Sunday, May 8, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Good WIfe' - Alicia Stands By Peter as Her World Crumbles Around Her in 'End'

CBS' The Good Wife - Episode 7.22 "End"

The show reaches its dramatic conclusion in the series finale.

The series finale of The Good Wife could mark the end of an era for broadcast television. This drama has long been heralded as the best show that produces 22 episodes a season. That business model has slowly been disintegrating. Cable shows with limited episode orders of 10, 12 or 13 episodes per season have dominated the critical and awards communities. The broadcast networks still make a profit with the number of episodes its veteran shows churn out each year. But they are no longer the best form to tell creative stories in this medium. The focus has changed. And yet, The Good Wife confidently produced over 150 episodes across seven seasons. That's very impressive. It has changed so much over the course of these years. But it has always been bold with its reinvention of the formula.

The Good Wife has also had tremendous personal value to me as a critic. Lost was the first TV show I completely fell in love with. But The Good Wife helped me decide to work as a critic. Over the years, the show has helped me find my voice as a writer of all things TV. For that, I am incredibly grateful. This show has produced so many great moments that I have loved talking about. It was never satisfied with keeping things as the status quo. It enjoyed changing up its formula in order to tell captivating stories with its characters. Sure, not all of those experiments worked. The show has had a number of problems over its run - especially during these last few seasons. But it has also had so much greatness. It's a show that rightfully won a number of Emmys in a plethora of categories. I will miss it dearly.

With all of that being said though, "End" is a complete and total mess that values plot over meaningful character stories. The show has struggled this season with what to do with its characters. It had the potential to reset things a little bit with the additions of Lucca and Jason in Alicia's life. It no longer had to be bogged down with the Kalinda conflict. But this final story arc has just not been that great to watch. The narrative spine of the show is the evolution of Alicia Florrick. She is no longer the housewife stunned when her politician husband is involved in a sex scandal. She has become the active part of her own story. She has grown so much over the course of these seven seasons. And yet, the show just really didn't know how to end Alicia's story. The journey to this point has been very captivating. But this specific ending is very lackluster. It exists solely to provide symmetry in the lives of these characters. And yet, it doesn't actively explore what that means all of these years later.

It's easy to understand everything the show was trying to do with this final story arc. Peter was once again at the center of a scandal and facing jail time. Alicia once again had to decide if she was going to be the "good wife" and stand by her husband during this trying time. She has changed so much since she first stood by his side as he asked for her continued support. But placing so much of the story emphasis on Peter during this final story was a massive mistake. That's largely because I stopped caring about Peter a long time ago - probably at the start of the third season. He served as the show's entry point into politics. Eli was his longtime companion and was consistently amusing through his relationship with Alicia. But the story of Alicia and Peter had its natural conclusion a long time ago and the show had to keep shoehorning it in until the very end. There's no easy explanation for why Alicia chose to stay married to him all this time. She has been independent for so long. And yet, she's also not sure why now is the appropriate time to divorce either. It's all too complicated without a whole lot of purpose underneath it all. Alicia has always been a character who only let the audience see what she wanted us to see. But here, her internal conflict is too caught up in the men in her life which is just so hard to care about.

This ending shows that Alicia's relationship with Will was always what the show was suppose to be about. He was her true love. Without him, she has made countless mistakes that caused nothing but pain for her, her friends and her family. She has taken control over her own life. She's dealt with all of life's challenges in stride. But she has still felt detached from the people around her. She can have a bright future ahead of her in the public eye. But from a personal standpoint, it seems like her destiny was to be with Will. With him no longer alive, her existence is bleak and filled with loneliness. The show doesn't shy away from that fact in this series finale either. That's a good thing. It would be so problematic to remind the audience of Alicia's connection with Will only to then show her end up with someone else. That's especially true considering her two options were Peter - who is a terrible human being - and Jason - who is too opaque a character to imagine her having anything real with. Will meant everything to Alicia. He's the one who is able to comfort her during this difficult time with Peter - via Alicia dreaming of him. He's the one who gets her to see her life for what it truly is. But it's also incredibly fitting that she ends this finale all alone. Jason was good for getting her to release her self sexually. But the show's attempts to develop that further into a deep and meaningful love story was so awkward and forced. And again, Peter should not be the one Alicia settles for. He's just too bad of a person for her to deserve.

And yet, Alicia essentially burns down everything in her life in order to support Peter during this latest claim of corruption. His trial has been so boring and elongated over this final stretch of the season. Who really cares what happens to Peter? Again, the symmetry of the storyline is powerful and significant. But the human connection between the characters has felt off - and for a long time as well. None of the characters felt like complex human beings anymore. They felt like plot points meant to serve their purpose and leave so the story can move on to the next one. That's such a disappointing revelation in this final episode. So much of the running time centers on one last ditch effort to save Peter. The penultimate episode suggested this story was over only for that not to be the case at all. Peter and Alicia were continuing to fight until the very last second of the series. In the process, they may have ruined everything that matters to them throughout the entire series. That's a weird moment to end on. The show basically disregards Diane having an all-female firm with a partner she can respect. That happens just so Diane can slap Alicia after the press conference - just like Alicia did to Peter in the pilot. It's just so scattered with the reasoning and rushed in the execution. So, the effort is understandable but the final product is such a total mess.

Again, I love The Good Wife so much. It is going to be near and dear to my heart for a long time. It has had its ups and downs over the years. But it has always been a compelling viewing experience. This finale does hurt its legacy a little bit. The creative team were excited by the potential of this final story arc. And yet, the execution just didn't work at all. It was difficult to care about the characters and what they did. It is significant that Alicia ends the series hurting others when she started the series as the one being hurt. That's a subtle and nuanced character journey. But the plot mechanics got in the way of that being an effective ending. I'll still have much admiration for the show moving forward. But this ending makes it clear that the show probably stayed on the air for too long. That's a shame even though a number of individual moments in every season made it clear that The Good Wife was a great series.

Some more thoughts:
  • "End" was written by Robert King & Michelle King and directed by Robert King.
  • The thing that really kept Peter's trial from being interesting was the ambiguity over whether or not he did it. It would have been so much more compelling if Alicia and Diane were fighting on his behalf knowing the truth about the matter. Peter declaring his innocence over and over again was really lackluster. Again, who cares?
  • Despite burning that bridge with Diane by destroying Kurt on the stand and Jason running away, Alicia has a bright future ahead of her. She still has her friendship with Lucca - which ultimately felt like a plot device more than a genuine bond. Plus, she has a political future once more thanks to Eli.
  • For the entire series, the show has struggled with what to do with Cary. His importance fluctuated on a weekly basis. And yet, it's still nice knowing that he landed on his feet after leaving the firm and is now a professor to law students. Also, he has never looked hotter than when he was in that buttoned down collared shirt.
  • Again, the Diane story here is problematic because most of it is filtered through Alicia without a full understanding of her thought process. But damn, Christine Baranski is fantastic with all of it. That look on her face as Lucca starts questioning Kurt and that final slap were so powerful and heartbreaking.
  • Once again, how in the world did this show never do a musical episode? It pulled talents from Broadway up until the very end. Baranski, Matthew Morrison, Megan Hilty and Sutton Foster are all in the same courtroom here.
  • It was so nice and meaningful that Josh Charles came back as ghost Will. Sure, it was manipulative and highlighted just how significant that relationship was to the show. But it was still emotional nevertheless.
  • Endings are really tough. After spending so many years with these characters, there is such a high responsibility to end things right and with enough closure. It's a very tricky and delicate thing to do. Many great shows have lackluster endings. It's just disappointing that The Good Wife will join that list.