“I’ll love you forever.”
With its perpetual “on-the-bubble” status, it feels like we’ve been on the cusp of saying goodbye to The Good Wife ever since the show began but, notwithstanding the number of times it’s avoided cancellation before now, this was supposed to be it at last. Alicia Florrick’s story finally coming to an end after seven seasons of ups, downs, round-and-rounds, and plenty of arguments along the way. Except that Alicia’s story didn’t really end this week so much as begin again, and the forthcoming Diane spin-off means we haven’t really said goodbye to this world or these characters either. Instead, we got a finale which reminded Alicia and the audience how it all started and what she had and lost along the way, before she lifted her head, smoothed down her suit and walked out into the world again, ready to take it on head-on, just like she did at the start.
To get to that new beginning, though, she had to be navigate her way through one last Peter Florrick scandal. To be the “good” wife one more time. The court proceedings were curious and unlikely to stand up to real-world scrutiny; would Judge Cuesta really not have been told before he went on the bench that the jury had a question rather than a verdict? Would the Governor’s defence team really be made up of both the wife of the accused and the wife of a key expert witness? And would the hitherto tenacious AUSA, with a sitting, seriously damaged governor on substantial corruption charges in his sights, really settle for 1 year probation, no jail time? Come on.
Plausibility aside, though, there was plenty of TGW’s trademark fun and flair about the court scenes and I enjoyed them a lot anyway. We’ve said it before, but one of the strengths of the show has been the deep, idiosyncratic bench of judges and bar of lawyers it has built, each with their own distinct, fully-formed personalities and grudges. David Paymer’s Judge Cuesta has the longest of those histories with the show; he was his usual caustic, terrific, funny self – “I mean, I’m excited about this!” – this week, and it’s both fitting and heartwarming that the judge who presided over the show’s first case is the one who presided over its last one too.
After being completely marginalised for much of this season, it was also heartening to see Matt Czuchry’s Cary with a win at last, finding a new purpose in teaching and peace in solving the mystery of the missing bullets, after one last hurrah with the now-legendary Matan back in the SA’s office, for old times’ sake.
Christine Baranski’s Diane was, of course, majestic, moving seamlessly from comedy to tragedy to rage, as Alicia and Lucca did the unforgiveable and broke her heart in the process. Her slapping Alicia is not the way I would have chosen for Diane’s TGW arc to end at all and I’ll always be sad that their bond – a multi-layered friendship and working relationship between two complex, rounded, unique female characters – has been destroyed over the past couple of seasons, but Diane has been one of the show’s most resonant, marvellous creations, and at least the spin-off means we’ll be seeing Ms Lockhart again one day. Hopefully, still married to the wonderful Gary Cole and still happy, despite Alicia’s best efforts to derail another marriage to suit her own.
Alicia’s husband is indeed finished, though, and Chris Noth’s Peter’s initial farewell to Alan Cumming’s Eli was surprisingly moving, with the twist that Eli was already making plans to cut line and move on to Alicia both very TGW and very Eli indeed. “Does Alicia know yet?” No. Because these two men are still trying to use Alicia, as they’ve always done, albeit her stepping off the stage and running away from Peter’s outstretched hand at the press conference – even if it is in pursuit of Manic Private Eye Dream Boy Jason – suggests she might finally be done with both of them.
Individual performances and iconic characters aside, though, there’s no getting round the fact that, overall, this hasn’t been a good season. The cracks started showing in season six, but season seven, by the show’s standards at least, has been a disaster. There have only been a handful of really good episodes, and the lacklustre nature of the rest of them, coupled with the way the firm has turned into a giant game of the hokey-cokey (people are constantly in, out, in, out, shaking the partnership all about) and audience suspicion about what has been happening behind the scenes over the past few years has tarnished the legacy of one of the best tv shows ever made. Because, yes, never mind this season, The Good Wife is one of the best tv shows ever made.
This wasn’t necessarily the way I wanted it to finish, but the finale was, like the series as a whole, smart, funny, sad, and very, very brave, ending as it did with Alicia alone and the rest of her life more of a question mark than a full-stop. It wasn’t satisfying, exactly but, in the context of the show, I think it was right. Because TGW has never been about tidy, happy endings, it’s always been about the messiness of life having to go on, of Alicia having to go on, no matter what.
The show has always balanced tragedy, comedy, drama, romance, hot-button issues, complicated ideas, political controversies and unwavering, unflinching feminism in a way that few others will ever come close to even attempting, and, if it didn’t always work – nothing always works – it still gave us some amazing characters, both regular and visiting, and some of the greatest performances and relationships, romantic and otherwise on tv. I wasn’t initially on board with TGW’s first season, but it blossomed into something very special in season two, and when I fell in love with it, I fell hard.
And since we’re talking about falling in love, regardless of who we might or might not see again, at least the finale gave Alicia and the audience the chance to say a proper goodbye to one beloved character neither she, nor I, nor the show, truth be told, has ever really got over losing.
It’s not the first time Alicia has tried to work through her feelings about Will in a dream sequence but, emotional and poignant as last season’s “Mind’s Eye” was, that episode didn’t entirely succeed because, never mind not being the real Will, it so obviously wasn’t any kind of Will at all.
This time, though, the much-missed Josh Charles came back one last time, and it made all the difference. Alicia imagining coming home to Will would have been heartbreaking enough, but her talking to him about love, life and everything – “you wouldn’t like it here now, things have gotten so sad” – was both beautiful and deeply moving. I will always be baffled and infuriated by the show’s obsessive focus on Jason this season – Lucca even banging on this week about how Alicia had to talk to him, right now, in the middle of her husband’s trial for corruption – but at least Alicia (and the show) acknowledged to the real love of her life that “He’s not you.” Nope. “Very few people are.”
How utterly lovely it was to see him, to see them together and laughing, loving again. Especially soundtracked as it was by what might – in the face of stiff competition, since this show has always utilised wonderful music to incredible storytelling effect – be the most perfectly appropriate song ever. Regina Spektor’s haunting, gorgeous “Better” with its refrain of “Do you feel better…. Do you feel anything at all?” could have been written about Alicia Florrick, a woman who has fought so hard and so ruthlessly to carve out her own identity and her own life, but has sacrificed so much of herself and her happiness in the process that numbness has become her ultimate weapon. Julianna Margulies has been at the centre of a lot of speculation, but no matter what happened backstage, her performance has never been less than magnificent and the Alicia she and Robert and Michelle King created, taking as they did the sad, stoic tropes of the long-suffering political wife and the legal procedural drama and combining both to make something and someone iconic, is just as much an achievement as Don Draper, Walter White, or any of the other male tv anti-heroes of the past few years. (*wipes away tear*) I’m ok with that.