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The Good Wife: “The Deconstruction”

Illustration for article titled The Good Wife: “The Deconstruction”
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With all its drama and twists, tonight’s episode of The Good Wife really feels like a season finale. There are two mid-episode smashes to black, and strictly within the context of “The Deconstruction,” they’re earned. The first comes after Alicia has her press conference announcing that she has withdrawn herself from the State’s Attorney office. After, when they’re alone in the hallway, a distraught Alicia asks Peter what she’s supposed to do now. The scene cuts to black before we shift over to Diane and Cary. It happens again near the end of the episode when Kalinda leaves Alicia’s apartment and, presumably, the show.

“The Deconstruction” doesn’t spend much time with its episodic case—which deals with minimum sentencing—but rather spends much needed time with the season’s more serialized arcs, especially the damaged relationships between Diane, Cary, and Alicia. It’s an emotional episode from start to finish, tapping into the rich drama that makes The Good Wife so watchable in the first place. But zoom out even the tiniest bit, and it becomes clear that the episode’s major emotional beats stand on very thin foundation.


Is “The Deconstruction,” a gripping episode of television that plays to a lot of The Good Wife’s strengths? Yes. It’s fast-paced and constructs compelling conflict that pushes the narrative forward. But it’s hard to ignore some of the season’s missteps when they so greatly inform what’s going on here. Alicia’s reaction to giving up the State’s Attorney seat would mean more if we ever had a clear sense of why she was running. For a show that’s usually so in tune with its protagonist’s desires, The Good Wife painted Alicia’s motivations in the neverending State’s Attorney race arc in broad strokes.

But while her reaction to the withdrawal isn’t all that convincing, “The Deconstruction” still works as a critical turning point for Alicia by pushing her out of the law firm for good and without any viable backup plan. Miscommunications lead every character in this episode to make the wrong choices. Alicia becomes convinced that Diane and Cary are trying to push her out so, with the encouragement of Peter, she decides to start her own firm solo. But when David Lee catches her courting clients, he springs into action to try and stop her. Everyone wanted the same thing in the first place: for Alicia to return to the firm, but everyone is also paranoid to a fault.

And they have good reason to be. Not too long ago, Cary and Alicia started their own firm on the sly. “The Deconstruction” shows the long-term effects “Hitting The Fan” has on these characters, and the paranoia throughout the episode, unlike some of the other emotions at play, is rooted in something very real. The scene between Diane and Alicia, where both are so convinced that they are right and the other is wrong, is the best acted scene in a very well acted episode, with Christine Baranski and Julianna Margulies playing both characters in their fiercest survival modes.

Even though the miscommunications eventually get worked out, Alicia still finds herself jobless and without purpose at episode’s end. Alicia so often defines herself by the work that she does, and now she doesn’t have that at all. Her life is just one big question mark, and the character’s confusion and distress makes much more sense when it comes to this true loss of self versus when it was just in response to having to give up the State’s Attorney seat. Alicia Florrick now has a chance to reset, and the show a chance to do the same, which is definitely needed after the narrative murkiness and inconsistently of season six’s back half.


Peter doesn’t really have his own storylines going on this week, but the writers revisit the Florrick marriage very subtly throughout the episode, with a level of character work that recent episodes haven’t quite had the time to do. This is the way I usually enjoy Peter the most. It’s often hard to care about his own political ongoings, but his marriage with Alicia remains one of the show’s many nuanced, complex relationships. Peter often provides emotional support for Alicia, and he’s seen doing that here as she deals with the withdrawal. The opening scene follows them, hand-in-hand, as they walk to the podium, and the camera focuses again on their clasped hands when the press conference ends. There’s a sense that he’s very genuinely trying to support her through the whole thing. But the thing about Peter is that even when he’s being Alicia’s cheerleader, he still brings out a bad side of her. In fact, it doesn’t just go one way: They tend to bring out the worst in each other. Peter really pushes her to start her own firm, and even though it comes from a good place, it sends Alicia down the path that almost permanently damages her relationships with Diane and Cary…all because no one can be honest with one another.

In fact, if it weren’t for Kalinda, the record would never have been set straight. But Kalinda’s role in this episode is the most glaring example of how the episode’s events don’t really reflect the character work that has been done all season. Or rather, the character work that hasn’t been done. The writers have dragged out Kalinda’s departure, and in the process, they’ve isolated her from the rest of the main cast, writing her into stories that don’t have much weight and using her mostly as a plot device or a superhero who will randomly pop up to save a case at the last minute. In “The Deconstruction,” she finally finds herself in over her head with Bishop, after more miscommunications on Cary’s part lead to him ruining her otherwise well constructed plan to get evidence against Bishop to Geneva Pine without putting herself at risk.


Cary cares too much about Kalinda, and that blind love makes him act like an idiot when he should have known that Kalinda doesn’t need any hero. Matt Czuchry and Archie Panjabi do their best to sell the characters’ final farewell, but it’s all pretty emotionally empty when their relationship hasn’t been developed for at least half a season. For a while, Cary was the only main character Kalinda was getting a lot of screen time with, but even that relationship arc, which was often inconsistent, started to disappear as the writers prepped the character to leave.

But nothing is more stunted than Kalinda and Alicia’s goodbye, which isn’t even a real goodbye by any means. Kalinda, realizing she needs to run, goes to Alicia’s apartment, but only Grace is home. What follows is a sequence full of heavy-handed emotional cues, with Kalinda walking through Alicia’s apartment, tearing up as she looks at old pictures. Ultimately, she just leaves a note, which we never see, but it moves Alicia to instant tears. And yet, there is no macro foundation for such a powerful emotional reaction from Alicia. There was several seasons ago, but not anymore.


Ever since the gulf between Alicia and Kalinda widened, rumors have flown around that the on-screen rift reflects a behind-the-scenes rift between Margulies and Archie Panjabi. So either the rumors, or some variation of them, are true or the writers just have a massive blind spot when it comes to writing Kalinda and Alicia’s relationship. We know the latter can’t really be true, because there was a time early on in the series when their relationship was one of the best written, though subtle, parts of the show. There was almost an unfulfilled romance between the two in how they spoke about each other and interacted.

Something happened off screen, and it damaged the narrative. As a critic, it’s weird to comment at all on the possibility of behind-the-scenes drama, especially when there’s no way to confirm either way. But the fact of the matter is that, as of tonight, Margulies and Panjabi haven’t appeared in a scene together in 50 episodes. Their interactions have been limited to phone calls and other scenarios—like tonight’s pandering flashback to Kalinda taking a photo of Alicia—that don’t require Margulies and Panjabi to be in the same room. I don’t care what the reasoning is; it doesn’t ultimately matter. What matters is that the writers got stuck in a corner when it came to Kalinda, and as a result, her exit doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it should.


Maybe we haven’t seen the last of Kalinda Sharma. Ted Humphrey, who has been an executive producer on the show but makes his Good Wife directorial debut with this episode, hinted while live-tweeting that it’s not necessarily the end. There are two episodes left for the season, and knowing how these writers like to leave viewers before the summer break, season six will likely go out with a bang. It’s very possible Kalinda will factor in somehow.

Plus, Kalinda’s exit here is almost too on-the-nose. She turns to the camera and literally says “goodbye,” the door closes, and we cut to black. Even in the very dramatic aftermath of Will Gardner’s departure, the show has never broken the fourth wall quite this abruptly, so something about it feels like the writers are misleading us a bit. But I do think the finality of the apartment scene signals that it was intended to be, if not necessarily Kalinda’s goodbye to the show, at least Kalinda’s goodbye to Alicia. It’s an anticlimactic farewell that’s framed as a climactic one, and that awkwardness unfortunately overshadows the emotional impact of the scene.


“I wanted to talk to her in person,” Kalinda says. Yeah, we all wanted that.

Stray observations:

  • I knew Kalinda would never make the rookie mistake of improperly ejecting a USB without good reason.
  • Colin Sweeney, naturally, is the only client who would follow Alicia to the end of the world and back.
  • Cary takes the baseball metaphor a little too far. Settle down, Cary. You’re not Will.
  • If this was the last time we’ll see Kalinda, I can’t believe Grace Florrick of all people is the last character to see her.
  • The minimum sentencing subplot doesn’t really go anywhere, but it does bring Linda Lavin back, and that’s always a good thing.
  • The flashback used when Kalinda is reminiscing in Alicia’s apartment only adds to the awkwardness, as it also doesn’t have them in a shot together. Look, I know the two can’t share the screen anymore for whatever reason, but couldn’t they have used an old scene that has the two of them in the same shot as the flashback? Preferably a shot of them taking shots?!
  • The fake smiles flashed by Diane, Cary, David, and Alicia as they all secretly stab each other in the back were priceless.
  • Even though I have a few issues with the way the specific emotions of this episode are written, Margulies acts the hell out of every single one of them.

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