‘Good Wife’ Alicia Florrick is an Atheist (and Drinks a Lot)

I wasn’t sure how far “The Good Wife”‘s Alicia Florrick had made it into cultural consciousness, but now that the NY Times‘ Eric Asimov has done a serious bit of pop critique on that character’s preference for red wine (strong women drink it, and they gulp rather than sip) I feel that it is okay to comment on her religion—or lack thereof.

In this week’s episode, Alicia, embarked on her first-ever political campaign, must sit for a taped interview with the (generically conceived) faith leader “Pastor Jeremiah.” For prep, her campaign manager urges her to soften her well-known atheism. Julianne Margulies plays this as the big deal that it would be for her character, wielding her trademark “you’ve got to be effing kidding” cold glare to great effect. She repeats that she is a straight up atheist, not agnostic, not wondering. Safe bet that this is the most often the word ‘atheist’ has been used in a single episode of a network drama.

The wrinkle is that her daughter  is part of a youth-y evangelical group, having converted a few seasons back. The writers use her for comic effect sometimes, as when the grownups are in crisis around the kitchen table and you suddenly hear a group of teenage girls belting hymns from the bedroom. But in this episode mother and daughter have a deep convo about belief.

Alicia asks the kid if she really believes the Bible and Grace (her daughter’s name—yes, I just got it too) considers the question. She gives a great answer, says something like: Well, when the Bible says God created the earth in seven days, it’s not literal. But it’s like, if I wanted you to understand, and to remember, that God created everything, I might tell you that story.”

Her mother looks at her and says: Grace, did you just think of that yourself? That’s so…smart.

The kid: Gee thanks, Mom. Don’t act so surprised.

Over at The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta has a transcript of another conversation from this same episode, equally direct:

Alicia: I can’t believe in God, Grace.

Grace: I know… why not?

Alicia: I don’t feel it the way you do. I don’t feel the need.

Grace: Then what’s the struggle?

Alicia: … Politics.

Good writing (which is why I watch, I always tell myself). Or maybe it is the red wine.

Anyway, the thing that’s interesting is that the writers don’t seem to be coming down hard on either side. Unless of course Alicia ends up getting God. But doesn’t look like she will.

Curious now about atheism on TV: am off to look for more.

  • Jim Reed

    How about the prayer circle near the end and Grace’s expression? Did that say she might be seeing it in a different light? Since it is a made up show, the writers are probably trying to misdirect here, or maybe they are still working out what would be the weirdest plot twist they could do next. Given the last few plot twists, they will have to really come up with something to impress us.

  • Gregory House?

  • DKeane123

    Sheldon Cooper

  • Jim Reed

    Well, when the Bible says God created the earth in seven days, it’s not literal. But it’s like, if I wanted you to understand, and to remember, that God created everything, I might tell you that story.”

    But if it is not literal, then the person saying this would have no way to know God created everything, so this is just a guess, and that makes this just an attempt for her to evangelize her mother with nothing to back it up, other than possibly the testimony of the other people in her prayer circle.

  • Jim Reed

    Back before this TV show, Julianne Margulies was in a movie called “City Island”. She didn’t do anything or say much in the movie, but it was a frightening intense performance because of the feeling you got of who she was below the surface. It was frightening bacause it had the feeling that she wasn’t acting, this was the real Julianne Margulies. That might have been why she got this TV role. They figured once she mellowed a tiny bit in her old age, she would be perfect for this part.

  • Penny Davis

    The prayer circle hinted that Grace was beginning to have doubts about the “methods” of the people in the circle. That was a good portrayal of how many young people in evangelical circles start to feel manipulated by others. I’d like to have them portray a Christianity for Grace that isn’t that sure of itself and is welcoming to agnosticism, humanism and atheism. That way she and Alicia can find common ground without Alicia “converting”. This is a great opportunity for the writers to show the “variety of religious experiences” instead of just tired stereotypes.

  • cgosling

    It’s a wonderful plot. I loved the way Alicia diverted a nasty confrontation with her daughter by complimenting her thought process. Getting back to reality, most creationists, evangelicals, fundamentalist protestants and catholics, and mormons do not believe the creation story needs to be interpreted. They believe it literally.

  • Jim Reed

    Or maybe it is too sensitive of an area to cover. If they actually try to do a good job here, I am sure every side will be upset with the results.

  • Penny Davis

    Maybe, but as an agnostic Christian I hope I’d be pleased that there was some leaning in that direction.

  • GeniusPhx

    this is the same conversation we have on social media about religion v atheism most days. I was exited when I heard alicia come out as an atheist in a popular series. It needs to seem normal to be not christian because it is. another series that just wrapped up their season is ”manhattan” where they are all scientists and atheists, very vocal. as this country is very quickly getting less religious and more secular, TV will be leading the charge making it easier to talk about in public.

  • Jim Reed

    I guess I was wrong. I forgot about the agnostic Christians. They will probably be happy with the results.

  • Jim Reed

    The country is getting less religious, but is that balanced out by the religious segment getting more religious?

    TV is becoming more educational by showing atheists how it is possible to get elected to office.

  • Gemgirl

    Insightful reply. A few more of these shows and maybe an atheistic candidate won’t be viewed as evil and morally corrupt. It would be nice to not be “hated more than murderers and rapists”. Not sure where I read that…but I did. Remember ‘Will and Grace’ and what that show did to make a gay person related to the average tv viewer. It was a silly show and made fun but you were laughing with the characters…not at them. ‘Will and Grace’ paved the way for shows to bring in a gay character to take more seriously. The show was a starting point and a touchstone. You couldn’t help but love them.

  • Gemgirl

    I loved ‘City Island’. Julianna and Andy Garcia were both amazing. This movie is where she finally showed what she was capable of as an actor.

  • Gemgirl

    I thought she merely felt guilty that she had given her mom something to ‘work with’ politically but she knew her mom didn’t truly believe in any of it. I thought she felt guilty and culpable. I don’t know. Maybe I should re-watch that part. I seem to have picked up something different than ya’ll! 🙂

  • Jim Reed

    We all probably saw what we wanted to see there.

  • Gemgirl

    No, it wasn’t what I wanted to see…that’s just what I picked up from it. Grace seems so sincere in her beliefs. It just seemed to me that she felt she had been duped by her mom. I am, personally, more like Alecia….as an Atheist. But, her mother wants to win and she is not above using whatever tools at her disposal even if it makes her daughter feel weird about it. Personally, I would get an advisor on religious issues that was not my teenager daughter….but that is where Alecia and I differ.

  • Jim Reed

    I think you are right about her feeling guilty. I think it is because she had to play the story out to her prayer circle. Now they think Alicia is struggling with the belief and undecided, and Grace knows that isn’t true, and she knows she made them think it. She has to go along with the the story and pretend she believes it.

    Some day everything in the nation will change and the best approach will be just be truthful, like we are here on RD.