Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

Calling a TV show The Good Wife is tantamount to opening a can and pied pipering a batch of fat, juicy worms into societal consciousness. The notion of ‘good’ has been debated since God moulded Adam from dust and Eve from Adam’s rib; then the Almighty’s dream team screwed it all up by making a feast of that silly old apple, or whatever. And instigating Eve has been paying the price ever since – scouring, scrubbing, satisfying and submitting with the bitterest pangs of penance, giving time ample opportunity to turn the conventional notion of dutiful into a preconception. Indian teacher, philosopher and royal advisor Chanakya (350-275BC) said “A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother does, loves him in the day like a sister does and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.” Whatever it takes, right?

Right. But life is neither courteous nor fair and The Good Wife, Robert and Michelle King’s legal/political drama, offers a kind reminder. Good does not always beget good; sometimes ‘good’ begets infidelity. When Alicia Florrick’s State’s Attorney husband invokes a sex scandal by embedding himself in some prostitutes and acquiring a jail sentence in consequence, she doesn’t stab him in his sleep (parenting from a jail cell is a pretty tall order even for the world’s most efficient multitasking mum) or opt for divorce à la Bruce and Demi (that whole we-used-to-be-married-and-now-we’re-remarried-and-spend-holidays-together happy family thing is as weird as it is idealistic outside the world of Celebdom). No. Alicia stands by her man, taking up a job as a litigator after 13 years as a stay-at-home mum to provide for her children while their father plays in the penitentiary.

Currently in its fifth season, The Good Wife is a nod to America’s sex scandal politics and the parallels between Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) and the good women who choose to ‘live with it’ – prime example being Hillary Clinton – are glaringly obvious. When Bill and Monica’s relationship was smashed into the public’s face by the fist of the press back in 1998, Hillary stood by her man with unflinching stoicism – even when he lied and was later impeached. She also chose not to discuss the affair years later in her book Hard Choices (2014) – a choice that, ironically, could have been the hardest of all. Hills, a lawyer like Alicia, has said of the scandal: “I’m just grateful that I made the choices I made, to move forward and from that I’ve had an extraordinary set of opportunities and experiences.” The diplomacy is sickening; so nice, neat and decidedly inhuman. The betrayal of trust and marriage in such an underhanded, intimate manner surely involves an exclamation mark in the least.

It’s the apparent impassivity, demonstrated by the Clintons, that forms the core of The Good Wife; how suffering is buried and dirty laundry folded neatly and put back in the cupboard in a farce the size of the Pacific

Not too long ago secret documents known as the ‘Blair papers’, penned by Diane Blair (a close friend and long time confidant to Hillary Clinton), hit the news. This verifiably authentic wad of sensationalism reveals the former first lady’s true reaction to her husband’s affair. As it turns out, she was not so cool with Bill doing the White House intern, reportedly describing herself as “…dumbfounded, heartbroken and outraged… Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him.” And isn’t that the reaction that makes sense? Except that the game of politics is a world away from the rules the rest of us play by. The Blair papers quote Diane Blair saying of her pal: “This, she said, is what drives their adversaries totally nut(s), that they don’t bend, do not appear to be suffering” and that “most people in this town have no pain threshold.”

It’s this apparent impassivity, demonstrated by the Clintons, that forms the core of The Good Wife; how suffering is buried and dirty laundry folded neatly and put back in the cupboard in a farce the size of the Pacific. When justice screams out for good wife Alicia to jettison her lying, cheating bastard of a husband Peter Florrick (played by Chris North) straight out of the political arena and her life, she goes all Hillary on the situation. And it’s bloody irritating – for almost three seasons of show there seems to be very little public acknowledgment that Peter Florrick’s treatment of his family is reprehensible. And to make matters worse, philandering Florrick somehow manages to weasel himself and his loose penis into the position of Governor, riding the coattails of ‘Saint Alicia’ – as Eli Gold (played by Alan Cumming), Peter’s campaign strategist and crisis manager, calls Mrs Florrick (Season 6 Episode 4: Oppo Research).

The Good Wife doesn’t offer carnage. It metes out an approach that is somewhat foreign in age that abides by the doctrine of instant gratification; it proposes self-restraint. Five seasons into the series Alicia Florrick has become partner, started her own law firm and, most recently, been named Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney. So, what is the lesson here? If we ‘suck it up’, if we’re ‘good’, we’ll prosper. Like Alicia Florrick. Like Hillary Clinton. But what about the woman whose version of good is to boot her man out the door, flip the bird and start over? Has she no hope? What The Good Wife reveals over time is that human nature is not intrinsically altruistic; we are motivated by our own self-interest, whether it’s the need for security, sanity, family, career or even the preservation of our pride. ‘Good’, no matter how one may choose to define it, is neither absolute nor constant – not even ‘Saint Alicia’ is exempt from the inconstancy of supposed self-sacrifice. Linguist and lexicographer John Florio (1553–1625) is known to have said: “A good husband makes a good wife.” He makes a sweet point but really, a smart woman is what makes a good wife – that’s what Alicia would say.

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