Woman without secrets

The Good Wife, 2009-2013 (first four seasons)

By Peter Hulm

The Good Wife is not about being a good wife. If anything, I think, it's about the injustice of the U.S. legal system and the corporate world.

But behind that bubbles a darker theme, one that is closer to the postmodern heart: the place of secrets in contemporary life.

Wikipedia has already picked up on how quickly The Good Wife has incorporated the latest tech into its stories.

Bitcoin for Dummies, for example, appeared in Season 3, episode 13, 1 May 2012, when one major question was "who designed Bitcoin?" The next show featured Syrian repression using American software.

The fourth season gave us insight into Google search engine algorithms and how they can be misused.

That's more than most mainstream news programmes have given us.

From patronage to military rape

But focusing on the nerdy knowledgeability of the show ignores all the other social issues The Good Wife has tried to shed light on.

After the Fall (episode 16 of season 3) looked at the hypocrisies of the patronage system in politics. Following that we heard a discussion of whether oral sex counts legally as real sex (was a former President watching?).

Another episode showed how universities can use hate crime laws to avoid responsibility for hazing practices(episode 4 of season 4: Don't Haze Me, Bro).

Episode 6 (The Art of War) forefronted rape in the military, and the murky legal relationship between soldiers and private contractors.

Even serious-minded news programmes would have to add some "cute" leavening to their content if they dealt with such projects. And The Good Wife is hardly ever cute. More power to its creators, Robert and Michelle King.

Liberal truths

The series also tries to make you feel the truth of a number of liberal home truths:

-- "People who judge, they lie the most" says Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) in season 3 episode 21.

-- "Sad to think you can lose an election in court these days." (What's in the Box?)

-- Alicia herself tells someone: "If you allow yourself to be poached, your new employers will never trust you."

It shows what a straightforward world the Kings would like us to live in.

As for Alicia's advice: if only it were true in today's corporate world. In a couple of years, everyone will have forgotten, if they ever remembered.

Secret keepers

Binge watchers will have noticed how much the professional classes in The Good Wife medicate their anxieties with alcohol. No-one in this world, though, seems to have a problem with drink.

The series also has a nice line in ditzy women who exploit their dizziness shamelessly for professional advantage, whether Martha Plimpton with her nursing kids, Carrie Preston with her obsession with other lawyer's dress sense, or Mamie Gummer the innocent country girl who finds herself in court representing the worst companies in the world.

Then we have Michael J. Fox as the sneaky lawyer who displays his tardive dyskinesia in court at every opportunity to win a sympathy hearing from judges. A good lawyer will, we understand, use any underhand means necessary to win an advantage.

These caricatural figures (so beautifully written and played that they never become a cliché) serve only to highlight the other side of the psychic world of The Good Wife: the secret keepers.

The 'not very interesting' ploy

Kalinda Sharma's secretiveness as the law firm's investigator (Archie Panjabi) is the major aspect of her character, but we really do not know much about Will Gardner (Josh Charles)'s inner life or Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)'s or Agos (Czuchry)'s. Yet their professional poise is never in doubt or questioned.

Only Alicia, the heroine, declares at one point "I am not very interesting", i.e. without secrets. And how we agreed with her, seeing her wavering between her husband and Will Gardner, trying to control her children as they become adults, and being the only lawyer on the staff who is not suspect in her motives or her behaviour.

This declaration proved a smart ploy by the writers, since it was the prelude to Alicia finally asserting her atheism and opinions in a politically risky situation. How many U.S. viewers found themselves cheering for a defiant and determined statement of non-religiosity in a country where an openly atheistic politician has no chance of becoming President. In tbis version of televisionland it is possible.

Will she, why won't she?

In 'reality', though Alicia is shown as trying to prove her worth as a lawyer apart from her husband (series one), much of her onscreen drama is about trying to keep secret her relationship with Gardner or her husband (Chris Noth), figuring out what to hide from her children, and hiding facts about herself for the sake of her husband's political career. This aspect of her life is underlined by the introduction of political strategist Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), who even moves into the law offices for later episodes, enabling him to approach her at any time with whatever scheme he has concocted most recently.

The suspense we feel watching Alicia Florrick is, will she succumb to the temptation to be like Kalinda, Baranski, Gardner and Gold (whose relationship with his ex-wife remains a puzzle)? Will she opt for secrecy, the enigmatic, the unexplained?

We know she won't, of course, and the interest is in how she solves this dilemma (for us as much as for herself), Thus, when the partners tell her to cut back spending by 10%, and is accused by Agos of learning how to be as anti-worker as the other partners (which he was not), she cuts her own billings to save money rather than reducing the earnings of junior staff.

She remains the woman without secrets.

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