Season finale review: 'The Good Wife' - 'The Dream Team': Kalinda's secret stash

Michael J. Fox and Martha Plimpton team up in a memorable finale

<p>Michael J. Fox, Julianna Margulies and Christine Baranski in &quot;The Good Wife&quot;&nbsp;season 3 finale.</p>

Michael J. Fox, Julianna Margulies and Christine Baranski in "The Good Wife" season 3 finale.

Credit: CBS

A review of the "The Good Wife" season finale coming up just as soon as I pick out the right sledgehammer...

It's practically a TV critic cliché (and one I've used a time or three) by this point to say that "The Good Wife" blends the best of what you can do with a network drama (accessible storytelling, familiar faces) and what you can do with one on cable (moral ambiguity, more long-term plotting). The show's season 3 finale, "The Dream Team," exemplified all of that.

It brought back two of the show's best individual rival attorneys — Michael J. Fox's shameless Louis Canning and Martha Plimpton's devious Patti Nyholm — and let them team up in an attack on Lockhart Gardner. It was pure pleasure to watch Fox and Plimpton working side by side, and even though we're supposed to be rooting for Alicia, Diane and Will, it's hard not to enjoy the bad guys running such a successful con (distracting Lockhart Gardner with a nuisance suit while they were busy poaching one of the firm's biggest clients) and putting our heroes into a very tenuous position going into next season.

At the same time, the finale continued to tug at the messy thread involving Kalinda's IRS problem, and the past she's kept hidden, which includes a husband so dangerous she waits for him with a loaded gun under her seat. (And that's only after she decides she likes her current life enough to not just run away from it like she presumably ran away from this guy.) And it continued to do a bang-up job dealing with the messy realities of Alicia's relationship with Peter (who puts his concern for Alicia's well-being ahead of his political ambitions by going on record about their separation), with her hated mother-in-law (Alicia is the only one who can see that the stroke took more out of Jackie than it seemed at first), and with Will (who takes a very different, much more awkward elevator ride with Alicia than they had at the end of last season).

It was among the best hours of "The Good Wife" this season: surprising without feeling manipulative, funny (particularly Patti and Andrew Wiley approaching Kalinda with The Double Strollers of Doom) without the comedy feeling shoehorned, and hitting the right emotional notes for Alicia, Kalinda and Peter.

At the same time, "The Dream Team" was also a reminder of the thing that will always clearly separate "The Good Wife" from its cable counterparts. Where they only have to produce 13 episodes a year (or fewer, in some cases), "The Good Wife" still operates on the traditional network model of 22 per season. On the one hand, if you love "The Good Wife," you get more "Good Wife." On the other, the cable model shows that less can often be more: that your story arcs are tighter and that you don't have to pad things out just to fill time and make sure certain events don't happen until the finale.

A lot happened this season on "The Good Wife," and while some of it was terrific, other parts were forgettable. In the finale, for instance, Alicia spent her first concentrated time with her kids in what felt like forever. And while that relationship is a huge part of the show — and a huge part of the tug Alicia still feels towards Peter — and while the kids' stories can sometimes be interesting, I realized when watching them in the finale how little I had missed them. And though Louis and Patti are always a ton of fun when they're around, there are many other Lockhart Gardner cases of the week that tend to drag.

And because Kalinda's backstory — and the trouble she's frequently in with various ex-lovers and/or rivals — is so long and complicated, I find I sometimes lose track of it, especially since these 22 episodes aired over the course of seven months, with gaps in between batches of episodes.

It was a good season overall, and an excellent finale. Every now and then, though, I wonder what this show would be like if Robert and Michelle King were told, "Okay, you're just making 13 episodes, and we want you to go full-speed ahead with them."

What did everybody else think?

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Alan Sepinwall
Sr. Editor, What's Alan Watching
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," about the last 15 years of TV drama, is for sale at Amazon. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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