E: What a real pleasure it was to see this show again, especially in a week of reruns and concept shows! Even if I did enjoy The Sing-off. Sorry the recap has been so long in coming; Christmas with four small children can be pretty all-consuming. This episode is all about nuance, about shades of gray, liminality, and where the lines get crossed. All in all, it was a terrific way to end the show’s 2009 run.
The episode begins with a plea bargain Alicia hammers out with an ASA, in defense of a bullied young scholar (the son of a client’s housekeeper) who finally acts out and clocks his tormentor in the face with a textbook. Unfortunately, the bully loses a few teeth and the victorious nerd ends up in juvenile court with a 6 month juvie sentence hanging over his head. Yikes! Fine, fifteen stitches and lost teeth are pretty serious consequences, but kids didn’t get hauled up on assault charges for school yard fights when I was a kid. (I was always baffled by what constituted criminal assault, though, so maybe this is a more consistent thing? Still seems weird.) Thankfully Alicia and the ASA arrive at a mutually agreed upon bargain of community service and a confession.
But since we need a plot – surprise! When Alicia, heels beating a tattoo on the floor, escorts the tiny boy and his enormous glasses before the judge (Ghost‘s villainous Tony Goldwyn) he decides that one good book throwing deserves another; Judge Baxter thinks that community service isn’t tough enough a punishment, and sends him to detention for 9 months. Alicia, the boy, his mom and we the audience are all stunned.
Alicia approaches the ADA and accuses him of blindsiding her. “You act like this isn’t the water we’re both swimming in,” he responds (he’s full of bon mots), attempting at first to pass it off on her last name and the judge’s resentment of Peter. But because even he has a soul, he gives her the name Howard Brightman at Legal Aid as a good person to talk to about Judge Baxter and erratic sentencing.
Diane is approached by the Illinois Supreme Court Justice and a phalanx of flunkies about running for a judgeship. If one of my friend’s moms wasn’t a judge in Chicago, I’d have been bowled over by the idea of judges running for office. Well, no. I guess that’s a consideration in Miracle on 34st Street, isn’t it? Anyway, I’m still bemused. It seems very wrong. The politicos offer Diane the support of the Democratic Party, which would make her a sho0-in. There are lots of poor judges out there, Kate Burton’s Chief Justice Adler says. (That’s Ellis Gray to me, btw, and a longtime Law & Order/The Practice lawyer to many of you.) We need two lifeguards (title alert!) to every swimmer. Wow. Wonder what’s going to happen to disrupt that sweetheart deal? After all, Diane can’t relinquish her partnership here, even if she does have the go-ahead from Will to do it.
Meanwhile, back on the homefront, Grace has finally made a new friend. Elated and giddy, she phones Alicia to ask if Shannon can come over. “Guess what, Mom? Her dad’s in prison too!” Hee hee. It’s nice to see Grace happy – or at least, Alicia and I think so. Grandma Jackie not so much. Turns out that Shannon’s dad is an accused meth dealer (like Peter, he insists on his innocence). The girls look up correctional facilities online. “Your dad’s prison is nicer than my dad’s!”
Howard Brightman (and no, I’m not going to make the obvious for you) gawks at the snack buffet at Alicia’s office. If they really put that much food out every day, why have we never seen it before? And why are the lawyers not all fat? Brightman had a client – young and black like Alicia’s – who got 9 months for stealing a roasted chicken. Tony Goldwyn is starting to look like a swimmer. He’s a bipolar sentencer, and its not hard to see a pattern emerge when the black faces keep getting sent to detention for minor crimes. Man, but that’s ugly.
Baxter the racist, by the way, turns out to be Will’s really good friend. Alicia decides for this reason to take the problem to Diane. Diane, thinking about her impending judgeship and not wanting to upset the apple cart, tells her to get a bigger sample than the 20 legal aid cases. If Baxter is failing to be an impartial arbitrator, she says, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make that known. She follows that bit of wisdom with a surprisingly friendly overture: “Knock on my door more often. You’re doing a good job. My apologies if I haven’t made that known before.” Alrighty. Someone’s feeling benevolent.
Jackie lets Alicia know that Shannon’s father is in prison. Alicia has trouble controlling her laughter. “Jackie, your son is in prison.” “Yes,” Jackie sniffs, “but not in Statesville.” Excellent.
Cary and Kalinda continue on an interestingly flirty path. They discover that the racial disparity pattern began in June of 2008. On Diane’s advice, Alicia drafts a motion about the pattern but will take it to Baxter before filing it – it’s a shot across his bow, Diane tells her (and Baxter immediately guesses). His office is full of African Art, and pictures of the judge gladhanding Chicago black politicos like, oh, Roland Burress and Barack Obama. Oh dear. He does not react well, and tells her in no uncertain terms to withdraw the motion before it becomes part of the trial record.
Baxter seems to have a long standing lunchtime basketball game with Will and other legal types. Baxter uses the time to suss Will out about Alicia and the whole mess. She’s taking the case too seriously, the judge claims (which, WHAT?!!!!). Will says her heart’s in the right place, which really raises Baxter’s interest. “Isn’t that the quickest way to get fired at your place?” It’s so interesting. We really haven’t seen this nasty side of Will, but people keep insisting it’s there. The judge is convinced Will and Alicia must be knocking boots. No, says Will. Baxter’s not buying it. “Not even a little bit?” Baxter sends his warning through Will this time.
Terrance, the frail little fellow hauled off to jail, has been assaulted and hurt in detention. When his poor mother arrives to see him, she’s told visiting hours are over, and she can see him on Monday. Damn. I wanted to claw the walls down with her.
Cary and Kalinda find, through yet another guy who wants our Miss Sharma, that a black burglar broke into Judge Baxter’s home in June of 2008 and roughed up his wife. She may even have been raped. It’s not clear why, but the charges were dropped, even though they had the guy dead to rights. “Are people that simple?” Cary wonders. Kalinda thinks so. “People aren’t mysterious,” Kalinda tells him. He pushes the tone into flirting territory. “I’m not mysterious. I’m just not knowable to you.” They’re like spaghetti and hydrogen, she says. Nice one. From his smile I’d say he’s not particularly discouraged. This is an interesting subplot, although honestly I find most of Cary’s development fascinating. Both he and Kalinda flirt by nature; that’s the water they swim in. The fact that he’s everything she despises (entitled, insincere, conniving) doesn’t mean she won’t end up falling for him.
Just as Grace and Shannon have concluded that they get to decide what’s normal (as their lives are now so odd), Shannon’s mom (Mrs. Vargas) shows up to pluck her from the Florricks as if the place was a crack house. Jackie is thoroughly offended.
Chief Justice Adler pays Diane a visit, not merely to inform her that Lockhart is too English a name for the Chicago Irish to love. No, she wants to make it clear that Diane’s firm cannot upset the apple cart for just one kid. Judge Baxter is one of the good ones, and his compatriots are closing ranks. And in court, a Judge Parks (another basketball buddy of Will’s – and, incidentally, an African American) shoots down a meaningless motion to send the same message. You can fight city hall, Will says, but you can’t fight judges. Wow, we’re really ratcheting up the emotional stakes! The more the man comes down on them, the more we need our team to fight for Terrance.
Jackie, in high dungeon, takes herself down to Shannon’s modest house and demands that her mom explain herself. “Your son put my husband in jail for 10 years for something he didn’t do.” Ah. Well, that is a blight on a budding friendship. Jackie is no Alicia (like we need to be told that!); instead of quiet sympathy and rational discussion, Jackie calls Mrs. Vargas gullible and says of course her husband is guilty. Way to win friends, Jackie! She cements that lovely impression by a descent into name-calling, and ends up spraying Mrs. Vargas with the garden hose. It’s terrible, but you can’t help laughing. Not very dignified or mature, Jackie-o.
Cary insists to Alicia and Kalinda that there’s still a wrong shape to Baxter’s cases. He’s sure something happened in June of 2008 related to the attempted robbery, but the statistics show that it could just as easily be about the age of the defendants and the number of single parents as their race. Kalinda, frustrated, cuts through the red tape and goes right to Will. I realize everyone is avoiding you because he’s your friend, she says, but something happened to him. Don’t you have any idea what? And it turns out he does, a little. Baxter had gambling debts (borrowed 120K from Will which he hasn’t paid back – ouch – which Will downplays as a small amount of money) and it seems likely that the assumed burglar was actually a tough guy from Baxter’s bookie. No wonder Mrs. Baxter left him. Will takes a look at the case files, and notices that all of the kids have been sent to an alternate, non-state run facility called Palgrave Academy. Ahha. Will and Kalinda check it out and let the director know they’ve figured out he’s paying Baxter kickbacks. Pretty loathsome. He’s not a racist, he just sells kids for personal gain. Will confronts Baxter (wondering when he put justice up for sale to save himself) who – there it is again – calls Will a “litigator who whored himself out to the lowest scum” and claims to be above Will’s judgment. Chief Justice Adler, meanwhile, apologizes to Terrance, but tells Diane (ah, we knew it was coming) her candidacy is dead, at least for now. The party won’t back her anymore. “Try not to cause any more ripples.” You’re just full of water metaphors, aren’t you?
All in all, a really excellent episode. It’s certainly an interesting examination of where the fault lines in a friendship lie, and how we behave when the chips are down. There was less Alicia than usual, I think, or at least it was less about her issues than Will and Diane’s. She was the prime mover of the action, but the main emotional responses came from others. Next up is an episode named “Infamy.” Ooooh, promising! There’s got to be lots of Peter in that one, which I suppose could go either way. I’m looking forward to it, though – and promise the recap will appear in a more timely fashion.