“The Good Wife” said goodbye after seven seasons with an episode that didn’t take much time to celebrate the show, its characters or anything that made it great. Instead, for better or worse, it put the focus on closing the story arc of the past several episodes. To me, that’s a damn shame. Over the course of its remarkable, yet imperfect seven-year run, this show built a stable of characters who deserved more appreciation than a plot-based finale like this one allows. The finale didn’t do as much as it could or should have to show off what made “The Good Wife” so fun and exciting to watch at its peak.
The main focus of the series finale is the conclusion of Peter Florrick’s (Chris Noth, “Sex and the City”) trial for deliberately setting free the son of a major donor while he was the Illinois State’s Attorney. The trial has been ongoing for several episodes, and it seems like an odd way to spend the final episode. The key source of drama is Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies, “ER”) and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski, “Chicago”), Peter’s lawyers, trying to find some way to present new evidence to the jury, thinking it might help their case. The story meanders along through the episode, as writers Robert and Michelle King (“In Justice”) somehow find a way to add more twists than were already done in earlier episodes. While it was nice to return to the courtroom, there wasn’t enough here to justify spending a substantial chunk of the series finale on a boring, episodic storyline like this.
Where the finale did look back on its run was in its moments between Alicia and Will Gardner (Josh Charles, “Sports Night”). Alicia, questioning whether she wants to choose Peter or Jason Crouse (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, “The Walking Dead”), ends up fantasizing conversations with her former lover, Gardner. In these fantasies she makes realizations about her case, but she also talks to him about their relationship and the law they practiced. Until Charles left in the middle of the fifth season, Will and Alicia’s connection was one of the cornerstones of the show, so to have them together again onscreen made for a highlight of the episode, especially because it allowed the finale to actually look back on the series’s run.
The oddest choice of the entire episode occurs in the final scene, where “The Good Wife” ends on a moment of bitterness. After Alicia stands by her husband through his resignation announcement, she runs offstage thinking she saw Jason in the doorway. It turns out not to be him, but as she turns to walk back to the stage, Diane walks by and slaps her across the face for revealing Diane’s husband’s affair in courtroom testimony, and Alicia is left alone. So, “The Good Wife” ends with a slap. It’s a bitter and angry choice by the Kings. Though there’s no need to artificially insert a happy ending, at the beginning of the finale, Alicia and Diane are at a point of mutual respect, trying to build an all-female law firm. The episode had to work to get the characters to a point of tension like this, and the legwork just wasn’t there to support this final twist.
That kind of artificial character work shows what was missing from this finale, the authentic drama that made the series great in the first place. When “The Good Wife” was at its peak, the story twisted and turned in new and surprising ways, without ever feeling like it was too much or too crazy. Each scene flamed with tension or crackled with energy as the cast members bounced off one another. The series would always go 10 or 15 minutes before cutting to a commerical, often using the time to build and build to the point where I forgot there were even breaks to take. Never was this more true than in season five. I’m rewatching the opening of the episode “Hitting the Fan” as I write this, and watching Will confront Alicia about her plan to leave the firm … the feelings of betrayal are palpable. Something the finale sorely lacked was this dramatic tension, or any kind of character-based payoff like “Hitting the Fan” had.
Some of the credit for “The Good Wife” remaining so good for so long belongs to this fantastic ensemble, in which each member, from Margulies at the top to guest stars at the bottom, crafted well-rounded characters with poise and skill. I will always remember the series for taking advantage of New York City’s deep roster of actors, bringing in everyone from Broadway stars Baranski and Alan Cumming (“Tin Man”) in series regular roles, to actors like Martha Plimpton (“Raising Hope”), Michael J. Fox (“The Michael J. Fox Show”), Carrie Preston (“True Blood”), who is probably my favorite of the show’s guest stars as Elsbeth Tascioni, and David Hyde Pierce (“Frasier”). That barely scratches the surface of the long list of talent this series employed. (In fact, the finale also pissed me off by completely wasting an appearance from “Bunheads” star Sutton Foster, who was barely onscreen at all).
“The Good Wife” also represents a faded breed of network drama, one that tells a serialized story over the course of 22 episodes. The broadcast business model is changing — to the point where some shows don’t need to reach the traditional 100 hours to become successful. In fact, Margulies has said that nothing would convince her to do another 22-episodes-per-season network drama. For me, there’s still value in a show that can maintain its story over this many hours, and, if the industry goes towards shorter seasons as predicted, “The Good Wife” will go down in history as one of the last carriers of that torch.
I may have had problems with elements of the final season and how “The Good Wife” spent its time in the final episode, but I will dearly miss the drama. Over its seven-year run, it gave the television landscape fascinating legal cases, beautiful character moments and brilliant dramatic payoffs that few on network television have come close to matching.