The Geek Guide to Watching “The Good Wife”

The Good Wife is my favorite TV show of all time. It passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test before the title credits virtually every episode; the women on the show have complex relationships and friendships, the legal drama is thrillingly ripped from often recent headlines, the political intrigue is complex and nefarious…

And the tech. The tech is just perfect.

But I tell people about the show and they watch the first few episodes and are all meh. Things got off to a bit of a slow start – the first few seasons focus on the politics, both within the law firm and Chicago’s legendarily complex (and corrupt) city apparatus. While I like those parts of the show, having been raised in a political town by lawyer parents, the thing that I really love about The Good Wife is how it handles the nuanced ways that technology interacts with the court system. It also shines in later seasons in showing the fundamental unfairness of the American legal system, but I’ll leave that stuff to you to see once you’re hooked.

So as the show’s seventh and final season comes to an end, I present to you: the Geek Guide to Watching “The Good Wife”. Below, I have summarized the cast and plot of each season, and listed the episodes of particular geek interest in seasons 2 and 3. Beware, there are spoilers for the first 3 seasons! Season 4 is where the show hits it’s stride – I recommend just watching the whole thing from season 4 episode 1 and on.

Thanks to my pal and The Good Wife watching buddy Valerie Aurora of Frame Shift Consulting for helping with the season descriptions and general encouragement. This had been sitting in my drafts for months, and there was no episode this week so we finished this instead!

Season 1

No really, there are spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 🙂

The starting point for The Good Wife was this question: What does it feel like to be the good, loving, forgiving wife, standing on stage next to her politician husband as he confesses to having sex with other women? Alicia Florrick (the titular Good Wife) is married to Peter Florrick (played by Chris “Mr. Big” Noth), who kicks off the series by confessing to sleeping with prostitutes while he was the Cook County State’s Attorney of Illinois.

Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife Season 5.jpg
Alicia Florrick, in one of her more ice-queen moments

Fast-forward 6 months, and Peter is in prison for corruption and Alicia is getting her first job as a lawyer after being a stay-at-home mom for over a decade. She joins the law firm of Stern, Lockhart, and Gardner. Will Gardner is an old law school buddy who seems to have fond feelings for Alicia. Diane Lockhart is a Hillary Clinton fan and old school feminist who wants to give Alicia a chance. Stern is getting weirder and more unpredictable as he ages. But the real star of the firm is Kalinda Sharma, the badass investigator. Cary Agos is another first-year associate, competing with Alicia for a permanent position at the firm (a little eyeroll-y but tolerable). Outside the firm, Eli Gold is Peter’s hilariously intense and ruthless campaign manager, and Zach and Grace are Peter and Alicia’s teenage kids.

This season follows Alicia’s education as a lawyer in the hard-knocks school of the Chicago court system, the progress of Peter’s attempts to get out of prison and redeem himself politically, Alicia’s ambivalence towards her husband, the beginning of a never-ending series of political machinations at Alicia’s law firm, the growth of Alicia and Kalinda’s working relationship and friendship, and Will and Alicia’s on-again, off-again flirtation with each other. An amusing running theme throughout the whole series is the enormous technical facility of Alicia’s teen kids Zach and Grace with computers, the Internet, and phones, compared to all of the adults. Episode 10 is particularly noteworthy for a ripped-from-the-headlines plot involving a judicial scandal with enormous consequences for young Black boys – exactly the kind of real-world courtroom drama you’ll never see in most lawyer shows.

Season 2

Peter Florrick is out of prison and running for Cook County State’s Attorney again. Eli sets back Will and Alicia’s budding romantic relationship to protect Peter’s political campaign. In this season, Alicia’s law firm starts to pick up clients who are obvious pastiches of Google, Facebook, and Apple. Alicia discovers Kalinda had an affair with her husband Peter. The season ends with Will and Alicia getting a hotel room together, which is when you realize that the on-going unresolved romantic tension running through the entire show (a la the Scully-Mulder X-Files dynamic) is actually between Alicia and Peter (will they stay married or get divorced?), not between Alicia and Will.

Chumhum: is it Google? Apple? Facebook? HP? Yes. All of them.

The geeky episodes this season are:

Episode 14: “Net Worth” – A meta-version of “The Social Network.”
Episode 16: “Great Firewall” – The tech company Chumhum hands over a Chinese dissident’s information, resulting in his imprisonment and torture. He sues.
Episode 22: “Getting Off” – An Ashley Madison-like site results in a murder.

Season 3

Peter ponders running for Governor of Illinois. Will and Alicia are having an affair. Alicia is on the partner track at the firm. Alicia and Kalinda slowly start to rebuild their friendship. Will is under investigation for briefly stealing a client’s money to pay a gambling debt. Alicia decides to end her affair with Will. Will ends up with a 6-month suspension from practicing law. Peter decides to run for governor.

The geeky episodes this season are:

Episode 13: “Bitcoin For Dummies” – I feel like this episode needs no introduction, except perhaps to say that this is only the first of several episodes about the more intricate details of Bitcoin and the Bitcoin community.
Episode 15: “Live from Damascus” – Chumhum is sued for selling software to Syria.

Season 4 and Onwards

Season 4 is where the show really hits its stride, tech-wise. We see repeat business from Chumhum (the Google/Facebook analog), and the government starts digging around in the firm’s and Alicia’s business, with dramatic results (including a demonstration of the real-world implications of the NSA’s three-hop wiretapping rule). Just watch all the episodes from here on out, you won’t regret it!

I hope you enjoy this show as much as I have. With four episodes to go in the seventh and final season, you’ve got some catching up to do!