ASSEMBLY LINE LAW
Alicia and Lucca are back playing the numbers game at bond court, and Alicia has fully embraced being the kind of lawyer that provides living proof for Marx’s alienation theory. That is, until Lucca passes off a case involving a nice-looking young man with big brown eyes, and I get Serial flashbacks.
Alicia tries to dehumanize the process by calling him “Male 209” and dismissing his attempts to tell her whether he’s guilty or not, but he insists on humanizing himself by telling her that his name is Eric and he did it. He would do it again, in fact, which Alicia finds interesting, even as she remains her usual pragmatic self. “Let’s not share that with anyone just yet, okay?” The actor’s performance is so off, I think he might be an unrepentant murderer or something, but it turns out that it’s just vandalism. He tried to destroy a photograph in a museum of which he is the subject, which again piques Alicia’s interest in spite of herself. His mother took nude photographs of him when he was eight years old, and is now attempting to sell them to the Chicago Fine Arts museum. Dollar signs flash before Alicia’s eyes as she tells him that the museum likely won’t want to press charges.
ELI DOESN’T THINK. ELI DOESN’T FEEL. ELI DOESN’T GIVE UP.
At the governor’s office, Eli apologizes to Peter for their kerfuffle last week over hiring Ruth Eastman. His tail is between his legs to an absurd extent, and Peter is just arrogant and dense enough to believe that Eli’s big exaggerated doe eyes could be anything less than diabolical. Eli plays the martyr role to a tee, gracefully accepting that there’s no place in the campaign for him anymore, only to awesomely threaten Ruth with Maika Monroe’s fate in It Follows two minutes later (and he’s right to call it a modern classic, Eli’s taste in movies makes me love him even more). Ruth’s barbs are much less sophisticated, explicitly telling him “I will destroy you and everything you hold dear,” and I think we all know where our money is going in this fight. I’m disappointed by the over-the-top writing of Eastman’s character so far, especially since Margo Martindale is wonderful and deserves much better. [kht: I feel like Eli is so campily (and entertainingly) over-the-top this season that no nuanced, realistic rival would have really been able to hold water.]
Later, Eli calls Alicia and pitifully tells her that he’s been jettisoned as her Chief of Staff, but no matter, because he’s sure “Ruth will have some good ideas.” I love, love the contrast between Alicia and Peter in these scenes, because Alicia immediately knows that Eli is using her, and calls him out on it. It not only illustrates that Alicia is much more shrewd and perceptive than Peter, but that Alicia and Eli have a deeper understanding than Peter and Eli ever did. Peter is a little too simplistic to understand someone as simultaneously conniving and loyal as Eli, while Alicia embraces him as the devil she knows.
Alicia and Peter, on the other hand, have a much less intimate relationship, as the next scene demonstrates that they have a prototypical political marriage. They have some polite chitchat about the progress of his campaign, and it’s like they’re former work acquaintances at a company dinner party. When Alicia brings up Eli, Peter tells her that it’s not an option, and she reminds him that he needs her. If he wants to be Hillary’s VP, he needs to show the world that his family stood by him through his sexual indiscretions because his loving wife forgave him. (It’s not a coincidence that she used Hillary’s name in that sentence; it serves to remind us that Alicia’s arc was clearly inspired by the presidential candidate.) “You’re being used,” Peter says, and Alicia drops a truth bomb on him. “I know. Who isn’t?” She just gets it.
Eli sets Alicia on the path to rehabilitation after her election scandal: “Before, you were Saint Alicia, now people don’t know what you are!” What a wonderful meta-commentary on the complication of Alicia’s character since we first met her in the pilot. We don’t really know who she is at this point, not because the writing of her character is inconsistent, but because we only know her as well as she knows herself.
Eli convinces her to eat crow and apologize to Frank Landau in order to crush him later, and Alicia likes the sound of that. Eli knows that she’s secretly bloodthirsty. She swallows her pride, and Frank is suspiciously receptive to her apology. He agrees to give her a post on the election board, and then kicks Eli out to make a sketchy backroom deal with her to vote no in her first vote on the board. Would she really participate in the same kind of corruption that took Peter down? Apparently she’s become equally ruthless when we weren’t looking, because she emerges from that meeting with a spot on the board.
Ruth overplays her hand by asking Nora to spy on Eli for her, but she turns double agent and tells Eli what Ruth is up to. Ruth realizes that she’s been bested when Peter tells her that Eli secured Frank Landau’s endorsement of Alicia without her knowing anything about it (cue triumphant look from Nora), and Peter tells her that she should congratulate Eli, because he’s completely clueless. I like this rivalry in theory, but they need Ruth to step up her Machiavellian game if she’s going to be a genuine threat to Eli. He can win in the end, but I want to at least pretend to be in suspense.
Alicia interviews three investigators for the nude photo case; first, an ex-cop who says he “doesn’t overcharge” and “is good,” which means he’s terrible. There’s also Amanda, a steely-eyed, no-nonsense young woman who gives off the impression that she gets things done and doesn’t take shit from anyone. Alicia speaks for all of us when she comes right out and says that Amanda reminds her of Kalinda. Tear, tear.
And then there’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He’s a man of few words, with an impossibly gravelly voice and an easy charisma. I never found him particularly attractive in Supernatural or Watchmen, but as Jason Crouse, he is all kinds of sexy right off the bat. When he jokes that he hurt his arm killing a man, I half-expect him to go full Johnny Cash and growl that he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” (It doesn’t hurt that he’s literally a clone of Javier Bardem, either.)
Alicia is clearly charmed by him, but also doesn’t quite know what to do with him, so she chooses the Kalinda wannabe. Grace wants her to pick Jason, which I know we’re supposed to think is insightful, because Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a series regular now (yay!), so we know Alicia will pick him eventually. But at this point in the game, there doesn’t seem to be a reason not to pick Amanda, who is both cheaper and more ostensibly competent. She’s definitely the safer choice, although maybe that’s the point. Alicia tends to be steered in the wrong direction when she plays it safe because her character is developing towards a greater willingness to take risks. But for now, she lets Jason down easy, and he takes it as winningly as we would imagine, telling her she would probably be a “mean boss” anyway. She agrees with an uncharacteristically flirty smile, and I already ship them. Dammit, TGW, you got me again.
The nude photo saga continues as Alicia meets with the museum’s lawyer: Nancy Crozier! I always love to see Mamie Gummer, but the character is uniquely suited to this case, as her faux innocence would be ideal for accused child pornographers. She excuses her lateness as the result of her enthrallment with one of the museum’s exhibits—a nice touch on Nancy’s part, considering that the value of art is in contention—and then pretends to forget who Alicia is. Alicia hilariously says, “We’ve been on the opposite side of twelve cases” with an acidic sweetness, talking slowly and enunciating as if Nancy is five years old.
Nancy tells them that the museum is willing to drop the charges if Eric publicly embraces his mother’s exhibit, as well as “pose for some publicity photos” next to the “renowned piece of art.” She says this nonchalantly, as if she’s not fully aware that he would view this as further humiliation and exploitation. Eric is apoplectic, understandably, and tells them that the photos ruined his life; every time someone researches him, before a job interview, a date, etc., a naked photo is the first item that comes up. Many people would love to be the subjects of “important works of art,” as the museum says, but the man who inspired the Discus Thrower didn’t have to contend with Google searches.
After Eric storms out, Alicia asks him if he wants to stop the exhibit altogether. He’s all, “What about the First Amendment…?” and Alicia firmly says, “No.” She goes on to explain that they’ll go after consent, which would supersede his mother’s First Amendment rights, but it’s still a pretty funny moment.
At home, Alicia looks through the photo series of Eric and his sister, called “The Innocents.” Since this airs on CBS, her shoulder awkwardly covers up most of the photos (some possible meta-commentary there about the forthcoming accusation that censors make things dirty that shouldn’t be), but we see that the pictures are artistic and beautifully lit, and that Eric’s sister looks eerily like a young Carey Mulligan. They’re not sexual, but Eric is looking at the camera and vampily posed enough that I felt uncomfortable with the idea that his mother took them and publicized them. Grace has a perfectly ambiguous reaction, emblematic of the episode’s equivocal attitude towards the photos. She asks questions, how old are they, did they know the pictures were going to be in a book, etc., and then calls them “weird,” but “pretty. I guess that’s the point.” Is it the point that they’re weird and pretty or just pretty? Who knows.
Lucca shows up at that moment and demands half of the “money case” that she unknowingly passed off to Alicia. Alicia tries to play innocent at first, but Lucca’s too savvy for that, and tells her that Eric might think it’s about First Amendment versus privacy rights, but really it’s about blackmailing the museum into giving them cash. Alicia is a long way from the idealistic lawyer who started at Stern, Lockhart, & Gardner seven years ago, and she acquiesces.
Eric sees his mother at the courthouse, and she’s a very bohemian, loosey-goosey Amy Irving. She touches him a little too much, but not in a gross way, just in a way that makes it seem like she infantilizes him, which goes along with her being a little too comfortable making decisions for him. He tells her that he’s an adult, and he doesn’t want the pictures out there anymore. They were starting to die down, but now she’s popularizing them again by putting them in a museum. “This is what I do,” she tells him, every bit the impassioned artiste. “It’s like a novelist and you’re asking them to burn their books.” I say that it’s different, since even if a character were based on your own children, you probably wouldn’t use their names, so they would at least have plausible deniability. Even paintings would have been more comparable to a novel, but there’s no wiggle room in Google-able photographs. He tries to appeal to her motherly love, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were him.
I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT
The trial begins, and Eric’s camp claims that he didn’t give consent, while Nancy tries to argue that parents can consent for their children in all kinds of different matters. When Nancy starts turning on the charm by digressing into stories of her own childhood, and her mother “forcing” her to go to the doctor (“Why did it seem like there were so many shots?”), Lucca justifiably objects to relevance. But our old friend Judge Dunaway is behaving like he’s on happy pills, and he recounts the scene in Catcher in the Rye in which the children are trained to yell “DIGRESSION” when another kid goes off topic. We’re all friends here, we want to explore our intellects freely, so no relevance objections. “That’s a beautiful story,” says Nancy. “I love Catcher in the Rye.” Of course she does. Love her.
To be fair, they should let her hang herself with this logic, because every example she gives-going to the doctor, going to the dentist, etc-is specifically for the benefit of the child, while the photographs were for personal and financial gain, so the comparison is invalid and even a little damning. Alicia and Lucca don’t quite use this argument, but a similar one, as they contend that a parent can’t consent to anything deemed manifestly harmful to the child, such as physical abuse or rape. The judge agrees to allow the photos into evidence in order to evaluate whether they are harmful to the children, while “covering the sensitive parts.”
The picture of a young Eric is displayed in its full glory, except not, because almost the entire photograph is covered, way more than just the “sensitive” areas. Eric testifies that as a result of the book and exhibitions, pedophiles emailed him and created websites about him and his sister, and I get queasy. Nancy objects to the word pedophile, then hilariously realizes she doesn’t have a leg to stand on and quietly says, “Strike that,” visibly chastened. His mother was aware of the inappropriate attention, but they never talked about it.
Nancy then shows the court photos from Eric’s social media profiles, including him drinking with his friends, supposedly as a counterpoint to his claim that the photos “ruined his life.” Why would the court care about this? Does the fact that he had one happy night drinking with his college buddies invalidate any suffering he endured as a result of attention from pedophiles? Then she shows a picture of him in Hawaii wearing only a bathing suit, I suppose in order to show that he’s fine with partial nudity as an adult? Does this have any bearing on whether he’s fine with full nudity as a child? I feel like any decent judge would deem this evidence irrelevant or even prejudicial.
Whatever. The point is, there were problematic photos on his social media, and Amanda didn’t catch it. At first, I think maybe she’ll say she missed them because there’s absolutely nothing weird or relevant about them, but it turns out she only checked his Facebook profile. This would show a lack of thoroughness even if Alicia had only told her to check his Facebook (of course that also means Instagram!), but she specifically said to check his “social media footprint,” so there’s no getting out of this one. Alicia is openly annoyed, even more so when Amanda vaguely says she “has a lead or two” on the MIA sister and eagerly asks about billing. That’s what happens when you don’t pick the series regular, Alicia.
Eric’s mother testifies, and claims that she didn’t force him to do anything, that she was just a mom taking pictures of her kids. Not the same as informed consent, but okay. Then she says she “hates” that the picture of him is covered up, because it transforms innocuous art into something prurient. The nudes of Michelangelo and Edward Weston aren’t dirty, but as soon as you point to the need for censorship, it becomes dirty. Lucca points out that she herself claimed in interviews that when she was taking the photos, she was an “artist,” and her children were her “subjects.” They’re not mutually exclusive, Eric’s mother says, and I agree, but she wasn’t looking out for her children’s best interests, so I’m okay with the overall implication.
The lawyers meet in chambers, and Alicia and Lucca are burned by Amanda again, as Nancy found Eric’s sister and obtained an affidavit swearing that the photographs weren’t damaging to their psyches. This “reinforces” Judge Dunaway’s ruling that the mother’s consent is binding, which is unsurprising, considering that the newly converted judge (from Judaism to Islam) had a smile of agreement on his face when Amy Irving described herself as a mother taking pictures of her children. Luckily, Lucca thinks quickly on her feet and asks for a separate ruling on the museum’s right to profit from Eric’s images. This is awesome, both because Lucca is such a force to be reckoned with and because Eric’s own lawyers are now reducing him to a commodity. I’m not judging, as they don’t have a better option, but that’s still a little dark.
Amanda has now failed at both of the two tasks Alicia has assigned her (you had two jobs!). Not only did the other side find the sister first, but she was living somewhere in Chicago, which means all they had to do was look online. She swiftly fires the borderline unrealistically incompetent Amanda, and is on the phone with Jason Crouse before Amanda has even finished telling her to go to hell. Yay! They flirt some more, with Jason recalling Alicia as a “back-up singer in Prince’s band.” These two. She caught him just in time, as he’s interviewing with Lockhart, Agos, & Lee, who offer him a lot more money. Luckily, he has a crush on her already, and arrives just in time to tell her that she should catch Judge Dunaway in the morning, before he gets grouchy because he’s fasting for Ramadan.
He also gives her a star witness: a convicted pedophile. They qualify him as an “expert” in the field of pedophilia according to Rule 702, which—no. I’ll give them credit for citing the correct rule of evidence, but it would definitely still be a lay opinion unless he’s also a scholar who’s well-versed in the legal definition of child pornography. (Sorry, my mock trial brain is kicking in, I’ll stop now.) He says that he and his friends have been trading the pictures of Eric and his sister for the purpose of sexual gratification for years. He contends that they are the same as the pictures he was convicted of possessing, “but better,” and I get queasy again.
Sidebar: The case is clearly based on the controversy surrounding Sally Mann’s Immediate Family, a collection of photographs that included nudes of her children. She was faced with accusations of child pornography (although since the collection was published in the days before the internet, even this accusation was considerably different), and many who wouldn’t go that far still accused her of exploiting her children. That situation was considerably different, however; the Manns decided to postpone the publication of the collection until the children were older and could give informed consent. This upset the children, so the Manns sent them to a psychologist in order to ensure that they understood the implications of their consent.
In one particularly upsetting anecdote, a New York Times columnist used one of the photos of the daughter, Virginia, with black bars over her private parts, much like the brown paper (or Alicia’s shoulder) used to cover Eric in The Good Wife. As the story goes, Virginia was upset when she saw the article, and started touching herself on the places that were blacked out, asking, “What’s wrong with me?” On the one hand, children shouldn’t be taught to be ashamed of their bodies, and censoring them implies that there is something to be censored, which sexualizes them to some degree. But on the other hand, there is no escaping the reality that pedophiles exist, or that society attaches shame to nudity, even if it shouldn’t.
I’ve been rough on Amy Irving’s character, but mostly as a result of the differences from the Sally Mann case. In The Good Wife, there was no real consent from the children, and even if there were, Eric is now revoking it, which I think is his right. If consent weren’t an issue, then it’s a much more complicated question. The photographs aren’t pornography unless they are clearly intended to be titillating (although determining that is a minefield in itself), so I think it’s fair to consider them art, and therefore a perfectly legal exercise of the First Amendment. Beyond legality, the question becomes whether it’s ethically questionable as a parent to give consent for something that could potentially harm your children, even if it shouldn’t. I could never answer that in general, and certainly can’t judge in the Sally Mann case, because the issue is too complex. It’s easier to judge Amy Irving, both because she’s fictional and because we can plainly see that she’s not very concerned with her children’s well-being.
In happier news, this gives Nancy a prime opportunity to break out her Michigan ingenue act: “I’m from Michigan, so this is all just a little bit much for me.” Nancy Crozier would make such a good drinking game. She tries to get him to admit that he would use artistic and/or innocuous items for the same purpose of self-gratification, like Lolita or Gap Kids, but no dice. Eric’s mother argues on the stand that the history of art is littered with depictions of naked children, and Alicia’s counterargument depends on a criminal statute, rather than civil. This is a great moment, as the pictures would likely fit the legal definition of child pornography, but only if the artist is accused of a crime, which is a line that no one is willing to cross.
Finally, the Hail Mary: child labor laws. Eric spent so much time taking and promoting the pictures, it qualified as a part-time job for which he was not paid. While the lawyers are duking it out, Eric tries once more to appeal to motherly love, telling her that they can skip all of this if she’ll just give him the pictures. Alicia quickly tells him that the pictures are on the internet, so he’ll “never truly get back what he lost. But this money, it can help you start the next part of your life.” She’s right, of course, but Julianna Margulies’s pitch-perfect delivery tells us that it’s just as much about protecting her own profits as it is about protecting her client’s interests, maybe more so.
HOWARD LYMAN FINALLY GETS THE BOOT
Lockhart, Agos, and Lee are really struggling to make us care about them these days, so the less said about this plotline, the better. Basically, the associates complain to Cary that Howard Lyman takes 70% of the credit while behaving in an atrociously unprofessional manner, falling asleep in meetings, forgetting important clients’ names, etc. We all know that he’s a pervert, and that he would have been fired long ago if the partners hadn’t been using him to manipulate important votes, so Diane and David Lee’s objections to forcing him into emeritus status never ring true. They know that he’s a nightmare, and a liability at that, so why would they care about asking him to step down? No real-life law firm would ever put up with Lyman’s antics for this long, because they would be too worried about, I don’t know, a lawsuit, so there’s no suspense here. Eventually he gives an ultimatum that either “Cary goes or he goes,” which David Lee calls “the easiest ultimatum ever.” So they did want to fire him? Then why did they act like Cary was crazy? Whatever.
KALINDA’S REPLACEMENT IS ALMOST AS ATTRACTIVE. ALMOST.
Jason tries to get Alicia to up her offer, openly admitting that he’s leveraging her to get more money out of Lockhart, Agos, and Lee. For the second time this episode, she accepts being used with a wry sense of humor, probably because she has few qualms about using others (such as Eric) at this point. Grace hilariously motions behind his back that they need to up their offer, but Alicia still can’t offer more than the bottom third of PI salaries. Before he leaves to meet with Diane and Cary, she tells him, “Take a chance. It could be fun.” This is a very un-Alicia-like thing to say, in the best way.
Meanwhile, Grace tries to re-negotiate her non-existent salary and actually start working for Alicia, which I’m fully on board with. Fake assistant Grace is more fun than any other Grace we’ve seen so far. [kht: It’s a low bar, but yes.]
Ultimately, Jason chooses Alicia, as we all knew he would, partially because he doesn’t want to be exclusive to Lockhart, Agos, and Lee (he really is another Kalinda!), but also because he wants to have some fun. He lies to Alicia about the other offer so she can feasibly top it, and she does, but she’s still offering less than half of what he would have been paid by the firm. He accepts as The Weepies’ “World Spins Madly On” plays in the background, and they really, really want us to ship them. Mission accomplished, TGW, but only because I’m easy.
See you next week!