Well, that was unexpected. There are a lot of things that happen in The Good Wife. It’s a nice little pocket of political scandal, courtroom drama, love triangles and steamy sex scenes, but it’s never seemed like the kind of show that could do random tragedy and kill off a main character. That’s never been The Good Wife‘s domain (that would be Grey’s Anatomy maybe) but as the show has proven (this season in particular), it’s willing to take risks, step outside its comfort zone and shake things up, and even the most drastic of methods aren’t beyond its scope. At the beginning of the season it looked like the biggest change the show would crank out was Alicia and Cary’s split from Lockhart/Gardner and the creation of their own firm. Maybe there would be some political drama, some great upset with Peter as governor, some trouble with Florrick/Agos and its takeoff, but no one could have predicted that a courtroom shooting would cost The Good Wife one of its main characters.
Though I could never call Will Gardner a personal favorite, his place in the show, and its importance, cannot be denied. Since season one Will’s been a constant, charming and smarmy, often one more than the other. He and Alicia’s love affair has been a staple, one that its certain fans have been waiting to see revisited after their falling out early this season. Last week’s episode traveled pre-Pilot to show Alicia and Will as they were before we’d even met them yet, before their relationship had turned romantic, before it had all gotten complicated and soured by said complications and their respective choices in the face of them. Though the episode didn’t push Will and Alicia back together, it was an optimistic hour that hinted at some kind of reconciliation for Will and Alicia if not this season but down the line. There were certainly no indications of it leading to this.
In an episode titled “Dramatics, Your Honor”, with Will reaching an untimely and surprising end, his death was surprisingly undramatic. The shooting in the courtroom was offscreen aside from some rapid and haphazard shots that essentially showed us nothing besides panicked people after most of the shooting had been done. During the shooting we were with Kalinda in the hallway and Diane in another courtroom, both drawn away from their respective tasks by the sounds of gunfire and the same horrified realization that Will was in danger.
Though it seemed to be a fairly benign episode, in retrospect there’s a lot that could be drawn from this to indicate Will’s impending demise. His talk with Kalinda comes to mind first though in the moment I was too distracted by Josh Charles and Archie Panjabi’s chemistry and the revisiting of the fun of Will and Kalinda’s friendship to think anything of the subject of their chat. It was all about Kalinda leaving, which on its own is a ludicrous suggestion, an opinion Will also held since he couldn’t believe she’d be able to set aside her investigative career because she loved it too much. The possibility of Will leaving, or going anywhere, was never considered because Will being around has been as much of a certainty as Kalinda. He told her the reason she’d never be able to go was because of the feeling she got when she figured something out which is certainly similar to the feeling Will gets when he knows he’s about to win a case, a moment when all the late-nights and client drama is all worth it because a favorable ruling is on its way.
So naturally, Will’s life comes to an end when he’s very close to winning his case.
Like Kalinda and Will’s chat, I should have known something was up from the way the episode focused exclusively on Will. His case was at the forefront as Jeffrey Grant (Hunter Parrish) continued to assert his innocence of the murder of a college student even in the face of damning DNA evidence, and Will struggled to find any viable explanation for the DNA’s presence underneath the dead girl’s fingernails. The episode opened with Jeffrey’s desperate appraisal of the court room, unable to listen to the prosecutor’s opening arguments because he was so terrified. We saw the results of Jeffrey’s beatings from prison and heard his belief that he’d commit suicide if put into solitary for his protection, but it was only when Jeffrey retreated into his head again as Will spoke to the judge and looked to the bailiff’s gun, unsecured in its holster, that the depth of his own turmoil, and the potentially deadly consequences, became clear.
Even the B-plot was all about Will, however indirectly. As Alicia agreed to be deposed by Dubeck, he promised that Will’s inevitable testimony would be invaluable in proving that Peter knew about the voter fraud. Every time Dubeck mentioned it, it was like there was a neon sign flashing on the screen demanding to know “Is Will going to testify?” There were an abundance of avenues to be considered in exploring that, how Will would wriggle out of testifying, if he’d testify and breach attorney-client privilege and potentially damage his career, if he’d hold and risk jail time for conspiracy. These were all the things bouncing around in my head, but not once did Will won’t testify because he’ll be dead enter into my mind.
Most of this season has been wrought with examples of Will being pretty heinous. His petty holding of his grudge against Alicia being a main component, but The Good Wife didn’t use this episode to make up for any of that. It simply sticks to Will being a pretty good lawyer and very good to his clients, especially those like the tortured and terrified Jeffrey, whose innocence Will believes in. “Dramatics” didn’t absolve Will of any of his lesser qualities, or attempt to sensationalize the man he was because it was unnecessary. The Good Wife‘s always excelled at creating complex characters, like Will, who could be as good as they were bad and as abhorrent as they were admirable, and it’s a credit to the show that there were no attempts made to clean up Will’s character in the face of his coming death. It would have been more of an affront to his send-off than anything else.
In fact, The Good Wife left everything about Will in the lurch. His cases, his relationships, his voter fraud drama – all of it was cut off right in the middle with no resolution, without even the beginnings of a resolution. A lot of things were just getting started. Alicia and Will especially were just starting to warm up to each other again and shared only a single scene in the entire episode. She warned him about the worried Grants considering other representation for their son, and they shared a laugh over Will being the better, more humble lawyer. It wasn’t an appropriate final conversation for people who’d been through as much as them, which is part of why it was so tragic. There was potential for Will and Alicia to return to their former relationship, or at least something close to it, and now that potential’s been abruptly snuffed out.
This sensation, of Will’s story – Will’s life – being cut off in the middle, is what makes it so affecting. It’s understood that Will’s death came far too soon for him, and the show went all the way with this by making Will’s death a random and painful occurrence in the middle of an episode in the middle of a season without wrapping up anything. Will shared most of his screentime this episode either in court or with Kalinda, which is hardly a well-rounded representation of the Will we’ve come to know. He and Diane only got a short scene considering Jeffrey’s guilt before laughing over Diane’s DUI case. Like Diane and Kalinda at the hospital crying and musing about just seeing Will perfectly safe and content, the audience has the same feeling. Will was fine only minutes before, arguing before a grumpy judge and exchanging witticisms with Matthew Goode, and also like Diane and Kalinda we’re shocked and grieving and wondering how things went downhill so quickly and with such finality.
- Bright side: After a long week of way too many female characters dying on television, Will’s death was actually quite refreshing. I’d heard some things about Josh Charles leaving the show, but that was near the beginning of the season and no confirmation had been given either way. Kudos to The Good Wife for not letting anybody know beforehand.
- This has been such a great season for the show, and this episode easily tops the list of great episodes. I predict next week’s “The Last Call” will make its way up there as well.
- This isn’t the last we’ll see of Matthew Goode’s Finn, and I’m excited to see what else is coming for him.
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