Review: 'The Good Wife' comes to an ambiguous, disappointing 'End'
A review of The Good Wife series finale coming up just as soon as I work up a demure smile for you...
In last week's appreciation of the series' whole run, I joked about the idea that the Kings might end with Alicia turning into a lumberjack, like the series finale of another show with a protagonist whose emotions were usually hidden from the world. Dexter the lumberjack was a conclusion that came out of left field on a show whose creative team had long since lost their grip on what the story and their main character were about. "End" was not that. It was keenly aware of who Alicia Florrick was and is, of the journey she's been on over the seven seasons of The Good Wife, and about finding an ending that evoked where it all began: Alicia at another press conference with Peter, a matter of hands being held (or not held), and a hard slap across the face once the cameras were out of view.
No, this was a full-circle conclusion, recreating the series' opening moments in a very different context, akin to what Seinfeld and Lost did in their finales. And in ways both good and bad, "End" evoked the highs, lows, and overall messiness that characterized the run of a series that was at times great, and at times just struggling to keep its head above water while making more episodes and telling more stories than the creators ever wanted to. "End" felt like a proper conclusion to The Good Wife, even if that meant it was less satisfying than it could have been.
Start with that backstage slap, this time with Alicia on the receiving end of Diane's fury. Like a lot of elements of "End," the moment felt more than a little reverse-engineered, as if the Kings knew they needed somebody to slap Alicia the way she slapped Peter in the series premiere, but never quite figured out the proper way to get there. Not only does Lucca's cross-examination of Kurt McVeigh pull an affair with Holly Westfall out of thin air — you could perhaps read that into Kurt's interactions with her in previous episodes, but it was barely even implied, and never suggested that Diane or anyone at the firm knew anything about it — but Diane's fury over this comes only a few scenes after she reminded Alicia that their duty is to defend the client as zealously as possible, regardless of personal feelings. Diane's human, and thus allowed to be hypocritical when the roles are reversed, but Alicia and Lucca were doing their jobs, and the structure of the final scene is very much designed to put Alicia in the Peter role and Diane in Alicia's original spot, and the ethical math doesn't really check out.
For that matter, the entire corruption trial existed only to get us to this moment: another press conference, Peter's political career definitively ended, Alicia's perhaps starting up again — never mind that she has her own scandal-plagued past — and everyone's future up in the air. It never worked as a story unto itself. Fox was a two-dimensional villain — how did the show not manage to bring back one of the many attorneys with legitimate beefs against Peter to fill that role? — the case itself frequently verged on gibberish, and yet it consumed nearly all of the oxygen of these last few episodes, largely sidelining half the cast (where have you gone, David Lee?) and seesawing back and forth on what it was about and what role Peter played in the original case. The end was ambiguous, which has worked well for the show in the past, but not on a story that's been so prominent for so much of this final season.
Then there was all the business with the ghost of Will Gardner, and Alicia trying to decide between Jason, Peter, or none of the above. It's not really much of a debate — Alicia and Peter have occasionally fallen back into bed out of old habit, but their marriage has been emotionally dead for years — and while it illustrates that Will's death robbed Alicia of her one true love, Alicia's romantic life has rarely been the most compelling part of the series. (Will himself was much more interesting in his capacity as head of the firm and either mentor or rival to Alicia and Cary than he was as The One Who Got Away.) Revisiting the question of which man might bring her happiness — or if any of them can — was on topic, but the finale's early scenes were so focused on Alicia's feelings about Will and questions about Jason and Peter that they threatened to reduce the entirety of a thematically complex show into a love triangle with a Regina Spektor soundtrack.
Ultimately, though, that speaks to the challenges the Kings faced in doing any kind of finale that did the entire breadth of the series justice. The Good Wife was so many things over the years — a legal procedural, a character study of a woman at a personal and professional crossroads, a serialized political drama, and much more — that it would be impossible to fit all the things (and people) that defined the series into a single episode and have it work as both a definitive summary of the show and a compelling hour of drama. "End" had moments that worked — that long close-up on Diane's face in court as Lucca and Alicia blew up her marriage was superb — but never came together on the whole.
In that way, it wasn't so much representative of the show's entire run, but of these bumpy final seasons. The excellent show The Good Wife once was deserved a more coherent and powerful conclusion than this. But to get that, the series probably would have had to end a year or two ago.
What did everybody else think? Are you happy or frustrated that Alicia ended up alone? Do you side with her or Diane on the Kurt situation? Was there a character whose absence from the finale (or this final run of episodes) most annoyed you? And did "End" in any way change the way you feel about the series as a whole?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org