THE GOOD WIFE: Tackling the Taboo (2011)

In an episode which left everyone talking about Kalinda’s big secret, I was more struck by the other “white elephant” in the room – specifically, how delicately, yet pointedly THE GOOD WIFE addressed an obsolete social taboo when Peter Florrick’s campaign manager, Eli Gold, tried to hide the fact that a political candidate’s son was dating a black girl.  Sex may still trump the race card, but really, racial tensions and how they are inserted into political campaigning was skewered thoroughly in an episode innocuously entitled “Ham Sandwich.”

It was fascinating to see that Peter’s campaign that was originally founded on the black vote and his alliance with Pastor Isaiah, which had been so very carefully cultivated, ultimately came to be seen as a handicap in the final days of his campaign.  With the blue collar and suburban voters looking to sit the election out, it became crucial to remove any overt association with the black constituents from Peter’s campaign.  Even Grace noticed her father had distanced himself from Pastor Isaiah and had removed any non-white faces from the photos on his campaign website.  It became even more glaring when Eli made a point of asking Alicia to keep Zach away from the press during his father’s speech at his school – not to protect Zach, but because Eli was worried that the press would notice Zach’s girlfriend Neesa and try to spotlight the interracial couple.

THE GOOD WIFE is never more clever than when it addresses thorny issues by simply throwing them in a small storyline mixed in with a bigger one.  The bigger story in this episode being Lemond Bishop’s messy divorce, which proved to be the perfect distractor from the racial tensions boiling beneath the surface.  It offered a larger-than-life drug dealer hiding behind his failing, legitimate businesses in order to deny his cheating wife from a hefty divorce settlement.  Just hearing the big drug trafficking numbers was astounding and then hearing the wife’s wish list of demands felt equally absurd.  Combine that with a grand jury investigation into the murky private investigator tactics employed by Kalinda, her ongoing rivalry with Blake, and how it was all a mere subterfuge in order to take down Lockhart & Gardner – it is a wonder that anyone took note of the race-relation message embedded throughout the episode.

With a series of bombshells unleashed in the final moments of the episode, which included: the discovery that Lemond had killed his wife rather than pay her a dime in the divorce; and that Kalinda’s secret was not about her past before she changed her name but rather that she was another one of Peter’s notorious sex conquests; the racial tensions arising from the political pressures to white-wash associations in order to secure a solid win on election day were left unspoken.  However, while perhaps overshadowed, the political maneuverings did not go unnoticed.

The most startling and well-emphasized line of the night was when Grace asked Pastor Isaiah:  “Do you believe Jesus was black?”  Grace may have been simultaneously trying to provoke a reaction and get an honest answer, but the response was clear:  being of Jewish descent and born in the heart of the Middle East, Jesus may have had a darker shade of skin — a point that Grace rammed home when she asked the same question of Eli.  As the religious icon, the color of Jesus’ skin does not really matter.  But our society still has archaic views about what is socially acceptable and those views deserve to be spotlight for their incongruent fallacy.

It is also ridiculous that voters must still be kowtowed to so that they will not view a candidate’s political associations negatively, or that a candidate’s family must hide their own personal associations.  In a nation that prides itself on equality for all, the fact that racial tensions and race relations are still such a sore point is heart-breaking.  However, while Eli’s reluctance to spotlight Zach’s personal relationship and Peter’s friendship with Pastor Isaiah out of fear of pushing away voters may feel absurd, it is still very real.  We may like to think that we as a country are above such out-dated discrimination and prejudice, but as THE GOOD WIFE subtly demonstrated, such views are still prevalent.  Elections may still be won and lost simply because of the color of a person’s skin;  though it will feel just as inane if Wendy Scott-Carr wins the election because she is black and Peter Florrick loses because he associates with black Americans.

It is nice to see that America’s political dirty-laundry and flawed voting preferences were aired and given such prominent attention. The “white elephant” is not so lily-white after all and it should not be ignored.

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