Intentions matter, but so do results. The difference between the two was at the heart of this week's The Good Wife, which raised the question of hiring for diversity versus promoting skills meritocracies, in an episode that also tried to address recent race riots over police brutality against African-Americans.
If that sounds like a lot, well ... it was. And "The Debate" wasn't always successful, though The Good Wife gets points for, once again, dumping a half-season's worth of plot into 48 minutes or so. Most shows would be content to write a show around the eponymous political debate between Alicia Florrick and Frank Prady, but why stop there?
This episode took on (and, according to the notes at its beginning, anticipated) the real-world fallout from the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Then there was mounting co-founder tension between Alicia and Diane and Cary; more fallout from Peter's ongoing infidelity; and the divorce and defection of Neil Gross, Florrick Agos Lockhart's Sergey Brin-like big fish client.
The question of how best to promote racial diversity in hiring surfaced during the informal hotel kitchen debate between Alicia and Prady. It was an interesting idea that also raised some meta-critiques: This episode's focus on race kind of threw into relief The Good Wife's own persistent shortcomings on racial diversity. It's telling that the African-American voices in "The Debate" were all extras, or tertiary or long-absent characters (mainly Eli's assistant Nora, who's gotten about four lines total before this episode, and the dueling pastor father-and-son duo).
Unfortunately, the promise of Taye Diggs's character seems to have disappeared along with the actor. Had the season built him into a real recurring protagonist (or kept around Julius Cain), this storyline might have had more bite. But with him absent, the episode skirts perilously close to what one of the hotel workers accuses Alicia and Frank of: "You know what's stupid? Two white people arguing over black people."
Overall, the informal debate in front of the hotel kitchen workers was a bit clunkier than I've come to expect from this show. The dishwashers breaking into applause for Alicia felt a little more like fantasy (and like something Aaron Sorkin would have written) than the barbed cynicism I've come to expect from Robert and Michelle King.
At least some edginess remains in the interactions between Alicia and her law firm co-founders. Now that all of the partners are together and no longer fighting off looming jail sentences, the other shoe finally drops on Alicia's decision to run for office while Cary and Diane are trying to run the business.
"The Debate" ends with a face-off between Alicia and Diane, in which the former accuses the latter of sexism. It was a remarkably overt accusation from Alicia, and I'm hoping Diane eventually comes back around. Both women are ambitious political animals, and yet their similarities have rarely translated into wholehearted support for each other's ambitions. But Alicia still desperately needs some female friends, and I'm not sure I can watch another wrenching business-partner breakup on this show.