For the first time since it premiered in 2009, I am worried about “The Good Wife.”
A story of what happens to a wronged political wife after all the news conferences and scandal headlines, the CBS drama came out of the box impossibly perfect. The wife in question, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), separated from her husband and returned to her career as a lawyer, which allowed the show to become an intoxicating hybrid of character drama and legal procedural. It remains one of the best dramas on television, with a cast any cable network would die for and an audience passionate in devotion and respectable in number.
Then, on Sunday night, it was shot in the heart.
[Warning: Spoiler Alert] The episode “Dramatics, Your Honor” took a strange, and, it must be said, uncharacteristically clunky turn toward its end. The young man Will Gardner (Josh Charles) had been defending with some success, apparently Lost His Mind, grabbed a gun from a court officer and opened fire on the courtroom, killing Will.
As creators Michelle and Robert King quickly explained via public statement after the episode aired, Charles had asked to leave the show before the season ended. This gave the Kings a rare chance to engage in television’s increased obsession with killing all its darlings.
To be fair, Will’s death serves the short-term quite well. Ever since Alicia and Cary (Matt Czuchry) left Lockhart, Gardner to start their own firm, the show has fallen into a rather pat competition between the two firms. With Alicia’s husband, Peter (Chris Noth), now governor, this also meant stories were spread across three workplaces and a cast of characters that seemed to be growing into Westeros proportions. Even the formidable investigator Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) now has counterpart.
Something had to be done to cull the story lines and breech the divide between the two firms, if only emotionally. Sneak preview scenes of Diana (Christine Baranski) embracing Alicia seem to herald just that.
Also, with Will gone, the investigation into Peter’s involvement in voter fraud seems derailed; the point that it all hung on Will’s testimony was made with sledgehammer-like subtlety several times Sunday night. That will be a relief as the whole ballot box stuffing was getting to be quite a drag.
As the Kings pointed out, “The Good Wife” is Alicia’s journey. Certainly her relationship with Will — friends, then lovers, then friends, then enemies — has seemed to have stretch its limits even by TV standards.
But Will is the second most important person on the show and though Charles made it look easy, he did a lot of the heavy lifting, creatively and emotionally.
Not only did the character and the actor serve as brilliant counterpoint and foil to the three strong female characters — Alicia, Diane and Kalinda — he infused many of his scenes with a lightness that otherwise would have been missing from the show.
The beauty of “The Good Wife” springs from the complexity of its characters, characters that use silence as effectively as most other shows use banter. With the exception of Alan Cumming’s Eli and, occasionally, Kalinda, there is little banter on “The Good Wife.” Taking its cue from Margulies' decision early on to play Alicia with a roiling porcelain stillness, the rest of the cast has each developed a signature level of control that is fascinating to watch, none more so than Charles’ Will.
Is he a good man or an opportunist? Did he love Alicia or was he using her? Was he personally ruthless or just a good attorney? Will departs the show without having ever revealed himself as one thing or another. In a brave decision, the Kings did not give him a hero’s death, or grant him a deathbed confession. He was there and then he was gone. Assume what you will; we never really know the people around us.
“The Good Wife” is not the sort of show prone to killing its stars; one doesn’t make actuarial calculations about each character while watching. But if it were, Will would have not been in the expendable column. Losing him is the equivalent of losing Daryl on “The Walking Dead,” or Tyrion on “Game of Thrones.”
No doubt, the ramifications will make for excellent viewing for the remainder of the season. But the show has sustained a catastrophic injury; any development that makes Kalinda cry should not be taken lightly.
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