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Q&A: ‘The Good Wife’ creators talk about their polarizing finale and that revenge slap

Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth,
Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth and Christine Baranski in a scene from “The Good Wife.”
(CBS)

It was the slap heard ‘round the world -- or at least in living rooms across the country tuned into the series finale of “The Good Wife” on Sunday night. 

The long-running, critically adored CBS drama went out on an ambiguous and, to some, maddening note that consciously called back to the series premiere. 

Bolting in the middle of a news conference in which she appears alongside her estranged (and once again legally troubled) husband, Peter, Alicia runs down a back hallway in pursuit of someone she thinks is her hunky love interest, Jason. Instead, she runs into Diane, who promptly slaps her in the face. It’s Alicia’s comeuppance for throwing Diane’s husband, Kurt, under the bus in order to keep Peter out of prison. 

Viewers hoping for some resolution were instead left with many questions to ponder, including whether that slap was really justified and what it meant for Diane’s and Alicia’s partnership; whether Alicia would finally leave Peter and pursue a future with Jason; and whether Tony Soprano was killed. (Sure, that wasn’t on this show, but we’re all still wondering, aren’t we?) 

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The ending left some viewers and critics wanting more. Perhaps anticipating such a response, creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King released a video Sunday night explaining their decision. On Monday, they spoke to The Times about the show’s polarizing sendoff. 

How does it feel now that it’s over?

Michelle King:  We’re about to start filming the eighth episode of “BrainDead” so we’re knee-deep in the next series. It’s probably a fortunate thing emotionally. I think otherwise there could be this dreadful letdown, and we’re very fortunate we have another series to focus on.

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The ending has been polarizing. Did you anticipate that reaction?

Robert King: We did think it would be polarizing because I do think the show hopefully works on a few levels. One of the levels it worked at was romantic comedy or dramatic romantic stuff. One of the probably biggest disappointments was that it did not firmly answer where Alicia went.

Whose bed is she in tonight? That kind of “Love Actually or “When Harry Met Sally” question was part of the series, but it wasn’t really the main point of the series for us. It was good, and the actors were so great at it, but I don’t think it’s the main point we were after. 

So is that why you didn’t give an answer to that question?

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Robert King: It seemed like it would be very reduce-able then. There’s a way to make someone very happy in the moment, which is what movies are so good at. You send people home toes tapping and with a song in their heart. It seems like a very easy way to make a series feel complete and warm and cuddly to have that chase to the airport and stop someone from leaving. It gets your blood pumping. That feels good. It just didn’t seem like it made sense for all seven seasons. It felt like it would be good in the moment, but it didn’t feel like it would help explain what the whole series was after.

Michelle King: Similarly, one could go a purely tragic route that wouldn’t feel right. You know, she dies of consumption or something. In fact, you wanted to see a resolution that felt real because in our minds, the character was real. Good people do questionable things.

People are also responding to the slap too, not just the open-ended romance. Again, I assume you anticipated some viewers would have trouble with that.

Robert King: Oh yeah. My stomach’s been grinding the last few weeks. You don’t want people to be upset where they hate you or they hate the show. I do think the intent was always more important, which is to point out that Alicia as much as we forgave her every step of the way, this was an accumulation of cynicism that was happening over seven seasons. This was something where the ends justify the means, either she had the defense of family or husband. It felt like that was part of her job as a lawyer was about, was there are agreements and commitments made to people that then require you to break rules, ethically compromise every step of the way, and at a certain point it does catch up with you.

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Michelle King: We knew it would be shocking because if we did it right, the audience was going to be complicit. They would have seen all the times that she either cut corners or made questionable choices and they would have been so rooting for Alicia, they would not have been objecting to the choices she made.

Robert King and Michelle King arrive at an event in 2015.
Robert King and Michelle King arrive at an event in 2015.
(Richard Shotwell / Invision / Associated Press )

There’s this implicit comparison between Peter and Alicia. Do you think that’s fair though? Has she done anything as bad as him? Isn’t she arguably just doing her job?

Robert King: I don’t know. Do you think she’s just doing her job? I think she’s gone beyond her job. It’s not her as lawyer. It’s her as person. I do agree, whatever defense she’s had for Sweeney, she’s someone who has allowed her commitment every step of the way, whether Will Gardner, when he clears her desk, he tells her, “You’re awful, you don’t even know how awful you are.” Or Cary Agos, saying, “You think of yourself as a good person, and you’re not.” Every step of the way there have been office politics, not just doing your job, from the very first season, when she beats out Cary for the job by going to Eli and getting a quid pro quo. I actually think her job is the least of it. It’s more of the actions around her job.

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We’re talking about Alicia as if she’s the worst person on Earth. That’s not it at all. We love Alicia. The slap at the end is probably adequate to the crime. She doesn’t have an arm cut off, she doesn’t have anyone sending her to jail. She is someone who has hurt someone beside her. In the very first season, she was called collateral damage because Glenn Childs was after her husband. In the last episode, she needed to defend her husband and Diane was just collateral damage -- that kind of neat irony is the kind of irony you land in in life all the time. [Alicia’s behavior] is not high crimes and felonies, but at least it’s a misdemeanor.

Michelle King: Robert, I think you make an excellent point, which is that in the beginning Peter goes off to prison. Alicia’s not going off to prison. It’s the slap that is similar.

You released a video explaining the finale. Why not let it stand on its own?

Robert King: CBS asked us to do that stuff. I think they were worried the fans would feel gut-punched, and we felt worried too. CBS has been very smart. They asked us to do it when Will Gardner was killed. They asked us to do it here. They were very smart about how the show needs a little hand-holding, especially with the fans who are most excited. We have no problem with that. As a writer, you want the story to tell itself, but on the other hand they’ve been very good. We’ve tried to compose something that encapsulated our thoughts.

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We’ve seen a lot of landmark shows come to an end in the past year or so, including yours. Did you take any lessons from those shows and their finales?

Robert King: There’s a lot of talented people out there. Once writers were not rewritten by directors every step of the way, as soon as it was untangled from development hell and development passive-aggressiveness, writers and actors have really done amazing work. The only thing I wish more and more was the shows got more and more cinematic. The most fun part for me with “The Good Wife” were the most cinematic moments, when the show went silent and told itself through images. That’s the thing we’ve learned from comedies and dramas that we’ve watched.

Michelle King:  I think there have been some wonderful, wonderful shows. If there’s anything we learned, it’s that the best finales I didn’t anticipate what the ending would be and yet in thinking about it afterward, I was so grateful that the writers had.

Robert King: I think my favorite ending was “Mad Men.” I thought they did an amazing job with bringing an era to a close and opening up a new era. I thought you can’t go better than that.

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ALSO:

‘The Good Wife’ recap: Is this the end?

How ‘The Good Wife’ created TV’s New Woman

‘Game of Thrones’ recap: Jon Snow is back, but for what purpose?

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meredith.blake@latimes.com

Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter


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