Is That Shocking ‘Good Wife’ Death for the Best?

Maybe fraught romantic situations don’t serve our TV heroines well in the long run.

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For those of us watching The Good Wife later than airtime on Sunday night who managed to avoid spoilers long enough to think it was just another excellent episode of an excellent show, there was a scene about 20 minutes through that made us smile amid the standard murder-trial scenes and backroom lawyering. Our heroine, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles) caught her lover-turned-nemesis Will Gardner (Josh Charles) in the courtroom hallway to warn him that his client had sought a second opinion from her.

Because Alicia-and-Will scenes do this to us, we suddenly noticed that Alicia was looking hot in her tailored black skirt suit with just the right feminine touches—plunging neckline, a hint of ruffle. We noticed the still-present sparkle between them, there even after a season of professional warfare. We cheered at the slightest reasons for hope: He thanked her! She called him “the better lawyer”!

“I am, aren’t I?” he added—downright flirtatious.

“And the more humble,” she flirted back.

Twenty-five minutes later, this scene meant so much more—and so much less: Will was shot to death in the courtroom by his frustrated defendant. I, for one, found myself reaching for ways this could still be undone: Maybe the surgeons just hadn’t quite gotten to his obviously bloody, lifeless body lying on a hospital gurney, and any minute they’d be in to fix it? Maybe it was that most hackneyed of plot fake-outs, a dream? But no, The Good Wife does not play such games, and furthermore, Charles is leaving the show of his own volition. Though I trust the show’s creative team after five terrific, continuously fresh seasons, I felt a bit betrayed. Why had I invested so much in this will-they-or-won’t-they relationship only for it to end with something as finite as death?

Once I got over the shock and sadness, however, I realized: What is tragic for us as loyal viewers could be just right for Alicia’s journey.

The show’s title says it: The Good Wife is who Alicia was at the beginning of the series. At the start, she was a betrayed political wife, starting her life over on her own after her husband, then-District Attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), got caught in a cheating scandal (among other problems) and went to prison. With a nearly empty and totally outdated résumé, Alicia sought to put her law degree to work and got lucky when, despite her insecure demeanor, Will, an old college flame, took a chance and hired her.

Alicia and Will’s undeniable chemistry soon became the focus of the show, and rightfully so; it was hot. They resisted each other for just long enough as she tried to work things out with Peter, then said to hell with it in another “is this a dream?” episode—the good kind, this time, as they got it on in a hotel room (and paid $7,800 for the privilege). But even after their romance cooled, with Alicia reuniting with Peter, we remained focused on them this season through some super-sexy flashbacks as Alicia’s new firm battled with Will’s for clients.

Romantic plots are standard fare in every kind of show—comedy, drama, even reality—for good reason. We all know that love trumps everything, no matter how many court cases you win, bad guys you nab, hilarious hijinks you engage in, or islands you survive. But The Good Wife is a complicated character study on the order of Breaking Bad, merely disguised as a law show. For Alicia to own this story of her evolution, she must be free from the distractions of love triangles, which have a tendency to hijack female characters’ plotlines more than men’s. The tendency is to think: How will we know that Alicia’s gotten her happy ending if her story doesn’t end with a kiss from her real Prince Charming?

Of course, the answer this time is that we don’t know that Alicia’s headed for a happy ending, which is part of the show’s riveting complexity. But we presume she’s headed for an end point that results in a kind of empowerment, an arc from mousy wife to, I’m presuming, badass bitch. She’s been showing major progress on this spectrum the past season: Walking out of Will’s firm to strike out on her own didn’t just provide for some fantastic inter-firm scheming; it gave her a chance to discover what she was born to do, as evidenced by the glow she gets every time she tells off some jerk or leads the shit out of her scrappy band of lawyers. If you want to see a woman invigorated by her newfound power, watch a sequence from earlier this season, in the episode “Hitting the Fan,” in which she takes a (brief) break from running her firm out of her apartment to ravish her husband in the bedroom, then get back to business. (We’ve got ten minutes, otherwise they’re going to start making some bad decisions out there.”)

On the same night as The Good Wife finale, we also had the season-three finale of Girls—and strangely enough, Lena Dunham delivered an oddly related plotline. It was, of course, younger, less devastating, and less tailored: The episode features Hannah (Dunham) getting into grad school at the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop, much to the unsupportive chagrin of her boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver). We don’t know yet whether she’ll go, and I found myself desperately wanting her to. She needs to not only take this chance at a major career bump, but also to live her life away from this troubled relationship. I worry, though, what with her being a television character beholden to the constraints of the medium, how Girls can be Girls with Hannah off by herself in the Midwest engaging in pretentious critique sessions and horizon-expanding experiences. Just as in The Good Wife, Hannah’s evolution is waylaid by her romance (and, in this case, the premise of her show).

No one loves a good romance more than I do, but I must admit: Happy endings don’t always lead to personal growth. I cheered a little when I saw a clip during The Good Wifes “upcoming scenes” segment in which Peter calls Alicia a “bitch.” She earned that epithet the hard way—and she deserves it, in the best possible way. We may just get our female Walter White after all, or at least someone far more interesting than a good wife.

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