CBS’s “The Good Wife” picks up exactly where it left off last season, but the oppressive despair over Will Gardner’s courtroom killing has thankfully lifted. Legal eagle Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), prostrate with grief about the death of her former lover toward the end of Season 5, can’t afford to stay huddled under the covers with the future of her breakaway firm and her partner Cary Agos (Matthew Czuchy) at risk: There is no time for existential angst when survival is at stake.
Alicia must act decisively, and she does. It’s a welcome return to form for the show, which was shrouded in mourning after actor Josh Charles’ exit as Will late last season.
Sunday’s season opener begins with ace strategist Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) repeating his cliffhanger query: Did Alicia want to run for State’s Attorney?
She bats the suggestion down and the action soon cuts to Cary’s ambush arrest. This chaotic scene, following so quickly after Alicia’s dream-like exchange with Eli, serves notice that showrunners Robert and Michelle King have lost none of their storytelling vigor in wake of a key cast departure. Six seasons in, they still have a few twists up their sleeve — and a remarkable cast headed by Margulies, who picked up her latest Emmy for the show last month — to do the turns justice.
Cary’s arrest gives the showrunners a chance to show a grittier side of the law: While colleagues in fancy suits engage in power plays outside, Cary is stuck in a holding tank, stripped down and powerless. He must rely on all his wits to survive, a pawn of authorities.
This deep into the run, viewers’ familiarity with recurring characters throughout the legal system pays off in storytelling. Drug dealer Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter), charismatic yet menacing, delivers carefully worded warnings but remains a doting dad.
“Do you understand?” he asks meaningfully in the episode, titled “The Line.” Characters are repeatedly reminded which side of the line they should stay inside during the episode.
Law enforcement contacts that Alicia and resourceful investigator Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) encounter are recognizable by past dealings if not always by name.
This being “The Good Wife,” there’s no shortage of corporate intrigue or political jockeying, as Diane (Christine Baranski) plots to leave Lockhart Gardner and chief rivals at her firm try to scoop up her clients. Alicia’s husband Peter (Chris Noth), meanwhile, has his own political battles, personal and political. The future of their marriage is as cloudy as ever, with suggestions each is up to their old flirty tricks.
“The Good Wife” has never been afraid to plumb tricky gender politics — the series premise is rooted in it — and the season opener holds true to form. One character talks up a merger that would create the largest firm in the country run by women.
“Think about it,” she urged.
Another must figure out how to confront a comely intern suspected of going commando at the office. On “The Good Wife,” feminism can also be pragmatic.
“I’ve been watching you for five years, and you’d be perfect,” strategist Eli tells Alicia while pitching her for the State’s Attorney job.
He points out that she has political instincts while also conceding, “We need a woman and they respect you.”
Her husband’s past occupancy of that very position — where he was caught in a sex scandal at the series outset — is unmentioned, but the possibility of Alicia following him into that role does suggest future Hillary Clinton-esque storylines. That’s promising.
So are performances by Matthew Goode, showing previously unseen steel as prosecutor Finn Polmar, and Eli’s daughter Marissa (Sarah Steele), who provides comic relief. Michael J. Fox is especially strong as opportunistic Louis Canning, who has forged an unholy alliance with David Lee (Zach Grenier) to take control of the firm Diane ran with Will.
Will is never directly invoked in the episode, but the repercussions of his demise continue to play out, with no sign of easy resolution. But, the season premiere doesn’t dwell on it. Life at Lockhart Gardner seems to be returning to normal, which is a relief to those of us never overly fond of Will and Alicia’s tortured romance.
There’s a looser feel after so much anger and grief; jazzy instrumental music underscores the twisting and turning action. It’s top notch TV by directors at the height of their game.
Let’s hope that the show retains its rigor, and stays firmly in the game.
“The Good Wife” returns Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET/ 9 p.m. PT on CBS.
Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated Matthew Goode‘s name. TheWrap regrets the error.