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As Shock Waves Spread, "The Good Wife" Takes Stock of Grief

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire March 30, 2014 at 11:13PM

A quietly heartbreaking episode dealt with the pain of sudden death as well as any since "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" "The Body"
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Julianna Margulies and Alan Cumming in "The Good Wife's" "The Last Call"
Julianna Margulies and Alan Cumming in "The Good Wife's" "The Last Call"

If "Dramatics, Your Honor" was an out-of-character episode for "The Good Wife," this week's "The Last Call" is the show doing what it does best, following the ripples outward as the word of Will Gardner's abrupt and traumatic death spreads. It begins where the previous episode ended (slightly before, in fact), with Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) receiving the news via a cell phone call from her long-estranged friend Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) in the most inapposite surroundings imaginable: the Illinois equivalent of the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where a hack comedian draws polite laughter from the crowd as she hears the news that will blow her world to pieces.

Even in this first scene, there's so much to unpack: Alicia receiving private news in the most public of places, the setting recalling the first season-ending "Running," where Will (Josh Charles) confessed his love to Alicia's voicemail as she stood by her husband's side at a press conference. That voicemail was deleted before she ever heard it by her husband's consigliere Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), but this time the call came direct to him, and ignoring it was not an option. Death has a way of limiting the living's options.

Another of Will voicemails is central to "The Last Call," an ambiguous, terminated scrap of a message that will forever be the last communication between him and Alicia. It's nothing, really: a quick hello, a jumble of background noise, a pledge to call her back later, and then nothing. Alicia's finger hovers over the "Call Back" button on her phone, as if Will's death is a misunderstanding that might be cleared up, a cosmic wrong number. But instead, she spends much of the episode trying to clear up the mystery of why Will was calling her, envisioning scenarios both romantic and nightmarish, refreshing the pain of his loss because she knows that when it stops, he'll really be gone.

Others deal with Will's loss in their own ways: Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) mourns him and then memorializes him by cutting loose a client who couldn't be persuaded to wait a decent interval before getting back to business; Kalinda toys with giving Will's killer the means to end his own life in jail, then deepens his agony by driving home the hurt that he's caused; even David Lee (Zach Grenier) manages a brief fit of humanity before returning to his normal role as scowling attack dog.

Death has a way of forcing us to live in the moment, to seize on the mundane, the way Alicia suddenly takes notice of a flock of birds flying overhead or a mother keeping her child from running into the street. "The Last Call" took stock of those moments as well as any episode of TV I've seen since "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" milestone "The Body." This surely isn't the only episode where the plot was propelled forward by a series of cell phone calls, but these felt different, a reminder of how often we are in touch with each other without being able to touch, miraculously connected but subject to the whims of dropped calls and dead zones. Instead of a musical score (although there was some), much of the episode played out with the hubbub of life as background noise, a reminder that it goes on even when we want the world to stop, if only for a moment, and acknowledge that a vital piece of ourselves has been taken away. "The Good Wife's" good soldiers march on, with a brief pause to fire Gayle the over-demonstrative intern, but Alicia is stopped in her tracks, unable to return her husband's comforting embrace, and when she does move, there's no telling which direction she'll go.

More Reviews:

Sonia Sariya, the A.V. Club

"The Last Call" is the beginning of "The Good Wife" doing something different and weird and fascinating. This show has always defied categorization, because it aspires to be a bit more than just one category. 

James Poniewozik, Time

The Good Wife could have joined the characters somewhere farther along that line -- at Will's funeral, say -- allowing them time, and scripted moments, to mourn with us. Instead, the episode expressed the emotion of the moment as it usually does best: through work. 

PS: If you're still hurting over Charles' absence, this helps a bit.



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