CBS spent about half of this weekend teasing a big event that would take place in Sunday night’s episode of The Good Wife, and it turns out they were not joking. Not even a little. After a little over four and a half seasons as the male lead and on-again, off-again adulterous love interest for the show’s titular good wife, Josh Charles’s character, Will Gardner, died after taking a bullet to the chest during a courtroom shooting. Kaboom.
If you were watching live on the East Coast or managed to avoid Twitter or Facebook until you did, it was one of those “GASP HOLY SH*T WAIT NO WAIT HOLY SH*T WHAT” television moments that melts your brain a little bit when it happens, kind of like a Red Wedding for fans of high-minded legal dramas. Although this one might have been even more shocking, since there’s no original source material for The Good Wife, and therefore none of the breathless “Wait till you see what happens tonight. Just wait. I’m not going to spoil it — NOT GOING TO SPOIL IT — but something happens. Something big. To the Starks. That’s all I’m going to say” bookreaders to tip things off.
“Okay, but whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?” you ask through your tears. “Why did they do it? I loved Will!”
Well, there were a couple reasons for the move, but the main factor was that Josh Charles wanted out so he could go back to pursuing more roles in feature films. From Deadline:
While the shocking development had been kept under wraps and came as a surprise to viewers, it had been in the works since last spring. “Josh Charles approached us almost a year ago about wanting to leave the series,” Michelle and Robert King said. Charles was looking to leave the series at the end of last season, the show’s fourth, when his contract was up. After playing the character for four years, the actor indicated he was ready to move on.
And the show’s creators, Michelle and Robert King, elaborated on the decision a bit more in a letter to fans that they posted after last night’s episode aired, explaining why they opted for what amounted to a period instead of a comma for Charles’s character.
We could “send him off to Seattle,” he could be disbarred, or get married, or go off to Borneo to do good works. But there was something in the passion that Will and Alicia shared that made distance a meager hurdle. The brutal honesty and reality of death speaks to the truth and tragedy of bad timing for these two characters. Will’s death propels Alicia into her newest incarnation.
Death also created a new dramatic “hub” for the show. We’re always looking for these turning points—some event midway through the season that will spin everybody’s lives in new directions. These turning points keep the show from slipping into a numbing sameness, and keep the characters fresh: because you see how they react to a completely new status quo. Will’s death in many ways becomes a hub for the whole series, violently spinning everybody in new directions.
So that explains that. But the bigger issue at play here isn’t so much the “Why?” — even though the closure and reasoning is nice, I suppose — as it is the “What now?” The Good Wife has been one of the better network dramas over the past half decade, and putting a bullet in one of its guiding forces is going to change things quite a bit going forward. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, despite what some of the apoplectic tweets from last night seemed to imply. The question is how the show starts filling that void once the mourning is over.
My vote: Make Elsbeth Tascioni managing partner.