Some Thoughts on The Good Wife

March 29, 2014

I know this post won’t be going up until June, but if you haven’t seen the current (or most recent) season of The Good Wife and you’ve also managed to miss the hoopla about the “massive twist” that was in the March 23 episode, save this post and read it later.  I don’t want to give anything away, at least not to anyone who cares.

Now, I have a lot of friends who were shocked by Matthew’s death in Downton Abbey.  I wasn’t.  I knew the actor was leaving the show.  I had not, however, heard that Josh Charles was leaving The Good Wife.  But I did know that this week’s episode had a big plot twist.  I can’t pick up the CBS signal, so I watch the show on the CBS app after it’s aired.  Monday morning, I saw a headline on Slate:  “No One Has Ever Done a Twist Quite Like Last Night’s Good Wife“.  I debated about clicking on the link.  I did.  I read the first sentence — the spoiler alert — and immediately closed the window.  I successfully avoided all mention of the show for the rest of the day and was relieved to see that it was already available in the app.  You see, frequently, CBS makes you wait a week to access new episodes through the app.  This meant I was two episodes behind.  And because I enjoy seeing what people feel the need to comment about, I clicked on the “Episode Comments” button while watching the first of these two episodes.  And the first thing I saw was that Josh Charles was leaving the show.  Hmmm… Massive plot twist.  Actor leaving show.  I can see where this is going.

You’re still reading?  Because now you know as much as I did going into the episode.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you stop reading now.

You see, I think I might have found the “shocking twist” to be both of those things if I hadn’t known there was going to be a shocking twist or that Josh Charles was leaving the show.  Instead, while watching the end of the March 16 episode, I kept thinking about how the character of Will Gardner (played by Josh Charles) would be written out.  And since this is TV, it seemed obvious that he wouldn’t make it out alive.

I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to play out.  Suicide.  Or perhaps a murder made to look like suicide.  The show started with a political sex scandal.  Why not play off of the various scandals that involved someone committing suicide before they were able to testify?  It didn’t seem quite in keeping with the character of Will Gardner, but his desperation grows enough in the March 16 episode that I could see it being taken to the next dramatic step in the March 23 episode.

And then I got to the March 23 episode.  And, as is frequently the case in a serial drama, it began with a “Previously on The Good Wife” montage.  I’d completely forgotten about the murder suspect from earlier in the season.  And when I saw that the episode was going to focus on the trial, I knew how it was going to end.  Mostly.  I knew that somehow, the young man on trial was going to be responsible for the death of Will Gardner.  I wasn’t sure exactly how it would play out, but I knew that much.  I saw it coming from around the two-minute mark.  It, for me, was neither shocking nor a twist.

After the episode, I happily read the Slate article mentioned above.  And then I read Linda Holmes’s take on the episode.  And listened to David Bianculli’s comments on Fresh Air.  And then I found a link to the Kings’ open letter to their fans regarding the episode.  In many ways, I find the reaction to the episode to be almost more interesting than the episode itself is.

Slate found the episode to be heart breaking and shocking.  Linda Holmes found it to be trite.  David Bianculli found it shocking, well written, and masterfully performed.

If I must pick sides, my take lines most closely with Bianculli’s.  I saw it coming.  But even having figured out as much as I did, I still found it to be well written, as I expect all episodes of The Good Wife to be.  And the performance of Hunter Parrish is heart-wrenching.  The moment that caught in my throat was at the end of his rampage when he was sitting with the gun under his chin, clicking, clicking, clicking, and out of ammunition to do the one thing he’d wanted from the moment he saw what he thought was a way out.  I also  like the fact that there was no drawn out operating room scene.  There was no death bed sequence, no win one for the Gipper.  Like Tosca, Will was alive one moment and dead the next.

And it is in that point that I disagree with Linda Holmes.  I think she’s right about the letter from the Kings.  They talk about how they’ve done something unique.  But they haven’t.  Characters get killed off all the time.  Characters get killed off in mass shootings all the time.  But it is rare that death in Hollywood does not linger.  And Will did not linger.  No, the episode was not unique.  If anything, I think the Kings’ letter does more damage than good because it adds a pretension to the episode that might not otherwise exist.  If they hadn’t tried to defend their work as “special”, then it could stand as what it is.  It is a well-written and well-performed exodus for a character.  I do not see it as a reason to give up on the show.

The Good Wife is a good show because it delves into character.  There are few stereotypes on the show; the major players are all deeply human.  The Kings understand the concept of liminality in storytelling so perfectly that you don’t always see it unless you stop and think about it.  I have faith in their ability to write about grief and mourning in all of its complexity.  I look forward to seeing how the rest of this season is handled.

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