The Clare Spark Blog

March 24, 2014

“The Good Wife” and bad timing

Josh Charles/Will Gardner

Josh Charles/Will Gardner

SPOILER ALERT. I have been thinking of writing something about The Good Wife (a television series written by Robert and Michelle King) for some time, but not until I saw the widespread coverage of the “bombshell” last episode (March23 2014), did I feel that I had enough for a blog. To be brief, the lead female character’s lover is shot by his adolescent client, he dies, and users of social media went wild with grief and shock.

See for instance this comment from Denver: http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/good-wife-dramatics-your-honor-202545. What is notable is this critic’s recognition that lawyers (and the legal system) are not in search of truth, virtue, or honor, but are about “winning and losing.” I would add that the show depicts a bureaucratic system where “procedure” and thinking fast on your feet are everything. The amorality or immorality of the show are rarely noted by journalists.

As for the official publicity from CBS, the excuse for the upsetting dénouement is simple: Josh Charles (the actor who plays Will Gardner) wanted to leave the show after his contract was up, and “tragedy,” “bad timing” and “sudden death” mark all of our lives in this [vale of tears]. Blogs in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post took this public relations line and swallowed it without a murmur. Still I wonder 1. Contracts run out all the time, which gives the actor an excuse to renegotiate its terms. Did the producers balk? and 2. Near the beginning of the series Julianna Margulies was interviewed on CBS and stated that focus groups were split on whether “Alicia” should stay with her cheating husband (who would become the governor of Illinois in recent episodes), or leave him for the love of her life (Will Gardner) as her mother and brother had hoped.

Here comes the feminist part (and I don’t mean Delia Ephron’s broken-hearted lament in the New York Times). One reason I and other educated women like the show may be that it depicts able professional women whose sex drives do not quit during their middle age. And more, they must face the same moral dilemmas as men do, hence the irony and ambiguity of the title: what does it mean to be a good wife nowadays? And can anyone be “good” in corrupt Chicago, a corruption that is mostly hidden by the writers to keep the focus on sex, power, and the machinations of politicians to get elected? A bit of class warfare even creeps in, as the money-mad senior partners do not treat the exploited associates well, leading Alicia and “Cary” to leave the firm, creating ill will with their former employers. In future episodes, I predict that the bruises will heal as the main characters grieve for the departed Will, restoring broken attachments. That is how populism, the subtext of most popular culture, works. Meanwhile, we may gaze at beautiful, well-preserved actresses, dressed to the nines and wearing very high heels. So much for the feminist content.

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As for ideology, the characters are Democrats and the drift of the show is liberal. Some episodes buttress immigration reform, others interracial dating, Alicia’s brother is gay (no big deal), Kalinda is bisexual, there are numerous black characters in the justice system, and the law firm of Lockhart Gardner has as one of its chief clients (a black man), the most important drug trafficker in Chicago (though they handle only his business enterprises). In other words, amorality and trendy issues for Chicago liberals dominate.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the media blitz on the last episode of The Good Wife is the viewer response. Fiction, especially great works or even better than average television series, may have replaced the lives we should be really experiencing. What happens to a polity when millions of Americans choose a show or movie to watch and identify with, as opposed to responding to the events, threats, and dilemmas in our own real lives? Or should we lean back and accept that life is necessarily tragic, this world is inevitably corrupt, and that we are all victims of “bad timing”? (For a second blog, this time on the series finale, see https://clarespark.com/2016/05/12/the-good-wife-series-finale/.)

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