The Good Wife ended its seven-season run on CBS last night with a bang—or, rather, a slap. A quick recap if you didn’t watch: After going to great lengths to save her soon-to-be ex-husband (Chris Noth) from once again going to jail, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) double-crossed her law partner Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and was left standing in a hallway, her face still pink from a wallop delivered by Diane. Her love interest wasn’t answering his phone. Her children were off at college. For longtime fans, it was shocking: The show was taking leave with its heroine in suddenly upsetting, ambiguous circumstances.
All sorts of arguments could be mounted as to why this was a smart and powerful finale, because it was. Co-creators/executive producers Robert and Michelle King have always managed to elevate their network series into prestige territory. Inspired by women who have stood by their philandering husbands amid humiliating public scandals—Silda Spitzer, Hillary Clinton, Anthony Weiner’s wife (and Clinton aide) Huma Abedin—they introduced Alicia as the wife of a disgraced politician who must put her life back together when he goes to jail for sleeping with prostitutes. She returns to the law to work at a firm with Will Gardner (Josh Charles), the man she once dated at Georgetown and, shippers will argue, should have ended up with.
Along the way the Kings turned the burden of a 20-plus episode schedule into an opportunity for case-of-the-week plots that tackled timely issues. The Good Wife has been alternately funny, wacky, and sad, and in a video released in the wake of the ending, the Kings kindly explained their final decision (a courtesy not extended by David Chase, for example, who also blindsided fans with an equally open-ended finale of The Sopranos). The show was about a woman who becomes “more and more cunning,” they said, and they wanted Alicia to see in herself something she didn’t like in her husband. “The victim becomes the victimizer,” Michelle King added, while Robert continued that TGW was always about corruption: “The story of Alicia is a bit of a tragedy.”
That’s certainly interesting, but is it the most persuasive closing argument? Because while the show has wrestled with themes of power, ambition, and women’s often unique struggle with both, it’s also featured a main character that people root for. Yes, fans understood that “St. Alicia” was not so naïve, and over the course of seven seasons we saw her shed her doormat sensibilities and resist the roles that were thrust upon her: wife, mother, pious avenger. But did we actually see her become a calculating villain? Would she really have exposed an infidelity of her partner’s husband just to win a victory for her own (often detestable) one? Or is there something else at play here?
Even if you’ve never watched an episode of The Good Wife, you might have heard rumors of an onset feud between Margulies and Archie Punjabi, who played the firm’s investigator and sometime fixer, Kalinda Sharma. At the start of the series, the two shared lots of screen time. They downed tequilas after work, talked shop, and struck up a friendship that was appealing precisely because it was unusual for these otherwise private women. Then, toward the end of season five, Buzzfeed pointed out that the two hadn’t actually shared a scene together in 30 (THIRTY!) episodes—and they would never do so again. Their final scene in season six was filmed separately and edited together.
This is frustrating, first of all, because fans loved Alicia and Kalinda and their alleged inability to work together both hurt the plot and seemed wildly unprofessional (imagine telling your boss that you couldn’t do your job properly because of an undisclosed personal issue with a coworker?). Also, as obvious as the issue became, the Kings and Margulies continued to deny it as idle gossip, claiming the actresses’ distance was due to nothing more than plot lines and production schedules. But when Margulies said Punjabi was unable to film that final scene because of her gig on The Fall, Punjabi finally spoke up, taking to Twitter to say “I was in New York and ready to film the scene.” Clearly, somebody’s not telling the whole truth, and ever since, fans have wondered what happened between the two costars. Who’s fault was it? And did the Kings not intervene quickly enough for their star’s liking? (Punjabi remained on the show for two seasons after the speculated period of fallout.)
Whatever the answer, Margulies is the star, but last night was not the first time her character has been arguably “punished” with a thoroughly depressing story line. Early seasons heavily teased the love triangle between Alicia, Peter, and Will, and Margulies and Charles had fabulous chemistry together, but their relationship was left on entirely acrimonious terms. When Charles decided to leave the show after season four, the Kings persuaded him to stay on a while longer. During that time, they concocted a story line in which Will felt betrayed by Alicia, who decided to leave Lockhart & Gardner to start her own firm. Then his character was killed off. For fans, this was devastating enough, but Will never forgave Alicia. It was a particularly tragic, and maybe even cruel, way to end things between a couple whose relationship had been one of the anchors of the series—and the show never fully regained momentum in the wake of Charles’s departure.
So now we wonder: Do the Kings delight in delivering these blows to St. Alicia? In their post-finale video they claim that they don’t love the character any less, but an interview in last week’s New York Times contained barely detectable traces of tartness between the three of them. Margulies said the Kings put her in “this very precarious position” when they announced they would be leaving after the seventh season. CBS considered going on with the show, if Margulies was interested, but she felt conflicted and in the end the network pulled the plug. Margulies went on to complain about the relentless network schedule, saying she would never do it again.
For the Kings to conclude the show with Alicia at odds with another beloved character, her powerhouse mentor Diane, after the two were on the brink of starting a female-dominated firm together makes us wonder if the creators weren’t more fond of their character than they were of their star. Bleak plot twists and depressing endings echo real life, so The Good Wife deserves respect for not wrapping everything up neatly with a bow, even if the show never aspired to the darkness quotient of, say, Breaking Bad. But Alicia wasn’t the only one stung by that slap. Those of us who watched and loved the show will be arguing over this finale for days to come, but like Will and Alicia, we’re not likely to get any closure.