I started watching ‘The Good Wife‘ in 2014. It is the story of a woman trying to stand on her own feet after her States Attorney husband is convicted of using public office money to solicit sexual favors. She had studied law however never pursued a career in law because she began building a family with Peter. Imagine, where 13 years of family building brought her, cheated at the hands of her husband and at scrutiny of people who couldn’t resist branding her decision- of being a home maker- naivete. Given the economy and the cut throat competition, Alicia is forced to pull some strings. She approaches a friend from law school, ‘Will Gardener’ to give her a chance as an associate at his firm ‘Lockhart and Gardener’.
I remember watching the first few episodes in 2014 and then months later seeing the first episode of season 5 where Alicia makes a move out of the firm to start her own firm. Undoubtedly, her friend Will felt cheated and I, as a viewer felt intrigued. I wanted to know what was it that prompted Alicia to turn her back on her friend. Will hated Alicia for her decision and maybe I did too. However I couldn’t unearth the reason without watching the 88 episodes that fell in between Alicia joining and quitting ‘Lockhart and Gardener’ Yes, I could Wikipedia the plot but I chose not to. So here I am in 2017, finally having discovered Alicia’s motive behind the big move.
Throughout seasons two to four, Lockhart and Gardener is seen to be struggling with finances. They join hands with another firm but decide to separate when their independence to make vital decisions stands threatened. In season 3, they are declared bankrupt; they are assigned a period of six months to raise an amount of 60 million dollars to pay off their liabilities and a trustee is appointed to oversee their revenue management and discharge of financial obligations. As they head into the final month of the assigned period of six months, they are still short of 29.50 million dollars. They have a few settlements in pipeline but they make a plea for an extension of six months. Before they are granted that extension, Alicia who is now a fourth year associate is given an option to become an equity partner. She has to cough up 600,000 dollars to buy her share in the firm’s equity. Needless to say, Alicia is ecstatic because amidst the economic slowdown, the firm’s bankruptcy, her loyalty to Lockhart Gardener, she has always felt insecure. Insecure that another associate might jeopardize her position at the firm, insecure that her firm’s liquidation might render her jobless again, insecure that she might have to go back to depending on her husband for money. So in a long time, she is shown to be relieved. Even if she declines the offer, given the incumbent threat of liquidation, she might have something substantial to boast about- that she is not simply an associate, that in a short span of four years, she was offered to be an equity partner. As a viewer, we are all happy and though we are skeptic at the timing of the offer, we are relived when Will and Diane assure her that her hard work has brought the offer on the table.
At the end of the episode, we realize that Alicia is not the only one with the offer to become an equity partner. There are four other fourth year associates who have been pitched the same offer and after all the assurances, it is not her hard work but a shrewd attempt by the equity partners to raise 3 million dollar from their own associates. Alicia is stung. Partly because she believed that her efforts deserved to be awarded and partly because given her loyalty she deserved the truth not false assurances. Diane tells Alicia that she was offered partnership only because her boss was accused of sexual harassment and by making Diane partner he wanted to convey to the world that he doesn’t discriminate between men and women. She explains to Alicia that when an opportunity comes knocking at the door, you simply take it; you do not investigate the stimulus behind that.
Alicia acts on her advice and decides to take it, she decides to accept the offer like her other peers. However Lockhart Gardener manages to steer out of bankruptcy, not only that, they earn 113 million dollar surplus at the end of that quarter. In the same meeting, the partners vote against appointment of new partners. They don’t need their money, they don’t need extra hands to share their losses, so why appoint them and share the surplus. When Alicia comes to know about the vote, she is stung again.
When Will confronts her that she says that after all the hours she has billed and the thousands of dollars she has earned for the firm, she is the injured party here. In a move to get the partners’ attention, the 4th year associates begin talking to the clients they have worked for, asking them if they are happy with the firm. The partners are scared that if these associates walk out of the firm, they may poach their clients. But they can’t succumb to this form of corporate terrorism, so they decide to divide them. Will proposes that they appoint one of them as as an equity partner so that the other four begin to resent that one person. He proposes Alicia’s name for partnership and again when Alicia inquires about his motives, he tells her that it is because of her hard work.
Yes, Will makes her a partner but he never gives her what she deserves- the truth. He gives Alicia what she desires but only when it benefits him and the other partners. In fact, that is one of the central themes in ‘The Good Wife’, that nothing is black or white, it is in the grey. We can never categorize a character and their choices as good or bad. People favor others when it benefits them, people hurt others when it benefits their dear ones. In the same episode, when Alicia is offered the partnership the first time, she is questioned on the stand that the firm is offering her a partnership only to raise some money. Will and Diane expect Alicia to commit a felony, to claim that it is untrue. A felony that can cost her 5-7 years in the prison but as mark of her loyalty she is expected to manipulate her words. She does what is asked of her and in spite of this, what she gets are more lies.
The question here is why is loyalty a one sided road? If Alicia has to hold the best interests of the firm and their clients at all times, then why isn’t the firm and the partners expected to do the same for her. Why does Will hate Alicia when she quits the firm to start her own? After all, like everyone in the show, she is trying to look out for her own self. Yes, Will extended her a colossal favor when he hired her in the first episode. But hasn’t she repaid all those debts by perjuring under oath, by answering questions on her sexual life during Will’s grand jury trial, by trying to convict an innocent for a murder in order to save their client, by working in close proximity to a woman who had slept with her husband, by representing a philanderer alleged of killing his wife, by representing a drug mafia, by constantly witnessing her attempts at professional progress being belittled by a world who believed that her court room victories are owed to the men in her life – all against her moral fiber only because she was expected to do so by the firm.
No matter which season are we in, there is always that one episode where Alicia is strategically placed in a situation so that the firm can benefit from her status of being married to the current States Attorney and the future Governor of Cook County. Then, there are outsiders who believe that the reason she has been retained for four years is because she is Will’s former love interest and that they slept with each other for a brief period. But how long could Alicia continue to work in such a set up?
Will did a favor for Alicia but throughout the show we can see the firm trying to exploit Alicia’s marital status for their own good. And when you get a favor in return of a favor, your favor becomes a barter. It can be argued that Will always saw Alicia as a friend but friends don’t lie to friends, friends don’t manipulate friends and friends don’t trick their friends to help their own bankruptcy. During the third season, Will is suspended from practicing law for six months because he withdrew money from a client’s account for paying off a gambling debt. Almost everyone including Alicia tries to comfort him by saying that it was 15 years ago and he repaid the money in full. So why is it that nobody comforts Alicia, that it was 4 years ago when Will hired her and she has repaid the debt by being a brilliant litigator for Lockhart and Gardener.
In the third season, a judge asks Diane if she believes in hell? She says no. The judge then tells her that even he did not but then he saw lawyers. What he tries to point out is that a good lawyer does whatever is necessary to work the odds in their favor, a good lawyer manipulates the circumstances without paying heed to the collateral damage. Come to think of it, Alicia just does that. When she believes that she no longer wants to be played by others, she quits. She starts her own firm in a bid to shield her own future and her authority, she takes the associates because she needs them to fight cases and she poaches the clients because she has to think about the revenues. ‘The Good Wife’ shows Alicia’s transformation into a good lawyer, after all is it not what every one at the firm expects Alicia to be. And when she becomes one, all they do is call her move savage. But why? At the end of the day, she is a reflection of their own own compromised principles and actions. At the end of the day, it is just the circle of life, one thing ends and another begins.