A review of last night's “The Good Wife” coming up just as soon as I tell you to call me in five minutes…
So here's the thing: Having watched and written about “The Walking Dead” and “Girls” last night, I was preparing to hit the sack when I made the mistake of skimming Twitter, where both my followers and several people I followed were talking about something huge that happened on “The Good Wife,” including friends warning me to stay off of social media until I had seen it. The problem is that even those vague warnings were ominous enough to make me think that one of three things was going to happen – an unexpected couple falls into bed together, a character gets arrested, or a character dies – before deciding that only the last was momentous enough for this show to match the commentary I had seen. And then once I started watching the episode and it was devoting so much time to Will defending the Hunter Parrish character in a case that at no point seemed interesting enough to merit this much time over two episodes, I figured that he was by far the most likely candidate to get shot, hit by a bus moments after declaring his love for Alicia, fall down an empty elevator shaft(*), or what have you.
(*) And keep in mind that we're around the 23rd anniversary of this.
It's nobody's fault in this case – it's simply how the internet works(**), and then how my brain works – but between the lack of surprise and the fact that Will was among the characters I'd be least troubled to lose (more on that in a moment), the whole thing unfortunately played out a bit like Red Wedding 2: The Reddening. The performances by Baranski, Cumming and, especially, Panjabi (who has barely had anything to do this season, but was great here) were so strong in the final act, and the closing moment of Eli telling Alicia about the phone call effective enough that I felt the impact of Will's death on the characters closest to him, even if the shock of that death was unfortunately lost to me. (And even had I watched it live with no warning, I don't know that I'd have loved the methodology of bumping him off, which I think would have felt cheesy under any circumstance.)
(**) Not helping matters: the 41-minute delay caused by March Madness, emblematic of the regular sports-relayed delays that are one of several reasons I never watch this show live, or close to it, anymore.
When “Hitting the Fan” aired, I noted that Will was rarely my favorite thing about the show, which wasn't entirely accurate. As a cocky, ruthless litigator and partner, Will absolutely had his moments and uses, especially after Alicia and Cary's departure took his aggression to a new level. What I never cared about – except occasionally this year, post-split – was Will and Alicia's simmering sexual tension and occasional hook-ups, and that became such an important part of both characters for so long that I'm relieved in a way that Will's death will put an end to it, beyond Alicia's inevitable grief-stricken thoughts of what might have been.
Deadline reported last night that Josh Charles wanted off the show when his contract was up at the end of last season, and the Kings talked him into staying so they could give Will a bigger send-off, and also use him to make the firm split more memorable. (It also would have been a lot harder for Alicia to bail on Diane had Will been murdered before she left.) In an open letter to fans, the Kings talked about how they considered other options, from having Will be disbarred to following the “ER” strategy when George Clooney left and sending Will to another city, where he could be held out as a possibility for Alicia to return to at the end of the series.
At the close of that letter, they noted, “We”ve always taken as a guiding principle of this show that drama isn”t in the event; it”s in the aftermath of the event. We think you”ll find that true of this episode.” In that case, my lack of surprise over the death – even though, as Fienberg noted last night, the fact that CBS was able to keep this a secret at all for so long is very impressive – will ultimately matter much less than what happens next.
I agree with Dan that the show didn't especially need another game-changer so soon after the firms split apart, which put the dramatic burden onto Margulies and Charles and away from the guest stars the show has leaned on so much in the past. In that letter, they talk about a number of familiar guests who'll be returning, in addition to new ones, and as I've said in the past, “The Good Wife” excels at creating and casting interesting guest roles. But the tension of Will vs. Alicia, Diane vs. Cary, Kalinda vs. Robin, etc., had taken this very good show up to another level. Charles' exit, however they did it, was going to reduce some of that tension, and I imagine this method in particular will reduce it a lot, with everyone's shared grief resulting in a certain level of bygones for anyone not named David Lee. If Charles wanted to go, he wanted to go, and we got 15 excellent additional episodes as a result of the Kings talking him into staying a bit longer. We'll have to see what the show becomes now that he's gone.
As for “Dramatics, Your Honor,” what did everybody else think? Were you stunned? Spoiled? Grief-stricken? Annoyed? Do you wish the Kings had put Will on a bus, or if he had to go, would you rather it be something this final? And does this event make you more or less interested in the season going forward?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org