7 Years Later, 'Good Wife' Ends As It Began: With Betrayal And Uncertainty

May 9, 2016
Originally published on May 9, 2016 2:05 pm

For years now, The Good Wife has been the best drama series on broadcast television, but it deserves even more praise than that. From the start, show creators Robert and Michelle King have had to deal with restrictive network standards, inconsistent scheduling, intrusive advertising breaks and a production order of 22 episodes per season — almost twice that of its cable and streaming competition.

Yet, from start to finish, The Good Wife has been rewarding, surprising and delightfully unpredictable. It became one of my favorite TV series to watch --and stayed that way until the end.

The final episode of The Good Wife was well aware of, and full of references to, the show's complicated history. The finale, like the pilot, was all about loyalty, betrayal and uncertainty, and echoes were everywhere.

When the show premiered on CBS in 2009, it was with a closeup shot of two clasping hands. Those hands belonged to Illinois state's attorney Peter Florrick, played by Chris Noth, and his wife, Alicia, played by Julianna Margulies.

They were entering a press conference in which he was about to resign from office in disgrace after having been caught in a sex scandal with a prostitute. Alicia stood by him on stage, numb and silent, but afterward, in the hallway leading from the press conference, she slapped him hard, and literally went off in the opposite direction.

Last night, those images and events were repeated, except it wasn't Peter, this time resigning as governor of Illinois, who received the slap of betrayal. It was Alicia, who was slapped by her mentor and occasional law partner Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski.

Alicia had defended her husband effectively in court, but only by undercutting the reputation of Diane's husband, who was an expert witness. And since both the judge and the prosecuting attorney from that trial were the same ones in Alicia's first courtroom appearance in the series pilot, there was a definite feeling of déjà vu. Except that in the interim, Alicia, like her circumstances, has changed — a lot.

Over the years, Peter and Alicia separated but never divorced. She had more than one significant romance, including one with Will Gardner, the lawyer who hired her. Will appeared to be Alicia's personal happy ending — until he was shot and killed in a stunning Good Wife plot twist.

In this final season, Alicia has come close to committing to another law-firm associate, investigator Jason Crouse. But she's not the same woman she used to be. She made that clear in the show's penultimate episode, when longtime rival attorney Louis Canning, played by Michael J. Fox, presented her with some evidence that might help exonerate her husband — but at a personal cost.

Rather than be crushed by the possibility of her husband's continued infidelity, Alicia mocked the idea by pretending to break down and cry. But only for a few seconds, before dropping the act and smiling coldly, like the steely survivor she's become.

In the finale, Alicia dropped her resolve, at least privately, to reunite once again with her late lover Will, in a series of fantasies in which she discussed their past and her present and future. Josh Charles returned as Will, eventually encouraging her to go start a new life with Jason, after giving her one last hug. An imaginary embrace, but still a sweet one.

The finale provided no sense of closure. Alicia wasn't shown tracking down Jason, much less committing to him, and she almost certainly has lost her partnership at Diane's law firm. But that was one of the strengths of The Good Wife all along, that life kept throwing curves at Alicia: new jobs, new lovers, new crises.

Another strength was how smart the show was about technology, current events and the law, leading to all sorts of fascinating cases about search engines, 3-D printers, NSA surveillance and cellphone usage. And best of all, the show had an outstanding roster of co-stars and recurring guest stars, starting with Alan Cumming as Peter's longtime adviser, Eli, and so many others, including Fox. The Good Wife managed to be one of TV's best series for its entire run — and not just on broadcast TV.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Last night, the CBS drama series "The Good Wife," starring Julianna Margulies, presented its series finale seven years after the show premiered in 2009. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has these thoughts on the final episode and the legacy of the series as a whole.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

CHRIS NOTH: (As Peter Florrick) Good afternoon. As of 3:30 today, I informed the lieutenant governor that I am resigning the office of governor of Illinois.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: For years now, "The Good Wife" has been the best drama series on broadcast television. But it deserves even more praise than that. Robert and Michelle King, the creators of CBS's "The Good Wife," have had to deal from the start with restrictive network standards, inconsistent scheduling, intrusive advertising breaks, and a production order of 22 episodes per season - almost twice that of its cable and streaming competition. Yet, from start to finish, "The Good Wife" has been rewarding, surprising and delightfully unpredictable.

It became one of my favorite TV series to watch and stayed that way until the end. The final episode of "The Good Wife" was well aware of and full of references to the show's complicated history. The finale, like the pilot, was all about loyalty, betrayal and uncertainty, and echoes were everywhere.

When the show premiered on CBS in 2009, it was with a close-up shot of two clasping hands. Those hands belonged to Illinois State Attorney Peter Florrick, played by Chris Noth, and his wife Alicia, played by Julianna Margulies. They were entering a press conference in which he was about to resign from office in disgrace after having been caught in a sex scandal with a prostitute. Alicia stood by him on stage, numb and silent. But afterward, in the hallway leading from the press conference, she slapped him hard and literally went off in the opposite direction. Last night, those images and events were repeated, except it wasn't Peter, this time resigning as governor of Illinois, who received a slap of betrayal. It was Alicia, who was slapped by her mentor and occasional law partner Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski.

Alicia had defended her husband effectively in court, but only by undercutting the reputation of Diane's husband, who was an expert witness. And since both the judge and the prosecuting attorney from that trial were the same ones in Alicia's first courtroom appearance in the series pilot, there was a definite feeling of deja vu, except that in the interim, Alicia, like her circumstances, has changed - a lot. In the pilot, Alicia went out for drinks with her new law firm's investigator, Kalinda, played by one of the show's early breakout stars, Archie Panjabi. Kalinda asked Alicia then the question that was on every viewer's mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

ARCHIE PANJABI: (As Kalinda Sharma) You know what I don't get? Why you stood by him. I would have stuck a knife in his heart.

JULIANNA MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) I always thought I would, too. But when I heard about those other scandals, the other wives, I thought, how can you allow yourself to be used like that? And then it happened, and I was unprepared.

BIANCULLI: Peter and Alicia separated but never divorced. She had more than one significant romance, including one with the lawyer who hired her, Will Gardner, who appeared to be Alicia's personal happy ending until he was shot and killed in a stunning "Good Wife" plot twist. And in this final season, she's come close to committing to another law firm associate, investigator Jason Crouse.

But she is not the same woman she used to be. She made that clear in the show's penultimate episode when longtime rival attorney Louis Canning, played by Michael J. Fox, presented her with some evidence that might help exonerate her husband but at a personal cost. Yet rather than be crushed by the possibility of her husband's continued infidelity, Alicia mocks the idea by pretending to break down and cry - but only for a few seconds before dropping the act and smiling coldly like the steely survivor she's become.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

MICHAEL J. FOX: (As Louis Canning) Geneva Pine is lying.

MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Is that what those say?

FOX: (As Louis Canning) No, these just give the motive.

MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) What's that?

FOX: (As Louis Canning) She was a spurned lover. These are affidavits from co-workers saying that Peter Florrick broke off an affair with her.

MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Got it. Good. Thanks.

FOX: (As Louis Canning) You heard what I just said?

MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) Yes. Were you wanting me to cry, Mr. Canning? (Crying) Oh my God. I thought my husband no longer cheated.

FOX: (As Louis Canning) Wow. God, I love you.

MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) I know.

BIANCULLI: In the end, in the finale, Alicia dropped her resolve - at least privately - to reunite once again with her late lover, Will, in a series of fantasies in which he discussed their past and her present and future. Josh Charles returned as Will, eventually encouraging her to go start a new life with Jason after giving her one last hug - an imaginary embrace but still a sweet one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) I'll love you forever.

JOSH CHARLES: (As Will Gardner) I'm OK with that.

BIANCULLI: The finale provided no sense of closure. Alicia wasn't shown tracking down Jason, much less committing to him. And she almost certainly has lost her partnership at Diane's law firm. But that was one of the strengths of "The Good Wife" all along, that life kept throwing curves at Alicia - new jobs, new lovers, new crises. Another strength was how smart the show was about technology, current events and the law, leading to all sorts of fascinating cases about search engines, 3-D printers, NSA surveillance, and cell phone usage. And best of all, the show had an outstanding roster of co-stars and recurring guest stars, starting with Alan Cumming as Peter's longtime advisor Eli - and so many others, including Michael J. Fox. "The Good Wife" managed to be one of TV's best series for its entire run - and not just on broadcast TV.

GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches television and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about how the pit bull went from the lovable dog in the "Our Gang" film comedies and the RCA logo to the most feared dog in America, and how many of those fears are based on myths and misinformation. My guest will be Bronwen Dickey, author of the new book "Pit Bull," and we'll talk about her late father, writer James Dickey, the author of "Deliverance." I hope you'll join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.