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Thoughts on the Typically Delicious 'Good Wife' Finale

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 17th 2011 11:00PM
['The Good Wife' - 'Closing Arguments']

'The Good Wife' is one of my favorite shows, but you should be glad I don't write about it every week. You'd get such a repetitive list of things the show does right that you might begin to wonder if I'm on the 'Wife' payroll.

I'm not, of course, but I'm happy to report that in its second season finale, 'The Good Wife' was as addictive as it has been all season. If you like good acting, a crisp pace, well-rounded characters, thoughtfully knotty stories and artfully semi-serialized TV, 'The Good Wife' is TV's legal version of crack.

Just so you know I can be objective, there are a couple of things I don't think worked perfectly this season. The episode in which Alicia confronting Kalinda was a rare letdown, in my opinion (as a certain judge would remind me to say).

Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi gave fine performances, of course, but the fact that the case of the week revolved around adultery was piling on, and Sarah Silverman's performance was not at the level of most of the show's guest actors. Overall, it just felt like one of 'Wife's' clunkier efforts.

Though that episode was a bit obvious, this is a show that generally is not afraid of subtlety, which is good, given how many characters play their cards close to the vest. One of the most enjoyable things about the last couple of episodes has been the delicious post-showdown tension between Kalinda and Alicia. They're both pragmatists and they know they work well together, yet it kills them to do so. The deliciously awkward moments of those two trying to endure each other's presence is as enjoyable as network TV gets.

Another thing I haven't especially loved, which the season finale tried to correct: Will's arc. Actually, he hasn't really had an arc this season, which isn't something I'm hopping mad about; that's more an observation than a major criticism. This is an ensemble drama with a lot of characters I enjoy, and, as is the case with 'Justified,' another show with an incredibly talented group of actors, I'm more or less willing to live with the fact that these satisfyingly busy shows can't delve too deeply into some characters' lives.

Actually, the biggest problem with Will all season has been his girlfriend, Tammy. She never seemed like a real obstacle to a Will-Alicia relationship, and she kept talking about how she wasn't going to be the annoyingly clingy girlfriend, yet she managed to be annoying nonetheless. It felt as though the writers really didn't know what to do with Tammy, aside from having her hang off Will's neck now and then and/or turn up at inopportune moments. It's good that this one-note character is now in London, hopefully for the foreseeable future.

Still, none of that detracted in a big way from the show, and certainly the Will-Alicia scenes in the finale were satisfying; the characters showed a relaxed, entertaining rapport, yet, as is so often the case on this show, there was a subtext that was every bit as interesting as what was happening on the surface.

'TGW' toyed with us by giving the characters many opportunities to bail out (the endless elevator ride, the keycard shenanigans), but, when it came down to the moment(s) of truth, they both made a conscious choice, and putting them together was certainly the right choice for the show. One way to kill will-they-won't-they tension is to drag it out too long.

Tequila notwithstanding, both of them went into that hotel room having weighed the pros and cons; they'd made a decision that was not just emotional but logical. For that reason, their Presidential Suite hookup was of a piece with what goes on in the courtrooms, meeting rooms and bedrooms on this show.

One of the best things about 'The Good Wife' is the way it depicts how much fun, or at least engaging, transactional relationships can be. They don't have to be cold and emotionless; getting a version of what you want and executing some clever maneuvers along the way can be a very enjoyable way to spend your days. The words "transactional" and "calculating" so often have a negative connotation, but here, there's a real joy to the way people approach dealmaking of all kinds.

Just one example: Did Eli get a job for Natalie Flores because he wanted her to have a reason to be grateful to him? Sure, but he also thought she'd be good at the job, and she was. Everybody got what he or she wanted, and he got another reason to trot around like a giddy schoolgirl every time she was in his orbit. Their relationship is not exactly happening yet -- she's still with someone else -- but give it time. 'The Good Wife' knows that delaying gratification can make it all the more sweet if and when a payoff arrives (and let's hope it does -- Alan Cumming and America Ferrera have a palpable chemistry).

Desire, how we sublimate it and why we decide to give into it are core ideas of the show. Figuring out what you want, gauging what the other side wants and then figuring out a way to either screw the other party (literally or figuratively) or finding a way to make both sides relatively happy, legally or personally, is a great workout for the brain, heart, mind and sometimes the body too. The show celebrates pragmatism, but makes it sexy too. As Alicia so briskly put it in a recent episode, when someone tries to use you, "Use them right back." It's only fair, and it can even be fun.

The newly assertive Alicia is all about getting what she wants these days, and if some of her newfound drive emanates from her renewed anger at Peter, so be it. But Alicia's got a job to do, and 'Closing Arguments' was a typically energetic outing for the show. I keep coming back to thinking about 'Justified' when I ponder 'The Good Wife.' Both shows offer master classes in juggling many different story strands, yet the momentum never turns frantic and both shows keep you invested in the characters. They're sophisticated, yet they provide the old-fashioned pleasure of being told a good story.

There was an enjoyable tick-tock quality to the plot in 'Closing Arguments,' and I also wondered if this was the episode in which the wider world would find out about Peter and Alicia's separation. It's just a matter of time, it would seem, but we'll have to wait for next season for that.

But as Will and Alicia may have found out, sometimes waiting is worth it.

A few final thoughts:

• My colleague Chris Harnick has an interview with Josh Charles, who plays Will, here. There's an interesting clue about something from Will's past that will be explored next season.

• Speaking of Chris, he does a fine job of recapping the show each week, and his take on every season 2 episode is here. I'm with him regarding Mamie Gummer -- I also love her on the show (Martha Plimpton too -- too bad she's committed to 'Raising Hope').

• Check out this piece by the AV Club's Todd VanDerWerff, who compares 'The Good Wife' to 'The Wire.' Even if you've never seen 'The Wire,' Todd's piece is worth a read.

• I can't get enough of the judges on this show, who, in many cases, could anchor their own shows. Nice work from Jane Alexander this week.

• It'll make a ton of sense for Eli to be working from Alicia's offices this week, but how long will it be before everyone at the firm knows that Alicia and Peter are separated? How awkward will that be for both Eli and Alicia? Though, as noted, this show does delicious awkwardness well.

• Should Alicia work for Eli? I have a feeling that won't quite come to pass, given that Alicia won't want to work for her estranged husband's political advisor. Also, if her role as Eli liason takes her out of the mix of Lockhart Gardner's varied roster of cases, that could be a problem from a story perspective. So it seems like a long shot at best.

• The show depicts sexily pragmatic people very well, but one of these highly rational, guarded grownups is off her game. Did Kalinda react badly to the news that her lover was married because she wanted more than a fling? Doubtful. It's likely because Kalinda's still feeling bad about having cheated with a married mad two years ago, and she's still dealing with all the damage that caused.

• Another opportunity for dual layers of meaning or purpose: Peter could have helped Will's team get their client a mistrial just to get back at Childs, but he might have also wanted to help Alicia's firm. Or maybe he wanted to see justice done, who knows.

• Would Peter really have gone to the post office himself to mail the glove? Seems a bit odd, but you never know.

• I've defined a Whatever Character as a character who, thank to various powers, abilities or magical-seeming connections, can provide the lead characters with whatever information, object or ritual they need whenever they need it. They're typically seen on fantasy or sci-fi shows (i.e. Castiel on 'Supernatural'), but Whatever Characters are also employed on dramas (Chloe on '24,' Penelope on 'Criminal Minds'). Given how many shortcuts are taken on the show thanks to Kalinda's magical investigative abilities, is she on the verge of becoming a Whatever Character? Once in a while, 'TGW' depends a little too heavily on Deus ex Kalinda, if you ask me. But Whatever.

• I just want to make sure you're fully aware of this: I love, love, love Alan Cumming on this show. That is all.

Relive some of the highlights from season 2 here:

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Dexter Morgan

What a lame ending with those elevator shots........Of course, if you're slumming on the Lame Networks for anything SEXY.....hahahahahahaha....you picked the WRONG fork in the road.....


GO up against the Big Dogs on HBO- Showtime- PBS Masterpiece- AMC (the BEST programming on TV).....YOU CAN NOT BE SERIOUS !!!!!

.....there is absolutely nothing a lame network can show on a Sunday night ....i would slum to watch.......NOTHING !!!

May 18 2011 at 3:54 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I had forgotten about football season and screwing up dvr settings on Sunday programs on CBS. Not good, not good at all. Never had that problem with Brothers and Sisters on ABC on Sundays.

Back to the show. I agree that it is TV equivalent of legal crack, Mo. Just grins from scene to scene for me this time. And Owen and the kids having dinner with Jackie, giggled out loud. More Eli always more Eli. Love the guy.

I think that there may be some foreshadowing at play with Will's payment of 7900 bucks for the suite. Blake (on behalf of Bond) had some kind of damaging financial hanky panky information on Will. I'm thinking it will be akin to embezzlement, charging personal debts to the firm in sneaky ways. Could well be that the suite went on a card that is supposed to be for business expenses. It will of course come back and bite Alicia, just will.

Alicia drinking with Will now instead of Kalinda, even though Kalinda always encouraged Alicia to follow her attraction to Will to its logical conclusion. I don't think Alicia has a lot of illusions about Will.

I will miss this show during its hiatus. Can't wait for the new stuff.

May 18 2011 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

PLEASE, PLEASE - CBS - DON'T move "The Good Wife" to Sundays at 9 PM! That means the show's timing will be constantly screwed up whenever there is one of those always running overtime athletic events, and it seems those sporting events are ALWAYS on.

May 18 2011 at 10:46 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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