In its seven seasons on air, The Good Wife was notable, among many other reasons, for mastering the cliffhanger. Unfortunately, in Sunday night’s series finale, they left us with an uncertainty that felt less like a thrilling open book and more like a wasted opportunity.
Michelle and Robert King and their writers have always managed to leave us hanging, but with just enough crumbs to satiate our desire for a conclusion. Sure, we may not know exactly what happened, but there was often enough evidence to support our own theories or at least not keep us up at night. These ambiguous outcomes and partial truths also made sense as a storytelling technique.
Kalinda disappearing suddenly after turning drug dealer Lemond Bishop over the state’s attorney office echoes her abrupt departure from the show in real life over issues between Archie Panjabi and Julianna Margulies that have basically been confirmed (but also not really).
And while viewers did get to hear Will Gardner’s final voicemail to Alicia, he was cut short and we never learned what exactly he was calling to tell her.
The finale felt like an attempt to honor these moments, but it fumbled and it fumbled hard.
Seemingly, the entire episode was constructed to mirror the show’s early seasons. We see Alicia again, as we met her, standing by Peter’s side. This time, instead of admitting to infidelity and preparing for prison, he is resigning as the Governor of Illinois after taking a plea deal of one year’s probation for some crime that I never found particularly interesting. (It essentially boiled down to Peter throwing a murder case when he was the State’s Attorney in order to keep the son of a wealthy donor out of prison.)
Of course, Alicia is no longer the woman she was in season one. She stands now, removed, masterfully stoic and much more independent. We see a literal gesture of her emancipation when she refuses to take Peter’s hand after his speech and walks away from him for good. (Probably.)
And of course, there was the slap. Creator Robert King unnecessarily explained: “We started with this feeling that it should begin with a slap and end with a slap.”
Yeah. We get it.
In the pilot, Alicia slaps Peter after stomaching through the ordeal of playing the jilted yet loyal wife who stands by her husband. This time, however, it is Diane who slaps Alicia for, presumably, breaking up her marriage after her husband Kurt is forced to reveal in the courtroom that he had an affair with that blonde gun woman you never cared about.
Diane did not want Kurt to testify further in Peter’s trial, but Alicia and Lucca exploit the prosecution’s decision to call him to the stand by taking the opportunity to push the idea that Kurt’s judgment around the ballistics in the case was compromised by his affair with blonde gun lady.
Maureen Ryan at Variety got to the crux of why the slap and the entire plot point of Alicia betraying Diane felt so unsatisfying: Basically, because it’s random as hell.
Are we to understand that Kurt was having an affair with Holly (Megan Hilty’s character), during his marriage to Diane? I wasn’t clear on that point, at all.
And if Kurt was sleeping with Holly during those years, well, that plot point is a bit of a deus ex machina, isn’t it? How did anyone know about that affair? When did Alicia or Lucca find out? The courtroom revelation was part of a larger point the show was making, of course — the point being that Alicia would do anything and hurt anyone in order to win her case. That Alicia would be cold and calculating is not in itself a problem: That idea is thematically of a piece with the show I’ve watched for seven years. I don’t have a problem with “The Good Wife” reinforcing that idea.
I do have a problem with the show reinforcing that idea via a very contrived, late-in-the-game sub-plot, I do have problems with ultra-convenient revelations, and I really have a problem with that whole mess determining that Diane and Alicia went out as enemies. Why was that necessary?
Further, Diane Lockhart is a smart lady. What Alicia did, or allowed to happen, was ice cold, but why do we only see her going after Alicia? Diane strikes me as someone who is reasonable enough to at least appreciate knowing the truth about her husband’s infidelity. (Again, I’m assuming this is true but who knows.)
Ultimately, this bizarre storyline and the finale’s obsession with mirroring the beginning of the series came off as reductive and redundant.
The final nod to nostalgia was Alicia’s flashbacks/dreams with Will. It is supposedly Alicia’s memory of working a case with Will that jogs her memory about a loophole that ends up helping Peter’s case.
Will also helps her decide between Jason and Peter, which is nice, I guess, but also: Why are we acting like Peter is even still an option?
Alicia’s morality and sense of responsibility are key themes in the series, but are we seriously supposed to believe that after all that—all that Peter has done and as much as Alicia has grown—she’s just going to stay married to him and wait until he gets out of prison again? I don’t buy it.
The hallucinating love birds do have a sweet final, final goodbye with this fitting exchange:
Alicia: “I’ll love you forever.”
Will: “I’m OK with that.”
And then here we are with Jason. After walking away from Peter, Alicia chases after a shadowy figure that she thinks is Jason. It turns out not to be him and then that’s kind of it.
The assumption, I suppose, is that Jason did wait for her and they end up together somehow. My imagination might have an easier time accepting this outcome if I had a greater attachment to Jason and this relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan and I like the Jason character, but he and Alicia don’t strike me as two people in love, especially in comparison to Alicia and Will’s scenes together.
Alicia and Jason seem like two grown adults who get along very well, have some stuff in common and love having sex with each other. I actually very much enjoy that as a relationship structure as long as it feels authentic. However, due to the lack of development of their relationship, I’m not fully convinced that Jason and Alicia end up together even though it’s implied.
At one point, Alicia tells Will (or I guess, herself, since this isn’t real), “Jason’s not you.” The show is telling us that Will was Alicia’s true love and now she’s just picking from what’s left. And, again, I don’t hate that idea, but you’ve got to give me a touch more to work with.
The one bit of nostalgia that I would have loved to see, even though I know it would never happen, was a visit from Kalinda. Lucca and Alicia only had one season to build their relationship onscreen, but the show did a good job of laying the groundwork for a strong new female friendship for Alicia. Lucca also pushes Alicia in a similar way that Kalinda did, which was nice to watch.
If I had to guess (and I definitely have to guess), I would say that Alicia and her bruised left cheek go off to divorce Peter and prepare for her political campaign, which has always felt like her destiny.
Unlike The Good Wife showrunners, Alicia learned to make certain tradeoffs and ultimately they did feel authentic in the context of her character arc.
If nothing else, I can appreciate the final image of Alicia: A bad bitch in an impeccably tailored power suit, more powerful than she was before and undaunted by the future. She walks out of the final frame all alone—perhaps the most alone she’s been throughout the series—but she is finally now strong enough to stand completely on her own. Plus, she took that slap like a champ.
Screenshots via CBS.