Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Good Wife: Thoughts on Alicia Florrick

Since I watched the first three seasons of The Good Wife on DVD and relatively quickly, sometimes I think I got caught up in thinking about the show differently than I would if I watched it week to week. Like the parallel of Cary/Alicia to Will/Diane escaped me until the episode when Cary first proposed Florrick, Agos, & Associates. And the fact that Alicia staying with Peter is a consistent pattern of rebellion for her.

In fact, Alicia choosing to stay with Peter in order to have a measure of control over her life is so refreshingly different from what most TV shows are trying to sell me about both women and relationships that despite some of the other issues I have with the show, I'm kind of grateful for it.

See the thing is that a woman can be smart and capable and helplessly attracted to a man but still able to make smart life choices and be in control. And it's possible to love different people differently and to not choose the person you feel the most sexual attraction/passion for to be the person you're with. (the producers have said she has only one love of her life and it's not her husband but that's so reductive I'm choosing to ignore it)

Of course it's possible to view Peter as the more dangerous choice for Alicia, he's already hurt her in the past with prostitutes and his refusal to care about voter fraud on his campaign could easily be viewed as a sign he hasn't changed. Will, though, isn't exactly a great choice either, he's been her boss which has made their relationship always a little bit weird. There are a lot of really uncomfortable implications with it.

But it isn't really her romantic life and choices between two individual men that interests me so much as The Good Wife's willingness to always let this be Alicia's choice. I remember when I first watched I thought most women would have no problem leaving Peter in any other situation. In fact, public opinion and judgment often condemns women for staying with a man like Peter. I've heard women say things like, "I have no respect for a woman who stays with a man who treats her like that", "where's her backbone?" etc. This is victim blaming of course--somehow the scorn falls on the woman who has been wronged rather than the man doing the wrong. (this is also why so many stay quiet about abusive relationships, there's a strong sense of shame to not being strong enough to get out or to ever having ended up in one in the first place) Surely a woman who respects herself would get out of such a situation.

Alicia has stayed with Peter for the most part throughout the seasons. Whatever life she had with Peter must be the life she wanted in so many ways because after breaking things off with Will after the first half of season 3, she spent episode after episode trying to buy her old life house back. (Despite understanding the thematic work being done, I was so bored) Why this is the life she wants remains unclear in some ways, but duty is the word I think of when I think of Alicia and Peter. They got married because she was pregnant. His life of public service is greatly enhanced by her forbearance and standing by him and campaigning on his behalf. She truly believes he'd be a better politician and she's consistently told by his campaign he can't win without her. She cares about her kids and she knows when she's separated from Peter things are harder for them. She has, I believe, in her head an idea of the kind of mother and woman she wants to be and that involves being married to her children's father and providing a really secure home for them.

The show introduced the why of that this year with her mother. Alicia's mother is the exact opposite, a woman who goes after whatever makes her happy all else be damned. And it's clear that's affected and hurt Alicia. When her mother tries to interfere, to be that voice of WHY ARE YOU STILL WITH PETER? Alicia rebels and it draws her closer to him. (obviously Alicia's mother completely lacks the appropriate skills of manipulation and reverse psychology!) That's why the idea of her staying with Peter is never fully about duty, it's also about rebellion and taking control of her own life. Alicia's choices might be considered conventional and traditional and they might seem like she's binding herself up and denying herself happiness, but the point is that they are her choices. They might spring from duty and control, but they are far more complex that that in my opinion. I think Alicia likes being a Florrick, I think she enjoys the measure of power she gets from association with Peter, and I think she feels that being with him is the right thing to do.

I'm looking forward to next season because Florrick, Agos, & Associates vs. Lockhart Gardner will be fun! It's the old guard of Diane/Will/Kalinda vs. the new of Cary/Alicia/Robyn. And I think the campaign corruption and Peter as governor and all of that offers the show a chance to really be something different. With Alicia and Cary breaking off will Diane feel conflicted about the justice position and loyalty to Will? Will it be Will and Kalinda vs. the world? Looking forward to season 5!


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