Nashville

Let’s Kill ’Em All!!


Will Gardner on ‘The Good Wife’ was just the beginning. Here are a few more guys that we’re ready to mourn.



Even before I was technically spoiled for the death of Will Gardner on Sunday night’s The Good Wife, I picked up on the shocking news via Twitter. The Good Wife is so flush with nuanced, eminently watchable characters, there’s almost no one you could kill without an outcry, but this emo eruption was clearly beyond what would be due the elegant, steely Diane Lockhart, or mini-Rahm Eli Gold, or even dead-sexy investigative superhero Kalinda. The litany of shell-shocked variations on “HOW COULD YOU, WRITERS???”—cut with an occasional admiring “Jesus, that took balls”—could only mean Will or Alicia. And the show is named after one of them. QED.

“Jesus,” I thought as soon as I got it. “That took balls.” I also thought, almost as quickly, that it was an excellent narrative call (even if it was forced by the departure of actor Josh Charles). Jennifer Keishin Armstrong has outlined several good reasons for that in these pages, but for me, it comes down to redundancy. Over five years, the writers had already kept Will and Alicia apart, gotten them together, broken them up, and kept them apart again; there are only so many ways to revivify that cycle for an audience that’s ever watched television before. Plunging Alicia into the intense, complex work of grief is a far more interesting choice than one more presumably temporary separation.

In fact, I’m so impressed by the untimely death of Will Gardner, I find myself wishing more of my favorite TV shows would take a lesson from The Good Wife and start killing off lead characters in their prime. Here are a few suggestions.

Deacon Claybourne, ‘Nashville’

I know, I know. If Nashville is going to kill anyone (else), it should be Teddy Conrad. And look, I would never tell anyone not to kill Teddy. But I also think it’s important to consider putting Deacon down.

Like Will/Alicia and Liv/Fitz, the Deacon/Rayna pairing has been central to the success of the show so far. Everyone loves a good star-crossed couple, especially the kind who are actually living out a damned country song. But as with Scandal, the break-ups and make-ups on this show come so fast and furious, it’s hard to imagine what other romantic territory is left to mine between the main pair—after only two seasons!

Rayna and Deacon have known each other for decades, lived and toured and played and written together as sometimes-romantic partners. They have a child. They know each other’s darkest secrets. They have tried being a couple and being apart about 50 times a piece. What information could they possibly still lack that prevents them from deciding one-way-or-a-fucking-nother whether they belong together?

But of course, every time the writers get them together, they have to split them up to avoid the monotony of contentedness, and it all begins, ridiculously, again.

Nobody wants to hear it, but Deacon really should have died in the accident that hosed his wrist. Any time the writers want to make him fall off the wagon and a cliff in rapid succession, I’ll be ready to cheer.

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President Fitzgerald Grant, ‘Scandal’

This is a no-brainer. We’re at the point where half the fans want him dead anyway, if not for his crap treatment of mistress Olivia Pope (and increasingly sympathetic wife, Mellie), then for being a whiny, ineffectual ingrate. Fitz’s presence is simultaneously as irritating and boring as if a toddler’s friends and family worked together to steal the leadership of the free world for him. “Don’t want pwesidency! Want Owivia!” Shhh, honey. You just play quietly over there.

Fitz needs to die not just because he’s an immature, entitled turd, but because we’re only three seasons in, and the show’s protagonist has been spinning her wheels for two—all thanks to this one character. While Scandal is beloved by a great many intelligent people, it is a straight-up nighttime soap, which means the “I love you. I hate you. No. Yes. No. I can’t. I must. Forever. Never” cycle has already gone around several times for these two, with more fucked-up and abusive overtones on each spin. After a few episodes of this, I’d lost respect for Fitz; after a few seasons, I’ve almost completely lost it for Liv. An assassin with better aim than the last one can’t along come soon enough.

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Stan Beeman, ‘The Americans’

The FBI agent and philandering suburban dad’s death isn’t as plainly necessary as the others’, but I’m pretty sure I’d still welcome it.

On the one hand, this is a show, like The Good Wife, that gradually cranks up delicious tension, instead of spraying drama directly at the viewer’s face, like Scandal or Nashville. And early in the second season, as his relationship with friendly neighborhood Russian spy Phillip Jennings begins to deepen, I do find myself giving a little more of a damn about Stan. There’s arguably plenty of time for me to fall in love with the character and forget I ever wanted him gone.

On the other hand, this is a counterintelligence officer trying to prevent nuclear war and solve local murders, while falling in love with a Russian mole who’s actually double-crossing him; backyard barbecuing with way-undercover KGB operatives; fighting with his boss; and watching his wife get sucked in by the more cultish elements of the early eighties self-help movement—and for all that, he’s just astonishingly boring.

The function his character serves, that of the American foil to our secretly Russian protagonists, is absolutely necessary; the great strength of this show is that it explores the moral compromises made by individuals fighting quietly on both sides of the Cold War. But is Stan himself necessary?

Imagine the dramatic potential of bumping him off. Will Nina Sergeevna be fully welcomed back into the Rezidentura fold, so soon after admitting her betrayal, and now without an FBI source to compensate for it? Will Phillip be more relieved the enemy is no longer right next door, or sad to lose the first almost-real friend he’s made in 25 years? Certainly, he’ll fight with Elizabeth about his conflicted feelings! And naturally, Stan would have to die in a way that would risk exposing the Jennings, as all worthwhile dramatic developments on The Americans do. Wouldn’t you love to see that?

And then—and then!— wouldn’t you love to see someone with a stronger personality replace him as the chief U.S. government bad/good guy? Maybe it could even be a hot, ultra-forbidden romantic prospect for Elizabeth. Someone who shows up with instantly explosive chemistry, just as she and Phillip are really falling in love? Let’s say an FBI agent with some secret Communist sympathies—not enough to keep him from loving and fighting for his own country, mind you, but enough to set him, ironically, in opposition to the increasingly materialistic Phillip. Except maybe, very slowly, he’s actually turning Commie—just as Elizabeth’s pressured to make a definitive choice between her mother country and American children—so they meet each other going in opposite directions? Do you not love this character I just made up one million times more than Stan Beeman already? There’s enough going on there that the writers could spend a couple whole seasons keeping them apart, getting them together, and breaking them up again for maximum drama. 

And then, obviously, they’d need to kill that guy, too.

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