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7 Years Later, 'Good Wife' Ends As It Began: With Betrayal And Uncertainty

Julianna Margulies plays Alicia Florrick, and Makenzie Vega is her daughter, Grace, on the CBS series <em>The Good Wife.</em>
Jeff Neumann
Julianna Margulies plays Alicia Florrick, and Makenzie Vega is her daughter, Grace, on the CBS series The Good Wife.

For years now, The Good Wife has been the best drama series on broadcast television, but it deserves even more praise than that. From the start, show creators Robert and Michelle King have had to deal with restrictive network standards, inconsistent scheduling, intrusive advertising breaks and a production order of 22 episodes per season — almost twice that of its cable and streaming competition.

Yet, from start to finish, The Good Wife has been rewarding, surprising and delightfully unpredictable. It became one of my favorite TV series to watch --and stayed that way until the end.

The final episode of The Good Wife was well aware of, and full of references to, the show's complicated history. The finale, like the pilot, was all about loyalty, betrayal and uncertainty, and echoes were everywhere.

When the show premiered on CBS in 2009, it was with a closeup shot of two clasping hands. Those hands belonged to Illinois state's attorney Peter Florrick, played by Chris Noth, and his wife, Alicia, played by Julianna Margulies.

They were entering a press conference in which he was about to resign from office in disgrace after having been caught in a sex scandal with a prostitute. Alicia stood by him on stage, numb and silent, but afterward, in the hallway leading from the press conference, she slapped him hard, and literally went off in the opposite direction.

Last night, those images and events were repeated, except it wasn't Peter, this time resigning as governor of Illinois, who received the slap of betrayal. It was Alicia, who was slapped by her mentor and occasional law partner Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski.

Alicia had defended her husband effectively in court, but only by undercutting the reputation of Diane's husband, who was an expert witness. And since both the judge and the prosecuting attorney from that trial were the same ones in Alicia's first courtroom appearance in the series pilot, there was a definite feeling of déjà vu. Except that in the interim, Alicia, like her circumstances, has changed — a lot.

Over the years, Peter and Alicia separated but never divorced. She had more than one significant romance, including one with Will Gardner, the lawyer who hired her. Will appeared to be Alicia's personal happy ending — until he was shot and killed in a stunning Good Wife plot twist.

In this final season, Alicia has come close to committing to another law-firm associate, investigator Jason Crouse. But she's not the same woman she used to be. She made that clear in the show's penultimate episode, when longtime rival attorney Louis Canning, played by Michael J. Fox, presented her with some evidence that might help exonerate her husband — but at a personal cost.

Rather than be crushed by the possibility of her husband's continued infidelity, Alicia mocked the idea by pretending to break down and cry. But only for a few seconds, before dropping the act and smiling coldly, like the steely survivor she's become.

In the finale, Alicia dropped her resolve, at least privately, to reunite once again with her late lover Will, in a series of fantasies in which she discussed their past and her present and future. Josh Charles returned as Will, eventually encouraging her to go start a new life with Jason, after giving her one last hug. An imaginary embrace, but still a sweet one.

The finale provided no sense of closure. Alicia wasn't shown tracking down Jason, much less committing to him, and she almost certainly has lost her partnership at Diane's law firm. But that was one of the strengths of The Good Wife all along, that life kept throwing curves at Alicia: new jobs, new lovers, new crises.

Another strength was how smart the show was about technology, current events and the law, leading to all sorts of fascinating cases about search engines, 3-D printers, NSA surveillance and cellphone usage. And best of all, the show had an outstanding roster of co-stars and recurring guest stars, starting with Alan Cumming as Peter's longtime adviser, Eli, and so many others, including Fox. The Good Wife managed to be one of TV's best series for its entire run — and not just on broadcast TV.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.

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