April 29, 2013



It’s a little churlish, in the face of tonight’s mostly splendid Season 4 finale of THE GOOD WIFE, to point out that for the most part, the rest of the season didn’t quite live up to its high level of quality.  We will, unavoidably, get to that.  But let’s start by talking about what a terrific hour this was.

The finale was jam-packed with all the things that Good Wife does best.  Written by series creators/showrunners Robert and Michelle King, and directed by Robert King, it packed the majority of its action into a tight, suspenseful timeline, the late-night hours before official polling was to begin in the gubernatorial election pitting Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) against Mike Kresteva (the absent Matthew Perry).  Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Peter’s son Zach (Graham Phillips) had–OK, a little conveniently–happened to see a ballot box with a broken seal being carried into his polling place, and the whole A-team of Lockhart Gardner, Alicia, Will (Josh Charles) and Diane (Christine Baranski) was on hand for a special election court session to resolve the dispute before dawn.  Because this is The Good Wife, home of a bench of endless fantastic guest stars, the judge was played by Denis O’Hare, opposing counsel was old favorite Patti Nyholm (Martha Plimpton), and before the hour was over, former Florrick campaign manager Jordan Karahalios (T.R. Knight) and oddly likable murderer Colin Sweeney (Dylan Baker) were part of the action.  The Kings pulled a couple of beautiful plot switcheroos (that ballot box was stuffed all right, but with votes for Peter), the political, the professional and the personal all intermixed, and A Big Decision was made in the closing seconds that will make for a very different and potentially exciting Season 5, as Alicia, instead of leaping into the arms of Will, instead made her leap into the new firm being opened by Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry)–which will have new character Robyn (Jess Weixler), not Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), as its chief investigator.  In a perfect world, one might have hoped for a shoehorned appearance by the incomparable David Lee (Zach Grenier), but this was still pretty good stuff.

And yet, even in this terrifically accomplished hour, the shortcomings of the season that preceded it had consequences.  The apparently now-romantic relationship between Cary and Kalinda had been such an oblique, undernourished storyline that his betrayal of her here didn’t have the impact it was clearly meant to have.  The potential rekindling of the Will/Alicia affair had felt like a retread from the start–it’s not like they had been torn apart the last time they got together, they just kind of fizzled out–so while the staging of the last scene tonight was super-clever, again it lacked real punch.  T.R. Knight’s character had never been fully developed, making his appearance here no more than a plot twist.  Even the election itself was just a shadow of the State’s Attorney race Peter had run after getting out of prison.

The King’s justly-celebrated showrunning seemed to lose a step this season, whether out of a lack of inspiration, the burden of carrying the mantle for Serious Network Television or simply the grind of turning out 22 high-quality hours in 9 months, 4 years in a row.  The most notorious failure was the introduction of Kalinda’s husband, an attempt to flesh out her mysterious character that ended up diminishing her (and which the Kings, to their credit, eliminated as soon as they knew it was flopping).  But there were other failures, too.  Maura Tierney’s character started out as Alicia’s friend, turned out to be a Machiavellian schemer who was using her for political ends, then virtually disappeared from the show, and almost none of that worked dramatically.  Kresteva was an unusually one-dimensional villain by Good Wife standards (and casting Matthew Perry in the role was a bad idea, since his duties on Go On meant he was rarely available).  Lockhart Gardner spent the first half of the season in bankruptcy, then seemingly two weeks later it was rolling in so much profit that the firm’s only problem was keeping it all in the partners’ pockets.  Allusions to Will’s possible corruption came up once every few episodes, and never went anywhere.  (We still don’t know if it’s going to keep Diane from the Illinois Supreme Court bench now that Peter is Governor.)  The Kings leaned too much on their fondness for obscurely specialized venues and tribunals for court sequences–a racing association!  mediation!  a coroner’s court!  the NLRB!–and colorfully arbitrary judges, until it all started to seem gimmicky and a little tired.

Even in a relatively sub-part year, The Good Wife is still head and shoulders above just about everything else on the networks (Parenthood is more realistic and moving, but less ambitious; Scandal and The Vampire Diaries more addictive but less classy).  The cast, both regulars and guest (this season also included an excellent, restrained extended turn by Nathan Lane as the firm’s bankruptcy trustee), sets the standard for ensemble performance, and the writing is never less than sparkling and sophisticated.  The Kings do a reliably wonderful job of balancing the CBS-required case-of-the-week structure with the show’s complex serialized plots.

The changes coming next season may be just what The Good Wife needs (setting up a new firm was one of the best ideas Matthew Weiner ever had for Mad Men).  A new setting, vastly different interaction with Will, Diane, Cary and Kalinda, Alicia as Illinois’s First Lady–a shake-up may get Good Wife‘s (and the Kings’s) juices flowing again.  CBS is obviously comfortable enough with the low-rated but high-income audience the series gets to bring it back, and that audience will reward quality.  On to Good Wife 2.0!


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."