Hank Stuever
Hank Stuever
Critic

A satisfying showdown on ‘The Good Wife,’ as Alicia Florrick betrays Lockhart Gardner

David M. Russell/CBS - Julianna Margulies as Alicia in the aptly named "Good Wife" episode, "Hitting the Fan."

I’ve cheated here and there on “The Good Wife” (and maybe you have, too), lured away by the temptations of Sunday night cable. This must-watch CBS legal drama somehow became one of my “stackables,” which means I let episodes collect in the queue until I can blaze through them on my next couch day. It doesn’t mean I dishonor “The Good Wife’s” accolades in real time; seasons come and seasons go and its quality never wavers, especially when it comes to broadcast network shows.

So now that Walt is done and the zombies appear to be walking in circles, it’s a perfect time to renew vows this Sunday with Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and her zany world of billable hours, litigious social-networkers and Illinois state politics.

Hank Stuever

Hank Stuever is The Washington Post’s TV critic and author of two books, “Tinsel” and “Off Ramp.”

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As faithful viewers already know, this episode has been a long time coming: Alicia and her once-rival Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) are discovered in the act of starting their own law firm. Each promptly gets a security escort out of the Lockhart Gardner offices, where the remaining partners now scramble to keep clients from being wooed by the fledgling Florrick Agos.

In this deliciously venomous and rollicking episode (title: “Hitting the Fan”), so much of what “Good Wife” devotees have desired (and feared) comes to pass. How can Alicia so fully betray the confidence of her friend, mentor and occasional lover, Will Gardner (Josh Charles)? How can she leave behind the uncannily resourceful Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi)? What will become of Diane Lockhart’s (Christine Baranski) state supreme court nomination?

Without revealing anything, I’ll simply pause to admire “The Good Wife’s” tireless and almost always flawless juggling act. In 42 tensely packed minutes, “The Good Wife” squeezes in an important, deepening scene for nearly all of its main and supporting characters and their ongoing plotlines — even Alicia’s boring teenagers. All the while, the show displays its hallmark ability to operate in a world driven and shaped by technology; defecting associates are a crisis only a good IT staff can thwart.

All of which is to say it takes a nuclear meltdown like this for “The Good Wife” to set aside its usual case-trial-resolution backdrop. Here you begin to wonder why the creators still lack the confidence (or network permission?) to do so more often.

At last we see Alicia with claws out. “Hitting the Fan,” as advertised, reshuffles the deck in ways that might see “The Good Wife” through to a satisfying series conclusion in the not-too-distant future. The show is in its fifth season, after all, and doing what it can to survive the Sunday night ratings brawl; it’s only practical (only Alicia-like) to start thinking about how and where her story ends.

The Good Wife

(one hour) airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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