There has never been a show quite like The Good Wife, and there likely never will be again. As it progressed, the series became more and more difficult to define. It’s a character drama, sure. But it doesn’t go light on the legal proceedings or politics. The weekly cases didn’t just serve the purpose of character development or plot advancement; they were about the issues, too. It’s more serialized and narratively complex than the average legal procedural but fizzier than most prestige dramas. It doesn’t really look like most network dramas, and yet it doesn’t resemble cable either. The Good Wife has been immensely fun, distinguishing it from most of the Serious Dramas that dominate the television landscape right now. The Good Wife could be really smart, really pleasurable, and really thrilling all at once. If anything, its propensity for fun while still delving into darkness is really what set it apart. Its “End,” however, is quite dour. Co-creators Robert and Michelle King, who penned the episode, take weird but bold liberties with the series finale, which is very on-the-nose when it comes to its parallelism to the series’s pilot.

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The Good Wife ends literally the same way it begins, but with Alicia in a new position. Peter once again asks her to be the good wife and stand by his side as he announces that he’s taking the plea deal in the trial that has lasted a century and never once really made much sense. She obliges. They walk to the press podium together, the camera fixating in dramatic fashion on their interlocked, wedding-ringed hands. But at the last second during the press conference, she walks away. Peter goes to grab her hand again, but she’s gone, chasing after a shadow she believes to be Jason. Only, it isn’t Jason. Alicia ends up chasing after nothing, and then Diane Lockhart shows up to slap her across the face. It directly mirrors the moment from the pilot when Alicia slaps Peter and decides to change her life. Julianna Margulies is at the top of her game throughout the episode, but her performance particularly resonates in those seconds following the slap, when Alicia realizes what the finale really tries to drive him: In her efforts to distance herself from Peter, she has become more like him.

The Kings released an explainer video following the finale in which they talk about Alicia’s arc and the direction they decided to go in the end. “The victim becomes the victimizer,” Michelle says. “The story of Alicia is a bit of a tragedy,” Robert adds. No doubt, they ultimately accomplish exactly what they were going for, but the execution is very mechanical and lacks some of that crackling, visceral energy that The Good Wife’s big character moments usually possess.

There’s a lot of plot in “End.” Specifically, Peter’s trial keeps rearing its ugly, overly complicated head. I have never fully understood all the specifics of the Peter trial, which would maybe be fine if the emotional stakes made up for the lack of legal clarity, but the second half of season seven relied a little too much on the assumption that viewers would care what happens to Peter. Even Alicia is pretty fed up by the end, saying she can’t remember why she cares anymore. Diane reminds her she cares because he’s her client. But regardless of Alicia’s growing sense of emotional detachment from the trial, the episode assumes there’s suspense to the verdict. But does anyone really care whether Peter goes to prison or not? I mean, besides Grace Florrick, who apparently has decided she couldn’t possibly go to college if her father faces jail time. Whether Peter’s guilty or not doesn’t even end up being a concern of the finale at all, which ultimately seems like such a cop-out move. There should be way more emotional stakes to the trial’s outcome and to whether Peter’s even telling the truth. Throughout “End,” various characters remark on how unusual the trial is, almost like they’re in on the joke. This trial is a goddamn mess. And the self-awareness doesn’t make it any less sloppy. Yes, it’s an unusual case, Judge Cuesta. Why did the Kings hinge the show’s final act on a case that lacks the usual weight and urgency of the show’s best cases? The show has persistently asked fascinating—and often very opinionated—questions in its cases, but nothing about the meticulous details of Peter’s trial even hints at anything meaningful or worthy of much thought.

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Look, I’m not of the belief that series finales should feel wholly satisfying. Part of me takes pleasure in the Kings’ devilish ploy to deliver a series finale that doesn’t play into any of the expectations series finales are often held to. They reject fanservice entirely, opting for a downright dismal and isolating finale. Alicia ends up with nothing. Nothing. She doesn’t have a marriage, a job, a relationship. She hasn’t had a real friend since Kalinda Sharma was written into oblivion. She admitted many episodes ago that she doesn’t even really like her kids. “End” brings no catharsis, no resolution. It’s certainly not like any series finale I’ve ever seen on network television. And I think in a vacuum, that boldness might carry more weight. But The Good Wife doesn’t come to its pointedly anticlimactic, cynical ending in a way that’s particularly well developed or grounded. Season seven has been as messy, unusual, and unfocused as Connor Fox’s case against Peter Florrick. And as a result, its conclusion doesn’t have much to stand on.

So many of season seven’s storylines ultimately went nowhere. Season six, after all, ended with a question that promised excitement but quickly deflated into nothing. Louis Canning’s “wanna partner?” was a merely a stunt, and so many of the “twists” of season seven followed suit. The all-female firm Diane suddenly became obsessed with in the last stretch of the series? It’s pretty much forgotten entirely in the “End.” The diversity hiring storyline brought in by Monica was, as LaToya Ferguson noted when she filled in on coverage of “KSR,” D.O.A. Cary Agos may as well have not existed this season. Ironically, he’s really the only character who seems to have found closure in the series finale: He’s teaching in law school, and Alicia remarks that it’s a perfect fit for him. “It’s nice when people find their purpose,” Jason observes.

Overall, the plotting in season seven—and in most of season six—has been incredibly uneven, sucking so much of the vitality and urgency out of the show. “End” tries to do too much all at once, and as a result, there’s very little time for the story to really live in its emotional beats. Alicia does process what it all means with the arrival of Will Gardner’s ghost, but those fantasy moments sort of undercut Alicia and all the character growth she has gone through since Will’s death. Make no mistake: I open-mouth gasped when Josh Charles first appears in the episode, even though I knew it was coming. His presence awoke all the feelings I had for these two and their relationship back in the day, and even the fact that it was all scored by the sappy 2006 Regina Spektor song “Better” couldn’t bring me down. For a moment, ghost Will harkened back to the sexy, fun, unapologetically soapy thrills that were once an essential part of The Good Wife’s voice. Alicia’s fantasies have shades of “The Decision Tree,” one of the best episodes of the series. But “The Decision Tree” roots its fantasies in very carefully crafted character work. The fantasies in “End” have a hollowness to them. It’s too much, too late. The Kings are finally giving Alicia’s involvement in Peter’s trial some emotional weight, but they do so at the very last minute and by confusingly bringing back the dead love of Alicia’s life. The dream sequences are simultaneously some of my favorite moments of the episode—especially since they’re the only parts that aren’t so wrapped up in the plot of it all—and some of the most frustrating ones. Their scenes together served as a strong reminder of just how important their dynamic was to the show’s emotional narrative. Even though some of the episodes that immediately followed his death are series highlights, the writers really struggled to rebuild that same type of long-term emotional storytelling. His departure left a gap that was never fully filled again.

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Series finales should, above all else, embody the show’s essence. And even though “End” is far from a perfect finale—or even a perfect episode—I think it at the very least accomplishes that. For all the fun the show often has, it has never had a particularly rosy outlook on life or relationships. Power is poisonous on the show, and I think in some ways, it has done a better job exploring that idea than some more starkly grim series like Breaking Bad. Since the beginning, the show has been about corruption, and “End” is, too. It has also always been a show about the convergence of professional and personal lives and how relationship dynamics motivate people. That’s all on display in “End,” too. Alicia and Diane both find themselves blurring personal and professional lines when Alicia asks Diane to essentially throw Kurt—who’s both Diane’s husband and an expert witness—under the bus in order to serve their client… who is also Alicia’s husband. Diane rejects undermining Kurt on the grounds that it isn’t smart trial strategy, and whether she really believes that or not doesn’t really matter. Alicia goes behind her back and has Lucca question Kurt in trial. Christine Baranski’s performance in that tense and piercing scene only underscores how absurd it is that she has never won an Emmy for her seven seasons of impeccable work on this show. Diane Lockhart has, while not quite to the same extent as Cary, been shafted this season. The focus on her marriage in the show’s final stretch has been the only compelling storyline she has really gotten all season, and it unfortunately just seemed too rushed. Again, it all comes down to messy plotting.

If I haven’t made it perfectly clear by now, The Good Wife series finale is full of contradictions. It is technically an emotional episode. Seeing Will and Alicia together again shot me right through the heart. But there’s a weird disconnect between the story and Alicia. The Kings went for a dark, troubling ending, and they most certainly achieve that. But along the way, they seem to have lost a strong grasp on the protagonist and who she is. I understand fully what they’re going for with the cyclical nature of her arc, but the execution is so wobbly and unsubtle. Alicia becoming Peter doesn’t pack nearly as much of a punch—or a slap, rather—as they seem to think it does. It’s just hard to really accept this finale for what it is given how askew the whole season has been. Character and relationship development became shoddy, and the main characters seemed more distant from each other than ever. So yes, it follows that the finale would be one steeped in alienation. But the finale’s sense of loneliness doesn’t really shed light on or give meaning to the whole season’s lack of connective tissue.

The Kings crafted a daring finale—there’s no doubt about that. It ends on an inhale and makes a point to reject closure, happy endings, catharsis. The Good Wife has always taken incredible risks, refusing to be boxed in by the conventions of its genre or premise. It’s still true to that in the end, but it isn’t wholly true to its legacy of richly emotional and dynamic character drama. “End” has to slog through too much story to really let its characters feel the full ramifications of their actions. It does dip into Alicia’s head for those dream sequences, but those get pretty diluted by the episode’s structure, which is so fixated on this trial and on pushing Alicia toward that full-circle slap. “End” is poignant. It’s unnerving, and it’s audacious. But it can’t quite correct all the season’s missteps, and that leaves it in a strange stasis.

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Stray observations

  • I know it might not seem like it based on the grades I gave out in my tenure on the Good Wife beat, but I love this show a whole lot, and I’m already sad about its departure. I’m pretty bitter that I took over TV Club coverage of the show at a moment when things really started to go downhill, and I apologize for constantly bringing up how perfect season five was. But I’ve loved writing about this show every week, even at its low points. It was time for it to go, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss it every Sunday night for the rest of my life. Kalinda Sharma is one of the most important fictional characters to me, and I’ve been writing about the show since very early on in my writing career. I’m verklempt, y’all.
  • Sutton Foster guest stars! That’s something!
  • Alicia’s sarcastic demure smile is everything.
  • This finale needed more wine.
  • The slap is good. I’m not quite sure the writers wholly earned that moment, but it’s a good slap nonetheless.
  • I half expected the opening credits sequence to not even happen until 40 minutes in.
  • In honor of Judge Patrice Lessner (who is not in this episode but who will always hold a place in my heart), I ask that you end all comments on this review with “in my opinion.”
  • Cush Jumbo was a fantastic addition to the cast this season, and she’s magnetic on screen. But the writers never really did figure out what to do with her, so she has spent the latter parts of this season shipping the hell out of Jason and Alicia… a weird choice.
  • I would like to propose a fourth scenario for Alicia’s coming-home-from-work fantasy: Kalinda with two shots of tequila instead of the two glasses of wine Peter, Will, and Jason all bear. Picture it. You’re welcome.

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