25 March 2014

Last Will and Testament

I don’t often write about TV — I tend to watch only two or three shows at any one time — but the latest episode of The Good Wife is a biggie. If you haven’t watched the episode, look away now and go and watch it, because huge spoilers will follow.

I started watching The Good Wife soon after its d├ębut in 2009 and it soon replaced Mad Men as my favourite TV show. I love the combination of the case-of-the week (which satisfied my legal leanings), the drama and slow-burning relationships among the characters, and the political sub-plots. It’s the only show I go out of my way to watch while I’m on holiday — most memorably, I watched the emotional rollercoaster of season four’s penultimate episode on my iPad in an infinity pool in Costa Rica last year. But I digress.

For me, the relationship between Will and Alicia has always been central to the show. Not just the romantic and passionate aspects, but their friendship and their history too. It has always felt like this relationship was end-game, so I didn’t mind too much that we didn’t get to see many scenes of them happy together in season three (although this season, while the two have been at odds, we’ve been able to enjoy a few more in the form of wistful flashbacks to happier times). There would be further exploration in the future, I assumed, even if things didn’t end the way I hoped for.

At the start of this season, Alicia and Cary left Lockhart Gardner to start their own firm, taking some of their clients with them and leaving Will with a huge sense of personal and professional betrayal that has been at the core of all of this season’s key plots. At the time, the writers explained that it was a way of keeping Alicia and Will’s relationship interesting, but now we all know that the real impetus was that a year ago, Josh Charles, who plays Will, decided to leave the show. Julianna Margulies, who plays Alicia and who is also a producer on the show, did manage to talk him into staying on for 15 more episodes to give Will a good send-off. But now this season doesn’t just look like the exploration of new depths of the relationship between Alicia and Will, so much as Will Gardner’s swan song.

I was suspicious when there was no resolution to episode seven's case-of-the-week. It was a typical ‘Will’ case, where he truly believed in the innocence of his timid, young client, Jeffrey Grant, and, firing moral outrage from all cannons, was willing to do anything to get the murder case against Grant dismissed. Eight episodes and several months later, the case has come to trial and Will is doing his damnedest to refute the damning DNA evidence against Grant. But in his desperation to win and to clear his client, he misses the warning signs that Grant really, really doesn’t want to go into solitary confinement, even though he is being assaulted in general population. Just like the court guard misses the fact that his gun is within easy reach of an increasingly panicked Grant.

Cut to Diane in the next courtroom and what sounds like gunshots. Or was it a false alarm — the judge's gavel? No, it was gunfire. A distraught Kalinda (someone give Archie Panjabi another Emmy) and Diane make their way to the hospital and discover that Will was DOA. Kalinda tries to call Alicia, but she’s stuck at a particularly cringe-worthy correspondents’ lunch and isn’t answering her phone. Kalinda eventually gets through to Eli and when she explains why she’s calling, Eli knows Alicia has to take the call. We have to wait until next week for her reaction to the news. The scene mirrors the season one finale, where Will tries to call Alicia just as she is about to join Peter on stage at the launch of his re-election campaign. Eli sends the calls to voicemail, deleting one of Will’s two messages — the one where he says he loves her and wants to give their relationship a shot — a sub-plot that occupies much of season two.

I knew the death was probably coming when I read the first line of the note to the fans posted on the Facebook page by writers, but "the loss of Will Gardner" was somewhat ambiguous to my optimistic mind and throughout the episode, I kept hoping that he wasn't going to die. I certainly didn't think the death would happen that way. When explaining their motivation for the death, the Kings noted that deaths are often sudden and unexpected, and you don't always get the chance to put your affairs in order or say your goodbyes. That's fair enough and Will's death will impact all of the main characters in plenty of interesting ways. It doesn't mean I have to like it. 

Will's character is central to the show and his relationships with Kalinda and Diane are just as important as his connection with Alicia, and although I will continue to watch the show, I feel like its best years — or, at least, my favourite years — will be behind me. (Incidentally, season five has been one of the best.) Even if it turned out that Will and Alicia weren't each other’s true loves, it would have been nice to get some resolution either way, after investing nearly five seasons in their relationship. Given the show's history with missed calls and voicemails, I am hopeful that Alicia might discover a message from beyond the grave, but otherwise, we might never know. But I do at least know to take off my eye make-up before the inevitable grief-fest of next week's episode.

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