E: With the Oscar nominations and the Golden Globes happening this week, and me working, there’s just no way I can do a normal E-style recap this week. I didn’t even have time to watch the episode before Saturday, let alone spend hours pouring over every sentence. What you’re going to get here (along with apologies) is more of a reflection. They do this to me every year, those rotten schedulers, and this year it killed me. It was especially painful to give up on such a momentous, philosophical, even monstrous episode, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint, but with another episode coming tonight, I really couldn’t help it.
At long long last, the terrible campaigning episodes come to their end. Thank heaven for no more politics! Or at least, no more completely stupid campaigning. Or at least, so I can wish. Eli clearly has hitched his wagon to a new horse, but so long as CBS is defeated in their evil plot to produce more episodes, then we ought to be good. Right?
It was painful to watch Alicia’s hard won reserve crack into terrible anger at Eli’s confession. The cold, rational way she took those dishes out of the hutch, stacked her china separately, so she would only throw the plain cream plates at the campaign operative’s head? It was horrible, and more horrible that Eli didn’t run from her rage, but stood in front of her like a willing target, wanting desperately to talk her into forgiveness. And for Jason to knock on the door when he did, just after she’d heaved her suitcase across the room, weeping in anguish, so she had to pretend that she’s got everything together? Surely it’s a (perhaps perverse) sign of how deep her trust in Eli runs that she was willing to express herself that way in his presence, that she was able to lose control. For Jason, she has to pull herself together, half opening the door so he can’t see the china shattered all over her floor.
And the miserable downside to that emotional release is that you know she cleaned up after herself afterwards. And then she had to get on a bus to Iowa.
On the bus she’s an ice queen, throwing razor-like shards of anger at everyone, hiding behind sunglasses, wrapped defensively in a sweater, sitting alone with earbuds blasting Clem Snide’s REM-like guitar-heavy dirge “No One’s More Happy Than You,” siding with Ruth merely to spite Eli. It’s an indication of just how miserable she is that she lashes out at her children as well; what astonishes me is how cheerful Grace doesn’t fold under Mom’s waspish responses and just enjoys the tour. Usually she’s more sensitive to other people’s moods, and I can’t decide if it’s a good or a bad thing that the girl doesn’t notice the poisonous waves roiling off her mother. (Maybe it’s a weird observation, but it has to be said — Alicia looks more vulnerable in street clothes. She’s comfortable behind the armor of her role as a lawyer, but when it comes to being herself, being unstructured, she wraps those soft sweaters around her torso, chilly and lost. It intrigues me.)
The debate on the campaign bus is whether Peter ought to attempt a “Full Grassley” — which is to say, hitting all 99 Iowa counties before the caucus, as famously done by a candidate named Grassley. He needs a strong second place finish over Bernie Sanders to remain a viable candidate, and Ruth thinks that this stunt will drum up the necessary enthusiasm, so he and the family and Ruth and Eli, Josh the pollster/media adviser (who along with Eli disagrees vehemently on the relevance of the Grassley, believing that social media’s the modern answer) and Mo Rocca’s astoundingly dim reporter Ted Willoughby set off an ill-fated trip to hit the last 5 counties in a single day. (Ted insists on called it “the Full Monty” repeatedly, because of course he does.) They drive up to a tiny town, accompanied by blasting Iowan music, greet a few supporters, be presented with the local delicacy, a loose meat sandwich; Peter takes a big bite, praises the food and shakes hands for ten minutes, and it’s off to the next.
At their first stop, they meet a self-styled Florrick Fanatic, a truly hilarious rapping white guy named Neil Howard Sloan-Jacob, who’s dressed up like General George Washington with glittery gold bandoleers. He’s a marvel of unself-conscious fanhood. I can’t quite imagine how anyone could love a politician this much, let alone Peter. Or why he would inspire such adoration and enthusiasm. Is it his rakish good looks? His stirring oratory? His philandering heart? His ability to ruthlessly cut people out of his life when he no longer needs them? But Neil does adore Peter, whatever the cause, and he declares it in song and dance, drumming up enthusiasm with a portable microphone and a steady beat.
Alicia and Peter manage to sabotage his good work, however; Alicia, first, by rebuffing Eli’s attempts at a reconciliation by declaring viciously that she’s trapped in a nightmare in Iowa — an nasty faux pas which was filmed by Ted Willoughby’s producer and of course uploaded, causing a massive uproar in the second town on their trip. Illinois’ first lady is forced to deliver a shockingly insincere apology via Ted, explaining how she longs to be home in her kitchen caring for Grace, who has the sniffles; she’s sure that all the mothers out there will understand how difficult it is not to nurture your children. Alicia’s contempt for voters is so palpable that it ought to melt Willoughby’s lens, and yet for reasons completely unclear to me, voters seem to find this bit of sophistry compelling and have forgiven the pair by the next stop. But all good things must come to an end! At their last stop, Peter’s caught on camera spitting his last bite of the latest loose meat sandwich into a napkin, offending Iowan voters once more.
These people. I mean, come ON. Is neither one of them capable of remembering when they’re surrounded by cameras? Oh well. At least he can only blame himself.
The Snide song is the true theme of the week (and how apt that Alicia would be listening on repeat to someone named Snide); on their various stops Ruth and Alicia have a series of conversations about missed chances and other possibles lives, sharing the lost opportunities of their pasts. What if Alicia had dated Will at Georgetown? What if Ruth had married her true love and had the kids he wanted? Would he still have ended up in jail for mail fraud? Would Will still have died young? Is there a path Alicia could have taken that would have made her happier, or is happiness a function of personality, of her DNA, and not of circumstances? It’s an interesting question, one much debated by psychologists; I was just talking about this, actually, with my sister and her psychology professor finance in reference to the Powerball drawing. It’s not the fault in our stars that we are underlings, but in ourselves; circumstances that don’t make us who we are, we are who we are.
Regrets are foolish, to a degree; as much as Ruth’s only saying what she needs to in order to keep Alicia on message, she’s not entirely wrong. As terrible as this pain is, Alicia can’t bring Will back from the dead. She can’t unmake her choices either in Georgetown or during her fling with Will, when she shut him out and broke things off. She can only focus on how to make her current life better, and since she is so completely shut off to doing that, it makes me wonder if she even has the capacity for happiness left in her.
Then again, it seems hard to imagine she could have chosen a path in life that would have made her more unhappy than this one. Is Ruth suggesting that this hypothetical Will wouldn’t have been a better husband? And — well, I suppose we could spin that out to say that his gambling addiction could have ruined Alicia too. in the way that she’s allowed Peter’s scandal to break and ruin her. On the other hand, is saying that declaring that she’s complicit Peter’s failings? That she subconsciously knew he would betray her, that she set up a life in which he would fail — and that if she’d been with Will, he would have failed her in the same way. Not all men have catastrophic national scandals.
But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is that life ultimately betrays us all, whether it’s a cheating spouse or a body that succumbs to addiction or m.s. or cancer, infertility or blindness. Maybe the point is that what counts is not what life throws at us, but how we respond to it. That, as philosopher and humanist Victor Frankel put it in Man’s Search for Meaning, the book he wrote expressing what he learned as a prisoner in Nazi death camps:
And if that’s not something she can learn from, then what else is there?
Anyway, I thought those were cool and important conversations, even though I just fear Alicia is never ever going to get it.
Just so we haven’t utterly wasted their presence, we have a funny moment at the particular caucus where the Florricks have chosen to make their stand, in which Zach tries to charm a Georgetown bound high school senior named Sam. His flirting isn’t exactly impressive (“I can tell you’re smart,” he offers, offending her, coming off as patronizing as his mother) but Sam will forgive him if she gets to meet her big crush, Grace. After failing to win her to their side, Zach admits defeat and deploys his smiling younger sister to the task. Did Grace/Alexa Vega dye her hair?
There’s much dithering over the 29 people needed for viability (which requires a tiny bit of lawyer-talk from Alicia and Ruth to smooth over), and it seems like all is lost until Neil Howard Sloan-Jacob, bless his heart, strides triumphantly into the hall. At first Eli and Ruth want him thrown from the building, but it turns out that Iowans like him, following him in a phalanx as if to war, and Florrick wins the county in a triumphant blast of music.
Except, when the results are in, delivered via television report from Chris Matthews, he’s won merely the four counties he visited that day, taking a very pathetic fourth place. Alicia holds his head to her body, but looks out past him. Is this the life that she’s destined for? Can it get no better?
Eli, of course, thinks it can. He tells Ruth that the problem is they’ve both being supporting the wrong Florrick. The public doesn’t want Peter. They want Alicia.
(Dear God, no. Just no. Or show that she’s competent at being something other than a lawyer, please!)
In the B and C plots of the episode, Lockhart, Agos & Lee is being investigated for racial hiring biases by the government; Monica Timmons of course filed a complaint (and linked the government to her ‘secret tape’) and even though she withdrew it, the authorities have come down anyway. Diane wants Cary to take the fall and apologize, but instead he offers the government official (who makes her diagnosis of institutional bias in a single day) Howard Lyman as a sacrificial goat; Howard will go to emeritus status, as Cary’s long wanted, and the firm is off the hook.
It’s hard out there for the comic relief; Howard and Jackie are trying to figure out their Peter mandated prenup (which is slightly preposterous, since there’s no way in hell Jackie Florrick wouldn’t be on that bus). David Lee stands for Howard, and Lucca for Jackie, and Jason does a little searching from San Francisco (because the internet is everywhere) when we find out that there are 2.2 million in assets in Howard’s name in a shell company. Of course, the money was actually placed in hiding by David, who wanted to cheat Alicia out of her exit package (grrrr), and he begs Howard to pretend he knew about it for a cut; unfortunately, when Howard goes along, claiming a senior moment, Jackie thinks that forgetting about that much money means her beloved is senile, and wants power of attorney over his choices now. All’s well that ends well, however; Jason comes in with his information just after Jackie hears from Chris Matthews that Peter’s essentially lost his bid for the presidency, and so she goes to cuddle with Howard, and declares that the pre-nup isn’t necessary anymore. They should just grab the happiness they have available to them for as long as they can have it.
How old will Alicia be, do you wonder, when she’s willing to make the same sort of leap?
So all in all, it was an entertaining and emotional episode. Sure, Peter got puffed up by the idea of running in a frustrating way, but I almost felt bad for him to see his ridiculous ambition fail.
After the announcement we just got from the Kings about them ending their involvement after this season, I feel inspired to do the same. If the show goes on, my recaps won’t go with it. As much as I have issues with them and their choices, as much as they haven’t told the stories I particularly wanted or expected, I have tremendous respect for their creativity and their character writing. The show ends with them, doesn’t it?