A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Good Wife comes to an end. What is arguably the most celebrated broadcast network drama completes its seventh season, a feat made all the more remarkable by its episode count that began at twenty-three episodes per season for the first two and then dwindled almost insignificantly down to twenty-two. To craft consistently thrilling or even cohesive stories for that many hours a season is notoriously difficult and that conversation was around every single year The Good Wife was buzzing around awards season. It lost every year to Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, and now Game of Thrones (although in all fairness it wasn’t nominated every year and its sixth season definitely isn’t deserving of a nomination as The Americans wasn’t even nominated). But The Good Wife arguably should have won for its fifth season, a tremendous revival of creativity at a point where other shows begin to suffer from creative decline. It was energetic, propulsive, thrilling and unabashedly so. It was The Good Wife at its best, showing what could be accomplished in twenty-two episodes that other shows couldn’t even manage in twelve. The pressures and confines of crafting a prestige drama for CBS are simply quite different from producing something for HBO, Showtime, or Starz and it’s highly likely that something like what the Kings achieved with their series here can never be replicated again. It wasn’t just the episode count, it was all the considerations of the content limitations of broadcast networks that had to be taken into account in the creative process. But somehow they made it work. There was the absolute annoyance of scheduling where American football matches (of no interest to me whatsoever) were scheduled at The Good Wife’s expense, but they made it work. That ability to work around all of those barriers so well was so impressive that all of the accolades The Good Wife received were worthy just on that front alone. That’s part of the reason why End feels like an absolute disappointment to a series that was once touted as being great and deserved to be called so.
Alicia Florrick was, is, and will remain the best part of The Good Wife and not just because Julianna Margulies is one of the most talented actresses working today. It’s also because the writing for Alicia’s character kept the show together even when it was so often at the verge of collapsing apart. The plot around her at times may have made no sense, but Alicia as a character did and that payed off in part here to devastating consequences. The titular character’s arc was in hindsight a tragedy, the title of whom she was at the beginning of this series unraveling her life at that juncture and becoming her undoing at the end. There’s a consistency in that tragic parallel that is one of the few things the series finale truly earns and it earns it because it has been something keeping Alicia from truly becoming her own person since before the beginning of the show. She noted to Will that there was a romance between them that became in part romantic because it never truly happened for them. It’s a romantic way of looking at things but simultaneously a fairly dour one, an admittance in some part that it was something she should have pursued but didn’t. But life is a funny thing that way and the bullet that ended Will put an end to any chance of that occurring as well (there was unfortunately no Melisandre to bring him back). It’s all Alicia can do after that, look back and wonder what could have happened, what would have happened. At all the moments it could have truly happened for them before that and there were plenty, there was always that title that kept her back, the difficulty of what it presumably meant to break that title truly away and move forward in her life. Some might read it as an awfully convenient thematic thread but that’s sometimes how life works and the Kings, not understanding plenty of other things as the show began to burst apart at its seams, understood the difficulty of leaving that part behind and all of the consequences that came with each aspect of the myriad of decisions Alicia could have made. It’s never easy walking away and grasping something else, even if it can make one so substantially happier (in part because happiness can never be guaranteed, for one thing) and in understanding that, The Good Wife kept Alicia grounded in a reality that produced and left behind a real, palpable tragedy in its wake.
The good wife as a title is a curse for Alicia that produces that tragedy. When she married Peter and became pregnant, she decided to leave her career to focus on the home and hearth so Peter could pursue his ambitions. When Peter decided to repay that sacrifice with mass adultery using public funds, he was caught like all politicians who think they’re going to be the ones who somehow get away with any of this. Alicia stood behind him on that infamous podium, a scene the show tried to create with substantially less success with their positions reversed. She slapped Peter across the face in that lonely hallway behind the stage and it was a brilliant moment, made profoundly more effective by the authenticity of the emotions behind it. With Peter’s imprisonment, everyone in her life fell by the wayside, abandoning her to the streets with no support. As long as she was the good wife, they stayed by her side but the moment it became a possibility that she may be no longer, Alicia was abandoned and she found herself returning to the legal world for a job to support her family with initially little success. Will took her in with Diane placing herself as her mentor, perhaps from the perspective of legitimate empathy towards a woman who was thrown and scorned through no fault of her own. She had every right to divorce Peter but she didn’t because she felt a duty towards her family, she couldn’t bring herself to strike at a man brought so low (through his actions, mind you) and because she still loved him. That isn’t by any means a weakness of Alicia’s. It’s simply a human emotion that couldn’t be simply discarded because of a betrayal and public humiliation on that scale. Love for that long remains in some way or another, even when it begins to fade away towards a platonic understanding even. Peter’s return from jail threw the possibilities of Alicia and Will even further under the bus and that cycle of Alicia as the good wife, even when she was no longer in everything but name, remained stubbornly intact and thereupon lies the great tragedy of Alicia Florrick.
That tragedy, just to clarify, isn’t predicated upon her romantic leanings. To reduce Alicia’s tragedy to Peter, Will, or Jason would be to reduce a complex, brilliant, and strong female character to her romantic attachments and frankly there’s enough sexism to combat without being added on as an addition to that patriarchal paradigm. Being the good wife hampered Alicia’s rehabilitation into the professional world after Peter’s imprisonment. Nearly everyone felt that she wasn’t qualified not on the basis of her law work or lack thereof but on her existence as a wife to a disgraced politician. Some felt that her standing by Peter was a sign of weakness, that she betrayed feminism by not divorcing her philandering husband on the spot. Others saw Alicia standing by Peter as a sign of strength and mortal fortitude. Neither view bothered to actually look at Alicia as if she were a real, complex human being. The marriage between her and Peter was for all intents and purposes over when he was standing up on that stage, but it was a marriage that was necessary to give some semblance of public sympathy for Peter’s re-entry into the public world. Alicia, in some parts selfishly and in other selflessly, gave up so much of her life to pivot Peter back into the political circles of the Democratic Party and when it came towards her own campaign, that marriage, that good wife image is what was helping buoy her public support (that plot line notably went nowhere). Part of her wanted to ensure that her kids were kept as shielded from the public onslaught and the media bombardment that was so merciless. They had already been put through the ringer and part of Alicia wanted to keep them safe. It’s an understandable facet and when Grace was going off to college, that responsibility was finally off of her shoulders and she finally made her choice to step outside of the confines of being the good wife Alicia is a complex, smart, independent woman who made the choices she did within or outside of the paradigms that existed for largely understandable, logical or otherwise, reasons. That doesn’t make the tragedy affecting her character arc any less poignant or pointed.
The slap this episode is the most obvious parallel to the pilot, a motif the Kings went to achieve at lengths that frankly were more annoying than poetic and therein lies the episode’s failure to serve as an ending to what we can now call the tragedy of Alicia Florrick. Lucca noted that Alicia had a tendency to confuse responsibility and love, the responsibility of being the good wife and she gives Peter that one more time. Their walking up to the podium was somehow an extremely affecting shot, possibly the most affecting moment between Alicia and Peter resulting from the absolutely nonsensical trial that Peter has been undergoing (I stand by my assertion that the governor of Illinois being on trial would be a much bigger deal than the show treats it). The trial makes no logical sense whatsoever, but the moment the Kings are so clearly proud of is when Diane slaps Alicia in that dimly lit hallway. Alicia and Diane both have an underlying conflict with their respective marriages, a distinctly unfavorable lining to the show’s depicting of feminism. Arguably two of the strongest characters on the show are women who are coming into conflict because of their husbands and while that in and of itself is not completely problematic (it reeks of cheap plot development), it’s another example in a long list of them where The Good Wife has turned towards romance or marriage to drive conflict between women. It’s a troubling trope that women can’s sustain friendships because of the men in their lives and for it to be brought here between Alicia and Diane is an extremely unfortunate story choice, even if it does fit the grand thematic framework of Alicia choosing the good wife and losing something close to her. Her and Lucca throwing Kurt under the bus to try and save Peter was at least foreshadowed, but the relationship between Alicia and Diane has been so poorly constructed this season that the slap does nothing more than surprise. More affecting is Alicia not grasping Peter’s hand on the stage and running off towards a man she thinks is Jason. There’s a tragedy in her leaving behind the good wife but doing so when it was simply too late. It feels profound in a way that Diane’s slap does not. Alicia is clearly shocked by it, whimpering audibly and blinking back tears as she walks towards an uncertain future. It’s perhaps an apt metaphorical moment for a show that became uncertain a time ago and wobbled all the way to an ending that intrigued, exasperated, and infuriated in equal measure. In spite of everything, I will miss this series greatly. Thank you all for reading.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“You think you can play the emotional card with me?”
+“Do I look like I’m breaking down?”
+“I know. You don’t have to sugarcoat it.”
+“Nothing’s ever over. Remember that.”
+“To see what is under your nose needs a constant struggle.”
+“I’ll work up a demure smile for you.”
+“I’ll love you forever.”
“I’m okay with that.”
+I will note that Alicia transforming into a Peter-like figure for the slap works, even if the act itself leaves a bit to be desired.
+I enjoyed the ambiguity of the ending, even if a plethora of events that led up to it felt increasingly hollow.
+/- I don’t know how to feel about Alicia as a new political pawn for Eli
-Lucca remains a nonentity as a character. Her primary motivation throughout the past few episodes was shipping Alicia and Jason. So her character was in essence reduced to a Tumblr thread.
-Grace was skipping school for a year. What is it with the Florrick children not wanting to complete and or delay their education?
-What a waste of Cary Agos. I don’t mind him teaching in law school. I just really hated the composition of that scene.
Episode Title: End
Written by: Robert King & Michelle King
Directed by: Robert King
Image Courtesy: St. Louis Post-Dispatch