Ken Tucker
March 02, 2015 AT 07:12 PM EST

The Good Wife closed out its season with a finale titled “Closing Arguments” that must have set hearts aflutter for anyone who’s spent the season hoping Alicia and Will would get together. The rest of us marveled one last time at how much storytelling The Good Wife can cram into an hour. This is, I’m convinced, the reason The Good Wife has taken off as an audience obsession, an Internet-watercooler phenomenon: Co-creators Robert and Michelle King are steadfastly sure that viewers of network, one-hour genre shows (The Good Wife is a courtroom drama-slash-romance novel for TV) can absorb a lot more plot, characterization, and detail than the audience is frequently given credit for.

Indeed, The Good Wife is fast becoming a social-realist version of Lost: densely layered mass entertainment that repays close watching, a tallying-up of clues and callbacks to earlier episodes, with a mythology that makes the Chicago of Studs Lonigan (get out your library cards, kids) seem like a flimsy travelogue.

Continuing its tradition of casting former stars of The Wire in guest roles, Seth Gilliam (Carver!) was accused of murdering a judge. The case was, more than ever, a distraction — or rather, to use the Hitchcockian term, a MacGuffin: a plot point that keeps the characters moving forward but the full understanding of which is ultimately unimportant to the audience’s enjoyment. (Briefly: A key piece of evidence was a glove that had been missing at the crime scene, but which found its way to Alicia’s desk. I never quite understood its crucial value; we saw pictures of a blood-sprayed crime scene, but the show wanted us to believe that that glove — worn by the judge, not his murderer — was the only item that might contain the killer’s DNA? I’m sure I’m missing something, but ah, it’s over now, anyway…)

Co-creator Robert King, making his directorial debut, had to choreograph much of the hour as though it was a slamming-door farce-drama. The intricacies of working in every significant supporting character (hello/goodbye, Glenn Childs/Titus Welliver!), including Eli (bringing his consulting firm to Lockhart/Gardner), brother Owen (Dallas Roberts) as delightfully neglectful babysitter, and grandmother Jackie (why didn’t young Grace leap up from the restaurant table and call her mother, as Alicia told her to do just last week? I declare, kids today…), were intrinsically pleasurable. Plus, Jane Alexander as the only superficially frosty judge? A lovely, complete, compact performance.

The downward spiral of Kalinda continued with those beautifully played moments between her and Kelli Giddish’s beautifully acted Sophia. In bed, after some warm sex, the look on Kalinda’s face when Sophia took a call from her husband suggested the permanent, new guilt she feels about her formerly carefree trysts. It was a nice detail to emphasize that Sophia had told Kalinda previously that she was married. The old Kalinda didn’t care about that, had forgotten it. Now, being the potential home-wrecker is painful for her.

The scene with Will and Peter epitomized what makes The Good Wife so different. Almost any other series would have used this moment for the men to throw down, for Peter to launch accusations and for Will, initially taken aback, to profess his support and perhaps even his love for Alicia.

Instead, the scene was a little masterpiece of silences and mixed messages. Will thought he was there to urge Peter to modify Glenn Childs’ vindictive ways; Peter assumed Will was there to rub his nose in the rubble of his marriage. Their wariness — part lawyerly instinct, part poker-player macho — became extremely tense for the audience. By the time Peter let loose with as much of a threat as he thought he could make (“It will be funny to be on opposite sides in court. But not laugh-out-loud funny”), everything that needed to be communicated between them at this stage of the game had been said. (As did the quick shot of Peter tearing up the glove-package delivery receipt.) And we were left with a tantalizing setup for what next season will be like in the courtroom. And not just Peter vs. Will; think Peter vs. Alicia as well.

From the moment we saw Alicia and Will in a bar — celebrating their court win, drinking and joking with relaxed relief — to the final closing door of their hotel room, The Good Wife took us on a rueful, often funny history of their entire on-again, off-again, ambivalent but intense relationship.

Opting to make real their long mutual fantasy of what it would be like, as Will said, to have “good timing just for an hour,” what followed was a series of little comic mishaps culminating in dead-serious passion. Confronting a booked-to-capacity hotel, an elevator to ecstasy that made lurching stops at nearly every floor, and a recalcitrant key that would not open the door — this wasn’t mere delayed gratification, but multiple opportunities for either of these people to call for a time-out, a return to logic, a halt in the walk toward new pleasure and possible heartbreak. The producers felt it important to emphasize just how much Alicia now wants this to happen: She was the one who made the key fit in the door, if you catch my drift.

As for what it portends for the future, I’ll let you hash it out in the comments below. Well done, Good Wife, well done indeed.

Twitter: @kentucker

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