The central character in The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick (Juliana Marguiles), doesn’t speak a word for the first three minutes she is on screen, but we learn a great deal about her. The first thing we see is her hand, clasped in that of a man. The two people walk to a podium in front of a sea of faces and cameras. It takes only seconds to paint the picture: Alicia, pale and drawn in a conservative grey suit, is the husband of a disgraced public figure. Her husband, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), the State’s Attorney of Illinois, has been caught up in a sex scandal and resigned. Alicia stands dutifully beside him, the “good wife” the title has promised us.
As Alicia and Peter exit the press conference into a stark, empty hallway, she turns to him without a word and slaps him with the full fury of her humiliation. As viewers we don’t even know what her voice sounds like yet, but she has spoken. This is the great thing about television, and especially pilots; such a rich picture can be painted so quickly.
The next time we see Alicia, six months have passed and she looks renewed. Color has returned to her complexion, her hair is lustrous and her nails are neatly manicured. She sits alone in a conference room. She soon realizes it’s the wrong conference room. And, she is off and running, something she will do for the rest of the episode. The pace of the show lets us feel that, like Alicia, we are always racing to keep up.
Alicia now works in a law office, putting to use a degree she earned 15 years ago before turning her full attentionto her family. She’s sharing her first day with a young pretty boy, Cary, played by Matt Czuchry, much the same as his character on Gilmore Girls. “Let the best man win,” he says to Alicia. She doesn’t know what he means by this but learns, much later in the episode, that she is competing with him for the same job. In the meantime we have plenty of time to stew on his comment and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think that line holds more power than just Cary’s meaning. I think the writers are asking us, does one have to be a man to “win” in this world?
Alicia is defined by her relationship to the infamous Peter; she is “Peter Florrick’s wife.” Is Alicia destined to carry the weight of her husband’s scandal for the rest of her life, her career? Can she, a middle-aged woman, hope to compete with men half her age in the workplace? Christine Baranski plays Alicia’s boss, Diane, a decidedly straight role for this generally outrageous comedic actress. She talks about women mentoring each other, “the closest thing we have to an old boys’ club.” But a later comment by another attorney suggests that she is not all beneficent.
When Alicia gets assigned to a pro bono murder case, the judge already has a strong–negative–opinion of her husband, of which he makes no secret. It seems like she is being set up to fail. Even the defendant has no faith in her. She’s repeatedly reminded of her age by savvy co-worker Kalinda (Archie Panjabi). Will (Josh Charles, who to me will always be the love interest in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead), a co-worker and old friend from law school seems to be her only ally.
The way Alicia ultimately turns the murder case on its head is pretty impressive and makes for some exciting courtroom drama, but this pilot is setting us up for the long haul. It continuously reminds us just how little control Alicia has over her own life. Everyone has an opinion of her. Everywhere she turns, the media is still spewing footage of the scandal. Her kids just barely respect her. And her mother-in-law is running her home.
One random fact worth noting is that Alicia and Cary’s shared assistant is played by pre-Community Gillian Jacobs.
Through it all, her husband remains in the picture. She visits him in jail. It is hinted that he may yet be a free man. Chris Noth is listed as a special guest star, so we don’t really know how much of more of Peter we’ll be seeing. We are left to wonder whether Alicia will play the good wife, salvaging the marriage, or forging ahead on her new-found path. At the end one can hardly wait to see how episode 2 unfolds…