Though he might as well breathe fire, and perhaps because of it, Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) is easily one of the best, and most surprisingly likeable, characters on The Good Wife. Rather than try to hide his obvious Jewish heritage, he flaunts it, much as he does everything else on the CBS drama. The unapologetic master of spin spends most of his time managing the re-election campaign of former district attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), who was jailed after a sex scandal ripped from real-life headlines, and gives little thought to the feelings of others as he schemes his way to a position of power in the law firm where Florrick’s wife Alicia (Julianna Marguiles), the show’s titular main character character, works, thankfully increasing his screen time.
Gold wields his Judaism as a weapon instead of letting it hold him back in this stereotypically Jewish profession. He’s the type to feign offense at what he could concoct to be an insult or a slur, name-checking his heritage to exact leverage on an enemy when necessary. More than anything, he wants to win, whether it’s an election, a petty rivalry with a law partner, or a match of wits with his ex-wife’s new campaign manager.
The well-dressed Gold is actually played by a rather peculiar Scotland native, Alan Cumming. Known for his flamboyant nature, double entendre name, and pronounced eye makeup, Cumming is the complete opposite of his onscreen persona. The only small trace of the actor in his character is a tendency to get overexcited when passionately talking about something, which usually causes Gold’s carefully styled hair to move independently of his body. Gold is much more normal—and straight—than most of the characters that Cumming has played, and it’s somewhat shocking to discover that he’s just as fascinating when he’s buttoned up.
Gold addresses his Judaism only when provoked, and, since he works in politics, Israel comes up often. He is stubborn and opinionated, and it’s no surprise that his teenage daughter, Marissa (Sarah Steele), would inherit those same qualities. When she suggested that she wanted to move to Israel, Gold promptly rejected the idea as preposterous. Talking up Israel and name-checking his Judaism is largely superficial—Gold is definitely more of a ‘High Holiday Jew’ who’s not particularly observant.
In one example of the show’s constant mirroring of headlines in its plot lines—which have included social networking site scandals and Ponzi schemes—Gold found himself pulled in opposite directions as a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though the primary thing holding Gold back from defending a Muslim student accused of killing a Jew is the threat of losing financial support from a prominent Jewish group, it’s hardly as deplorable as it seems. Gold may not be subtle about his motivations, but being honest doesn’t make him a bad person. Being cunning and conniving just puts him one step ahead of the rest of the crowd. He may be shrewd and greedy, but unlike most Jews on TV, Gold is far from nebbishy. Anyone watching would rather be him than be one of the people he yells at on a given day.
It’s no coincidence that Gold has been compared to a real-life famous Jew with a similar profession. Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff for President Obama, and brother of Ari Emanuel, the basis for Entourage’s super agent Ari Gold, has quite a reputation for winning at all costs, and Gold has managed to earn that same status in what could easily have been (and originally was) merely a guest-starring role. Gold may reinforce the stereotype of Jews wanting all the power, but he’s definitely someone you’d want on your side.
Previously on Network Jews:
Howard Wolowitz, the nerdy, sex-obsessed engineer on The Big Bang Theory
Paris Geller, Rory Gilmore’s high-intensity, over-achieving friend and foil on Gilmore Girls
Kyle Broflovski, South Park’s Resident Jew