The Good Wife is getting quite on-the-nose with this whole final-season thing. In tonight’s “Verdict,” a crew of workmen arrive to literally tear apart the set—ahem, the firm. Apparently, they got their work orders mixed up and erroneously destroyed the conference room. The overt symbolism probably wouldn’t bother me as much if it weren’t so unbelievable that such a big mistake could be made at one of Chicago’s top law firms. But I suppose the penultimate episode of the series isn’t the right time to be so nitpicky. In a way, I’ve loved the final stretch of The Good Wife’s sense of self-awareness. It fits the overall tone of the series, which has always strived to be on top of current events and real-life political climates. Several of the best episodic storylines on the show have winked at real-life cases. Now, The Good Wife is winking at another piece of reality: its own end.

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“I’m exhausted,” Alicia says in tonight’s episode, and it’s not exactly certain what she’s talking about. Is it just Peter’s trial that’s wearing her out, or is it…everything? The Good Wife’s penultimate episode revolves almost entirely around Peter and his trial. Alicia is weirdly just a side player in it all, staring at the back of his head in court, reaching for his hand merely for the sake of optics. It’s a cyclical story that calls back to the series’s beginning. But it’s hard not to feel as exhausted as Alicia does about the show once again asking all the same questions about Peter. Is he guilty? Is he lying? Do we even care anymore? The evidence against him at this point is pretty damning, but Peter is rather firmly maintaining that he only micromanaged the case because he was trying to be a fair and just State’s Attorney. Peter tries to convince the jury he’s innocent in an impassioned speech, that he isn’t an unequivocally bad guy just because he did bad things in the past. The show seems to be trying to convince viewers of the same thing.

The episode does attempt to keep things grounded in Alicia’s headspace. The opening shot focuses on her in court, as Connor Fox drones on with his opening remarks. She isn’t able to actually argue in court, for obvious reasons, but she’s definitely a part of the trial strategy from the sidelines, and her back alley meetings with Canning keep her one step ahead of the opposition. But having so much of this episode fixate on the nitty gritty of Peter’s trial just takes a lot of the emotional weight out of the episode. The whole case against Peter has become so redundant, and the sudden Geneva Pine twist lacks any real narrative substance. Even if there’s no validity to the affair accusations (and I don’t believe there is), it’s such an odd way to throw Geneva Pine into the mix.

Let’s break down the fourth conference wall for a second here to talk about the strange merging of Alicia Florrick and Julianna Margulies that happens in “Verdict.” It’s hard not to notice the parallels between the character and her real-life portrayer, who are both, well, exhausted by their The Good Wife lives. In an interview on the final season with the New York Times, Margulies said there is “no amount of money in the world” that would convince her to take on a network role again. She’s open to cable, but the 22-episode world of network television is simply too much, and she’s over it. Alicia embodies that same no-fucks-given attitude in “Verdict,” which leads to some genuinely funny moments. One of the episode’s highlights is when Lewis Canning tells Alicia about Peter’s alleged affair with Geneva Pine and hands over signed affidavits from her coworkers as confirmation. Alicia takes the affidavits and doesn’t flinch, which surprises Canning, so to appease him, she fakes crocodile tears and sarcastically says “I thought my husband no longer cheated!” Yep, Alicia Florrick is thoroughly over it. And Canning speaks for us all when he replies: “God, I love you.”

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But overall, the writers are really struggling to figure out exactly how to end Alicia’s arc. They’re too busy wrapping up other parts of the story to focus in on the good wife herself. The writers have often struggled when they’re boxed in by certain limitations, an issue made most clear in the handling of Archie Panjabi’s exit on the show. The show works much better with more open-ended stories. As the finale closes in, the writers are rushing to give Alicia the exit she deserves, but maybe that’s the wrong way of going about things. Maybe the writers are trying too hard to write around a finale.

The Good Wife is on a path toward a cynical finale. Diane’s plans for a women-led firm are threatened by David Lee’s ego. Her spontaneous expansion is thwarted by the removal of a load-bearing wall. Any flicker of hope for change in “Verdict” is quite quickly extinguished. Even Diane’s once-dandy marriage gets derailed when she asks Kurt to compromise his ethics on the stand in order to help her case. Alicia thanks Cary for telling the truth, and he practically spits in her face. Relationships play a major role in the episode’s dramatic beats, but a lot of the relationship dynamics in the episode also feel off. The characterization of Peter and Alicia here is right on target, but Cary’s motivations are again hazy. He says he has reason to hate the Florricks, but hadn’t he and Alicia reconciled before he quit? Cary has been all over the place this season, so it’s hard to keep track, but his presence in this episode doesn’t really add anything or seem to build on strong character work from the past. And then there’s Jason and Alicia’s relationship, which ends up being the weakest focal point of the episode.

I’m not exactly sure when Alicia’s romance with Jason went from fun, sexy fling to very serious part of the story, but Lucca’s conversation with Jason in “Verdict” is just completely out of place. Individual scenes between Jason and Alicia have been really great, especially when it comes to their weekend sexcations. But it’s almost like the writers are panicking about exactly how to end Alicia’s arc so they’ve just shoehorned in a last-minute love story. Alicia and Jason’s sexual tension was undeniable when the character was first introduced, but the “you’re falling for her” story Lucca’s pushing just doesn’t have any ground to stand on. Plus, why is Lucca the one pushing it in the first place? Her role in this penultimate episode only confirms my feeling that Lucca has been little more than a plot device all season, acting merely as a sounding board for other characters, telling them what they need to here for the sake of moving the story forward. It’s weird how invested she is in Jason and Alicia’s relationship, especially since all the relationship development between Alicia and Lucca was so hasty and quickly dropped.

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“Verdict” is by no means a bad episode. It quite simply suffers from a lot of the season’s earlier missteps. The back half of this season has focused so much on Peter’s trial, and that was just the writers’ way of involving as many characters as possible while still exploring the show’s central themes. On paper, that sounds like an ideal way to wind things down, but it just hasn’t been working out. Sure, the plot involves a lot of characters, but a lot of them feel purely like players and not like actual stakeholders in the story. Very few of the characters outside of Alicia and Peter seem fully realized at this point. The actors are still giving incredible performances, which mostly hides the fact that character development has fallen to the wayside. Christine Baranski mesmerizes during Diane’s quiet, desperate apology to Kurt. And individual scenes in the episode are quite strong, too, especially those between Peter and Alicia. But in its final hours, The Good Wife isn’t hitting with nearly the same force it did at the height of its run—back in season five, when all the conflict was so firmly rooted in well developed, grounded relationship writing and when characters mattered more than plot.

Stray observations

  • Next week, The Good Wife says goodbye for good. Based on how most of these final episodes have been going, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a moment in the finale where all the characters turn to look directly at the camera and say farewell.
  • I know I have been very hard on this show recently, but I want to make it clear that I will miss it dearly. It was once my favorite show on television, and I hold it to a very high standard, because I think it often transcended what people expect from a legal procedural on network television. I think it ultimately suffered the drawbacks of network television, lasting way too longer than it should have. And yet, I’m not quite ready to see it go.
  • My heart skipped a beat when Fox said “surprise witness,” and I actually let myself believe that Kalinda could show her face again on this show. How foolish I was. Even if Kalinda did return, I’m guessing The Good Wife’s producers would have to use a hologram of Archie Panjabi. But no, everyone seems pretty content with pretending Kalinda never existed. Her name is noticeably absent from the affair list Alicia rattles off to Peter. Granted, Johnny was also absent from the one he spits back at her. But hey, I like to forget about Johnny, too.
  • I actually loved that scene of Alicia preparing Peter to take the stand. It was a very on-the-nose manifestation of the show’s blurring of professional and personal boundaries—Peter even comments on the confusion—but it works, especially because Chris Noth and Margulies act the hell out of it. Margulies’s line reading of “I’m not on trial, buddy” is pure fire.
  • In another weird but ultimately effective meta moment, Peter admits that he never liked wine. He only pretended to be into it because Alicia was, but it grew on him. Red wine is to The Good Wife as bourbon is to Justified. Or as vodka is to How To Get Away With Murder. Or as…red wine is to Scandal. Any viewers who may have swayed in Peter’s favor as a result of his courtroom speech definitely turned on him again after that one.
  • Lockhart Florrick hires an eccentric designer to help bring their office into the 21st century. It’s not a staircase that he wants to build to the 29th floor; it’s a “stair presentation.”
  • David Lee was fine with Diane’s plans when it was convenient to the story for him to be fine with it, but now it’s more convenient for the story if he’s not fine with it, so he has flipped to being not fine with it.

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