May 19, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Good Wife”


There was so much going on in tonight’s finale of the sensational fifth season of THE GOOD WIFE, it felt at times like a 2-hour episode that had been forced at gunpoint to strip down to a single hour.  There was barely enough time for Veronica (Stockard Channing), the irresponsibly direct mother of Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and Jackie (Mary Beth Peil), difficult mother of Alicia’s estranged husband Peter (Chris Noth), the Governor of Illinois, to get on each other’s nerves.  There was hardly a moment for Alicia to say goodbye to her son Zach (Graham Phillips) as he graduated from high school and–just as Alicia had done to Veronica years before–couldn’t get out of her house fast enough to get on with his life.  There was only a taste of the increasingly duplicitous and manipulative relationship between Lockhart Garder investigator–and once Alicia’s close friend–Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) and Alicia’s new partner Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry).  There was no time at all to figure out just what position former Assistant State’s Attorney (and former candidate for the State’s Attorney job) Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode), a series regular, was going to play in the series going forward.  The episode, written by series creators Robert and Michelle King and directed by Robert King, had a dozen more important things on its mind, and after a season that seemed to detonate a narrative nuclear warhead in nearly every hour, the finale managed to find a few more.

Keeping a veteran series going in its fifth season with a semblance of its original quality is accomplishment enough for most showrunners (those showrunners, and those series, that have survived that long to begin with).  Finding a new gear in Season 5 and making the series better than it’s ever been is virtually unheard of.  (And as CBS will be happy to tell you this awards season, doing all that while churning out 22 network hours per year, more than any cable drama has to produce, is more remarkable yet.)  A year ago, The Good Wife seemed to have reached the start point of its gentle descent, still high quality but beginning to show its age; now it’s back to being one of the best shows on any television platform.

The Kings were fearless this season.  They ripped out the entire nervous system of The Good Wife not once but twice, first at the start of the year when Alicia and Cary left Lockhart Gardner to start their own competing firm, and then again two-thirds through the season when Will Gardner (Josh Charles, who had decided to leave the show but who could have exited in a much less shocking way) was abruptly killed in a courtroom shooting.  Alicia, who had started the series as an underestimated but goodhearted newbie lawyer, trying to get a grip on the world after her husband’s scandal, is now as steely a strategist as anyone else on the show (in tonight’s finale, she had little trouble listening in on Lockhart Gardner’s internal discussions when a teleconference camera was inadvertently left on, and she used her own grief about Will’s death to keep the Lockhart Gardner partners in the conference room with that camera rather than relocating to Will’s old office).

The season’s plotting was relentless, and it seemed to make everyone in the cast step up their already formidable game.  Lockhart Gardner and Florrick Agos went at each other like barking dogs (maybe slightly too often).  A running thread incorporated NSA surveillance on Alicia and everyone around her to delicious effect.  As always, the show employed its cadre of guest stars brilliantly, including recurring figures like Nathan Lane, Carrie Preston, Jerry Adler, Michael Cerveris and Michael J. Fox, the latter of whom should be thinking of The Good Wife and not 1980s sitcoms the next time he has an opportunity to create a series for himself.  (About the Kings’ only significant misstep all season was with the genial schemer played by Jason O’Mara, who made no sense for the show on any level and who was mercifully written out without doing too much damage.)  Procedural litigation storylines, crackling dialogue, intelligent use of current events, the show’s familiar undertone of dark humor (especially when Dylan Baker’s multiple-murderer character made his annual appearance, this time with a new wife played by Laura Benanti) and its complicated serialized stories were all mixed expertly.

The finale left just about everything about The Good Wife gratifyingly in the air.  Alicia may run for State’s Attorney herself, now that Finn and Diane are out of the running, or she may stay at a Florrick Agos that now includes Diane.  Diane, for her part, may jump ship or fight for Lockhart Gardner’s survival against the deadly pair of Louis Canning (Fox) and David Lee (Zach Grenier, happily made a regular this past season).  Alicia’s marriage to Peter seems to have moved past “precarious” to lost–unless it isn’t.  There is, without a doubt, a reason the Kings have made Matthew Goode a cast regular instead of a guest star, even though he’s been mostly in the background so far.  However it all goes, this year gave the viewer complete confidence that they Kings know what they’re doing.

The Good Wife occupies a unique place at CBS–really, anywhere on the broadcast networks these days, but particularly for staid, conservative CBS.  It’s the network’s only truly serialized series, seemingly given a free hand with its content, even though its ratings with viewers under 50 have always been low (although one assumes that it overperforms with the kind of educated affluent viewers for whom advertisers pay a premium), while its prestige has never been higher.  Although prognosticators constantly predict its cancellation, it’s survived.  In fact, next season it’s been given a companion show, the new Madame Secretary with Tea Leoni as the US Secretary of State, as its lead-in.  The Good Wife deserves its special treatment, because as good as it’s ever been, this season it announced loud and clear that it’s far from over.

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."