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The Bright Side of the Death on 'The Good Wife'

Television
by Caryn James
March 24, 2014 1:47 AM
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If you're on-line reading this, I don't see how you could possibly have missed hearing about the surprise death on last night's The Good Wife, but just so we're clear: there are spoilers here. (Happy now?)

Will Gardner was shot in a courtroom when his client went haywire, grabbed a guard's gun, and blew the place apart. Because we're so conditioned to expect last-minute reprieves in television dramas, even then we didn't see what was coming: Will died. At first glance this is terrible news for Good Wife fans. Josh Charles was terrific as Will, and we always suspected he was Alicia's true love, even when she denied it. But his exit solves some problems and opens great new dramatic possibilities, so there's no reason to be that distraught. (Charles had wanted to leave the show last year and was persuaded to stay one more season, so you can't accuse the writers of extreme cruelty.)

The Will-Alicia affair had run its course, and more on-again off-again sexual tension would never have worked. Making them professional competitors was a good move, but their antagonism toward each other  -- a hostility that masked their lingering attraction -- would have gotten just as tiresome.

What has worked best this season is that Alicia and Peter are plotting together for his political career. Will called them "Bill and Hillary on steroids," one of the season's smartest lines. And now that Will is gone ... the scene I can't wait for was teased in the rest-of-the-season previews. Peter and Alicia scream at each other in their  kitchen, Peter telling her to get over her fantasy of the perfect Will, Alicia -- who has obviously been sobbing -- calling Peter a bastard. That seems like a realistic picture of a plotting political couple, much more credible than Frank and Claire Underwood coolly sharing a cigarette in House of Cards. And by now Scandal just exists in some melodramatic fantasyland that resembles Washington.

The strength of The Good Wife has always been its emotional realism, which has its source in Alicia's complex feelings about Peter and their ever-changing marriage, constantly wondering whether the good outweighs the bad. (Julianna Margulies never falters and makes them look simple.) Now we'll discover how she looks at Peter when Will is no longer a possibility she has tucked away. We've already seen some emotional moments no one could have predicted, like Diane and even Kalinda in tears. And we haven't even seen Alicia's reaction yet. This is going to be fun to watch.

Will's exit itself was handled brilliantly. (How CBS kept it such a secret must be a pretty good story too.) The death was a true shock because the shooting happened suddenly, and Will wasn't even the target.  And since Will was the witness who could have nailed Peter for voter fraud, now Peter is off the hook; in hindsight, we can see how meticulously that plot was set up.

Television series promise "game changing" episodes all the time, but The Good Wife really meant it. So I'm sorry Will is gone, but I'm already over it. The show has gained a tragically bright new future. And things could have been worse; they could have killed Eli (Alan Cumming's character, in the photo above, is still schemingly with us).  

Update: The show's creators, Robert and Michelle King, have published a letter to fans, explaining their decision to kill off Will; it would have been so lame to send him off to Seattle. You can read it here. 

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