Spoiler Alert: Do not read, if you have not seen "The Good Wife," Season 5, Episode 18, "All Tapped Out."
Three full episodes have passed since Will was brutally killed off on "The Good Wife." His death served to "impact every area of [Alicia's] life," and whether or not you appreciated it, the initial pain of the loss (read: seeing Christine Baranksi cry) was a real punch in the gut. But soon, Alicia was in sweatpants, Kalinda was vengefully having sex with every character that still had a pulse, and the show started to feel like a sad-off in which the goal was to be the most pathetic as a direct result of Will's death. Then we got this week's episode, and suddenly all the grief seemed worth it. With "All Tapped Out," "The Good Wife" is back, finally ready to trade fully in the things it does better than any other show on television: the complex handling of moral ambiguity amid political intrigue mixed with the complications of new technology.
As for the last of those pillars, "The Good Wife" has long been hailed for it's exceptional handling of new technology. This is imperfect (the Bitcoin episode came off less than poignant in the hands of a too-goofy Jason Biggs, and "Chumhum" still feels kind of silly to say out loud), but, as Clive Thompson wrote over at Wired, the show "may be the best force for digital literacy in pop culture right now." Many episodes are pulled right from the headlines (see: the Steubenville fun house mirror played out in "Rape: A Modern Perspective"). These are a cunning look at the mix of innovations and the law. Overall, the strongest episodic plot lines have always been those that deal with things like Anonymous or surveillance, and last night's take down of the NSA was no exception.
When Alicia grows (correctly) concerned that the NSA is spying on her firm, she runs to Peter, knowing he'll be adept to squirm his way out of their current predicament. Twisted up in action is both the political spectrum of spying and Alicia's own willingness to make a deal with her morally questionable husband. In a single gesture, Peter takes down the surveillance, with a use of blackmail so clever that even Eli is impressed. This further signals the return of Peter's gubernatorial prowess, not just as a typically flawed politician, but as a strangely empathetic figure who understands the inner workings of corruption, and chooses to bend it to his own (and his wife's own) advantage.
It is in political trappings that "The Good Wife" also shines. Through Peter's various campaigns, to the dealings of his offices, the show is somehow perpetually toying with the inevitability of crookedness and impossibility of ever being "clean" without self-destructing. By the end of "All Tapped Out," Alicia is relieved of the pressures placed on her firm, and the NSA slithers from the narrative center, wounded with by its own hypocrisy. In the course of a few scenes, the show uses the questionable justification for surveillance along with the stunning use political manipulation to spotlight cracks in both infrastructures, as well as our heroine's moral center.
Over at The Atlantic, Kirthana Ramisetti called Josh Charles' departure "liberating" for Alicia's character, and she's right. It was a fact of the casting (Charles chose to leave), less so than a statement on the part of the showrunners, but the move still frees its protagonist from the ebb and flow of a love interest. Alicia is, obviously, the heart of this show, but it is the lens through which viewers watch her development that makes "The Good Wife" such an achievement of Cable television. For too long, her very existence was dictated by a tangible chemistry with her lover/boss -- a fact of the story that seemed to undercut the validity of her every move, both in the minds of fellow co-workers and our perception of the character. Now, Will and his exceptionally large nose are gone. And, as in the fantastic penultimate episode of Season 5, our leading lady is finally free to evolve (or de-evolve) further from a core sense of right and wrong in the complex entanglement of politics and technology that have always made "The Good Wife" so damn great.