Episodes #1: The Good Wife, Heart (Season 1, Episode 17)

In this column, I will be outlining numerous examples of important instalments of episodic television shows, concentrating not only on stellar pieces of drama but also some weeks establishing the exact moment that a show changes, for better or for worse. With this, it should become clear what makes quality television and where shows fall down, while also highlighting shows for you readers that you may not have had the chance to catch.

This first edition takes a look at a show that has slowly but surely gone from strength to strength and is proving to be quite the unexpected success story of recent TV memory. While still fairly under the radar from a wider audience, The Good Wife has evolved from being a weighty legal drama vehicle for leading star Julianna Margulies into a compelling blend of the complexities of working and family lives.

It’s the attention to detail, realistic characters and absorbing inter-relationships that has made the show a success, and there’s no episode that justifies that more than the first season’s episode Heart. Having took the time to set up the background of the characters by the time we reach instalment 17 and having attuned to a suitable pace between lawyer jargon and clever arguments just enough so a novice can follow along, this episode is one of the few that really blows you away with how astute and cerebrally constructed it all is.

The show on the whole deals with the housewife of a disgraced state’s attorney who is put into prison for alleged dodgy dealings, how she addresses the overwhelming family crisis while juggling her return to work as a lawyer for firm Lockhart and Gardner. It is revealed that her husband had numerous rendezvous’ with a call girl, and this evokes old feelings for her friend and new boss, Will Gardner.

Within the episode, Margulies’ character Alicia Florrick is placed on a case based around the class action suit by an expectant couple and their insurance policy surrounding a breakthrough surgery for their jeopardised baby. Though that might sound complicated and not especially exciting, what the show is great at is how it makes American law easy to follow for the viewer, and as the case is time-sensitive due to the life of the baby being in balance, the pacing is immaculate and leads to thrilling and smart viewing as the case unwinds.

On top of this, what makes the episode such a stunner is how the shifting relationships of characters are affected by what they’re experiencing. With the case dealing with such harrowing life and death situations, the burgeoning feelings between Florrick and her boss Will comes to a head, and they share a heated moment in his office. It’s essentially what the first 16 episodes have been leading up to and is captured in a thoroughly exciting, fast-paced exchange that is benefitted substantially by the sense of reserve shown earlier. At this stage, we’ve followed Alicia through finding her feet back at work, and now she is coming to terms with the situations in her private life.

The episode comes at a time when the characters and the audience are settled in; we’ve established who the characters are and can now put them into situations where they can be allowed to naturally breathe of their own accord. The show is first and foremost an intelligent legal drama, and this episode doesn’t forget that, posing a complex, time-sensitive case that asks moral questions on a largely taboo and difficult topic in regards to what stage a foetus becomes a baby. The show doesn’t beat you over the head too much with the ethics of it all, as the delicate issue acts more as a backdrop to place the following emotional character and relationship developments into context.

And it is in this perspective that the genius of the episode is to be found, as one word that is important for any show to consider is balance. What makes this episode and by extension the show such a success is that it has the depth of equilibrium between being an intelligent legal drama and an idealistic character drama. Many shows fail to find that balance so perfectly and end up leaning one way or the other, yet watching this episode is a clear indicator of how to do the job in a fascinating and effective way.

 

Next time on Episodes, I will be tackling what is widely to be considered one of the best episodes of Lost in season 4’s The Constant.

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~ by jrhett on February 7, 2012.

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