At the end of the last recap, I joked that the answer to Alicia’s question was such a cliffhanger, because the answer was so obvious. And sure enough, when this episode opens, without much discussion or drama, Alicia and Lucca are partners.
Alicia and Lucca have their first joint client (who is only paying $150 an hour, because Lucca was lowballing). She’s a sweet young woman who plays them a spine-chilling recording of herself being harassed by a debt collector, despite the fact that she already paid him, which she tries to tell him only to spur him on to ever more threatening, loud, over-the-top responses. The intense stress of listening to this recording is hard to describe, because this could happen to basically anyone, and that if you don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to stop it, you’re fucked.
Alicia and Lucca discuss bringing suit with Maggie. Meanwhile, Jason quietly looks up a bunch of personal info on the harasser, Bob Bondy, and turns the tables on him, being quietly threatening in that twinkly-eyed way he has, and getting information on the next lead – the original harasser’s boss, Nelson Allsted. Alicia looks at him with a subtle but definite signal that we’ve seen her give before: the Sex Gleam. I can’t believe a woman of her advanced years finds this bespectacled-thug routine sexy. She’s like Diane around macho Republicans.
Meanwhile Grace spends the whole episode fussing about how Alicia needs to make more money. Dear Grace: Shhhhhhhhh.
They set him to find out what’s going on with the loan. In his research, Jason finds out that the loan company has no office in Michigan, where Maggie sent her $8000 repayment because a voicemail told her to. Oh, Maggie. Don’t send money to random voicemails! Now you still legally owe the loan company the same eight grand.
Maggie’s loan, by the way, is for a for-profit school called Coliseum (“I should have gone to law school like you,” Maggie mourns. Yeah, because law school graduates are in great shape these days). So Alicia and Lucca want to get her a refund, so that she won’t have a debt anymore. They’ll sue Coliseum on contingency. This is shut down almost immediately when it turns out that Maggie signed an arbitration clause.
Arbitration seems to start out well for Alicia and Lucca, who demolish the dental hygiene professor on the grounds of her subject-area knowledge (or lack thereof), and demolish the CEO on the employment statistics of graduates. Lucca speechifies about the graduates ending up “unemployable and saddled with massive debt.” (It can be kind of annoying when shows rip from the headlines this directly, but in this case, because I know it’s real, it’s just heartbreaking. And don’t get me started on how TGW has this forced arbitration clause catch just as the NYT comes out with a major exposé on corporations enforcing arbitration clauses to disable class actions.) But the arbitrator isn’t impressed: he gives them a gentle hint to focus on actual lies being told.
Jason has gone rogue looking for the guy who is collecting the misdirected checks; he’s skipped town, but Jason befriends another hapless debtor and gets the new address from her. (At the end of the episode, this ends very badly for our scammer, who opens the door to find Jason and a very large, very menacing metal bar on his porch. Maggie at least gets back her $8000, but the rest of the scam victims are SOL, I think.)
Little multitasker that he is, Jason also manages to ascertain some lies from Coliseum: that they aggressively recruit vets in order to exploit well-known loopholes in federal rules about how much money needs to come from students’ pockets. Alicia and Lucca manage to find a printout of an email about luring veterans. Coliseum’s recruiter hits Maggie below the belt by referring to his student population as not “the best and the brightest.” She looks really sad, and even sadder when she’s called out as a witness to answer for her repeated missed classes.
Since she had a tight-knit study group who all tried to deal with Coliseum’s shadiness, Alicia, in true old-school Lockhart Gardner form, smells a class action. Before you know it, the whole class is in her apartment. Asked to “enumerate ways that Coliseum lied to you,” they basically go into an uproar. But they can’t actually do a class action: they all signed away their rights in the enrollment agreement. On a tip from Eli (more on that later), Alicia decides to suggest a debt strike. (The whole episode, they are manipulating Coliseum based on the fact that they’re trying to sell to an investment firm, and a suit or a debt strike would reduce their value.) But Coliseum sues her and Lucca instead for “tortious interference with contract.”
Alicia and Lucca are nervous, but Alicia and Lucca have tipped off the shareholders. Coyly, they meet with Coliseum and explain that their federal funding is at risk without actually admitting to having tipped off the shareholders. It made me think, wow, Alicia really learned a lot from Will. “What do you want?” asks Coliseum.
Alicia and Jason meet at her door. Each is turned on for different reasons: Alicia from her win (and her giant glass of red wine), Jason from the fun of beating up a scammer with a tire iron. You know, one of life’s greatest pleasures. Anyway, he gives Alicia the money for Maggie, and she invites him in to enjoy a little red wine with her. Or a little… somethin’ somethin’. WHO’S TO SAY?
Go Away, Marissa
Peter is denying running for president, but he wants to roll back pensions and union benefits in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” which is a huge political misstep that apparently, only Eli can identify. Speaking of Eli, Marissa sucks now, apparently, and gets all up in his business in a much less cute way than she used to.
Eli: “I’ve never been fired in my life.”
Marissa: “I know, and it hurts. I’ve been fired eight times. It doesn’t get easier.”
See? Marissa sucks. Eight different former bosses agree. Eli can’t leave when there’s a chance Peter might come to his senses. He even eavesdrops through a vent in his office to Ruth getting yelled at. But it turns out that misstep wasn’t a misstep at all—Ruth wanted to get to “the people” by having Peter say controversial things that would alienate the press! It’s the Trump Strategy. He walks in on Peter hugging Ruth since he’s now “second place and climbing.” Meanwhile, Marissa goes to see Alicia and asks her to fire Eli to release him so that he can take some sort of new political job in Israel. Also, she demands cereal from Alicia, and she makes stuff out of macrame now, and basically, I used to love her but now I have decided she is the worst.
Alicia actually agrees with this. Watching old episodes, I’m not sure I see how this fits in with her character development. She used to not know she was being used and become very indignant; then she would know, and become indignant; then she would know, and figure out a way to use the other person right back (see: last few seasons). That she would agree to this request from Marissa with barely a fight seems to imply that the writers are making her just do whatever thing will advance the Eli plot. She does fire Eli, and he looks absolutely devastated, especially when Alicia says Marissa didn’t put her up to this, and it’s incredibly sad.
Luckily, I don’t have too much of a chance to froth over all this. Eli takes his revenge by suggesting Alicia start the “debt strike,” which hurts Peter politically. When Alicia, supporting Peter, says that she supports his goal of reducing strikes (among union workers), he gets in trouble because Alicia is organizing a debt strike. Are those (work strikes and debt strikes) even the same thing, or do they just have the same name?
Anyway, Peter suffers, Ruth gets mad, and Eli shows up at Alicia’s to announce, “I’m staying on.” “OK, sounds good,” she says. And thank the gods of TV for that, because this show without Eli would lose a lot of its indefinable tang of awesome.
This Is What It Feels Like To Be Eighty
Things come to a head between Cary and Howard when Cary shows up for a client meeting, only to have an unexplained woman come in and pointedly watch Cary, then remove all the valuables from the client’s bookshelf. Cary is amused at first, but when he figures out that Howard told them he’d been to prison, they get into a screaming match, both of them pointing at each other wildly. Howard demands in-house mediation, insisting that he is the victim of ageism, as Diane tries to play peacemaker and prevent him from suing.
Mediation is different from arbitration: it’s not a replacement for litigation but an attempt to head it off. (Although Howard keeps dusting off his long-unused legal knowledge to ask for things to be put in the non-existent record.) Diane is the mediator, which, no matter how sexy and soothing her voice is, is obviously going to antagonize Howard since she’s one of the people in power. She invites them to share grievances in alphabetical order. Cary says Howard is embarrassing and sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, to which Howard interjects, respectively, “That’s code for old,” and “That’s code for Jewish.” Oh Howard. You slay me.
When it comes to Howard’s airing of grievances, he has real slurs to quote, though they were jokes. Cary calls Diane aside to ask her to admit to being part of this, but she wants him to play nice to keep Howard from suing. “You’re sure you’re not hanging me out to dry?” Cary asks. (Life lesson for Cary and Diane: when you’ve quit and merged and re-quit each other’s firms approximately seventeen times, it may make it hard to trust your supposed partners.) But Howard has a lot of great points. He recalls being told in jest to catheterize himself, being called a geezer, etc. He says it’s different from “harmless ribbing,” like when he jokes about a pole up Diane’s ass. And he describes something that can only be called bullying: diapers left in his office, prune juice in his coffee.
Diane, to her credit, is horrified by this and utterly changes her tune, promising seriously that they will stop creating the climate that allows for such harassment. (While Cary is like, “Oh come on, it’s not a burning swastika” – check your privilege, little blonde Harvard grad!) What turns out to be necessary is an extremely awkward, touchy-feely workshop from a slow-talking lady for everyone to learn what it’s like to be eighty years old (wearing blurry glasses and stuffing rocks in their shoes). Howard uses this to great advantage to get sympathy in the form of close hugs from the young women of the office, while Cary grumbles that he probably planted the diapers.
And I guess that’s the end? Howard wins the C-plot. Congrats to Howard.
Obviously, I enjoy all jokes relating to Howard’s selective grasp of microaggressions when they pertain to the limited number of oppressed groups he belongs to. In reality, I think this food service union plotline for Cary and Diane (that was the client Howard blabbed to) is going to, eventually, collide with Peter’s desire to reduce strikes. It already slightly has, right? So it won’t remain merely a minor side note forever, is my guess. But Howard is hardly a Bond, in terms of antagonists or threats to the firm, and I’m not sure how long they can keep reserving Cary and Diane for comic relief; both actors are funny, but both are even more talented with a wider range of emotions, and it just seems like a waste.
As for the rest of the episode, I am glad Alicia has a partner and that we got to move out of bond court for an episode. She and Lucca have a nice rapport in terms of friendship and pleasantness, but it definitely lacks the fire and passion of, say, Alicia’s partnership with Cary (probably because Lucca herself, though she gets a little worked up about Maggie’s predicament, lacks the fire and passion of Cary, Diane, Will, and Alicia herself). I am curious to see if either Diane or Cary will end up joining Alicia; I think that will really improve things. And as for Eli’s grand scheme, again I say: I want the shit to hit the fan soon. I want Eli to start roaring at people and rubbing his hands together gleefully and all the things he does when he’s in full Eli mode. When will that happen? He’s treading water right now.
See you next week!