“Hitting the Fan,” the fifth episode of the The Good Wife‘s fifth season, is the culmination of storylines months and even years in the making: Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), the Chicago D.A. whose Spitzerian fall from grace forced his wife, Alicia (Julianna Marguilies) to make use of her long-dormant law degree, is now installed in the governor’s mansion, and Alicia has accumulated the professional confidence to strike out on her own, leaving her managing partnership at Lockhart Gardner to start a new firm with her erstwhile rival Lockhart Gardner associate Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry). That in turn would seem to mark a definitive end to Alicia’s on-again/off-again affair with Will Gardner (Josh Charles), whose righteous fury at Alicia’s betrayal makes a future rekindling of passions substantially unlikely.
But “Hitting the Fan” is also a surprisingly good jumping-on place for the curious, and summarizes many of the traits that make The Good Wife one of the best shows on TV. The episode opens with a sly structural gag, rewinding a few seconds from the previous episode, which ended with Will’s partner, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) interrupting his meeting with an unidentified blonde to inform him that Alicia is planning to jump ship. This week, rather than following Diane in through the door, we see her entrance from Will’s point of view, which includes the information that the blonde woman is a P.R. consultant he’s hired to buff up Lockhart Gardner’s image. And boy, is she going to have a rough first day on the job.
Tempers flare and accusations are lobbed in “Hitting the Fan”: Will feels betrayed by Alicia personally and professionally, and clears off her desk with a mighty swish of his arm to show it. But the truth is he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Alicia’s long since proved her worth, and Lockhart Gardner hasn’t always had her best interests at heart. It’s a business like any other, no more deserving of blind loyalty than it has demonstrated it. By the end of the episode, there’s no doubt that this means war, but Alicia is ready to hold her ground.
The trickiest balancing act in The Good Wife‘s earlier seasons was coming up with reasons for Alicia to even consider staying loyal to her husband, who not only cheated on but publicly humiliated her. But though they’re still sleeping in separate beds, the passion behind their marriage seems fully rekindled. The limitations of network TV means the couple’s erotic interludes have to be discreet, but there’s no mistaking the wolfish lust in Peter’s eyes when he finds out Alicia has finally struck out on her own. He’s proud of her, but more than that, it turns him on. Their 10-minute tryst, a half-undressed quickie conducted while the rest of Alicia’s Florrick Agos colleagues are planning the nascent firm’s future in an adjacent room, subtly recalls a poignant moment from the previous episode, when Alicia and Will recalled a similarly vertical encounter in Will’s office bathroom — a memory as bittersweet for long-term viewers as for the two of them.
Although The Good Wife doesn’t make a display of its complexity the way some more self-consciously “serious” dramas do, it may be unique among legal shows in its bedrock assertion that which side prevails in court has nothing to do with who has the moral high ground: Sometimes our heroes are on the right side and lose; sometimes they’re on the wrong side and win. One of Lockhart Gardner’s most lucrative clients is a notorious drug kingpin named Lemond Bishop, and though the firm technically only represents his “legitimate” businesses — i.e. the ones he uses to launder the profits from his illegal enterprises — the lines can get awfully blurry. There have been moments when the firm has wrestled with the morality of defending a notorious felon, one who’s undoubtedly been behind any number of grisly deeds, but they’ve never seriously considered dropping him as a client. They can’t: They need his money too badly.
Lemond Bishop only rates a passing mention in “Hitting the Fan,” as the Florrick Agos partners debate which of their former clients they want to poach for their new firm. But the mere invocation of his name is an indication that whatever kind of career or personal landmark the founding of Florrick Agos represents for those involved, it’s hardly but a fresh start — and they’re not the only ones getting their hands dirty. Peter, who’s promised to run the most ethical administration in Chicago history — not an especially high bar to clear, as four of his eight predecessors have gone to jail — goes back on his promise to avenge Alicia, first abusing his position to not-so-subtly strongarm the head of a social media giant into hiring her firm, then scuttling Diane’s nomination to the Illinois Supreme Court. Alicia doesn’t know about the latter, but she blushes admiringly when she sees Peter on TV threatening to raise taxes on internet commerce, at least temporarily blind to the fact that Peter is resuming the behavior that endangered their marriage in the first place.
Apart from the fact that the next two episodes are titled “The Next Day” and “The Next Week,” the futures of Florrick Agos and Lockhart Gardner are hard to predict. But it certainly seems as if The Good Wife has crossed a Rubicon with “Hitting the Fan,” closing off enough avenues that the episode functions as a demi-reboot. The show’s cast of characters hasn’t changed, but little else remains the same.
David Sims, A.V. Club:
This is one of those episodes that a show earns. The series has been building this careful house of cards for years now, and when it lets those cards tumble, every moment is weighted with significance.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:
All in all, this was The Good Wife cooking with gas, and the great thing about it is that the war is far, far from over. No matter what new status quo the show eventually settles into, it’s going to involve a good chunk of the regular characters in opposition to one another, and based on what we’ve seen so far this season — and especially tonight — I’m really looking forward to that.