court. A bit of an underdog herself, but just as tough as Alicia, Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn has the potential to fill a hole that the series has had for about 51 episodes—that of the complex, often beautiful female friendship between Alicia and Kalinda that went by the wayside with whatever off-screen drama was happening that kept the characters apart in front of the camera.
When Lucca and Alicia were sitting at the bar together at the end of the episode, there was a certain, familiar pleasure to it. Is Lucca the new Kalinda? It’s too early to say, but at least they’re actually in a room together. So cheers to that.