What’s the use of having big guns if you’re not going to whip them out?
In its Series Finale last night, The Good Wife pulled out all the stops, bringing back Will Gardner to coach his girl through the final gate of a seven season giant slalom.
And it worked.
I’ve long said that the death of Will was what killed this show, but also getting away from the tension of actual in-the-courtroom drama. For the last episode, they rolled out both. Fortunes shifted wildly, as they always do in the best episodes, between the prosecution and defense, with Peter Florrick’s future swinging wildly in the balance from being exonerated to going to prison for ten years. And rather than forcing an agenda on us that felt false, the show played to its strengths.
I mean, let’s face it, how do you wrap up a show of this length and popularity with a neat little bow? You don’t. There isn’t one outcome they could have chosen that would have felt ‘right.’ There isn’t a resolution that would have felt universally satisfying, so they didn’t try. They brought in Will to be our voice. So Alicia could talk directly to us. Should she stay with Peter? Should she go with Jason? There was this imagined dating game of musical spouses that Alicia might come home to and we weren’t ten minutes into the episode and Regina Spektor is serenading Alicia’s damaged soul as she kisses Will passionately in her current dining room.
And we watched with smiles on our faces as we remember that chemistry. That passion. Then they’re talking case strategy in his office. She says he wouldn’t like it here now.
“So what do I do…in life?” She asks Will.
And that’s before we even hit the title sequence.
Much of our journey through The Good Wife has been trying to see what Alicia is searching for. Was it meaning? Was it true love that, now lost, seems forever unattainable? Is it personal dignity? Is it the toughness to never be walked upon? Is it the self-reliance to never be somebody’s little victim?
Maybe it’s all of those things and more. Alicia was certainly an interesting character, and it was a labor of love to tie up all of her relationships. Take, for example, Cary Agos, a character who was initially sold to us as kind of a dangerous competitor to Alicia with a flexible moral code, who is now exclusively taking the high road. Take Diane, a mentor of Alicia’s who, with Will, really teaches Alicia everything she knows about the law. We ended that relationship with a head-scratching confrontation where Diane slaps Alicia across the face. It was kind of a shocking moment, understandable for what Alicia had done to Diane’s husband (in an effort to protect her own) but a real doozy nonetheless.
My pal Dustin Rowles sent me this peach afterward:
“I haven’t been as interested in seeing another episode of The Good Wife than I have been in seeing the episode that we’ll never see of the aftermath of the slap.”
Yep. I get that.
Was it a conscious choice to show how far Alicia would go to protect Peter? Was the slap a visual manifestation of the long-time-coming fracture of the Alicia/Diane partnership? Was it a cowardly action from Diane, who was the one who put her husband in that situation in the first place? Or was it ultimately just a piece of red meat thrown out to a feral viewing audience by a writing staff who knew they had to do something, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do?
Alas, we’ll never know.
In the end, Alicia was nominal Good Wife, in that she stood with her man until the final bell sounded on the series. The second Peter had tendered his resignation, he reached for Alicia and she was already gone, following the smoke trail of what seems to be another unattainable fantasy. Then, life, (or in this case, Diane) hits her with a right cross, and she has to straighten herself out, lift up her chin, and walk once more unto the fray.
The Alicia Florrick we leave, the one after the show, will be divorced. She’ll have the freedom to pursue love on her own terms, in her own place, with her grown children now in or out of college. She will have a vast amount of political money behind her, thanks to Eli shifting all of Peter’s donors to her (without her knowledge) and there’s a chance she’ll be the eventual governor of the great state of Illinois one day.
That’s not at all where we found her.
We met Alicia, once upon a time, as a confused and betrayed person. More mousey that you’d imagine, with very little sense of herself and no clearly identifiable goals. She had stepped back from her career to raise a family and it had cost her. She came back into the law world with no connections and no self worth and no chance until an old friend named Will Gardner gave her a shot.
In that way, The Good Wife is a phenomenal success. Giving a voice and an identity and a backbone to a person who was once bounced around by life like a cork on an ocean. Like her or not, the Alicia we leave behind is accomplished and battle-tested and nobody’s fool. But, she’s still somehow not entirely complete. She’s still searching for something that we can’t quite place. So it was also fitting that, when all was said and done, Alicia finished the show searching for something that seemed irritatingly just outside her grasp.
Throughout these seven seasons, in so many ways, and with great, memorable moments, The Good Wife spoiled us with fantastic characters and wonderful trials and must-watch episodes. At its zenith, it was the best show on network television, and set the bar for building female leads with complexity and depth. We may have now seen the last of Alicia Florrick, but her legacy will live on in television history for years to come.