In this episode, everyone learns a nice little lesson about not hiring people without doing a background check.
The Polygraph and the Psychopath
In the first scene, which seems to take place well before the episode, a calm, disembodied male voice gives a polygraph to a pretty woman in giant, fugly, non-hipster (unless I’m behind on what the hipsters are wearing, I suppose) nerd glasses. She’s VP of Information Security at Running Milk. “This isn’t like the movies, Miss Balko,” he says. “There are no gotcha moments.” Her name is Kristen Balko. And it turns out, as she tells Alicia and Lucca later, she lied on the polygraph. not when they asked her if she’d ever stolen from the company; but when she said she had never lied to the company. And because she lied on the polygraph, and had lied to the company, she was fired. Everyone is like, “That’s it? That’s what they fired you for?” I guess in Chicago maybe people lie on their resumes all the time, because they are acting like she was fired for this shockingly tiny thing, and in my world, lying on your resume is kinda a big deal.
Anyway, the polygraph was about a software theft, and there are various loopholes that make it OK or not OK to give someone a polygraph and/or to fire them based on a polygraph. It’s all a little bit boring, but the first step is apparently that the company needed corroborating evidence to fire her for what they found out. Jason volunteers to find said evidence; meanwhile Kristen reveals that Louis Canning referred her to them. Uh-oh.
Alicia and Lucca are still setting up the company, and worrying about the cost of malpractice insurance. Alicia is also a little worried about Jason’s criminal conviction and punching a judge. “And you’re worried about the insurance?” Lucca says. Alicia, hilariously, says, “Yeah. If Jason beats up someone on the job…” Um, Alicia? If you have reason to think your investigator is going to be beating people up on the job, malpractice insurance is the LEAST of your worries. I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but can you even imagine what season one Alicia would think if she could see her future self being all, “Yes, maybe my investigator is a violent criminal, but how will this affect my malpractice premiums?”
Christine Lahti is playing Andrea Stevens, the lawyer for Running Milk, the company that fired Kristen. She totally negs Lucca, asking her how long she’s been out of law school and offering her her business card in case ever Lucca wants advice. It’s delicious. Once the arguing starts, she whips out her best Mamie Gummer, wondering if Chicago law is about who shouts the loudest. Alicia and Lucca want the trial to be in Chicago; Running Milk wants it in California. The offices of Running Milk are (not physically, but I guess legally?) in Chicago as well as California, due to some tax law. Alicia clinches it with one of this show’s hilariously grandpa-ish uses of tech buzzwords: “Brick and mortar are things of the past. The cloud is the future.” Oh, Alicia. You can just say “the internet” sometimes. You don’t ALWAYS have to call it the cloud.
Still worried about Jason, Alicia googles him (well, she googles him on Chum Hum, if I may be allowed to mix metaphors; Chum Hum hasn’t earned its own verb yet) and finds his mug shot and an article about this beating he administered to a judge.
Later Jason tells them that Running Milk definitely did get verification of Kristen’s lie. And let’s hope they’re going to start checking new hires’ references from now on! But there’s good news: there may also not have been a theft at all, since they didn’t alert their customers as required by law, which would mean the polygraph was illegal. Jason and Alicia’s eyes meet and light up at each other as if he’s talking about something much sexier than polygraph loopholes.
Actually that phrase does sound kind of dirty. Just me? OK.
Anyway, Alicia busts out with, “Why did you punch that judge?” Lucca, picking up on the sexual tension I suppose, awkwardly clears her throat and leaves. Jason says he was angry. Doesn’t Alicia ever get angry? She says, yes, but she doesn’t hit people. Jason says, “Maybe you should start.” Yes, violence is a good answer for everything!
In court, Alicia and Lucca win the point in terms of the polygraph being unjustified, and the CEO “generously agrees to rehire the plaintiff at her original salary.” But Lucca insists that if Kristen is rehired, a polygraph can’t be the condition of employment. However, it is now legal to apply polygraphs since the company now has a contract with the federal government for national security. Yes, more loopholes. “The defendant just plans to rehire our client so they can fire her again,” Lucca says. Lucca and Alicia keep arguing about the national security exemption. Andrea says that “no one here has the security clearance to hear these details.” She says they have to trust the NSA. The judge says that it’s about national security, so the polygraph must proceed. “You did your best,” Andrea says condescendingly in her triumph.
Alicia’s finally decided to check up on Jason, and calls the judge that he beat up. “No, no, no, no, no. And no,” the judge says when he learns Alicia is “thinking of hiring” Jason (hah!). “He’ll smile, he’ll tell you jokes, and you’ll even think you’re dealing with a normal person. Then he’ll explode when you least expect it.” He even suggests she read The Sociopath Next Door.
Well, that escalated.
On the one hand, I do find Jason’s twinkly smile to be generally weird and creepy, so I would be interested to see if this pans out. On the other hand, people aren’t always super objective about the characters of people who beat them up. Plus, wasn’t Kalinda’s baseball bat kind of scarier than Jason’s tire iron? All I know for sure is, obviously Alicia should forget this dude and rehire Robyn. Anyway, Alicia stares through the glass door of her office at Jason, who’s just arrived with Lucca, and looks concerned.
Kristen’s passion project at Running Milk, it turns out, may have been one of the reasons she got fired. She was working on relationship maps as her side project. She called it “Spoiler”; it analyzed the pilot episodes of a TV series and predicted storylines, including who’d sleep with who and who’d get killed off. “It’s a stupid little program, it’s not for surveillance,” she demurs when Alicia asks if it could be used for national security. She totally has impostor syndrome.
Alicia ushers Cary into an elevator to ask him how to contact their former client, who worked at the NSA (his name is Jeff). Cary says it’s complicated, and Alicia doesn’t look worried—till she’s buying a temporary phone and literally hiding under a blanket with the shades drawn to dial a number that will re-route her call to this guy. There’s a bar in Iceland where their former client is hanging out playing darts. “Did you type the number in under the blanket?” Jeff demands before agreeing to help.
Alicia tries to get Jeff’s video played in court. “They want to hear testimony from a disgraced poor man’s Snowden?” Andrea says, but the judge does want to hear this. Jeff’s video explains that Spoiler’s infrastructure lends itself well to processing forms of data like terrorist conversations. The background of his video is a rotating slideshow of famous locations around the world. The NSA has acquired the Spoiler app, and wants to “protect” that “investment.” So it turns out that the company, Running Milk, sold Spoiler and terminated Kristen to prevent her from participating in their profits. The judge says that Dellinger needs to testify in person to get Kristen out of the polygraph.
Jason is giving Kristen advice on beating the polygraph. She can’t manipulate the data, so what must she do? “Manipulate the person reading the data.” He gives her a lot of great advice on tricking the polygrapher into reading the data in her favor, and convincing the polygrapher that she is unburdening herself, to create doubt. “Inconclusive works for you here.” Alicia is giving him a thoughtful look: Hmm, you are very good at lying, you sexy man that I hired without checking up on you at all. But when Kristen, Alicia, and Lucca, show up at the “neutral third-party location” for the polygraph, it turns out to be administered entirely by a female robot named MILD.
Cut to Alicia drinking tequila alone again. She sighs when the doorbell interrupts the sweet flow of tequila down her throat, only there’s no one there: just an envelope. The phone rings—it’s “Mr. Gutierrez,” aka Jeff, who wants to know if things have worked out. He’s also wasted, still in the bar in Iceland. He’s heard of MILD, the robot system that is going to administer the polygraph. “You wouldn’t know of any way we could beat it?” Alicia asks.
Cut to an audio recording of Alicia. The NSA guys are listening again! They are so excited to have Alicia in their auditory crosshairs again. “Welcome back, Mrs. Florrick. The water’s fine,” one of them says creepily and they high-five. Next time we see them they’re listening in on an Alicia-Grace conversation. They think she sounds stressed. One of them theorizes it’s because “she’s not over what’s-is-face being shot.” I agree, creepy NSA guy. They want authorization to keep up “the three-hop.” They get distracted by a video of fainting goats, and a status meeting where (supposedly) everyone is going to get fired due to the changes in the Patriot Act. But no one gets fired—they just have to stop collecting bulk telephone data and be more focused. Thrilled, the NSA guys go up to him and ask for permission to keep tracking Alicia, since they’ve been tracking everyone else that Dellinger called. He agrees that they can track her for forty-eight hours, and if they find a connection with another brown-level target, he’ll get them permission.
Lucca calls Alicia to say that she got good news about the judge fight: he walked out of the bar without a scratch. Alicia says that the judge made the beating sound horrible. They don’t settle this before it’s time for Alicia to go to Springfield.
On the phone, Alicia tells Andrea that both Jeff and Kristen are willing to talk about Spoiler, and threatens Andrea about what will happen to Running Milk’s stock prices when this goes public. Andrea says to amend the suit, and that Running Milk will settle for $1.2 million if the suit is on gender discrimination. “They’d rather be seen as sexist than in bed with the next Snowden?” says Alicia. Andrea impatiently tells her not to be naive.
But she’s not only naive: she’s now the next target of the NSA’s listening. She said the word Snowden, so they can keep listening to her. To celebrate, the nerds watch another goat video. The goats sing us into the credits.
Michelle, Jackie… or Lady Bird?
Eli calls Alicia to ask for a quote for Peter’s bio. “Do you need it to be true?” Alicia says. Oh, Alicia. Luckily, Eli only needs it to be “true-adjacent.” Apparently, Peter’s motto is “Service above self,” to which Alicia is like, are you fucking kidding me?
But before Alicia can give Eli a nice sound bite, he finds Ruth waiting for him alone at the restaurant where they were supposed to be having a staff meeting. She’s ordered him an Alabama slammer, a tiny pink concoction that looks and sounds like it was designed for alcoholic nineteen-year-olds on spring break that they are instead sipping from small glasses at a fancy white-tablecloth establishment. Poor Eli, his lips stained pink, can barely handle it.
He does try to give Ruth some story about being inspired to go into politics by his father: “He told me that the most powerful men are the ones no one knows exist.” Ruth laughs and calls him out on making it up and stealing lines from The Usual Suspects. Getting down to business, it turns out that Peter can run for president. They’re going to stop being kind and deferential to the front-runner (i.e., Hillary) anymore. And they’re moving up the announcement to Thursday to take advantage of the momentum, and Ruth wants herself and Eli to be able to trust each other. Eli pretends to agree, so they clink and start on their second slammer each.
Next Eli shows up at Alicia’s apartment to tell her about Peter’s decision and the moved-up announcement. “I wrote you a speech, very Michelle Obama,” he says. He complains that Ruth wants Alicia to be both Michelle and Jackie O. Alicia says she needs a drink, which Eli declines, and she whips out a bottle of tequila and makes herself a “margarita,” which is actually just tequila and triple sec.
I’m sorry, but. Do all these people think they are on spring break? Like, first of all, on just a personal level, I am sad to see Alicia without her signature drink, the Red Wine of Fuck You, I’ve Had a Tough Day. Second of all, I feel like drinking tequila alone is extremely weird and typically only happens if you’re, again, nineteen and your dorm mini-fridge is out of vodka and you need to pregame before you go out to meet your friends.
“Are you judging me?” Alicia says. “That sounded like a judgmental ‘Huh.’” Alicia, literally all of America is judging you. But Eli tells her to get as sloppy drunk as she wants. Anyway, he tells her to show up to this Thursday announcement. She recognizes that he’s scheming something, but doesn’t care: “Cheers.”
Eli shows up at Schakowsky’s chambers to cash in on that little favor he’s owed. Schakowsky’s all, “I would never have taken that bribe.” Very convincing, dude. But Eli stands firm and demands information on Landau’s role in the voting scandal.
Ruth tries to plan an announcement just like the Obamas’, not only in location (steps of the Capitol building) but in outfit choice for Peter and Alicia. I do agree that Alicia can pull off similarly fabulous structural outfits to Michelle Obama, but this strikes me as a terrible idea. I would do nothing but make fun of a presidential candidate who was this transparent, especially a white candidate trying to imitate someone who inspired a nation due to being the first black president. But Ruth thinks everyone’s just going to put the photos side by side and admire Peter for being just like Obama.
Peter gives a brief speech to the volunteers about how the race is in flux and how he wants the voters to see who he is and why he’s doing this. Then Ruth brings Eli into his office for a meeting. Eli has suggested Frank Landau to introduce Alicia, but Ruth wants him to introduce Peter. “I’m here to serve,” Eli says. Nora calls Eli out on being happy with this change. “I’m a good person,” he claims, hand to heart, but Nora can tell he’s setting up Peter. “Sometimes to stop cancer, you have to endanger the patient,” Eli says dramatically. He explains for those who have forgotten (like me, because there really have been too many voting scandals in the past!) that Landau rigged the voting machines in the recent election and will have his arms around Peter at the biggest moment of his career.
Another disaster: that the city hall steps are already taken on Thursday, for an interfaith breakdancing competition. The campaign is going to have to use the steps of a local, Catholic gym. (Ruth thinks the crosses are “decorative X’s” at first, but Eli points out, “With a decorative Jesus?” Heh.) “You’re not screwing with me, are you Eli?” Ruth says when she sees his face, which is visibly working as he comes up with his next scheme. “This hurts both of us,” evades Eli. Ruth doesn’t realize how willing Eli is to turn himself inside out to get his revenge, and accepts this. When Eli comes back to his office, Schakowsky is waiting for him; he’s located an old student of Landau’s who was involved in the voting scheme and is willing to talk. Eli plans to release the story just after the announcement. But then Schakowsky, as if casually, drops that the scandal will be pinned on Landau and Peter. He was “worried about his wife losing,” apparently. Eli is shocked. So am I! And Peter let Alicia take the fall for it. How awful! Go to hell, Peter.
When Peter’s team gets to the gym, the steps aren’t available because they aren’t safe according to the Fire Department. “Did Lincoln do anything here?” Peter says, looking around the gym. Heh. Ruth makes him and Alicia put on the Obama-matching jackets even though they’re inside. Frank shows up and comments on the smell of gym socks. Eli watches on TV as Nora asks, “Are you going to destroy him?” But Eli is having second thoughts. “If I destroy Peter I destroy her.” He means Alicia, who doesn’t know that Peter was involved in the voting fraud and “hung her out to dry,” as Eli puts it. So now Eli doesn’t know what his plan is.
The Eli/Alicia relationship continues to be one of my favorites on this show: the grudging affection she has for him, the way that he went from seeing her as a troublesome pawn to be pushed around, to the one person that he both respects and wants to protect. I found this scene very touching for what it says about Eli.
Landau gives a speech comparing Peter to Obama while Peter and Alicia, in full winter gear, look on. She wipes his brow sweetly. To Ruth’s credit, Alicia is wearing a pretty great hat, sort of a Jackie O. twist on the hat Michelle Obama wore for her husband’s announcement. Peter leans forward and has A Thought. “What?” Nora asks. But Eli doesn’t answer; Peter takes the stage to announce his candidacy, and Alicia joins him to do a Barbie wave.
Everyone Hates Baltimore
A young woman, Monica Timmons (who is African-American, which will definitely come up later), waits nervously alone at Lockhart Agos Lee, watching a bunch of young white men schmooze comfortably with each other. In her interview with Cary, he asks if she’d mind working at a big law firm. When she says she’s from Baltimore, he looks concerned and says, “Tough neighborhood.” The … whole city? Really? David Lee says he doesn’t see a lot of applicants from Loyola; Monica argues that it’s underrated, but Lee kicks her out after about thirty seconds. Howard takes all the racist subtext and kicks it into text, saying, “We don’t see a lot of black lawyers in here. How old are you, honey?” Monica manages to keep her cool as he asks her if she’s Nigerian and calls her sassy. Then he segues into his favorite question, the desert-island question, which I’m sure was the least offensive part of the entire interview. Diane, on the other hand, goes into her liberal-guilt mode, and says, “I’m glad you came in today, Monica. We need fighters in here.” She says you have to be tough to grow up in Baltimore.
Um, maybe it’s because I fell asleep in the first episode of The Wire and never continued, but did I miss a memo that growing up in Baltimore was basically like surviving the Hunger Games?
Part of the point, I’m sure, is that people would assume, if Monica were white, that she had grown up in one of the nice neighborhoods in Baltimore, and they maybe even wouldn’t ask where she was from if she were white, either. But still, they all sound silly, on top of racist. Like, Baltimore’s a pretty big place, guys. I don’t think it’s all like it is in The Wire.
At the hiring meeting, the four bigshots (Diane, David, Cary, and Howard) share a plate of about twenty-five sandwiches and debate the candidates. Diane wants to hire Monica. Cary liked her, but worried about her LSATs, and David Lee thinks Loyola is barely a second-tier law school. Howard Lyman wants to hire her because “she’s black. She’s suffering. Like my people.” Heh. She must have had a really good answer for the desert-island question. Diane says that she sees potential in Monica, but Cary thinks they need top candidates who have tech experience. Diane tries to bargain with them: one guy who interned at a tech company, one with perfect LSATs; their pet candidates for her pet candidates. She even whips off her glasses again, trying to make everyone see reason. The candidates the others want are “three white guys” from Harvard and Stanford. She says Cary wants people who look like him, and he says “That’s not fair.” “A lot of things that aren’t fair are true!” Diane cries passionately, close to tears.
Monica is back and excited to have a second interview, but Diane has to break it to her that she’s not back for a second interview, since they had a lot of “eminently qualified” associates. Monica looks outside and sees three white men celebrating and shaking hands. Pissed, she asks Diane why she was dragged back in here. Diane, not seeing the dangerous territory she’s wading into, says that she thinks Monica has a promising future and to call her if she ever wants help. Monica is not impressed. “This was most illuminating,” she says. Diane looks chagrined.
She looks even more chagrined when she gets an email from Monica linking to a video where Monica edited together secret recordings she took of all the craziest shit that people said to her at Lockhart Agos Lee: everything from Howard; Lee saying she’s not their “type”; and even Cary saying that they’ve had African-American lawyers, but “not in all positions.” Oh, Cary. Even Diane doesn’t sound particularly enlightened. Diane is peeved.
Unwisely, she brings Monica back in to say that she admires her ingenuity and chutzpah. She says that she’s not saying the world is perfect. “But starting out as a woman in a big law firm thirty years ago, … I sympathize. Everyone has to eat a little dirt on their way up.” Monica asks if she’s seriously comparing their oppressions. “If you chose to lay on your back for a male partner or two just to get ahead, that was your choice.” Um, what? Not loving Monica right now. She says that she doesn’t choose to be the victim of racism. Diane says she’s not trying to equate, and Monica says there is no comparison, and she doesn’t want advice. She just needs a job.
Wow. That was some heavy misogyny right there. Consider yourself lucky, I guess, Diane?
A lot of threads seemed to remain untied at the end of this episode. Obviously one of the big cliffhangers for me is, what will Eli do? Will he sell out Peter, kill his run, and destroy Alicia’s last shred of trust in him? Or will he keep quiet and keep trying to get at Ruth from some other angle? We also don’t know what Alicia and Lucca are going to do about Jason. I’m very interested to see what happens when Alicia finds out about Jason beating up the debt conman from last episode, but it’s strange the way she and Lucca didn’t really finish their conversation about it. And there’s an ominous mention to Louis Canning right in the beginning of the episode that never turns into anything; what’s up with Canning kicking Alicia all these cases?
And we still don’t know the answer to my biggest question, which is, what do Diane and Cary even have to do with this show anymore? It’s really rather a shame because these two great characters have such great on-screen chemistry (not sexual chemistry, just in terms of creating good scenes, both when they have conflict and when they work together) with Alicia and yet their plot lines are living over in La La Land, accomplishing absolutely nothing for the overall arc of the season.
However, the stakes are getting higher with the NSA listening in and with this scandal about Peter hanging over Alicia’s head without her knowing it; the Jason thing also looks like it’s coming to a head soon. I hope this means that season 7 is about to kick into high gear.
See you next week!