The Good Wife recap: ‘Discovery’

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

“Discovery” Review: Everything’s a Little Bit Racist Sometimes.

This week, The Good Wife tackles the complicated algorithms that guide our digital lives and the emotional algorithms that guide our hearts. We’ve had lots of different cases involving this huge company over the course of this show, but this was definitely the most racially charged case they’ve ever had.

Despite working on opposite sides of the court room on a heated case about systemic racism in ChumHum — The Good Wife’s fictional search engine — in “Delivery,” Lucca and Cary ended the episode “celebrating” together. We can all agree that Colin Sweeney is a murderous and deranged maniac, and while he obviously deserves a legal defense, everyone also agrees it’s gross that he can afford such a good legal defense and be consistently free from incarceration. Specifically, they’re working with him to defend ChumHum in a racial profiling case against a small business owner represented by Cary and Diane over at Lockhart, Agos, & Lee. After Ruth saw Alicia and Jason touching in her apartment — Alicia was just touching Jason’s arm, but where there’s smoke in political campaigns, there’s usually fire — Eli made it his mission to stop them from taking their relationship to the next level. The opening of “Discovery” felt like one of those, only instead of learning how glass bottles get made, we were exploring…well, I’m not exactly sure what we were meant to take away from a montage of ones and zeros, cell phone apps, GPS systems, and computer solitaire.

And the characters on the show acknowledge that it’s less than ideal that they defend him while still doing it, mainly because of the legal issue but also because his billable hours are insane. The case of the week: Monica Timmons returned to Lockhart/Agos for their help in taking on Chum Hum over a map option that labeled “problem” areas…that also seemed to be black neighborhoods.

In fact, a lot of the existing repertoire between Canning and Alicia is dropped in “Discovery,” except for in a brief exchange where Canning admits he sometimes agrees with her. The restaurant was in a neighborhood designated as dangerous, and the owner wants to sue, arguing that the safety ratings are racist codes for minority neighborhoods. After much back and forth and some really racist discoveries—Alicia tried to bury one at the behest of Louis Canning and ended up getting found in contempt of court and ordered to pay $5,000—it looked like Alicia was finally going to lose.

Defense attorneys are often an amoral (and occasionally immoral) bunch on TV, so we don’t bat too much of an eye at them getting murders off by any means necessary, whether it’s by Plan B-ing (I miss you, The Practice) or by simply finding some inspired loophole or technicality. As the case covered everything from the commenter-driven map app to photo tagging software to offensive jokes being sent via email, Alicia also encountered some drama at home. So the Canning associates are given the daunting task of reviewing Chumhum’s hard drives and deciding if each occurrence of a depressing lists of racially insensitive words is responsive or nonresponsive to the discovery request. Every time an episode centers around computers or the internet, though, viewers are constantly distracted from the story by how unrealistic everything looks.

Eli never mentioned whether or not the file on Jason revealed any other covert investigations on his part, like if he also checked into Lucca Quinn’s background when he began working with her. From the cheesy ChumHum mascot to the poorly designed pop-up ads to the oversized icons, each scene that involves a screen feels like it’s straight out of 2007.

But whereas Diane was positioned as the single honest liberal in a hive of liberals too wrapped up in the culture war to care about principles, no one came out of “Discovery” looking all that good. Mostly, “Discovery” was a sizable follow-up to “Lies,” the episode that Monica first appeared in, and we were granted insight into casual and institutional racism that ran through LAL.

I’m not really a fan of her character overall, which is unfortunate because I’m a huge fan of hers from Book of Mormon and I was pumped to see her on my TV. Meanwhile, Alicia and Lucca arrive at Chumhum HQ to talk with coder Kip, and he mentions “the animal incident.” The women shut him down immediately, not wanting to be ethically obligated to disclose whatever that means. But eventually it comes out: Three years ago, the algorithm that auto-sorted photos into categories would tag photos of black people under the heading “animal.” Clearly, this isn’t good for Chumhum’s “hey, we’re not racist!” argument, particularly when the coders say it’s because the algorithm wasn’t given enough photos of minorities.

Temporarily sidelining storylines is perfectly acceptable—so long as things end up working out in the larger structure of the season—but dropping character work is just lazy writing. Lucca asks if the algorithm ever mistook a white person for a polar bear, then looks pointedly around at all of the white male employees, who only coded what they know.

The only logical conclusion for the trajectory of Cary Agos this season is that he was abducted by aliens and then replaced with a programmed robot that looks like Cary Agos but doesn’t act like him. She claims her restaurant was shut down after ChumHum released a version of their mapping program that categorized streets and neighborhoods as safe or unsafe, with non-white neighborhoods most frequently deemed “unsafe.” After Divya’s street was designated “unsafe” (a.k.a. “primarily African-American”), her business folded, so she’s suing ChumHum. They couldn’t see outside their own little world of cereal, in-house-produced almond milk, and jokes about jokes that weren’t meant to offend, really.

Incidentally, Divya is brought in by the young African-American attorney who, after the firm turned her down for a summer position, leaked unflattering video of their hiring processes. Look, I don’t want to get too deep into the whole “race well” here, but I guess at the end of the day I’m glad the case ended the way that it did. It seemed a little silly that this business owner was trying to blame her business troubles on this “racist” software by Chumhum, so I was glad that she didn’t end up getting any money. She was totally not having it and said probably the most Alicia Florrick thing ever: “Yes, I’ve gotten over words.” Because this is a TV show, Jason overheard the conversation between Eli and Alicia.

Furthermore, Alicia provides proof that the failed restaurant was struggling even before the safe filters went live — proof they found because it was stored on Chumhum’s cloud service. Racism was germane to the team at ChumHum that designed the program — and also the designed photo-sorting software that identified a photo of an African-American woman as an “animal.” This isn’t the loud, hateful racism that’s easy to identify and criticize, but a far more commonplace type of subtle, insidious, internalized racism. It’s why it was satisfying to see Alicia get hit with a contempt citation from Judge Marx: this kind of thing shouldn’t be rewarded in our legal system, and Alicia, in an ideal world, wouldn’t be representing Chumhum in this matter, let alone trying to bury clear examples of racist behavior within the company. But it wasn’t just Alicia’s occasional stabs at trying not to tap into her inner-Louis Canning about Chumhum’s pattern of racism that drove the episode.

He certainly is a very flawed character who is sometimes blinded by his own privilege, but nothing about how Cary has been written in the past suggests that he would ever even use the phrase “reverse racism” in a real way. While I’m not thrilled that Cary spends a large portion of the episode trying to claim that reverse racism exists as a real and insidious thing — such a classic white dude move — I’m glad we actually get to see him practice some law, something he hasn’t done much of so far this season.

Of course, Monica also went right after Lucca being biracial and representing a racist company (and we got to see how thoroughly unamused Lucca was with everything around her while Monica did not), so no one was free of any racially-charged behavior this week. Next, Courtney Paige and Eli are still making kissy faces, but more importantly, they put together a hush-hush focus group — secret even to Alicia — to see if they can resurrect Saint Alicia and possibly put her up for a Senate seat. Through nine episodes, so far we only have details like “enjoys color-blocked dresses” and “practices law.” Watching her and Cary dance together at the club she chooses — hell, watching Cary dance at all — was a really fun moment.

I don’t know why everybody was getting all bent out of shape over the “racism” in the episode, because the sexism on display in this storyline is way worse. Eli says he’ll handle it, though I was a little surprised to not hear him offer up, “No, it’s cool, I walked in on the Florricks doing it like a week ago,” as an easy appeasement. It didn’t offer much of a solution beyond firing some coders and changing some default settings on the app, but, sadly, it’s probably how it would work in our reality, at least on some level. So Peter’s allowed to have a big public scandal about having sex with hookers, then sleep with other women and flirt with a bunch of them too, but Alicia touches Jason’s arm and Ruth loses her mind?! Much like the nameless characters of color in “The Debate,” it almost seemed like the writers were using her as a means to an end instead of actually being interested in her perspective and story.

I’ve gotten over words,” she says, then cuts to the chase: “You’re telling me when I sleep with Jason, you’d rather I kept it private.” Eli can’t tell if she’s kidding, and her Mona Lisa smile gives nothing away. She returns in “Discovery,” suggesting she might be treated as more than a convenient prop, but she still ends up embodying more of an idea than a person in “Discovery,” which has plenty of impersonal conversations about race and racial profiling and few discernible points. Don’t taint this with boredom!” But, here I am, already a bit bored by the ins and outs of this because Eli had two scenes with Jason with both of them being all alpha dog-y to one another—notice how Jason gets really into Eli’s personal space—and I suddenly didn’t care about how this was going to play out, nor was I all that intrigued by Jason investigating Alicia, even if it was just to look into his potential employer. Alicia can claim it’s not any of Eli or the campaign’s business and she can balk all she wants at Nora being her babysitter (poor Nora), but she has chosen not to divorce Peter, to give her okay to Peter running for president.

Jason tells Eli that he’s been honest with Alicia about his past, and Eli asks whether Alicia knows “what’s on the last page” of the file he’s handed over. “Why are you investigating Alicia?” Jason’s explanation seems legitimate: he wanted to know who he was working for before he took the job, and investigators investigate. Whoo boy. – I loved the (intentional or not) meta-ness that instead of having John Benjamin Hickey reprise his role as Neil Gross, we got Michael Chernus as Chumhum’s COO. The opening as we pulled out of code and through various smartphones montage into a POV shot for Monica was classic Good Wife—it loves using that POV tracking shot and having the characters address the camera as the character—but that zoom from Eli’s arched eyebrow through the peephole into a pretty tight close-up of Alicia? Jeffrey Dean Morgan brings an incredible edge of menace and unpredictability to his scenes; you’re always waiting for those dimples to disappear in a burst of violence. I’d also discuss the slightly elevated and occasionally canted angles that Canning would get framed in, but it’s almost 1 a.m. and I have to be up in 5 hours.

Eli wants Alicia to run for Senate, because Eli apparently doesn’t remember that Alicia’s campaign storyline last season wasn’t really a high point.

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