I decided to recap the season finale before catching up on episode 9 of this season. Even though I think it shows the same fragmentation between Alicia’s storylines and those of the lawyers who were once her colleagues, Diane and Cary, it was a pretty great episode—and, I hope, it will be pivotal for Alicia’s character.
The Lockhart Agos Lee office is silent and dark. As a single phone rings into the eerie quiet, the camera zooms in on a neat array of identical smartphones lined up in the center of the conference table.
Cary, blithely leaving a message for Brian as he arrives, is puzzled to see the office darkened, expecting the associates to be pulling an all-nighter on some matter. He leaves a message for a second associate, “Cedric,” asking if they all went home to shower, and saying he has donuts on the 28th floor.
That reminds me, when I was a maltreated paralegal, I actually worked on the 28th floor – if these associates really want something to gripe about, they should try working the hours they’re working, only with a base salary approximately equivalent to Cary’s annual dry-cleaning bill. And I don’t think anyone ever brought me donuts, either.
Only then does Cary notice the document boxes in the corner, the abandoned smartphones on the table, and look alarmed. I honestly thought that they had all been murdered. Wouldn’t that have upped the excitement factor of this plotline, which, when all things are considered, is basically the founding story of Florrick Agos, only without the characters we cared about, or the heroism, or the drama?
Diane, David and Howard proceed to have the same shouty, blamy argument they have every time one of their minions defects, while Cary sits around looking tragic and bored. “Can we talk about the idiots you hired?” says David, who was not noticeably less interested in hiring a bunch of Cary clones than Cary was. No one from Dipple’s team is left. “All young associates are snakes,” Howard declares, and Cary shakes his head and says, “And you wonder why they left.”
Then Dipple’s team arrives, interrupting them. Cary promises Diane that she can have the filing done within a few hours, since it was close to done. But Diane is cautious: “When you and Alicia stole our clients… didn’t you purge ongoing work product from our computers?” At first Cary grins and says, “We didn’t steal your clients,” in what seems to be habitual Diane-Cary bickering that has lost some, but not all, of its poison and gained at least a little bit of the quality of friendly banter. But then he gets serious when he realizes the associates probably did the same thing to him, and promises to check.
When Diane meets Ethan, he does his usual schtick of asking her what some acronym means. Oh, kids these days! Diane corrects him that it’s not an acronym, since it doesn’t spell another word, and he says they’re already arguing before even saying hello. I don’t think it’s “arguing,” exactly, so much as you being wrong and Diane correcting you, but OK, Ethan. She has to admit they didn’t send the file, and Cary, looking upset, comes by to tell her (in private) that the files are all wiped clean.
“We need to talk, Cary,” Diane says with rage in her voice. She says he turned it into a generational fight and that “They played you.” Ooh, that’s true. Cary is still on the associates’ side, even then: he blames the other partners for it. Diane has no patience for this and tells him he has to make it right.
The associates are huddled in a cafe when an angry-looking Cary comes and sits with them. “How’d you find us?” they ask. He ignores them and asks where the brief was. Then they ignore him and assure him it’s nothing personal. Cary does seem awfully high and mighty for someone who did do this exact same thing a couple of years ago. On the other hand, Cary isn’t a tool, so there is that difference between him and them, at least.
The defectors finally confess (proudly) that they never even started the file. Brian apparently ensured that no one looked at the files so that they wouldn’t conflict themselves out when they … dun dun dun … joined Canning’s firm to fight against Dipple. “You are the devil’s spawn,” Cary says with a disbelieving smirk as he leaves.
Cary, Diane, and David continue to freak out while David makes quips about not understanding scientific diagrams. Howard offers to talk to the judge and get them breathing room, which goes nowhere in the plot. Diane decides to hire more associates.
She brings in Monica, admitting they made a mistake not hiring her. It’s unclear whether she’s figured out what happened to the other associates (although I mean, I’m sure Miss Viral Video reads Above the Law and they would be all over this ish), but she can see Cary freaking out in a nearby conference room. She demands her own terms: salary and protected pro bono hours.
Next time we see her, she’s walking through a quiet, nighttime Lockhart Agos and bringing the fruits of her research to David, Diane, Cary, and a napping Howard. She’s tracked down some contact and has given Cary a template for a plea he needs. Cary sees her rubbing her own neck and kindly mentions she can take a break. “When this is over,” she says with cool competence. Cary realizes they won’t make their deadline and gets up to get “more bodies.”
Cary goes back to the cafe where the defectors have apparently moved in. He tells them he’ll beat whatever Canning’s offering. They tell him it’s the culture, not just money. He says he can make this all happen for them now that he has leverage: shortening the partner track, full equity, etc. They all look excited. He says if they commit right now and get back on the Dipple case, they can have an eighty-thousand-dollar signing bonus.
Soon enough, the Lockhart Agos elevators open to let all the defectors back in, with Cary at the forefront of the procession. They ask what he needs, so he tells them the strategy for the Dipple case in one sentence. Then he stops, and all the younguns who were following him skitter to a stop too. He looks damn pleased with himself as he turns to all of them with their popped collars and power ties and fires them.
“Diane, what do you think about that?” he calls. Diane has materialized right behind the group. “You’re right,” she says as the sea of white male lawyers parts to reveal her, “I don’t think we need them.” I so love the idea of Diane and Cary proudly practicing their little routine, barely able to suppress their gleeful laughter!
Now the defectors are conflicted out of working for Canning. “And the signing bonuses?” Brian says nervously. “They’re real,” Cary says, but they’re going to be losing all their credibility when word spreads about this maneuver.
And the honor of battle goes to Cary. So… I guess this clears the way for Monica to join Lockhart Agos, but what will clear the way for the two halves of this talented cast to be able to work on plotlines that actually relate to each other?
The Dark Side
Somehow this Schakowsky character has now gotten himself behind the bench of a real court and is proceeding to torture Alicia on an actual case. He wants to know why Alicia’s client isn’t there, and it better be because he’s dead. “He’s in surgery,” says Alicia, and then adds “literally.” Schakowsky retorts that he’s literally thunder-struck. Hee.
Turns out the doctor was in a surgery that went long. Matan thinks this is “obscene” and “staged,” and intended to make the doctor look good despite the criminal conspiracy charges he faces. Schakowsky issues a warrant, directing the sheriff to “arrest Dr. Portnow as soon as he puts down his scalpel.”
When he does show up, in scrubs and handcuffs, Alicia and Lucca are counseling him hastily to apologize and be contrite. Schakowsky says the scrubs are a “nice touch” and revokes his bail. The doctor looks sort of dully contrite. Schakowsky makes a big speech about why he’s revoking bail that also, conveniently, contains lots of exposition about what the charges are. The doctor conspired to kidnap and rape a woman he knew on the internet. Yikes. He does have this type of generically handsome face that screams “unsuspected serial killer.” He protests that he has surgeries scheduled, but Schakowsky doesn’t care.
Alicia looks shocked by Schakowsky’s callousness, because… she’s forgotten everything else he’s ever done or said, I guess? And she follows him into his chambers, defiantly announcing that this is a good time for an ex parte conversation. He’s using “personal bias to penalize my client,” she says. Schakowsky is defiant, but Alicia says in a low voice, “You were bribed, sir. The FBI targeted you for a bribe.” He says he didn’t take it, but she’s figured it out: Eli warned him. She asks him for fairness. Schakowsky kicks her out of the office and she leaves, looking a little scared at her own nerviness. The camera stays on her for about ten minutes while she walks down the hall and her face settles further into its determined-yet-scared look.
The first witness names and describes the site that Dr. Portnow used to talk about his rape fantasies, Brutal Mercy. Alicia touches the doctor and whispers to him in a silky voice that it’s just so that he doesn’t look “like a threat” to the jury. Clever. Back to the witness, we learn what KSR stands for: Kidnap, Sedate, Rape. A man was talking to Dr. P about their KSR plans for a certain woman, and Matan has 211 pages of his chats as evidence. Alicia objects, saying the volume is prejudicial. I like it! “I object because they have too much evidence against my client.”
The witness clinches the testimony by saying that he found real-life evidence of the plan discussed on the site: he found the same drugs that Dr. Portnow had discussed using to sedate, in Dr. Portnow’s trunk. But Alicia gets the witness to admit that the supposed connection between Dr. Portnow and the putative victim, that she was a passenger on a flight he piloted—which never happened. She also argues that Dr. Portnow had the supplies through his job as a doctor, and gets the witness to say that he never kidnapped, raped, or stalked anyone.
Jason meets them on their way out of the courtroom. “Skeptical jury, skeevy client,” Lucca says, “Harder than it should be for someone who’s innocent.” Alicia asks him to look into the site, and Lucca claps him on the chest (I guess she thinks his weird smirk is sexy too?) while congratulating him on the amount of gross porn in his future. Jason tells Alicia about Courtney’s offer, and Alicia sighs and says it was Eli’s doing, and that she can’t pay more.
The victim, Lucy, is testifying in court now, and Alicia and Lucca are not touching him anymore, let’s put it that way. She’s seen the stuff he posted. “We’re ready. I know where that bitch lives, and she worships me, so this won’t be hard.” Then there’s some discussion of how he’s going to sedate her and kidnap her, until she breaks down and says she can’t read it. It also turns out that he called her that day to check up on her daughter, Bella, and offered to stop by, only to get arrested before he could. Yikes. But Lucca tries to save it by getting Lucy to say that Dr. Portnow never did anything inappropriate, and that she had never had a visit from him before on other days he claimed to have visited her.
In a bar after court, Lucca and Alicia wonder whether they want to save him or not. Alicia points out how many kids he’s saved. But Lucca’s not convinced, and Alicia says “It’s odd that someone could be so good, yet think things so bad.” …Thanks, that was deep. Lucca, though, goes for the cynicism: she says that’s just how people are. She doesn’t expect anything from anyone, including Alicia. “Still, I’m not gonna kill you,” Alicia says. Jason arrives and asks for a bourbon neat. He reveals that a friend of his in “Cybercrimes” has never had a case where someone on Brutal Mercy committed a real-life crime. That’s a good sign, but on the other hand, the police have found Portnow’s conspirator.
Jason draws Alicia aside to say that he’s leaving. He offers to delay a week, but Alicia, with a cold smile, says he shouldn’t. She asks how long he’ll be gone. He tells her it’ll be two months, and she asks him to call her in a soft voice. “—When you get back,” she corrects herself. Awkward! Jason tells her he doesn’t like Northern California because there are “too many ironic beards.” So, I guess his beard is very earnest, then. He was doing beards before they were cool. He is the only one with a properly pure beard. Beards are OK if they are for concealing your potentially murderous or violent intentions from your boss slash paramour, but not OK if they are for Irony and Coolness.
I’m sorry. I don’t know why I pick on Jason the way I do. Alicia obviously disagrees with me; she gives him the softest expression her generally cool face can make, and bids him good-bye. But she doesn’t look pleased.
A ruddy-faced, sketchy-looking trucker named Manny (of course) is testifying. He’s a convicted sex offender (“You could say that,” he agrees amiably when he’s asked). Manny tells us that Dr. Portnow’s name on Brutal Mercy was theAlgea, “the Greek spirits of pain and suffering.” And he takes way too much pleasure in the concept. He says it was more than fantasy because Portnow really knew Lucy and everything seemed too real. Then he gives an incredibly sinister “heh heh” laugh. Gross!
Lucca, in her cross, elicits the information that Manny is a nonviolent sex offender and got a solicitation charge dropped for testifying here, and that he never met Portnow in real life. They didn’t even have a specific place to meet. Lucca puts in evidence that he was actually in Santa Fe, Bakersfield, and Santa Cruz at the time. “I would have driven back,” Manny insists. The jury looks skeptical. “All right. Sure. Stick with that,” Lucca says adorably. Matan objects.
Jason, as a parting gift, has found Portnow’s wife, who’s a psychiatrist and an author. She’s played by an extremely amusing actress with an extra-dry voice and giant glasses. She calmly explains that her husband’s online activities are a “needed release.” Lucca says that she wants her to talk as a wife: why should hte jury trust him? “He’s superlative at what he does. He supports my professional goals and respects my personal boundaries,” she says. Lucca and Alicia ask her to be less cold. “How you would be at home with your husband,” Alicia says. The lady is like, this is how I am at home. Hee! Alicia and Lucca know she can’t testify. They’re going to have to put Portnow on the stand instead.
On the stand, Portnow admits to writing every post he’s accused of writing. “They made me feel good,” he says. He looks pretty upset and embarrassed. Alicia asks why he made plans online, and why they were so specific. He says that it made them seem real, and he needed release. “The stress of my jobs, the stakes, can be unbearable. …Too many people depend on me.” Sure, play the famous lawyer card! He also declares that it was OK because he knew Lucy was safe: he wouldn’t hurt her.
Cut to a private argument about jury instructions. Alicia and Lucca (who is wearing a weird black leather jacket with three stripes of leopard print up the front, mystifyingly) want to instruct the jury on conspiracy and examples on specific cases. Matan says it’s a simple matter of intent, but Alicia argues that he shouldn’t be convicted for a fantasy. Matan says intent is always an element, such as if you intended to kill someone in a murder case. But in that case they actually killed the person, Matan. Jeez. Schakowsky rules for Alicia, in one of his few non-obnoxious decisions, like, ever. But when the jury rules, they find him guilty.
Portnow clutches his chest, asking how he could be going to jail for something he didn’t do. Alicia promises an appeal. Matan demands that he be held without bail. Schakowsky holds up a hand and lectures the jury that they took an oath to make a decision based on the law. He meets Alicia’s horrified gaze and leaves, but she chases him to his office to ask him about the verdict. “We earned that, right?” she says. “Why don’t you just say, thank you,” he says, and tells her to leave. She gives him the patented Alicia “You’re-gross” look, and does so. Every time Alicia gives that look and fails to protest because the grossness benefits her, she crosses a little bit more into the other side—the side of the world that she had so little experience with when the show started, the side that has irresistibly drawn her in since then. The side where scheming and power is all that matters.
The Redemption of Eli Gold
Courtney Paige, who I’m sure we all think of as simply “Vanessa Williams,” is hanging a giant painting in Eli’s room. Don’t you love when you have one date with someone and they spend tens of thousands of dollars on art for your Polly-Pocket-sized office? She says she wanted Eli to be swallowed up in it. “That won’t be a problem,” says the diminutive Eli. (I just looked it up and in fact he is 5’10”, only an inch shorter than Josh Charles, and four inches taller than Alicia—but whatever, he is trim and gives off an air of being small, especially around Courtney, who flat-out intimidates Eli.)
Then his voice gets tender. “How are we?” he asks, and then he remarks that it’s weird to be dating a billionnaire. Ew. Stop that, Eli. But then Ruth calls Courtney into her office to discuss whether something’s going on with Alicia and Jason. Courtney says Eli already checked and it’s not happening. Ruth points out, “Eli has a way of not facing facts. Especially about Alicia.” After last week’s as-yet-unrecapped discussion of how Eli was slightly in love with Alicia, I admit it: I was afraid this was the harbinger of a very different ‘revelation’ from Eli. Thank God I was simply under the influence of too many early-in-life viewings of Dawson’s Creek.
“What can I do?” Courtney asks, eager to help. Next moment, we see Jason hanging out by the water in his beanie and fielding a call from Courtney, offering him fifty thousand dollars for two months’ work in California. He leans forward and makes a “hmm” sound.
Eli finds Jason outside Alicia’s apartment. He tells Eli he’s leaving and that he left something for Alicia. Eli, of course, takes this as a cue to search Alicia’s apartment. But he gets a call from Courtney, interrupting him. She wants to see him at 8:15 tonight. He’s surprised at how specific she is, and says he’ll see her at 8:16. “I’m demonstrating my independence by being late.” Eli is so weird about her wealth! It’s like he’s afraid of being emasculated or something, which, when you’re being played by Alan Cumming who is (wonderfully) free of most signifiers of traditional masculinity, is just odd. I guess it explains why he went for Natalie, though. She was an undocumented immigrant, sweet, disadvantaged, and much younger than he: he wouldn’t have to feel so threatened all the time.
When Alicia comes in, she finds a book: Unhealthy Obsessions: Why Smart Women Make Bad Decisions. (Fun fact: that was the original title of this show. Proposed episode titles included, “Because they never forgave their mommies for getting a divorce,” “Because they felt guilty for having a life since mothers aren’t supposed to do that,” and “Because Peter is really fucking charming.”)
Anyway, I thought at first that was just a hilariously on-point message for Alicia from Jason about how she is falling for a guy who went to jail for socking someone. But no: it was written by Portnow’s wife. Interesting.
Before Alicia can look into this, Eli interrupts her. She isn’t having it: why is he in her life? Why did he take her investigator? “Why are you letting your paranoia rule your business?” He tries to protest, but she declares that they’re done, and that he’s gone to work for Courtney Paige. “What business is it of yours what I’m doing with my private life? My life is my life and I want you to back the hell up!” she yells. Eli tries to explain it was Ruth, but Alicia tells him to leave.
Next time we see him, he’s finishing some naked time with Courtney Paige that they both declare “amazing,” which… I’m so sure. She gets a call and starts getting dressed. “You haven’t got another hour?” says Eli, a little pathetically. The sheets and her bathrobe both have a silky, expensive sheen. “That was fun,” she says to Eli, taking pity on him. He agrees, then wonders if she meant just tonight. She says no, she has to get back home.
Poor Eli, who thinks the world revolves around him, had forgotten to think about the fact that Courtney Paige (I feel like I need to type her full name every time—the characters are constantly referring to her by her full name) lives somewhere else. He asks if she could come back soon, but she doesn’t seem very excited. She says it was fun again. “Like a carnival ride,” Eli says bitterly. Courtney says, “I like youuu,” in that reassuring, plaintive voice that means more about what she thinks he wants to hear than how she actually feels.
Tossed out in the hall, Eli turns to go – then turns back and makes a speech to Courtney, saying that he usually cares only about elections. But he doesn’t care about that now. “I think you’re perfect—for me,” he says. And asks her to come back soon. She looks touched, but sighs and says that she still feels about her business the way Eli usually feels about campaigns. “I loved every moment of our being together,” she says, while Eli tries not to cry. It’s so sad to see Eli hurt, but I’m so glad this weird sparkless relationship is over.
Later, Eli listens over and over to a voicemail from Courtney, looking like a wreck, his hand pressed to his forehead. She says some trite things about how she’ll miss him, but he doesn’t even listen to it all the way through.
Alicia is stirring tequila with her finger when Eli knocks. “I know. I’m packing for Iowa now,” she says wearily. He apologizes and says he had no idea they were sending Jason out of town. Alicia accepts all his apologies without exactly looking friendly. She looks pale and worn-out—it’s odd to see her without lipstick. But he knocks again, and the next thing you know he’s sitting at the table with Alicia, with his very own glass of finger-stirred tequila.
He launches right in. He has started to care about someone, which he usually resists. “Too much work. I mean, too much work to make it work. But I thought, this isn’t so bad with her.” I mean, whatever. They’ve known each other for like a day, and one tepid declaration of each other’s amazingness in bed doth not chemistry make. Alicia encourages him to be happy, but he has to admit that she didn’t care enough about him to stay. Alicia says she’s sorry, and Eli starts beating himself up again: “You’re nice to me.”
“No, just listening,” says Alicia. Ouch. She’s really pissed. Eli says he’s sorry about Jason, and Alicia denies, again, that he means anything to her. Eli takes a sip, nervous. Alicia begins to sense something else is up. Eli finally, with a tremor in his voice, says she should be happy and that he doesn’t want to be in the way. Alicia is basically laughing at him now. After a long pause he finally decides to do it. To tell her he deleted Will’s voicemail so it wouldn’t interfere with the campaign.. “Will said he loved you and would give up everything to be with you. And I erased it. I never let you hear it. And I’ve been sick about it ever since.”
Alicia listens to all of this with no movement, only the rise and fall of her collarbone, and a fierce look in her eyes. Finally she leans over and takes away his tequila. He looks dismayed, even though I’m sure he knew that she wouldn’t just forgive him because he apologized—and he’s lucky she didn’t react worse, but we already know she had some knowledge of Will’s second voicemail from those tapes. “Get out,” she tells him.
I knew that Eli would reveal some secret to Alicia, and I had been afraid the trailers were overhyping it—that he’d just tell her some other dark thing about Jason’s past, or some other silly secret that we don’t care about, or as I mentioned before, that he might confess his love. But they weren’t overhyping. No matter how much Alicia suspected about that voicemail, she didn’t know. Now she knows—and it’s going to rock her, to remind her once again that she has already let her best chances at a passionate romance slip through her fingers. When Will died, she was galvanized to leave Peter behind for real—to choose no marriage over one that was based on dishonesty and stasis. When she finds out that Will would have given up everything for her before they became enemies, before he died—what will she be galvanized to do? To make more sacrifices, to shake up her organized and shiny life—to do something, finally, that requires her to abandon her “plan”?
It can’t just be sleeping with Jason. It’s going to have to be something bigger. She’s going to have to—finally, after so many years of making the same choice to maintain the self-deception that her way of staying married is any different from being divorced or is doing her children any real good, over any possibility of in-your-face, visible-to-the-world, happiness—change.