Nick who? That's what fans of The Good Wife are — thankfully — asking after a recent string of strong episodes have erased the unpleasant first half of Season 4 from memory. In September, the legal drama (airing Sundays at 9/8c) suffered a rare critical misfire when it introduced Kalinda's (Archie Panjabi) cold and abrasive estranged husband Nick (Marc Warren), who was not popular with the fans. No irreparable damage was done, but for a show that was regularly in critics' top 10 lists during its first three seasons, the negative attention was surprising. Producers caught on and quickly expunged Nick. Less than four months later, the show is stronger than ever. So how'd they do it? Here's seven ways:
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1. New pairings! After four seasons, it's usually hard to imagine any fresh combos coming out of the show's nine-piece ensemble. But then along came Diane (Christine Baranski) and Peter (Chris Noth). Sure, they've only done two scenes together, but both packed a punch and the most recent may also hold major consequences for Will, Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and the entire Lockhart/Gardner firm. As much as we don't want work-wife Diane and work-husband Will (Josh Charles) to break up, Diane would look so good in judges' robes! And then she would have a lot more free time to hang with her Marlboro Man (Gary Cole, who returns this week).
2. Cutthroat Cary! Cary (Matt Czuchry) was welcomed back to Lockhart/Gardner with open arms at the end of Season 3 after almost two years of playing for the opposite team as a prosecutor in the State's Attorney's Office. But other than his endearing bromance with the firm's court-appointed trustee Clark Hayden (Nathan Lane), Cary seemed to be little more than some extra window dressing in Alicia's crowded office. Thankfully, making Alicia an equity partner lit a new fire under a very bitter Cary and watching him plot and scheme his way to success both in the firm and as a possible solo act has been captivating. Add to that his evolving (and possibly, maybe newly sexual) relationship with Kalinda, and Cary is finally the man we always wanted him to be.
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3. Returning favorites! It's painful to admit, but a legal drama this serialized and this far into its run is not going to attract a wealth of new viewers no matter who the big name guest star of the week is (we're looking at you, Michael J. Fox). So instead of trying to focus on polarizing new additions like Nick and Maddie (Maura Tierney), the show is at its best when it finds ways to utilize fan-favorite recurring characters like the scattered-but-stealth Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston) and the mysterious but captivating wife killer Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker, who also returns this week). These characters have not only established delicious backstories over time, but they are also big rewards to the show's very loyal following.
4. Stockard Channing! Apologies to Amanda Peet and Kyle MacLachlan, but of all the impressive recurring thesps added to the show this year, Channing takes the prize. It only took the introduction of one parent — sadly, we also learned this season that Alicia's father passed away years earlier — to fill in the blanks on a lot of questions about Alicia, and also bring out surprising new sides of the good wife. The best part about Alicia's free-spirited, uncensored mama? She is hilarious. Finally! We know where Owen (Dallas Roberts) gets it from. Please don't ever leave Chicago again, Veronica.
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5. Mixing up the court case locales! The Good Wife usually doesn't disappoint when it comes to crafting suspenseful, thought-provoking court cases. But the show really thrives when the Lockhart/Gardner's associates are taken out of the traditional courtroom. The second half of Season 4 has done so several times, including the entertaining mock trial case that pitted Alicia and Cary against Will and Diane, the "Invitation to Inquest" episode that made Will and Alicia argue their entire case from the morgue, and last Sunday's episode, which put Alicia's own investigative skills to the test at a police station on St. Patty's Day with obnoxious, drunken cops just feet away.
6. Kalinda is back to being Kalinda! For all of the problems that Nick's character introduced, it was nice to get a glimpse at a more unhinged, emotionally vulnerable Kalinda who knew how to let her hair down, literally. Thankfully, that glimpse was very brief and now Kalinda has returned to being mysterious, fiercely independent, untrusting and flirtatious with pretty much everyone — just how we like her. Although we're on board with her new dynamic with Cary, it's nice to see an annoying and overly eager thorn in her side emerge in Robyn (Jess Weixler), who is faintly reminiscent of Season 1 Cary.
7. The campaign is heating up! Remember Eli's happy face in Sunday's episode when he and Alicia reveled in Peter's punch to Kresteva (Matthew Perry)? That unabashed ear-to-ear grin only comes out during full moons — and in the weeks leading up to an election. The end of Season 2 may have brought down the show's single best dynamic (RIP Kalicia) but those final weeks before Peter won back the State's Attorney's office saw the show firing on all cylinders and skillfully bring all the characters together in surprising ways, much like the Diane and Peter dynamic this season. Considering the stakes are so much higher this time around, things are only bound to get more juicy as the show's fictional voting day nears.
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The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9/8c on CBS.