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10 May 2016

"Melodrama, Your Honor"

The end's not here, it's here. That was the title of the final episode of The O.C., which aired back in 2007 and which may not seem to have that much in common with last night's series finale of The Good Wife. Nonetheless, I've been humming the Band of Horses song for which The O.C. finale was named for the past few months: they were both shows that were important to me at different times of my life and which I watched every week from the start (or almost the start, in the case of The O.C.).

I'm about to discuss the series finale of The Good Wife and some of my thoughts on the whole series so if you are not caught up with The Good Wife, please do look away now.


* * * S P O I L E R  A L E R T * * *


I started watching The Good Wife soon after its first episode aired in 2009. It was discussed on a podcast I used to listen to, Slate's Double X Gabfest, and although the Slate crew didn't exactly give it a glowing review, I was intrigued: I came for the legal procedural and stayed for the politics and the romance.

There are so few shows that I watched week by week for the entire length of their run, especially in this age of Netflix, but for almost seven years, The Good Wife has been my favourite show. The acting has always been top notch. Julianna Marguiles has been terrific as Alicia Florrick, the eponymous good wife turned lawyer, law-firm owner and politician, who, red wine in hand, has to deal with raising her kids and her husband Peter's (Chris Noth) endless cycle of hubristic rises and humbling falls.

Matt Czuchry charmed as Alicia's rival and then friend and eventually business partner Cary Agos, while Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart veered between mentor and antagonist, and Archie Panjabi gave us the enigmatic investigator Kalinda Sharma, whose friendship with Alicia sparkled in the first two seasons, although the character was poorly used in the later seasons. There have been so many amazing series regulars and guest stars — Alan Cumming's political strategist Eli Gold remains a favourite, as do many of the quirky judges. Then, of course, there was Will Gardner, played by the talented Josh Charles — Alicia's on-again, off-again lover and possible true love, who was brutally gunned down by a client mid-way through season five, with no warning and no closure, for the characters or the viewers. I was only able to rewatch that episode and the following one a few weeks ago and I still bawled my eyes out.

The writing has also been a strong point for the show: they created characters who were complex, flawed and believable, and put them into interesting situations. Some of my friends who started binge-watching the show found it both too quirky and too formulaic, but watched weekly, the episodes have the perfect balance of the sublime and the ridiculous, the dark and the droll. Ripped-from-the-headlines cases taught me as much about technology issues as about legal and political matters, and the writers were never afraid to innovate. Sometimes, the cases and the storylines misfired, but the show adapted and moved on (usually).

Of course, as I predicted two years ago, my heart hasn't really been in The Good Wife since Alicia and Will's romance was declared permanently unresolved. Don't get me wrong, I've still enjoyed it, even through the show's muddled sixth season and uneven seventh season, but I was always listening out for the small bones the writers would occasionally throw my way: those rare, elusive mentions of Will Gardner.

And so we come to the series finale. Much of this final season has been dedicated to history repeating itself: the law firm reforms and reinvents itself again; Alicia gets a new lover but makes the same old mistakes; Peter is being investigated for yet another misdeed while in office and, in the final two episodes, must stand trial. Alicia and Diane with the help of associate Lucca (Cush Jumbo) and investigator Jason (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) — also Alicia's lover — are working hard try to keep him out of prison and perhaps even save his career (again). But Alicia is doing it all out of duty: she couldn't care less what happens to Peter on a personal level and has already told him she will divorce him, but she is in good-wife, tiger-mom mode. Will Peter be convicted and go to prison again? Will Alicia stand by him one last time or will she run off with Jason?

I was so worried about being spoiled again by The Good Wife Facebook page that I unliked it last night. I really wanted to go into the finale fresh, although I had read a few hints from the showrunners and stars. I knew, for example, that total — or even partial — closure was unlikely and indeed, wouldn't have been a fitting ending. Margulies noted that she thought fans would either love it or hate it.

I had also seen the rumours that Josh Charles might be donning his best Will Gardner suits one last time for a few flashback or dream sequences. And indeed he did: there were several sequences that took place in Alicia's imagination where she and Will talked about everything from legal cases to love and life. It isn't the first time Alicia and Will have talked in her mind since his untimely demise but it was the most substantial; and how could you really have a Good Wife finale without Will Gardner? He also gets the best lines, as usual. "It was romantic because it didn't happen," he reminds Alicia. Then: "Very few people are me." Finally, and heartbreakingly, after Alicia bids him farewell and tells him she'll love him forever, he replies, with that wonderful Charles charisma: "I'm OK with that." Those two always had the best chemistry.

After all that, I wasn't too concerned with all of the show's other ends being tied up neatly. A lot of time is taken over the trial as Diane and Alicia struggle with the assistant US attorney (Matthew Morrison) to achieve the outcome they want. Alicia betrays Diane one time too many and is (well-deserved) rewarded with a sharp slap in the face in a scene that mirrored the slap Alicia gave Peter in the very first episode. This simple action conveys so much: not least how unlikable Alicia often is, making Marguiles' portrayal even more impressive. Will, perhaps, put this best when he and Alicia were fighting in season five: "God, you're awful and you don't even know how awful you are."

There were other callbacks too: when the AUSA described Diane's tactics as, "melodrama, your honor," all I could think of was the title of the fateful episode where Will was shot, in which the prosecutor (Matthew Goode) criticised Will's moves as, "dramatics, your honour." But what of Diane? What of Kalinda? We don't even know what Alicia will do next (Eli, of course, wants her in the White House now that Peter's career is sunk, and her new partnership with Diane may now be floundering before it has really begun) or whether Jason is gone for good. Alicia's endings actually sit fine for me and at least there was some closure for Cary, but I feel that Diane deserved better.

Overall, though, I think it was a dark and sad but fitting end to what has been my favourite show as an adult. In many ways, the antepenultimate episode (Party) served as a more traditional goodbye episode to many of the show's most loved characters. And although I think there was too much time dedicated to a case that many viewers — and Alicia — had long since lost interest in, the finale, like the whole series, achieved that great balance between a court case, Alicia's personal struggle ('the education of Alicia Florrick') and political/law-firm intrigue.

The Good Wife was still one of the best shows on TV, but had been gradually declining in quality over the past couple of years (the fifth season was by far the best; a stunning series of plot arcs with outstanding acting and writing) and I'm glad that it is going out on a high note. That said, I'm also very sad that it has to end at all. It is only a TV show, but when you've watched something every week for seven years, it becomes a part of your life, albeit only a small one. You've been great, Alicia Florrick and co, and I will miss you. I don't like red wine so I'm raising a shot of tequila to you all!

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