Does an episode that’s only okay cut it in TV Land?
Guest Post by Zach Flock
See, here’s the thing about The Good Wife finale…
It was okay. It was only okay, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.
Also, there are spoilers, so if you’re not into that sort of thing, here’s a link to www.isabevigodadead.com, that website where you can check to see if Abe Vigoda is alive or not (Spoiler alert: He’s not.)
I started watching The Good Wife during its first season, a few episodes late to the party because, based solely on the name and the premise, I was pretty sure it wasn’t for me. That is, I was pretty sure I wasn’t a member of the target demographic, which, I assumed, was middle-aged women. But I gave it a shot anyway, and was quite surprised by what I saw.
The Good Wife managed to combine genres, or perhaps ignore the idea of genres. The producers managed to combine elements of legal dramas, crime procedurals, political thrillers and yes, primetime soaps, into a solidly entertaining – at times, riveting – hour of television. Sure, some episodes were more soapy than others (some of the Alicia/ Will romance). Some of the “ripped-from-the-headlines” stories were a bit clunky (Gabe from The Office as a Snowden-esque NSA analyst). Some stories just didn’t’ go anywhere (Remember Kalinda’s husband? Me neither). Attempts to fictionalize the real world felt forced (ChumHum, anybody?).
But despite these shortcomings, The Good Wife was a consistently good hour of television, due in no small part to the fact that the show was well-made, the characters were compelling, and they managed to surround Juliana Margulies with a cast of some of the best TV and (thanks to the show’s NYC filming location) Broadway actors in the business. Christine Baranski, Chris Noth, Josh Charles, Alan Cumming, Stockard Channing, Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Kristen Chenoweth, Gary Cole, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Carrie Preston, Margo Martindale, Michael Cerveris, Anna Camp, Denis O’Hare, David Hyde Pierce, Mamie Gummer, Maura Tierney, Amanda Peet, T.R. Knight, Matthew Morrison, Pedro Pascal, Rita Wilson, Ana Gasteyer, Christian Borle and F. Murry Abraham come to mind, and I could go on for a few more paragraphs.
But back to the specific topic at hand: The Good Wife finale.
It was okay.
My biggest frustration with this series was also my biggest frustration with the finale. The Good Wife had a pesky habit of spending episodes, if not seasons, building a story up, only to reach its conclusion in a rather unceremonious and unsatisfying manner. A few examples:
Office politics: We’d watch office politics play out in Lockhart-Gardner-Agos-Florrick-Dewey-Cheatem-and-Howe for an entire season, only to be completely undone and largely forgotten in a single episode. I get it – big time law firms are filled with in-fighting and drama, but the law firm shuffle could feel at times like a game of musical chairs in purgatory.
Politics-politics: Remember when Alicia ran for States Attorney? Remember when she lost? Or wait, she won, but resigned? I honestly don’t remember the outcome, except that she was disgraced, but not really. I remember the race. There was some great stuff between her and David Hyde Pierce for much of a season. None of it mattered much as she essentially ended up right back where she started.
More politics-politics: Peter ran for president. In the democratic primary. In the ACTUAL democratic primary, against Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. This intrigued me. How would The Good Wife pull this off, writing a storyline that I guess would have to end with Peter losing, or else at some point splitting from the real campaign into their own fictionalized version where Peter ends up defeating the real candidates or serving as the running mate to the real nominee. Come to think of it, was O’Malley a character on The Good Wife, too? He did about as well as Peter Florrick. In the end, it turns out none of it mattered, he lost, returned to life as governor, and little – maybe nothing – changed.
The problem in all of these examples is the same: as a television viewer, I’m happy to take a journey, wherever it’s going to lead me. But it’s got to lead me somewhere other than in a circle. If we arrive back at the starting point and nothing’s changed, characters haven’t grown, the big picture hasn’t advanced, I’m gonna stand there, scratch my head and wonder why we bothered to take the journey at all.
Crap, I did it again… I meandered right off of the main topic: The Good Wife finale. Give me too much credit and assume I was illustrating my point, taking you on a long journey only to end up back at the beginning.
I was going to give a quick plot summary of the finale, but I’ll opt out and instead focus on my issue with the finale as a whole: It didn’t satisfy.
It was awesome to see Josh Charles back on the show in what first seemed like flashbacks, perhaps clips from other episodes, but what were actually present-day imagined conversations between Alicia and the now-departed Will. A cool idea, but the way it informed Alicia’s decisions made it feel a little deux ex machina.
Peter’s trial was compelling, but not because of the show’s clever way of exploring the law. It was compelling because it was dramatic and, dare I say, soapy. Instead of legal intricacies, we got a courtroom admission of an affair between Diane’s husband and Megan Hilty’s sexy ballistics expert.
Alicia chooses divorce and chooses Jason, because he’s mumbly and smirky, I guess, but by the end of the episode, Jason is M.I.A. Peter resigns because that’s what Peter does best. Diane slaps Alicia because after years of portraying women as strong, capable and smart, I guess the writers thought a good cat fight made for better television.
The finale was a series of rushed, neatly-tied conclusions, some predictable, some uncharacteristic, and some just kind of baffling.
But my biggest complaint is that I wasn’t satisfied. Which begs the question, who the hell am I? Why should I be satisfied? The Good Wife doesn’t owe me anything, and I’m not the arbiter of good television. As a playwright, I don’t write the ending that I think an audience wants, I write the ending that I want my story to have. I write the logical conclusion to the story I’m telling. As a viewer, who the hell am I to expect the show to end MY way? If I want to dictate how a television drama ends, well then I’d better get cracking on my script, hope the pilot gets picked up, and pray that the TV gods let my show survive long enough to get a finale.
You didn’t like the finale of Lost? Shut up. It was great, and no, they weren’t dead the whole time. If you think that, you didn’t understand the finale, or most of the last season.
You hate the ambiguity of The Sopranos fade-to-black? Life is ambiguous. Death is ambiguous. Art is open to interpretation, and the best stories leave you wanting more.
You think How I Met Your Mother’s finale was a trainwreck? It was a stupid show from the start, and the idea that one day I might wake up as Bob Saget terrifies me every time I go to sleep.
Are you bummed that Don Draper wasn’t D.B. Cooper, or that Josh ended up with Donna and not Amy, or that Rachel didn’t get on the plane? Who the hell are YOU?
Are we so entitled as to think that if a television show doesn’t end the way we want, it was bad television? If I preach that we need to respect artists and respect art, shouldn’t that respect be extended to Robert and Michelle King, writers and creators of The Good Wife?
I respect them, but that doesn’t change the facts. The Good Wife finale was okay.
Zach Flock is the artistic director at Dramashop. In addition to directing, writing and acting, his hobbies include watching television, eating cheeseburgers and drinking Diet Coke. Follow him on Twitter.