The Good Wife returned Sunday with an hour that promised Alan Cumming’s Eli would be a major player in Season 7 — by turning him against Peter.
After Alicia signed off on Peter entering the presidential race, Peter not only took Eli’s suggestion to bring miracle worker Ruth Eastman (Margo Martindale) on to the campaign, he gave her Eli’s job as its manager because of her national experience. Like viewers — and Alicia — Eli saw it as the ultimate betrayal by someone for whom he’s been “the one freakin’ set of footprints in the sand” and let Peter know that he’d just lost his greatest asset and made his worst enemy.
After binging something involving “snow Nazis” (presumably the Dead Snow films, though I’d hoped it was another classic show-within-the-show from the Kings and a nod to the power struggle on Game of Thrones and its White Walkers), Eli dusted himself off and went to Alicia to apologize for shutting the door on her when she tried to check on him. He knew what was coming — Ruth would need to rehabilitate the fallen Saint Alicia into someone voters will like — and he wanted to be Alicia’s chief of staff.
It’s a brilliant move on both the parts of the Kings and Eli. Of course Alicia would prefer to work with Eli than someone new: he already knows her dirty laundry and to expect a lot of resistance. In fact, he was counting on the latter — when Ruth tried to veto Eli’s new role, Alicia threatened to not play the dutiful wife. Eli won the battle, and the war should be fun to watch: Eli gets to undercut Ruth by helping Alicia do what she wants (whether or not he’ll allow Alicia to critically endanger Peter’s play for being the veep on Hillary’s ticket, he has not yet decided); Ruth has to fight back while not complaining to Peter, who could view her as paranoid and distracted.
You can see why the Kings cast Martindale, a two-time Emmy winner who took home her first trophy for playing Justified’s Mags Bennett — a holler kingpin with a sweet drawl who’d invite you in for some of her apple pie moonshine and would’ve poisoned the glass. She wears that facade well: amiable on the surface, but look into her eyes, and you see how calculated the moves really are. Ruth’s not wrong when she says she and Alicia have things in common: it’s that. You can already sense that Ruth’s depth is more sinister, which is probably why she and Peter hit it off. Winter is coming.
As for the other developments in the premiere, let’s run through them:
• Canning, having had his offer to partner with Alicia rejected, has decided to woo her by throwing her clients until she reconsiders — even better if they’re cases opposite David Lee and Diane, as this episode’s was. (Props to Jane Curtain for portraying a judge as amused by the expert title of “industrial suction expert” as we were.)
Even though she considers Canning the devil, Alicia’s accepting the help because she’s so desperate for clients she’s showing up at bond court. There, she made a new frenemy, Lucca (new series regular Cush Jumbo), a fellow female attorney who helped her out in the assembly-line court because, one would think, Lucca expects Alicia can open other doors for her. Lucca’s proven herself extremely capable and not a replacement for Kalinda — she won’t sit at the bar and drink with Alicia, she prefers to dance — so let’s see how well they can work together.
• Grace is serving as Alicia’s unofficial secretary, and it’s the most entertaining she’s ever been on the show! Let’s keep that up (despite the fact that it’s not really safe for the wife of a governor and presidential candidate to invite clients INTO HER HOME). Also, now that Eli’s working with Alicia again, let’s have his daughter show up to be her body woman at campaign events.
• Cary isn’t happy at the firm. He’s the youngest partner by decades and he’d rather be hanging out with the associates than watch Howard pretend printouts of octagons are nipple tassels. (In Howard’s defense, that was the most active thing we’ve ever seen him do.) Cary’s gonna have to watch himself: yes, the partners should listen to the staff to stay current, but you’ve also got to pick your battles — no one was gonna buy whatever complicated new billing plan that associate was selling.
It’s obvious that the Kings are setting up Cary’s discontent to be his main story line — and spoiler alert, since they’ve said it’s “comic,” you can guess that it involves more Howard. But less clear is where they’re headed with that male associate mistaking Cary’s interest in hearing his ideas for an invitation to come on to him. Was the associate reaching for Cary’s hand just a moment to show another layer of confusion for Cary as a young boss, with the bonus element of surprise? Or is it a plot point that will resurface…
And not that anyone shouldn’t want to hit on Cary whether or not it advances his or her career, but doesn’t it feel like the theme of this season is going to be how people — even the good ones — use other people?
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBS.