Goodbyes and Good Wives

goodwife

I’m a big believer in endings. I won’t start a story without a final scene in mind, or at the very least, an inkling of where I want the characters to end up. Because endings change the way we look at everything that comes before them, and let’s face it, how many back flips you manage is far less impressive if you don’t stick the landing.

The Good Wife ended its seven-year run today, and it didn’t stick the landing. Creators Robert and Michelle King had explanations at the ready: in the end, their good wife became a little bad. In the series’ pilot, she stood by her husband during a press conference, then, in private, she slapped him as soon as they were offstage. In the finale, once again, she stood by her husband during a press conference, then, in private, she was slapped by a co-worker.

“The victim becomes the victimiser,” the Kings explained.

Visually, the show was suggesting Alicia had morphed into her corrupt husband, Peter, or at least, was morphing into him. The Kings often teased that the show was about “the education of Alicia Florrick”, and this is apparently what they meant. While yes, Alicia has hardened over the years, the show has never been about her Walter White-ification, and to suggest that in the final minutes is to retcon her entire character journey.

There are so many moving parts in television (read: actors) that it’s often hard for creators to realise their end-games as they first intend them. In departing the series, Josh Charles (Will Gardner) gave the Kings their greatest season (the fifth), but also, robbed the series of one of its main narrative thrusts: the love-triangle between Will, Alicia and Peter. At first, the series meandered, as Alicia struggled to come to terms with a world without her Plan B, and it worked. It was the truest representation of sudden, unexpected grief I have ever seen on television. Alicia withdrew. To me, her grief manifested in her distancing herself. The sixth season’s political plotline separated her from the rest of the cast even further. When it came time to put its pieces back together, the show was struggling to get its cast members in the same room without CGI and had resorted to throwing male love interests at Alicia hoping one would stick.

While the story beats are there to suggest a darkening of Alicia Florrick, she never really darkened. Sure, she drank a little more, she was a little more sarcastic, and she didn’t cry when she found out about her husband’s latest possible affair, but really, that’s hardly her ”moving in the direction where there wasn’t much difference between who [she] was and who her husband was”. I mean, just this season, we’ve had her forays in bond court, her creation of a small firm to pursue the cases that mattered to her … those were the pursuits of a woman damaged by a foray into politics, looking to do what she felt was right. The bad stuff inspired her to rebuild herself, to do good on her own terms.

That’s why it’s devastating that after seven years of her “education”, she abandoned her husband onstage for another man. No, the shadow of another man she mistook for her lover. A series about a woman rediscovering her agency, re-entering the workforce after raising children, and finding her voice, ended with her acting on the advice of a dead man (Ghost Will, who features prominently) to finally end her marriage to one man, to pursue a new man, while trapped in another man’s political web (Eli has been organising her political donors without her knowing!). Somewhere in the finale, there’s a story about a woman who, no matter how powerful she feels, is still powerless.

But with a slap, the Kings made it about her transformation into her husband, and the ending doesn’t fit the story they’ve been telling. Unfortunately for us, endings change the way we look at everything that comes before them.

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