E: Heart, as in the heart of an unborn baby with hyperplastic left heart syndrome. Heart, as in Peter’s desire for fundamental change. Heart, as in Alicia’s longing for her boss and angry confusion at her husband. Heart, as in Will’s attempts to balance the needs of the firm with what he knows to be right. Heart, as in mine, hammering.
Very little Kalinda, even less Diane, essentially no Cary, no Grace or Zach or (thank heaven) Becca. No Gary Cole, although I’m happy to hear his character is coming back. But that is all okay. The writers wisely honed in on the beating heart of the show – Peter, Will and Alicia.
You think Meredith Grey is dark and twisty? Turns out she’s got nothing on Alicia Florrick.
The episode opens with an impromptu emergency court being set up in a hospital, Judge Robert Parks presiding. S,L &G represents a young couple, Jesse and Kate Willoughby , who need an emergency surgery within the next 3 days to save their baby’s life. “Fetus,” corrects the representative of the insurance company which doesn’t want to pay for it. “I’m sure that distinction makes us all feel better,” says the judge. Ah. well, now we know at least some of the strategies of both sides. And here’s another – LifeState (oh, the irony) wants to delay until the procedure is irrelevant.
Martha Plimpton returns in her transfixing role as Patty Nyholm. Patty is theatrical; there isn’t an honest bone in her body. Everything she does is calculated for effect. She’s whip-smart, and loathsome, and a total joy to welcome back. If her work here doesn’t merit a guest spot Emmy nomination, I don’t know what would. We first see her, sitting in the snowy hospital parking lot listening to “The Wheels on the Bus”, getting a text from the insurance company rep which says that their delaying tactic didn’t work, and she needs to come inside. Happily, she runs into Alicia in the parking lot, and is able to both force Alicia to carry her diaper bag, and use her as an excuse for lateness.
Yes. That’s right. You may recall she was enormously pregnant when last we met. She now totes a cute little baby girl. Is it a failure of child care, or a play to look less heartless, or a ploy to cause continued delays? Knowing Patty, at least two out of three.
Bambi, Golden and Gold approach a politically connected African-American minister about a prayer breakfast and photo op to help Peter get over his downtrend in polling with African-American women. ” We think it’s about crime,” says Bambi, who is still employed by Peter why? “It’s about cheating,” the minister replies (which, duh). After grousing a bit about how Alicia is more private than Hilary and won’t campaign for her husband, the minister hands the whole mess over to his son, who is now the “lord” in Christ Church. (Funny, I thought that was God. Also funny – aren’t the Florrick’s Catholic? Didn’t we hear that from Jackie early on? I get that you don’t go to the Catholic Church to influence black women in Chicago – although I’ve met some fantastic African-American nuns from there – but won’t it be immediately obvious how cynical and calculating that is? At least the Clintons were already Protestants.) If the son approves, the father will pray with Peter.
Back at the hospital, Kate muses that this is exactly what you get insurance for (when things go catastrophically wrong beyond your ability to pay) and here they are, with insurance but without coverage. Alicia asks if they’ve settled on a name yet (clearly, she’s been on ‘soothe the client’ duty again); no, they can’t bear to name their son until they know he’s going to live. Meanwhile Will and Patty snap at each other. “That isn’t really your baby, is it? What’s her name?” “Bite me.” “Is that Dutch?” They slice each other up a little during the clearly too long break afforded by the judge to calm Nyholm’s allegedly hungry baby.
Will puts a neonatologist on the stand to explain that the baby has hyperplasty left heart syndrome, which is uniformly fatal if left untreated in utero. Patty counters by pointing out that the neonatologist hasn’t performed this procedure herself, and that it’s only been done in Illinois 4 times. The insurance rep smirks triumphantly behind her, as if that sews it all up with a bow. Well, the kid can’t help where his parents live, can he? And the doctor did say they’d flown in experts from places like Boston, LA and Miami – where, presumably, the procedure has been performed more than 4 times. No doubt that’s part of the expense LifeState is quailing at, but to me, that’s the easiest answer to the whole “eeek! experimental!” defense. That and, you know, the whole “uniformly fatal” thing.
Back at the war room (erm, the Florrick apartment), Father father and Father son have come to see Peter and the team. Father son balks at being used. Father father – more worldly and experienced – wants to hush him, but Peter seems to think straight talk will do the trick. It does not. “You might think I’m a shallow narcissistic politician – and you know what? I agree with you”. Is he? That’s disappointing. Does Peter really believe he’s shallow? I don’t think he does; I think he’s got much more of an ego than that. Is he? That’s another question. Maybe. Deeper in some areas than others, certainly, but who isn’t? I don’t mean to defend Peter, exactly. I suppose I want to think that there’s something good in him, or Alicia wouldn’t have loved him. We know he has great gifts, as well, of charm and perception and a ruthless ability to cut to the quick.
Okay, anyway. Everything I built has turned to dust, Peter tells him. “Your marriage is in trouble. I know you think it isn’t, but it is,” Father son says. “Does your wife love you?” “I don’t know,” is the best that Peter can do. It’s interesting to see him pass back and forth between bravado – between trying to play Father son with his supposed honesty – and moments of true vulnerability. And then there are the points where he can’t even bother to be politic. “Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?” “I don’t know what that means,” Peter says, annoyed. I think Father Son’d say that part’s very clear. “Do you want to know what it means?” “No.” They laugh. “Please God, make me good – just not yet.” Peter, Father Son diagnoses, is afraid of change. And it’s clear that he functions best within the world he’s made for himself, the world that’s crumbled. He doesn’t know how to rebuild it. Oh, the politics come naturally, but with Alicia? Or even with himself? He’s been living, in some ways, as a caricature, thinking there were no consequences to his actions, not squaring his actions with the moral person he presumably once was. So here’s the question. Does Peter want to change? Alicia won’t come back to him, to his bed, unless he does, Father Son says. Eh.
Will’s on the phone to Alicia. Patty won’t budge because – oh, interesting – there’s a class action suit brought against LifeState by S,L&G. Alicia says she doesn’t like being so emotionally invested in her cases. He understands, and tells her to get some sleep. As she shuts off the phone, she hears Father Son praying over Peter in the maid’s room. She’s a bit weirded out, but she doesn’t interrupt.
Patty and Will talk settlement as she balances her daughter on her hip. Seriously, if this is not a ploy, she’s got the worst day care center or nanny ever. This won’t look good in the press, Will warns. What, you think you could make an insurance company look worse, she scoffs. The insurance company suit is offended. Let’s talk like adults, Patty says. Drop the class action suit, and save this baby. “You don’t really care about helping some sweet couple have their first baby!” “What about the other 68 sweet couples,” Will wants to know? As if Will could afford to drop a suit like that.
Will talks it over with Diane, who suggests asking Alicia to ask Peter to talk to the state insurance commissioner about it. Will does not like the idea of being beholden to Peter in the least. In fact, he’d probably like to forget his existence if at all possible. Diane’s idea has him very grumpy. He thinks he can win without that level of strategy.
Gold and Golden talk about Father Son (who is apparently properly called Pastor Isaiah). Golden says that they need to let Peter take his time and get spiritual guidance, and repent. Eli dismissively says that religion is like a drug; curative in small amounts, addictive in larger doses. Hmm. Then he asks Golden to talk to Pastor Isaiah for him. I thought we were living in a post-racial society, Golden says snarkily. Oh, fine, says Eli, I’ll do it.
The claims adjuster goes on the stand to say that her heart goes out to the Willoughbys, but she can’t approve an experimental, medically unnecessary procedure when there’s a proven strategy – doing the surgery when the baby’s born. Um, didn’t the doctor say this condition was uniformly fatal if left untreated in utero? So, what, we have the perfectly humane, “tried and tested” solution of operating when the baby is already dead? Isn’t that called an autopsy? Will brings out the famous photograph of the baby who reached out of the incision to grasp the surgeon’s finger. What could be wrong about that?
Patty – oozing sympathy about being a new mom – makes the surgery sound as gruesome as possible. And then she makes Kate describe her job as a community organizer, and – zing – her work for women’s reproductive health. “You spent years fighting to make sure that a fetus this stage could be aborted legally. And now that you’re the one with the fetus at 23 weeks, you’re arguing that it should be considered a baby. In fact, it is a life worth saving.” Yes. Yes, of course she does. “And you can live with that hypocrisy?” I suppose in the same way that lawyers live with defending clients they don’t always agree with. I think this is a touch heavy-handed (pro-life judge, pro-choice activist wanting to save her unborn child), but it’s certainly not boring.
Alicia sees Will’s guilt and worry; he’s certain they can’t stop the class action suit, but is nervous that the larger cause (and the self-interest that goes along with it) could act against the interest of these people. “Isn’t being a lawyer great?” The judge is about to rule in the Willoughby’s favor (telegraphed to the lawyers when he helps wheel Kate through the ‘courtroom’ door) when Patty pulls out a last-ditch effort. She wants to bring up the legitimacy of the contract itself. Will tries to appeal to her better nature (“if you drop this coverage, the baby will never get any sort of surgery!”) which goes about as well as you’d think.
Can I count the ways in which I loved seeing Pastor Isaiah smack Eli down? Even if I’d rather just call him Father Son. I love that he didn’t just fold either when Eli attempted to buddy-buddy him with political fast talk, or when Eli tried to blackmail him. Nice to see that not everyone’s so spineless as Becca (not that I think we’ve seen the last of her, unfortunately). Peter could make a difference, Eli says. Peter needs to make a difference to himself first, the Pastor counters. Nice.
After some smaller issues with filling out the form, Patty finds a literally smoking gun – the fact that Jesse (who wrote on his insurance contract that he hadn’t smoke within the last calendar year) can be seen on a friend’s Facebook page with a cigarette in his hand. Well, okay, it looks like Facebook, although on Facebook, you’re not supposed to be able to view other people’s private photos. He lied over a relevant health issue, and should have his policy voided. Over his flailing cries of “it was just once! at a party!” the judge reluctantly voids Jesse’s contract and rescinds his insurance coverage. ‘I’m following the law, Mr.Gardner, not agreeing with it.” Damn. The Willoughbys collapse. Will tries to make a last-minute deal with Patty (was he going to offer up the class action suit?) “You lost at craps, Will. You don’t make a deal with the croupier, you just … go home.”
Back at the darkened, nearly empty office, a wrecked and guilty Will tries to change Patty’s mind over the phone. This, of course, does not work. Alicia – carrying her coat and bag, clearly ready to go home, comes in to comfort him. “It’s my fault,” he says. “Nyholm is right. I played craps with that kid’s life.” Alicia wants to blame Jesse (I’m sure Jesse blames Jesse) but Will and his haunted, shadowed eyes are having none of it. She puts down her things and puts her left hand on his shoulder. “You listen. You did everything. I know you did everything.” He looks down at her hand, and slowly, slowly looks up at her face. She looks back, and again, something wordless and overpowering passes between them. And slowly, Will raises first one hand, and then the other to cup her face, and kisses Alicia. And she kisses him back. He pulls back, looks at her, searching for something. “Are we?” he begins, but now she’s the one leaning in, and she stops his words. And then – oh my God – she whimpers. She actually whimpers. They’re kissing, and then their arms are wrapped around each other, and then – “damn it.” “Alicia,” he starts. “No,” she says, waving her hands, “damn it!” She gathers up her things and runs for the elevator. She gets all the way to her car in the parking garage, but she can’t do it – she locks the car, runs back to the elevator, and heads back to the office as the music explodes. “This is not a good idea,” she tells herself. Will isn’t in his office, and his assistant is lurking so she has to prevaricate about having left her laptop. She leaves for good. He’s checked her office. He calls while she’s in the car, and she shuts her phone off.
(Dopey, but the theater geek in me thinks the awkward use of the left hand is good blocking – which is to say, a planned movement with allows the audience to see the two of them better than if she’d used her right hand, as would be more normal for a right handed person. And the psychology geek in me thinks that it’s also understandable as a subtle signal – she isn’t closing her body off by crossing her arm in front of it, she’s not protecting herself. She’s open, accepting.)
Will gets a call, and is hoping it’s Alicia, when it’s Jesse Willoughby instead. Kate might be in labor, and they need Will’s help. Medical emergencies – better than a cold shower!
Alicia arrives back the apartment, still flustered, still on fire. She tosses her things on the kitchen island, looks idly in the fridge, and just doesn’t know what to do with herself. Then there’s sudden purpose to her movements; she’s got an idea. Oh, man. She isn’t. Oh, I can tell from the way she’s walking that she is. She’s going to dump all her lust and confusion on the only available target. DAMN. Alicia defuses all her pent-up passion and longing – with Peter. Let’s go to the bedroom, he says. No, she commands – here. The camera focuses on a cross, swinging from his lamp.
Wow. You know, I get it, and it’s fair play that she used her husband for sex, given everything. It’s not as if he’d rather she sleep with someone else! But it’s still pretty squicky. And definitely twisted. And definitely good writing and even better acting – acting along the lines of Diane Lane’s famous, Oscar nominated train ride in Unfaithful. I’m laughing at myself that it bothers me so much that she slept with her husband, when her heart and mind were full of Will instead.
While Alicia’s working out her demons, Will’s at the hospital, cursing the reluctant staff into helping the now infamously uninsured couple. I’m sure he enjoyed being able to yell at someone and get something done.
Alicia and Peter meet in the kitchen the next morning, rumpled. He stops short of touching her, though he looks like he wants to and doesn’t understand the flurry of signals she’s sending. “Last night was… great.” She smiles, a secretive, satisfied, Mona Lisa smile. “Are you becoming religious?” she fires back. Ah, no rest for the weary. Truce officially over. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m becoming. But I wanna change.” She walks off with her coffee cup. He points to his heart, to emphasize his sincerity. She’s not buying. Then the doorbell rings, and it’s a ragged looking Will. Alicia’s speechless, tries to run him out, but he’s here to see Peter and ask that favor Diane suggested, the one he originally disdained. She wraps her cardigan and her arms around herself (talk about closed off body language!) but Peter sees him and invites him in. Alicia brings coffee. There’s weird affability. “He’s great. I don’t remember him being so nice,” Peter says of Will. He’s promised to send the info on to the insurance commissioner.
Kalinda, it seems, has downloaded some software that allowed her to clone Patty Nyholm’s phone. The stones that girls has! Unbelievable. Well, that’s definitely going to be inadmissible in court. Will can only laugh – and, of course, he wants to know. She’s found out that Patty is desperate to protect Pam, which is the name of the insurance adjuster. It’s at this point the Will’s secretary asks him if Alicia found her laptop, and Kalinda comes alive to the subtext.
Will heads to Alicia’s office. The music is like a pulse, like a heart beat. She watches through the glass like a terrified animal, frozen but desperate to flee. Her hair is even a little disheveled. He sits down on her couch. He does not close the door. He apologizes for showing up at her door. “So.. you’re my boss,” she says. “I’m a junior associate.” I know, he says, but why did you come back to my office after you’d left? “Will, help me out.” Then we find out that they weren’t just friends at Georgetown – but they weren’t a couple, either. Mmmm, interesting. “But you came back,” he says, not wanting to let it drop. “I know,” she returns, “It was wrong.” “Because you’re married?” he wants to know, and she doesn’t answer. It’s as much about self-definition, and her anger at Peter as it is the fact of her marriage, I think. “I like work. I like working here” she says instead. “I don’t want everywhere I go to be a mess.” It’s hard to beat Josh Charles in hangdog mode; he looks so defeated you just want to snuggle up to him and make all his pain go away. He wants to not talk about it for a week, and then have dinner and discuss it. Somehow, I seem to be more excited than Alicia is at this prospect. She stammers. “Don’t apologize. We have bad timing. We’ve always had bad timing.”
Kalinda and Will hunt Pamela down, thinking she must be willing to flip, only to find her totally dismissive of the idea. She’s funny. Pam was already shut down, she says. Huh?
PAM, it turns out, is not just the claims adjuster, and it’s not just one of my college roommates, either. Nope – it’s a clandestine program (policy application management) which comes up with technical reasons for dropping policies when the company wants to avoid a big payout. Organized post claims underwriting. And that’s about as loathsome as you can get. Which brings us right back to Patty.
And – nice. Last week it was the iud, this week it’s a breast pump. I love how frank – and accurate – this show is about the messy little details of women’s lives. Will busts in on Patty pumping; he threatens to expose PAM to the state insurance commissioner, who happens to be in Patty’s firm’s waiting room. The pump stops. It’s probably a good thing we didn’t hear the sound effects that would normally go along with said stoppage. “You asked me how bad I could make an insurance company look, ” Will gloats. Pretty damn bad, that’s how. “Drop your license bad.” Patty folds. (Here’s a question, though. How did Peter get the commissioner to go with Will without telling him something that he would then not have to follow up on?)
Will and Alicia sit with Jesse in the waiting room, as he rocks in fear. “I have a feeling kids change everything, don’t they?” he asks. “Yes, they do,” says Alicia, looking covertly at Will. The surgeon walks toward them. “Is he – is he smiling?” Jesse wonders frantically. “I can’t see if he’s smiling.” The surgeon takes off his mask. He’s smiling.
Peter’s waiting for Alicia at home with wine. Pastor Isaiah wants us to go to church, he says. “Well that would be interesting,” she scoffs. There’s a lot of uncomfortable silences. “Well, it’s getting late,” he whispers throatily. “Good night Peter,” she says brightly, walks into her room, and closes the door behind her. He’s not a little baffled.
And – oh, no! Is there no episode next week? Are you kidding.
I suppose I will just have to rewind that kiss till the show comes back on.