Between The Personal and The Political: The Lawyer, Her Boss and Their Investigator

Curator's Note

Perhaps it goes without saying that the roles for women on CBS's The Good Wife are laudably complex, eschewing, for the most part, those tired female stereotypes still so prevalent in much of television and film: desperate housewives, shrewish ballbusters, silly girls and scheming vixens. The protagonist, Alicia Florrick, her boss, Diane Lockhart, and the in-house investigator for their firm, Kalinda Sharma, are all compelling not because they are women but because they embody robust and fully-realized characterizations (as do the central male characters).

However, it’s hard to ignore the show’s growing ambivalence towards its own gender politics; while the characters have stayed their unique selves, the situations into which they’ve been thrown have become more and more familiar. In the final episodes of last season, Alicia discovers that Kalinda slept with her husband years before. The fallout from this discovery leads to a domino-like cascade of events: Alicia and Kalinda fight; Alicia separates from her husband Peter, newly-reelected State’s Attorney; Alicia gives into the long drawn-out sexual tension between herself and her boss, Will Gardner; and, finally, Diane tells Will of her plans to fire Alicia if her split from her husband turns out poorly for the firm (this last plot point is just beginning to unfold this season). Suddenly, a show in which women’s roles had not been bound to stereotypical narrative arcs turns that equation on its head: all of its female characters pitted against each other under the auspices of one man’s indiscretions. (The accompanying clip includes Alicia and Diane's first meeting in season one, her fallout with Kalinda in season two and Diane's concerns about Alicia's viability at the firm from the beginning of season three.)

From the beginning of the show, Alicia’s role as Peter Florrick’s wife has been a salable and essential part of her identity as a lawyer, whether she liked it or not. If Alicia is no longer the “good wife,” does that preclude her ability to be a good lawyer? At what point does the political become personal? And, on a deeper level, does the recent scheming and disquietude between Alicia, Kalinda and Diane necessarily evince a “bad” gender politics on the part of the show or can we chalk it all up to episodic television’s compulsive need to disrupt and/or destabilize relationships regardless of gender?


Thanks for a wonderful post, Aviva, and this enlightening sequence that you have edited. (I couldn't help but notice that the picture of Hillary appears in two of the three clips!) Your post in some ways answers some of the comments that Noel made on mine yesterday, and I appreciate your suggestion that the complications between the women have taken the show into thornier—and possibly ickier—territory. I wonder if we need to go back, also, to the formulas of family melodrama, as Charlotte suggested at the beginning of the week. As Alicia has gotten professionally more competent, she has also suffered more visibly. The first time I remember seeing her cry on the show is at the end of last season, which makes me wonder if the loss of friendship with Kalinda is as (or more?) traumatic that the dissolution of her marriage. We also see her kids suffering from the breakup, another telltale melodramatic trope.

What an interesting perspective you've offered here, Aviva! Admittedly, it's one I haven't considered (or perhaps didn't want to consider?) as thoroughly as you've done here.

I'm interested particularly in your final question re: the presumed stereotypical situations into which the central female characters find themselves and whether they actually do "evince 'bad' gender politics on the part of the show"? I wonder, with a show entitled The Good WIFE, if some of these storylines are virtually unavoidable (for the record, I think the Kalinda/Alicia/Peter plotline could've been handled much differently). In other words, how else could the show have moved its narratives forward without involving Peter Florick, again the BAD husband to Alicia's GOOD wife?

Thanks to both of you, Suzanne and Kelli, for your insightful and compelling comments. Suzanne, you make an excellent point about the construction of melodrama, and I've certainly noticed the shift in balance between family life and career. I'm interested to see where the show's going to take this trend as the waters dividing the two get murkier and murkier, particularily this season. And I completely agree with the assessment that Kalinda's ostensible betrayal seems to affect Alicia more visibly/viscerally than Peter's betrayal. Perhaps this has something to do with her sense of identity at work, where she assumes (wrongly) that she is inviolable when it comes to personal matters.

Kelli, I'll admit that I don't like to think too hard about the gender politics on the show--particularily when they become troubling--although I can't seem to help myself. I love The Good Wife, and I'm trying to work out for myself whether the situations/interactions/betrayals between the female characters are becoming more problemtic or if I'm just imagining  things because I'm so hyper-sensitized to feminism and its portrayal on the show. it the opposite? Am I so entralled with TGW that I'm willfully overlooking moments of problematic gender politics?  You've given me a lot to think about.

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