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'The Good Wife' Shocker: 10 Thoughts On Why It May Be A Good Thing (Maybe?)

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Josh Charles on 'The Good Wife' | CBS

Now that a day or two has passed, I have a few thoughts about Sunday's episode of "The Good Wife." These musings are not definitive; they're a bit tentative and fluid. What follows is a partial list of reactions, proposals and ideas to Sunday's shocking development. And don't read on unless you've seen the episode, obviously.

The short version of what's below: I'm cautiously optimistic about what occurred on the CBS drama (and Ryan McGee and I expanded on these ideas in this week's Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast). Actor Josh Charles, who played Will Gardner, will be missed, without a doubt. But overall, I'm leaning toward the idea that his sudden death will give the show the kind of dramatic fuel it tends to use best.

Without further ado, here are 10 reactions to Sunday's episode of "The Good Wife":

  1. Alicia is a character who likes to keep all of her options open and who enjoys maintaining control of complex situations. The death of Will takes an option away from her -- an option that she would not have given up, personally or professionally, if she had had a choice. But she doesn't have a choice, and she doesn't have control over the things that may occur now that Will's dead. "The Good Wife" is often at its best when Alicia is uncertain, reactive and trying to regain her balance. She's come a long way from the person she was when the show began -- she's far more competent and collected in tough spots -- hence the need to shake her up to her core.
  2. If the show was going to get rid of Will, it was better to remove him fully from the scene through death rather than having him move away. He'd still exist as a romantic option even if he lived on the other side of the world, and the idea of Will as a romantic option had outlived its usefulness. It's true that the complicated, fraught, history-laden relationship between Will and Alicia absolutely gave the show a lot of things to play with, and without a doubt, "The Good Wife" will have to be on its A game if it doesn't want to have a giant hole at its center now that Will's gone.
  3. That said, I don't think Will is truly gone from "The Good Wife." Sometimes characters reappear in flashbacks, dreams or other scenarios, and sometimes the absence of a character is more important than his or her presence. Would you like it if the character who was killed at the end of "Game of Thrones" first season was still around and making the same mistakes? I doubt it. What about the characters who died at the end of Season 3 of "Game of Thrones"? It was tough to lose them, but sometimes loss makes life more resonant and complicated for those left behind -- and not every change brought about by loss is negative.
  4. The show has often come close to having too many characters -- it probably still does, truthfully (someone please give Melissa George more to do on another show). Closing down certain avenues and possibilities, was, on balance, a wise decision. And even though everyone in the core cast is very skilled, it would not have had the same impact if Diane, Cary or Peter had died.
  5. There's no doubt that this was a huge, painful blow to both the characters and the audience. Yet think about what is regarded as the show's best long-term story arc -- the departure of Alicia and Cary and the breakup of the core legal team into two firms. It was messy, raw and painful, and it engendered a lot of anger, bitterness and fear. And as a piece of storytelling, it was awesome. These are powerful, ambitious people who want to accomplish big things, and when they are thrown off balance and don't quite know what to do next, well, that's when "The Good Wife" is often at its best. This is a show that revels in ambiguities, and what better way to play with mixed emotions than with the death of a character with whom Alicia had a long and complicated history?
  6. If the show uses this as an excuse to put Peter and Alicia back together, even temporarily, I will reanimate Zombie Will myself and force him back onto the show. No, no, no, no: I do not want Peter and Alicia back together, even temporarily. The brewing scandal over dirty election tricks isn't a particularly compelling thread (in a situation we see frequently on "The Good Wife," a fine actor -- Eric Bogosian -- is elevating a plot that seems wobbly and a little tenuous). Until now, that storyline was one of the major connection points between Peter and Alicia, a relationship that otherwise, to be honest, seems fairly played out. I'll be happy to be proved wrong -- there is a potential for those two actors to have good scenes together in the wake of Will's death. But we engage in another round of "Peter and Alicia attempt to rekindle their relationship only to … not do that," I may become stabby. And honestly, one of the least pleasing aspects of Season 4 was Peter's campaign; I've enjoyed "The Good Wife" greatly this season, but the political aspect of the show hasn't had much juice for a while. (Real talk: I wouldn't mind if Peter more or less exited the show. I like the actor, but I'm not sure Peter Florrick adds much to the show anymore. Peter appearing once or twice a season would be fine with me.)
  7. I don't particularly think it's unusual or odd for Will to have died due to gun violence. I respect those who thought the manner of his exit was overly harsh or brutal. I don't agree, but I understand the reaction. In any event, narratively speaking, the point was for Will to die, and for that to seem absolutely unequivocal and sudden. His death was all those things, and yet visually speaking, it was handled tastefully. The sight of Will's feet -- one of them missing a shoe -- in the courtroom and in that alcove in the ER was harrowing, as it was meant to be.
  8. My guess is that this will lead to Diane and Alicia working at the same firm or the firms merging once again. Just a guess, but we'll have to see.
  9. I hope this gives Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry, Archie Panjabi and the rest of the show's core cast more screen time. They could use it. And I pray that David Lee doesn't dominate what's to come. That character's one-note cynicism and smarmy contempt have become extremely tiresome.
  10. As we've seen almost every episode of the show, "The Good Wife" is fascinated by the idea of competing narratives and how one crafts or edits a narrative in order to sell it effectively. Dubeck has decided he knows the story behind the ballot-box videos, the NSA guys listen to their audio feeds as if it they were part of a nighttime soap opera, the show parodied the tropes of a "dark" cable drama a few weeks ago, and recently Alicia had to compose a speech in which she had to present the most compelling -- and judiciously edited -- version of her rise from stay-at-home-mom to legal shark. And those are just a few examples of the show playing around with the very idea of storytelling and its uses and abuses. I'm guessing what's next will revolve around the narrative Alicia decides to create in the wake of Will's death. In coming weeks, I'm guessing we'll see Alicia struggle with the immediate aftermath -- in which the idea of crafting coherent meaning from a tragedy will be almost unthinkable -- and later on, we may see her struggles through the day-to-day grind in a world that has less meaning, more pain, more possibility or more darkness. What story will she choose to tell herself about what he meant to her and who she is now? Which narrative will win? The possibilities are tantalizing -- in my opinion.

I hope to write about "The Good Wife" again in a few weeks and share some thoughts on how the show handled the post-Will fallout. Let's meet back here after we've seen where Alicia and company go next.

This week's Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast, in which Ryan McGee and I also talked about "Cosmos," "Surviving Jack" and "Call the Midwife," can be found here, on iTunes, and below.


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