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Archive for April, 2011

Television is a basically a death factory. If you watch just a couple of hours of primetime fare, you’re almost guaranteed to see at least one dead body and probably a couple more. Watch it for a whole year and you’ll see hundreds upon hundreds of bodies. In real life, death is the thing we fear most, the thing from which all our other fears stem. And yet we subject ourselves to it every night and call it entertainment. It is, if nothing else, curious.

Less curious is why television has turned itself into a death factory. Shows are under constant pressure to make it seem like the stakes are serious, and life-and-death situations are the easiest way to create this illusion. So there are a lot of cop and doctor shows, which have the advantage of intrinsically high stakes. And with these shows come the steady stream of corpses.

Crime procedurals use death almost exclusively as a plot point. Every murder mystery has to start with a murder, after all. The problem with this is that it almost inevitably results in the dehumanization of the victim. As a rule, the victims are less characters than mere excuses for their given episode to exist. Shows like CSI, Bones and NCIS that rely on forensic investigation turn victims into objects riddled with clues. In Criminal Minds, meanwhile, victims are playthings for sadists, murdered for titillation. Life and Pushing Daisies* use dead bodies as centerpieces in elaborate set pieces–death as art. And in Law & Order and CSI: Miami, victims are frequently reduced to a punchline. Within these shows, death is a mundane evil. By bringing the murderers to justice, the characters defeat that evil. So these shows rob death of its power in two ways, first by making it a mundane occurrence and then by never letting it be open-ended, by always finding someone to blame. We watch these shows in part precisely because they desensitize us to death.

(*Though I use it as an example here, Pushing Daisies could also be used as a counterpoint, given that its victims always get a chance to speak for themselves and have backstories. They are, in this way, actual, legitimate characters. And yet, despite this, it’s hard to deny that the show has a generally casual attitude towards to death.)

Medical shows tend to use death more to teach their characters lessons and provide an emotional shorthand. Most medical shows are dramas, obviously, but Scrubs offers maybe the best example of how this works. As a sitcom, one of the show’s chief objectives is to make people laugh, so there’s always plenty of wacky hijinks going on. But the show also wants us to care about the characters, and the medical setting lets it ground itself in life-and-death situations. These situations not all that infrequently result in patients dying, so the audience knows the stakes are real (real being a relative term, of course). And when patients do die, the audience can always count on JD’s voiceover to explicate the very important lesson we have all just learned. Even though death is emotionally serious in a show like this, it’s bearable because it’s always meaningful, and we can take some kind of comfort in that.

Serialized shows use death in similar, only slightly different ways.* When a serialized show uses death as a plot point, for example, it’s likely to be a plot point that alters the dynamic of the show in some fairly significant way. Unlike a procedural, in which a large part of the appeal is that it rarely changes, serialized shows are supposed to change all the time. Characters are supposed to grow and regress and get thrown into wildly different circumstances from storyline to storyline. And every so often, a character needs to die. Maybe the character’s arc has run out of steam. Maybe the actor wants off the show. Or maybe the show just needs to change some more. Regardless of the particulars, if an actor wants job security, he’s probably better off signing onto a procedural, because serialized shows tend to murder regular and recurring characters, rather than just guest stars.

(*When I talk about serialized shows, I am also talking about the serialized elements that exist in shows that would still be described as procedurals. Nearly every show has a serialized element now that these rules apply to.)

The advantage to killing off characters the audience is familiar with is that the death feels more real, and the emotional pain of the living characters and the lessons they learn more immediately identifiable. And because the character actually served a purpose within the show, the stakes can seem significantly higher than with the death of a victim-of-the-week in a procedural. When handled well that is.

Killing off a regular character is a much riskier proposition than killing off a random guest star, and the margin of error is significantly higher. When handled poorly, killing off a regular character can seem extremely exploitive or just outright cruel. Serialized shows tend not to help themselves in this regard by frequently relying on shock value in their death scenes.

Tara’s death in the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is pretty representative of the way death is generally handled in serialized shows, as she’s killed with absolutely no foreshadowing by a stray bullet. Her sudden, shocking death acts as a plot point that kicks off the season’s final story arc by throwing Willow into a serious emotional turmoil that turns her evil. This storyline represents a significant departure from The Trio’s storyline, which had dominated the season up to that point. Willow eventually recovers from her turmoil and gives up her evil ways after learning a valuable lesson about friendship. Not all serialized shows follow the template quite this closely, but they’re certain to employ at least a couple of these elements in any given death sequence. This particular story is fairly controversial* among viewers, but it demonstrates that serialized shows have both a great potential to depict death in an emotionally real way and a tendency to simply use death for shock value or plot considerations.

(*This is probably an understatement.)

Television news has by far the most problematic relationship with death, as it takes real-life tragedies and presses them through the same narrative wringer writers use in crafting the fictional shows described above. Theoretically, the news should be able to provide the most realistic and serious portrayals of death on television, what with the way the stories are real and all. And on very rare occasions–usually in cases of severe national tragedy–it succeeds in doing that. News footage from 9/11, for example, is still incredibly powerful. But it’s powerful mostly because the networks simply got out of their own way. Most of the time TV news has the effect of trivializing personal pain by taking local tragedies and turning them into national entertainment.  It does so by applying narrative devices to real events. So a war becomes a plot point in an electoral campaign, a senseless attack becomes a lesson about the need to enact some sort of policy, and the murder of a pretty young girl becomes  the shocking kickoff to a real-time murder mystery. And through all of this, it desensitizes us to death more than something like CSI ever could, because it teaches us to treat real death like it actually is something from CSI.

The Killing fits squarely within this culture of death. It’s a serialized procedural about the shocking, brutal murder of a pretty, young girl that reaches towards lessons about the society in which we live. By involving a political campaign, it even invites comparisons to the way tragic evens are used in the public sphere for personal gain. And yet despite employing all of these familiar tropes, the show manages to carry an emotional power unlike any other show on television right now. In fact, it manages to carry that emotional power precisely because of the way it employs–and at times subverts–all of those tropes.

Rosie’s death is, obviously, The Killing’s initial and central plot point. But the show resists the tendency of other procedurals to dehumanize the victim. Rosie’s body is never presented to the audience as an object to be studied, nor is her suffering ever displayed prominently for the viewer’s enjoyment. Indeed, the show’s restraint in this regard is remarkable. The pilot opens with a few short shots of her running through the woods gasping, trying to escape some unseen threat, but thus far there’s been no long scene depicting her murder. In the third episode, when a tape emerges depicting her apparent rape, we see only brief snippets of unclear footage. Upon finding her body, no character cracks wise or attempts in any other way to dismiss the significance of her murder. While the crime scene is meticulously shot in such a way as to give it artistic meaning, it’s not at all like the candy-colored tweeness of the crime scenes in Pushing Daisies and Life. Those shows created crime scenes that intentionally undercut the tragic nature of the crime, whereas The Killing shoots its crime scene with an eye toward enhancing the tragedy, with Rosie’s body curled up like a fetus in the trunk of a submerged car. The forensics, meanwhile, are all conveyed second-hand, generally through conversation. A scene in the fourth episode, in which the Larsens see forensic photos of their daughter’s body when Detective Linden accidentally leaves a door open, actually acts as a direct rebuke to the CSI aesthetic. There’s nothing gratuitous here. Nothing wasted. No easy jokes. We see just enough of the horror and the pain and the tragedy to begin to understand it, and not one second more.

In the face of that horror, The Killing reaches in a general sense towards the kind of lessons we see in other television series. There’s a pervading sense that something is wrong, that our society is fundamentally broken. It raises questions about how we raise our children and how we react to murder. It draws parallels between the grieving family and the other characters on the show, such as Linden and the son she never spends enough time with. But it rebuffs at every opportunity any easy answer to these issues. Most striking is the scene in which Terry can’t help herself any more and asks Mitch why she never called Rosie over the weekend she disappeared. Mitch was able to answer that question earlier in the episode, but at this point she has no answer, so the question just hangs. It’s a painful scene precisely because the question is both so unfair and so natural, and it makes explicit not just the thoughts running through Terry’s head, but also the thoughts running through Mitch’s head. But the moral of the show is clearly not that Mitch is to blame for Rosie’s death because she didn’t call her that weekend. No more than the moral is simply that Linden needs to spend more time with her son. (And what? Let a murder go unsolved?) Rather, these fit into a larger aesthetic of intrinsically flawed people living in a far more intrinsically flawed world than they deserve. Parents and children and spouses constantly let each other down, but consequences do not flow evenly from those mistakes as in some sort of karmic storybook. Mothers forget to call, parents work too much, kids have sex and use drugs, and fathers are never around, but none of it explains why Rosie died or what anybody’s really supposed to do about it.

Part of what makes this open-ended thematic style work is the serialized format, which The Killing uses to great effect in general. Serialization allows, for example, for the show’s very deliberate pacing, which in turn allows the show to spend a lot of time with the Larsens even though they’re tangential to the actual crime-solving, and it’s the Larsens that provide a fair amount of The Killing’s emotional impact. Indeed, the show is as much a study of a family beset by tragedy as it is a police procedural.

The deliberate pacing also allows for The Killing’s pervasive gloomy atmosphere, giving the director and cinematographer time to linger over shots that do little-to-nothing to advance the plot, but nevertheless create a sense of place and mood that provide a darkly immersive experience for the viewer. Even most serialized shows rarely bother with stuff like this, as they tend to be obsessed with moving the overarching plot forward (or at least giving the impression that they’re moving the overarching plot forward). The Killing is, of course, plenty plot driven; each episode has thus far ended with some new, significant piece of information pertaining to the investigation. But instead of wheel-spinning in between plot developments, we get lots of mood-setting. It’s an example more shows should follow.

In addition to the police investigation and the Larsen family drama, there is a third major plotline involving a mayoral campaign. This plotline has received a fair share of criticism, and those criticisms have not been entirely unfair. But it’s significant to note that the show appears to be using it to address the way in which personal tragedies like Rosie’s murder play in the public sphere. The news media, which has thus far been depicted only tangentially, is desperate to connect the murder to the campaign and create a scandal for mass consumption, while the campaigns all jockey to turn the murder to their political advantage. Lost on the vast majority of these people is how their actions affect the family and the investigation; even something as simple as a newspaper headline proves devastating when it shows up on the Larsens stoop. The only exception is Darren Richmond, a mayoral candidate who’s wary of disrupting the investigation or using the murder politically because of a what is at this point vague past tragedy involving his late wife. But even he feels a great deal of pressure to distance himself from the murder and even turn it to his advantage. It’s not entirely clear where this plot is going at this point (which is probably responsible for some of its criticism), but a subtle critique of the public sphere’s handling of death is apparent. Whether the show does anything with this critique remains to be seen, of course.

And that applies to the show more generally. Finding the right balance between employing the standard narrative devices and subverting them isn’t exactly an easy game, and it’s not hard to see how it could all tumble down into a series of clichés. But for now anyway, The Killing has just the right balance.

Loose Ends:

  • The Killing’s good, but it’s not perfect. Its depiction of youth culture seems especially and unnecessarily alarmist to me. And I have some concerns about what the show is doing with Stan Larsen.
  • That said, both Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes have been utterly fantastic as the grieving parents.

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The Paul Reiser Show desperately wants to be Curb Your Enthusiasm. Desperately. It even goes so far as to feature Larry David as a guest in its first episode. It even feeds David lines like, “You should do a show like Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I wonder if David would still feel comfortable saying after seeing the finished product.

It is perhaps somewhat unfair to compare Reiser’s show to David’s. Reiser, after all, has to deal with network constraints that David has never had to worry about. And Reiser’s show so far consists of one episode, whereas David’s show has had several seasons to refine its humor. But given that Reiser invites the comparison so heavily, it’s hard to avoid. Sadly, it’s not at all flattering.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is a show with a very clearly defined point of view and purpose. Everyone in the show’s world is a tremendous asshole, and sitting in the middle of it is Larry, who is in fact the biggest asshole of them all. Terrible things consistently happen to him, and he deserves every one. But a big part of the joke is that the terrible things that happen to him aren’t really all that terrible. He’s just too shut off from the rest of the world to know what actual suffering looks like. So every minor offense he suffers seems like the universe conspiring to ruin his life. He’s caught in a karmic cycle of punishment  of his own making.

Wealthy people come off horribly in the show, which is part of the point. David presents rich people as out-of-touch fucks, and the show allows the viewer to take pleasure in all the mundane shit that makes them think they’re suffering even though they’re actually not. But at the same time it forces us to acknowledge that we’re not so different. It’s a scathing indictment of David’s culture, just as Seinfeld was a scathing indictment of the culture to which he used to belong, and as such acts as a critique of society in general.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is also rigorously formulaic. It’s true that many of the individual lines are improvised, but the episodes are very much not. Virtually every episode is built around a series of misunderstandings, which is a pretty hoary comic device. Generally, someone does something to Larry that he construes as an offense and in return Larry behaves pettily and it all just spirals from there, leading to an over-the-top comic set piece at the end. The improvisational feel is entirely dependent on this formula. Without it, the show would just seem like a bunch of rich people sitting around acting like dicks for no reason. Or, in other words, it would seem like The Paul Reiser Show.

The problem with Reiser’s show is that it lacks both the narrative and moral focus of David’s show. At least in it’s first episode, it’s just a show about a bunch of stuff happening to Reiser and his wealthy friends. They’re all kind of dickish and they all kind of hate one another. But the they’re not the huge, over-the-top dicks you find in Curb Your Enthusiasm; the episode ends with Reiser affirming his love for his children and a big group hug, for God’s sake.

In a way, the characters actually come off worse for not being as objectively terrible as the characters in David’s world. Whereas on Curb Your Enthusiasm you know the characters are exaggerated to prove a point, on The Paul Reiser Show you can’t help but get the impression that this is really what Reiser and his friends are like. By rounding off the edges, the show ends up like something of a cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm’s biting satire and Friends‘ hanging out with a group of people aesthetic. The result is just unpleasant.

The pilot manages to culminate with a fat guy glued to a car door by the seat of his pants. When it come times for the big group hug, he lunges forward and his pants come off, leaving him in his underwear. It’s not clear how we get to this point or why it happens, other than that it provides a cheap laugh at the end of the episode. And that, right there, is pretty much all you need to know about The Paul Reiser Show.

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“The Exploding Meatball Sub” is a deeply frustrating episode of television. It comes off of a string of excellent episodes that have very successfully mixed humor with heavy emotional stakes: Ted has broken up a marriage, Marshall’s father has died and Barney has reconnected with John Lithgow. It’s understandable that the show might want to take a step back and catch its breath with a lightweight episode. And I’m pretty sure “The Exploding Meatball Sub” is meant to be just that kind of palate-cleanser.

The problem is that the central joke of the episode is a meta-joke in which the writers set up complicated plots that seem to be heading into the heavy emotional territory of the last few episodes only to pull back and conclude them with a simple gag. It’s the sort of thing that could work given the right circumstances, but is badly mistimed in this case, as it has the effect of undermining not just the potential emotional impact of the early part of the episode, but also the emotional impact of all the episodes leading up to it. And because the stories in the episode are genuinely interesting, throwing them out in service of a cheap joke can’t help but feel like a waste. In all, instead of seeming clever (which I’m sure is what the writers intended), the episode just plays as a series of missed opportunities.

For example, Ted and Zoey’s relationship has consistently been the least interesting part of the season,* but “The Exploding Meatball Sub” presents a concept that I’d love to see a show explore: two characters who really do care about one another but who are gradually coming to realize that they are just too different to be happy in a relationship together. Unfortunately, this show apparently has no interest in exploring that concept, as it reduces it to a few lines of voice-over and a 30-second montage early in the episode. Ted spends the rest of the episode determined to break things off with Zoey, only to get sidetracked by break-up goggles at the end of the episode. The montage at the end with Zoey yelling at Ted and Ted enjoying it–which mirrors the montage at the beginning–is moderately amusing, but not worth losing a potentially compelling arc for.

(*This is the curse of Ted. Though I do love The Captain.)

Lily and Marshall, meanwhile, get a very complicated plot, which goes something like this:

  1. Marshall decides to quit his job at GNB.
  2. Marshall puts on the break-up goggles and has second thoughts.
  3. Marshall reaffirms his desire to quit.
  4. Marshall quits.
  5. Marshall goes to apply for a job with an environmental organization.
  6. Said organization has no openings, so Marshall agrees to volunteer there.
  7. Marshall talks to Lily about this.
  8. Lily tries to act supportive even though it stresses her out.
  9. Marshall agrees to hold a fundraiser in their apartment.
  10. Lily confides in Ted that she’s getting more and more stressed out.
  11. Lily runs away.
  12. Ted is worried about telling Marshall that his wife has run away.
  13. Lily returns during the fundraiser having decided not to run away and determined to be honest with Marshall.

I may have missed a plot point in there, but that’s the basic idea. All of this takes place in the course of around seven minutes of airtime. How I Met Your Mother is, of course, renowned for cramming a lot of plot into its episodes, but this particular subplot seems a bit much even for this show. Likewise, some of this is stuff we’ve seen before; as several people on Twitter pointed out, Lily’s arc in this episode is similar to her arc at the end of the first season. I can’t be positive, obviously, but I think this is all part of the meta-joke and is meant as a self-mocking set-up for the abrupt conclusion in which Marshall simply agrees that he should go look for another job without Lily even having to say anything. The over-complicated plot and the reliance on old character arcs (Lily running away, Marshall pining to help the environment) is supposed to be satirical. Unfortunately, the meta-joke doesn’t really work, not least of all because the story (like Ted and Zoey’s) is one I would have actually liked to see play out over an arc, though hopefully with a bit less rehashing of old plot points. Again, it just seems like a waste.

Barney’s story is the most frustrating, however, because it explicitly references the emotional stakes of his arc this season as part of its meta-joke set-up. The first part of the episode feels like a continuation of the preceding episodes, with Barney upset at losing his best friend just like he lost his father all those years ago. It’s a little on the nose–OK, a lot on the nose–but How I Met Your Mother is always a little on the nose; it’s still effective. And when Barney clears off his desk in rage and anguish with Robin standing right next to him, it’s both funny and sad. But of course it’s all part of the meta-joke, and Barney is in fact just upset that Marshall has robbed him of the chance to use a carefully plotted practical joke by quitting. Once again, Barney’s practical joke would make a perfectly good idea for an episode, but doesn’t work here because the episode makes a false promise. It leads us to believe that we will get a serious conclusion to the story, and so we want a serious conclusion to the story. As a result, an exploding sub sandwich–no matter how funny it would be under other circumstances–just seems cheap as an ending to this episode.

This gets at the big problem with the meta-joke, which is that it feels less like a satire of the show than like a mean-spirited gag at the expense of the viewer. Though the plots are somewhat exaggerated, they aren’t exaggerated enough to work as obvious satire, so the viewer has no choice but to take them at face value. The writers then pull the rug out from under them and laugh in their face: “Ha ha, you thought this was a serious episode when it’s actually a silly episode!” Except, of course, that because of the set-up, the episode really does have consequences: Ted really does kind of hate his girlfriend, Marshall really is unemployed and Barney really does have abandonment issues. The episode just refuses to deal with them because it’s too busy laughing at its fans.

Loose Ends:

  • Robin doesn’t get a ton to do here, but she does make up a pretty great little story in the middle of the episode. I don’t actually remember any details, but Cobie Smulders’ delivery is typically excellent.
  • The exploding meatball sub could legitimately have been a funny gag in other circumstances. The visual of a meatball sub exploding is pretty inherently humorous.

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It’s a universal truth that our past has a tendency to follow us around. As such, it makes a good theme, and a lot writers have put it to good use. Just last year, How I Met Your Mother devoted an episode to the concept, literalizing the metaphor of baggage by forcing its characters to lug around actual suitcases (if only in Ted’s fevered mind). “Killer Song” isn’t quite that unsubtle, but it comes pretty close.

The Good Wife always goes big, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s the best the drama on (at the very least) network television. But the downside to going big is that when it doesn’t quite work, it can come off as sort of goofy. And that’s the case here. “Killer Song” is about a killer who writes a song. Specifically, it’s about a killer who’s been locked up in an insane asylum for 30 years, who’s set to be released after a writing a song about raping, torturing and murdering a woman, which is just the sort of thing he did. The daughter of his victim is taking him to court to prevent him from getting rich off the song. But the case is complicated by the fact that the song apparently isn’t specifically about the murder he was convicted for. It turns out, instead, that it’s about a murder he committed but was not convicted for. He ends up winning the case, only to get dragged off in handcuffs afterward, arrested for the murder he more or less admitted to by writing the song that made him rich.

As I said, this is all a bit goofy. But goofy’s better than boring, and The Good Wife is never boring. It also consistently manages to use sensationalistic stories like this without making them feel exploitive. This particular story frequently pairs a serial killer’s lyrics with photographs of his horrible violent crimes and features a subplot in which the serial killer makes creepy advances on Alicia. That could be an episode of Criminal Minds, right there. But the show’s obvious ambition and Quality TV sheen* keeps even its goofiest, most sensationalistic plots grounded.

(*A Quality TV sheen isn’t always a good thing, but The Good Wife earns it.)

In this case, the show grounds itself by suggesting that just as the serial killer can’t outrun his past of torturing innocent women, Kalinda is finding it more and more difficult to keep her past life and the things she had to do to change it hidden from the prying eyes of those who would damage her both directly and as collateral damage. The metaphor here is obviously wildly outsized, but Kalinda has always been the show’s most outsized character. The problem is that to this point, Kalinda’s mystique hasn’t felt entirely earned, and that problem persists in this episode.

The Good Wife is quite clearly indebted to The Wire. Like The Wire, it seeks to create a sprawling social commentary touching on as many social institutions as possible, ranging from the legal system, to politics, to religion, to schools and so on. Though The Good Wife is more obviously stylized,* each show generally tries to present a realistic portrayal of the people and institutions it depicts. But each show has exceptions to that rule. In the case of The Wire, Omar Little is the glaring exception, a flamboyant rogue in a trench coat with a sawed-off shotgun. But Omar clearly serves a purpose beyond simply being awesome. He’s a hero in a world desperately short on heroes, a Robin Hood who rights the wrongs of his universe in the only way he knows how. No matter how deeply flawed he is (and he is pretty deeply flawed), it can’t take away the hope his mystique provides.

(*Note that this is not to say that The Wire is not stylized, as it most certainly is, just in a more nontraditional (for television) way.)

Kalinda is The Good Wife’s Omar, but she lacks the depth of that character, both in theme and characterization. She’s undeniably awesome. Archie Punjabi’s performance is consistently fascinating. Her charisma is arresting. Her sexuality is impossible to ignore. Her boots are relentlessly stylish. And she wields a baseball bat like Omar wields his shotgun. She’s also been given the soapiest of the show’s plotlines this year. But none of it has really added up to anything more than that. It’s all endlessly entertaining, but it also all feels thematically hollow. In this sense, Kalinda is both the show’s most fascinating character and its most disappointing. The current storyline is clearly meant to rectify this, but given how frustrating her feud with Blake has been, it’s hard to give the show the benefit of the doubt on this particular front.

Blake has been a fairly serious misfire, with the character ultimately failing to amount to much of a character at all. His motivations were always extremely murky, and the majority of the time, his actions seemed designed entirely to cause trouble for Kalinda. Even the source of their feud was far from clear. In the end, he amounted to little more than a cheap villain used by the writers to set up the current plot twist. But that’s pretty representative of Kalinda’s storylines in general.

The question now is whether the show will be able to turn Kalinda’s past life and regrettable dalliance with Peter into anything substantial. I have little doubt it will be fun to watch, but it would be nice if it lived up to the rest of the show’s thematically high standards.

Unlike Kalinda, Eli’s role in The Good Wife’s thematic fabric has always been clear. He is a representative of the political system, and as such frequently has to do things that are morally questionable to win elections. In the case of  the current storyline, that has meant outing America Ferrera’s Natalie (who, for the record, is not ugly) as an illegal immigrant in service of destroying Wendy Scott-Carr’s political burgeoning political career. Ever since then, Eli has been trying to help her, either out of genuine affection or guilt. The show has been cagey about the exact motivation, in part because even Eli himself seems unsure. His daughter sees it as the latter, chalking it up to Eli’s savior complex:

You always find some crush in the last month of the campaign to fixate on … You need to act as savior to someone, or you’ll have to face the fact you do bad things.

Most likely, it’s a little bit of both. The Good Wife is a good show, and so characters behave in ways that are honest without being obvious. Eli’s no different.

Eli finally gets to make up for this recent transgression (and as his daughter implies, a thousand past transgressions) in this episode by preventing Natalie’s father from getting deported. Luis hasn’t done anything wrong. Rather, he’s the victim of racial profiling, a compassionless justice system and an outright cruel immigration policy. He’s in a position to get saved by Eli because his daughter just happens to have been collateral damage in one of Eli’s political machinations. And because Eli’s wealthy and powerful. All of the nameless people in line around him, of course, aren’t so lucky. Eli’s a very a limited sort of savior.

So you can’t outrun your past. But if you have enough money or know the right people, maybe you can pretend you can. But only for a little while. Eventually, the cuffs come out and you have to find a new victim to save.

Loose Ends:

  • Eli’s C-plot is really the only part of the episode that works without reservations. It’s a shame it’s so buried.
  • I really do think there’s a way forward with the Kalinda story that will make it thematically relevant, and I think Eli’s arc here suggests the show’s heading in that direction. But Blake’s storyline was such a misfire that it gives me pause.
  • I’m not going to lie, the killer’s song is kind of catchy.

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