IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE GOOD WIFE, GET a box set and give yourself a treat. This drama series is named after the ‘good wife’, Alicia Florrick, whose world changes when her politician husband Peter is sentenced to jail in a sex and corruption scandal.
After a career break of over a decade, Alicia goes back to work as a litigator in the law firm Lockhart Gardner.
One of the great things about The Good Wife, which has just finished its fourth season in the UK on More4, is the way it demonstrates how all aspects of life, the personal and the political, are suffused with ambiguity and contradictions.
Its multi-layered narrative engages and challenges as distinctions between right and wrong are blurred and we are led to consider if the ends justify the means, if it is OK to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Through story lines which are entertaining, provoking and amusing, the series tackles questions of honesty and deception in public and private lives.
Alicia: Nursing a complex range of emotions
Julianna Margulies, who became well known as Nurse Carol Hathaway in ER, is luminous as Alicia. Her range of tone and facial expressions convey the complexity of her emotional and professional life.
As Peter’s wronged wife, she is angry, hurt, bewildered, humiliated. She gives the impression of someone just managing to hold herself together, who has had to become good at hiding her feelings.
We see her coping with bringing up their two children single-handed while learning to negotiate the power plays and office politics at the law firm. We feel the continual sexual tension between her and Will and her struggle to decide between him and Peter.
The description ‘the good wife’ is not definitive. It raises questions of loyalty and commitment, of identity and choice. Alicia’s role as Peter’s wife gives her power and at the same time removes it. As one of the characters says ‘Without her, Peter is a john who overpaid a prostitute. With her, he’s Kennedy.’
Diane: Liberal who loves a Marlboro Man
At the head of the firm is Diane Lockhart, portrayed compellingly by Christine Baranski as the ultimate professional who holds the firm together.
With her rapier-sharp mind, good bob, statement clothes and chunky jewellery, she is the epitome of a strong, clever, sexy woman who is at the same time human and vulnerable.
She’s a liberal but is romantically involved with a ballistics expert who holds very different political views and is seen at a pro-gun rally sounding off against Obama.
Diane also has to deal with the revelation that her adored left-wing father gave up the name of his best friend to the Council for Un-American Activities, which resulted in the friend’s suicide.
Kalinda: kick-ass but where’s her bag?
Kalinda Sharma, the firm’s intriguing and enigmatic investigator, played with superb poise by Archie Panjabi, is one scary woman.
You would say she oozes sexiness if you thought anything could seep through her carapace of steel. Her work uniform of high- heeled knee-length boots and tight leather jackets signals her brand of confident sexuality and kick-ass approach.
Kalinda’s personal life is complicated and dramatic. She is bisexual and married to a man (Marc Warren) she has run away from, but with whom she has fairly rough sex when he catches up with her.
She is fond of Alicia but their relationship becomes strained when it is revealed that Kalinda had slept with Peter when she was working for his office.
But here’s the really amazing thing about Kalinda, and one of the keys to her powerful aura. She never carries a bag. She only ever carries a phone and a notebook. No bag to clutter the aura or to contain the clutter. Kalinda is not weighed down by the support system most professional women need to see them through the day.
She strides through her life unencumbered by keys, cards, cash, make-up, hairbrush, headache pills, emergency food rations, flatties for when the boots pinch. She doesn’t need investigators’ kit such as a magnifying glass or a plastic envelope for collecting earth samples and flakes of paint.
So that is part of Kalinda’s mystery. What does she do with her phone and her lovely orange notebook when, for example, she takes a baseball bat to someone’s car? Maybe this is not one of the big questions raised by The Good Wife, but it is one of the most intriguing.