Review: The Good Wife Series Finale, “End”

I’m going to try my best to keep this review in check and make it about the finale without going off on tangents about the series in its entirety (Warning: I will fail). There have been plenty of pieces written about the legacy of the show, its high and lows points and so on and so forth, so I’ll spare you another retread .However, if you haven’t read my work before, I should at least say this: I’m a huge fan of The Good Wife. For its first five seasons, it was easily one of the top five shows on television in my book, with seasons two and five in particular being two of my favorites seasons of anything ever.

Yes, like many of you, I loved The Good Wife for the way it combined the legal procedural format with engrossing serialized stories full of sex, lies, politics and all of the other best kinds of melodrama. I love that it was, in many ways, a high-brow show produced for the CBS masses. It used its “case-of-the-week” format to thoughtfully probe topics ranging from technology to national security, guns, gender politics, activism and innumerable other notable subjects.

Even when the show was off its game, it was still full of impossibly watchable characters and whip-smart dialogue that intrigued and humored me enough to forgive its many narrative missteps in its later seasons. I think pushing Alicia into politics was an all around terrible decisions for the show (with ramifications that echoed through to the end) but “Oppo Research” (and many others from season six) is fantastic television.

But I’m getting dangerously close to a tangent. Let’s get to it: what did I think of the finale?

EndWell, first off, it should be noted that if you immediately have to release a prepared statement explaining the significance behind every major point in your series finale (as the Kings did), you probably failed in executing whatever it was you were going for. The work should speak for itself. The key moments should pack the punch you intended. The symbolism should be powerful enough that no one feels compelled to come out and hold the audience’s hand the moment the episode ends.

The reason the Kings needed to do this was because they actually did have a really unique and effective ending in mind for The Good Wife, but they have so badly lost the plot over the final two seasons that they couldn’t pull it off in any sort of respectable fashion. In fact, knowing that they had this ending in mind since season one, I couldn’t be more perplexed as to why they structured the final season the way that they did.

Look, Josh Charles deciding to leave allowed them the opportunity to put together the unforgettable “Dramatics, Your Honor” episode (and generate plenty of emotional drama for episodes to follow) but there’s no denying that it screwed up their end game a little bit. And Kalinda-gate certainly didn’t help matters, both creatively and in regards to the relationship between the Kings and the audience which had been severely fractured due to the botched and embarrassing handling of that core relationship.

So, the Kings decided to improvise. They gave Alicia a new confidant in Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo, better than she had any right to be in a thankless role) and a new lover in Jason Crouse (the ubiquitous Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Alicia and Kalinda’s relationship mattered because there was a deep connection; complicated, twisty but ultimately resilient….that is until Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi stopped sharing scenes together. Lucca was a decent enough sounding board for Alicia but they could never recapture the magic of her friendship with Kalinda. Too often, she felt like she just transformed overnight into Alicia’s cheerleader without enough groundwork to justify any of it.

PartyAnd then there’s Jason….boy, oh boy. He was something. I actually generally liked him for the better part of the season and Jeffrey Dean Morgan can sell just about anything, even when he was laying on the gruff, mysterious hunk vibes way too thick. By the end though, his constant grinning, gravelly delivery and obnoxious brevity made it feel like Alicia was dating some sort of erotica Mad Libs come to life, not a real person by any stretch of the imagination.

So these are the two major players by Alicia’s side throughout most of the final season, of which a borefest of a trial involving Peter and more possible corruption took up the majority of the final fourth. I was happy to discover that Matthew Morrison with a beard would make a decent lead in the next CBS legal drama, but he was put in the impossible situation of trying to sell a witch hunt against Peter all in a clumsy attempt to get the pieces in place to justify a final scene that mirrored the opening scene of the series.

The purpose of the final scene? One I very much appreciate. The decision to have the series end with Alicia being slapped by Diane in the same corridor she slapped her philandering husband in the series opener was meant to demonstrate “the victim becoming the victimizer” according to the Kings and I think that’s a fascinating idea that largely could have worked. In fact, I appreciate the fact that the Kings actually acknowledge that on her journey of independence after beginning the series as a scorned woman quietly playing the good wife, Alicia had become somewhat ruthless and amoral herself.

the good wife 2The problem with this is that the show was so wildly inconsistent at chronicling this descent. Like Scandal with Olivia Pope (though on a smaller scale), they wanted their main character to be complex and make ugly choices and do awful things…but they also want her to be celebrated as a strong woman, feminist icon, etc. Some episodes would allow us to see a glimpse of Alicia’s true ugliness (something as minor but monumentally off-putting as “don’t screw the help”) but other episodes have her still playing the saint Alicia angle. And not just as a persona she sometimes had to put on for the public–the show could just never quite commit to Alicia being the selfish victimizer she was supposed to be becoming. She was on the right side of nearly every case, so caring and compassionate and understand and unwavering in truth and justice (like when she sat in on the council advising the military on a sensitive operation earlier this season).

With this arc feeling so incomplete, the final moment felt alarmingly hollow. The show and the case at the center of it had to contort itself to get Kurt McVeigh (ballistics expert and Diane’s husband) back on the stand for Alicia–through her Lucca prox–to browbeat him, challenge his integrity and accuse him of infidelity in an effort to protect Peter. Again, I like the attempt to mirror the premiere here with Alicia now the one using a sex scandal as a political weapon and paying no mind to the marriage it may have demolished. [Side Note: There seems to be some debate as to whether Kurt actually had an affair with Holly. It was certainly implied early on that he may have slept with some of his students, but not her specifically. And if he was selling her his business at such a low rate because of their romantic history…why involve Diane in the exchange at all?]

I don’t know what this means for Diane and Alicia’s professional relationship after the show ends, but honestly, who cares? The Kings had sort of lost the plot about what made that dynamic meaningful as well and Diane’s decision to launch an all female firm was just another in a long line of firm shake-ups that the Kings had become addicted to like insatiable junkies post-season five. I mean, we all loved “Hitting The Fan,” but seek help, Kings.

Cary, by the way, skulked away from the firm in the midst of all this foolishness and apparently has found true happiness as an adjunct professor. So there you have it. Matt Czuchry was always great as Cary and thrived whenever they gave him solid material…but he was often underappreciated and wasted so, in some ways, this was a fitting end for him.

the good wife 5When we weren’t suffering through Peter’s courtroom scenes, we were treated to a lot of angsty contemplation as Alicia tried to figure out her future with Jason….or should she stay with Peter? I mean, no, she obviously shouldn’t but the show did have her entertain that notion as if it was a real choice and as if she hadn’t completely walked away from him long ago. Sprinkle in Lucca telling her she confuses responsibility with love and seeing that behavior being mimicked by Grace who considers taking a year off from college so she can visit her dad in prison and you end up with Alicia deciding she wants Jason and she’s gonna take what she wants….and then she pines for him the rest of the hour accordingly. Except he won’t answer her calls.

I’ll be honest–they almost got this one right. Because Alicia didn’t come to this conclusion all on her own; she had to talk it through with Ghost Will. And while I spent most of the episode rolling my eyes at his hokey return and the on-the-nose interactions between Alicia and Ghost Will, there is something kind of perfect about the show bringing Will back as a ghost to finally have Alicia achieve some sort of closure, only to rob her of a happy ending. It really is an amazing choice. And it works because, while this show did have a juicy love triangle at its center, it was never a show about which man Alicia would end up with so a happy ending would have rang false. Getting Alicia set up for a happy ending and then pulling the rug out from under her? That’s more like it. Honestly, the only reason that this didn’t work is that by the end of it all, Jason had become such a silly caricature I didn’t care or understand his motivations for staying or going other than he “doesn’t like complications.” Incidentally, I know this because he made sure to growl it with a charming grin on his face at least once an episode all season.

In the end, a lot of the pieces were there for a great finale and there were some shades of the brilliant could-have-been version, but ultimately, there were just a few too many pieces missing and far too many extra pieces getting in the way. Many great shows have lost their ways towards the end and The Good Wife is no exception, although it fared better than many others and there were a fair amount of high points during this final season, as uneven as it may have been (let us all forget that cringe-inducing scene with Grace at the Iowa caucus).

the good wife 3The arc the Kings had in mind was a good one and there were moments when they sort of succeeded with it, but they had an entire final season to course correct and properly stage that final scene they wanted and they blew it. There’s no sugar coating it. And that’s really too bad because I have great love and appreciation for The Good Wife and really wish the ending hadn’t felt so empty and forced.

And where does Alicia go from here? She didn’t really go from victim to victimizer so much as she went from victim to a miserable alcoholic who occasionally does messed up things to get her way. Eli (the terrific Alan Cumming who had little to do at the end but had a few great rounds with Margo Martindale earlier in the season and Sarah Steele as his daughter was always a delight) seems dead set on getting her back in politics, which is fine just as long as we don’t have to watch it. The show has always suffered when it got too infatuated with the idea of Alicia in the political arena. Alicia always seemed about as enthused as we were about it all too and it’s funny that a strong, independent character somehow could never say no when it came to refusing being forced into a political campaign.

Sigh. Whatever. At least we’ll always have those first five seasons. And even if the series finale was ultimately disappointing, at least I can see the bones of an idea that really, really works which is more than I can say for many other disastrous endings. What did you think?

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