In the fifth episode of The Good Wife’s seventh season, “Payback”, blink and you’ll miss an entire plot line, so keep your eyes peeled and hold onto your butts. The main plot points we’re manically jumping around between are:
Alicia Florrick and Lucca Quinn taking on the topic of college debt — hey you see that, younger viewers, you like that?
Eli Gold’s unceasing downward spiral.
Howard Lyman’s very legitimate case for an ageism suit.
Grace Florrick shedding any and all elements of her former personality to morph more fully into a lil law baby and a carbon copy of her mother.
That should be everything, but like I said, there’s a ton of jumping around in this episode, so bear with me. We start with a recording of a guy named Bob Bondi (Michael Mulheren) screaming at Maggie Rossum (Justine Lupe), a new client of Alicia and Lucca’s, demanding she repay her college loans. He’s getting really nasty, threatening her with all the personal information of hers that she has access to, but she insists she’s already paid, which is why she’s attempting to retain Alicia and Lucca, to make this maniac go away. Jason Crouse takes care of that right away, calling the dude up and threatening him with the same thing (red flag!), but he says he only does what his boss at APY Collections, Nelson Olstead tells him to do.
Everyone agrees to go forward with this case, but because Lucca is the worst, she’s quoted their rate as $50/hour less than they should actually be charging. I’m gonna ask you again, Alicia: what do you have in common with this person? Why are you two friends? Grace Florrick overhears her mom and Lucca talking about their rates, which gives her a chance to play her new character game, which is I’m A Baby Lawyer And I Don’t Remember My Old Life. She’s always at her desk or on the phone or answering the door, and right now she’s Worried About Money, and tells Alicia she needs to charge more. She’s also watching a video of Peter Florrick talking about limiting unions, rolling back pensions, and pushing partisanship to the forefront. Controversial!
Eli Gold also catches a glimpse of this interview, and rushes back to his cupboard under the stairs to watch the rest, only to find his daughter, Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele), who is staging an intervention, saying he’s too obsessed with this job that he doesn’t even have anymore: making Peter look good. But Eli truly is too deep in his spiral, and refuses to leave it, clinging to the hope that Peter will change his mind and get rid of Ruth Eastman.
In another office, Cary Agos is meeting with Ronnie Erickson, the Food Service Union guy, played by Dan Lauria, welcoming him to the firm. Except when Erickson has to leave the room, a quiet lady slips in to keep an eye on Cary and take the valuables off the shelf, which he figures out means that Howard Lyman told Erickson that Cary had been to prison and wasn’t to be trusted.
Jason is allowed to bill four hours for this episode, which is a relief, because we desperately need some charisma here, and Christine Baranski isn’t getting nearly enough screen time to get me up to my quota. Jason goes to visit Nelson Olstead (Charles Socarides) at APY, and pretends to be a loan officer himself to ask if this guy is “double-dipping”, or sending out the same charges twice. He says no, but does give Jason a lead when he’s asked about APY’s Michigan office, which apparently doesn’t exist. Which makes it pretty suspicious that that’s where Maggie Rossum’s last check was cashed, the one APY is insisting they never received. It turns out that Maggie had been scammed with a voicemail saying that the address where she should send her checks had changed, so someone stole her payment, and she does in fact still owe APY money. Whomp whomp.
Meanwhile, Lil Law Baby wants to talk to her mama, and is waving from the other room, ready to introduce some exposition for concepts like “on contingency”, which means a bigger payout for the lawyers involved if there’s a settlement, but no money up-front. Grace wants her mom to start taking bigger cases to get their cash flow up, and suddenly Alicia is like AHA I GET IT, I will sue Maggie’s school, Colosseum University, which is a for-profit school which is about to be sold. “Thank you for triggering that revelation, Grace, now get out of here. I’ll call you if I need another legal concept explained to TV viewers.”
At Lockhart, Agos, & Lee, Cary is WYLIN’ OUT with the ageist comments against Howard, and Diane calls him out, telling him he needs to cool it because he’s not a member of a protected class, and would be entitled to bring suit against the firm, which he’s repeatedly warned he’s doing. So slow your roll, dude.
In other news, Alicia has decided to take Law Baby’s advice and take this college loan case on contingency, will now be targeting Colosseum University themselves, which sold Maggie, and all their students, a $46,000 education that didn’t yield a job. Since they’re a for-profit institution, that means they sold a faulty product. No surprise, the guy they’re meeting with at the university, Graham Stenborg (Ron Raines), disagrees, and also points out that there’s a no arbitration clause in the enrollment agreement, which says you must settle your grievances within 18 months of graduation. For Maggie, it’s been 17, so ruh-roh!
At Peter’s office, it seems like Ruth is finally going to get screamed at, after a headline says Peter has “foot in mouth disease” for his union comments. Eli is listening through the vent to their conversation, and is basically about to jizz in excitement, so he storms into Peter’s office, ready to be present for the death blow. Except there isn’t one, because Ruth shows Peter that he’s actually ahead in the polls, because he’s talking directly to the people instead of selling himself to the press. He’s in second place, which earns Ruth a hug and an “I’m sorry”, and makes Eli look like a big dumb idiot for coming in there in the first place.
Oh and then we start a very elaborate overlapping sequence, in which Alicia and Lucca are doing arbitration with Colosseum representatives, and Lockhart, Agos, & Lee are doing mediation between Howard and the rest of the firm. Deep breath. Cary’s complaints are that Howard is embarrassing with clients and just generally doesn’t do anything, and Howard says he’s dealing with ageist name calling, and calls Diane to the stand to help prove his point. Nevermind that this isn’t a real courtroom, so you can’t call people to the stand, but whatever.
Over in arbitration world, we’re introduced to Geoffrey Solomon (Richard Masur), the arbiter, and Colosseum’s representative, whom I listed in my notes as “what’s his name Broadway Guy”, but is known to most of you as Christian Borle. Or Carter Schmidt if you nasty and know his character name. Right now Alicia and Lucca are trying to prove that the school is crappy and produced a low-grade product, which isn’t hard, as the Periodontics instructor that they put on the stand doesn’t even know the answers to the final she provided to students. Eek.
And because we apparently weren’t satisfied with just one child on this show being wise beyond their years and dabbling in the business side of their parent’s lives, Marissa has a job offer for her father, running the campaign for a man named Naftali in Israel, who wants to run for Prime Minister at some point and would pay Eli twice what he’s getting now.
In arbitration again, Lucca and Alicia are challenging the stats presented in Colosseum’s brochure — that 82% of graduates find employment within a year of graduation. They say that most alumni are actually worse off than when they started, but the arbiter isn’t psyched about that argument. Because it’s a business, and technically Colosseum is providing what they say they will, Solomon wants the lawyers to focus on ways that the school actually lied, versus the ways it doesn’t measure up to the standards of a more rigorous school.
Meanwhile, Jason has found the address that was receiving payments, and whoever was accepting them has cleared out. He does manage to steal some mail, though, which nets him another mailed check to APY, with a return address for Molly Tuff. Look, Blue, a clue!
Alicia comes home to Marissa in her kitchen, because I guess we still live in a world without text message heads-ups, and she point blank asks Alicia to fire Eli because she thinks he’s having a nervous breakdown and shouldn’t be working in any kind of proximity to Peter’s campaign.
In an embarrassment of Jason riches, we get even more of the best guy on this show, as the investigator goes to check out Colosseum, trying to catch them in an actual lie. But instead he catches them catering specifically to veterans, which is a problem under the 9010 Rule. That turns out to be a federal law that prohibits schools from receiving more than 90% of their revenue from student aid. The rest has to come from students themselves, but when it’s vets we’re talking about, there’s a loophole that allows the G.I. Bill and all that to be counted as private dollars. Sneaky! So they’ve basically been targeting veterans through VA hospitals and stuff, and persuading them to enroll, which involves taking out loans they can’t afford.
And finally, someone is actually listening to Howard’s complaints, after he shows Diane and Cary an adult diaper left in his office. Diane seems legitimately sorry at this point, and says she’s going to do something to fix the ageist culture.
Things aren’t looking so great for Maggie, however, when it turns out she missed two-thirds of her classes and never bought her books, instead applying the loans she took out toward her living expenses. It wasn’t illegal, but it doesn’t look great, until she reveals she was a member of a study group that made this work, taking notes for each other and passing around PDF copies of textbooks. A study group, huh? Do I smell a class action? No, I don’t, because all this students signed their rights away when they enrolled at Colosseum. But a newly-fired Eli — “I just don’t trust you anymore, I need a fresh start, no, Marissa didn’t put me up to this” — hears all the hubbub of the angry students on his defeated slink out of the kitchen, and whispers to Alicia to encourage a debt strike instead of a class action, something that is already taking place at another for-profit school, Corinthian. So that’s what Alicia does, providing Colosseum with a list of 300+ students who are ready to default on their loans unless Colosseum steps in to forgive them.
And then for a very odd meeting at Lockhart, Agos, & Lee, where we’re putting cotton balls in our noses, weird glasses on our faces, and kernels of corn in our shoes to understand what it’s like to be eighty years old. It’s sensitivity training, and Harold is eating it up.
Later, Peter is being interviewed with Alicia obediently beside him, when Ronnie Erickson pops up out of nowhere to challenge his stance on limiting unions, while Alicia is literally encouraging a group of students to unionize right at that very moment. The Florricks get hustled out of there right away, but Ruth is not happy, and accuses Eli of killing Peter’s campaign by giving Alicia the debt strike idea. And his word-perfect response? “No, I’m not. I’m not running it.” Boom. I thought that might mean he was going to accept Naftali’s offer, but instead he turns it down, which suggests to me that he’s having too much fun here and doesn’t want to walk away. HERE WE GO ELI, LET’S DO THIS.
Meanwhile, Jason has tracked down Molly Tuff (Malika Samuel), whom he presents with her check in exchange for the new address that the guy just called with. And here’s where it starts to get weird, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel, because Jason follows this guy and then shows up at his door with a crowbar, looking creepily excited to threaten him. What I wrote down was “Happy boy has a crowbar — UM???”, and I stand by that. Especially after he turns up at Alicia’s door with Maggie’s money as well, in an envelope full of filthy bills. Remember that red flag from earlier? Take that and double it!
At Alicia’s apartment, Eli swings by to say he’s staying on, and she’s like yup okay, works for me. And then right on his tail, Broadway Law comes by with a suit from Colosseum for “tortious interference with contract”. Um, okay. Grace isn’t here to explain that to me, but I assume it means “you told our students to break their agreement with us, and we didn’t like that.” Alicia wants to back down, but Lucca is wanting to escalate it more, because their tactics are working; Colosseum’s stock prices are dropping. They decide to add pressure from a different, more sensitive area, bringing a shareholder derivative suit. (Grace??? Don’t leave me hanging here with these legal-ese!) In the face of all this drama, and the added nuisance that the federal government might soon intervene to see what’s going on at Colosseum, Stenborg actually folds pretty quickly, asking Alicia what she wants. Didn’t you hear Grace earlier? MONEY PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
And of course we end the episode with Jason at Alicia’s door, flirting with him over the very scary and dangerous thing he did that allowed him to show up at her door with $8,000 in cash. Physical intimidation is such a turn-on, right? Oh sorry, I meant “persuasion”. But either way, if there’s one thing I learned from this episode, it’s that IT’S ON between Alicia and Jason, and I’m pretty sure they were smooching by the time the credits rolled. Guess we’ll catch up on that next week!