Summary : The Good Wife astounds in its character complexity on a broadcast network, delivering consistently compelling storytelling.
A lot happens in The Good Wife‘s season finale, “A Weird Year,” which aired this week on CBS. I say this even by the standards of this particular series, which has had its best run yet, creatively speaking, with dynamic changes among all the characters and their relationships over the last nine months. The season begins with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) breaking off from Lockhart/Gardner to form their own firm, continues through the battles between the two groups, undergoes a jarring reset after the death of Will Gardner (Josh Charles), and ends with the futures of most of the players up in the air. What a heck of a ride! “A Weird Year” indeed.
As “A Weird Year” opens, Diane (Christine Baranski) is being challenged for control of the firm she and Will built by Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox), the new senior partner, and David Lee (Zach Grenier). This doesn’t seem fair at all, an interloper coming in and teaming up with a long-time partner to oust Diane while she’s still trying to get her bearings back, but that’s what makes Louis and David such vicious villains. Normally, Diane would be up to the challenge of fending them off, especially because she’d have Will in her corner. But isolated in the office and nearly alone, save Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), who is tough but not a political player, and Diane is looking at losing everything, as Louis promises to burn the firm down if she doesn’t concede.
This is Diane at her most vulnerable in a way we’ve never seen her before, even after the death of Will. There is absolutely nothing she can do. Bribing Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler), the swing vote, would help her hold onto power, but only temporarily. She sees no way out, and really struggles with the idea that she can’t overcome her latest challenges. This is defeated Diane, Diane who has no hope, and it’s a pivotal moment for the character, brilliantly played with nuance and poise by the amazing Baranski.
It’s very telling that Diane doesn’t roll over. She’s pragmatic and knows she can’t win against Canning and Lee, but neither does she take the easy out, running for State’s Attorney at the behest of the Governor (Chris Noth), seeing the offer as the slap in the face it is after the Governor dusts her for a seat on the state Supreme Court. No, that would be stepping down and admitting she’s done, retiring away from the defense attorney she is and loves being. Instead, she finds another option, one that could maintain her reputation and position, albeit in a new locale. She offers herself to Florrick, Agos, & Associates.
Now, we don’t know if they will accept or not (they’d be stupid not to), but let’s examine what it takes for Diane to do this. As much as Diane likes Alicia and their bond has been healed through the shared grief regarding Will, this start-up firm is full of people that have betrayed Diane and stolen her clients. This is not a return to friends, but a humbling. Yet, Diane knows she brings much value to the table, a huge amount of billable clients, so she is in a good place to negotiate from. Viewers will love the choice because it brings back beloved characters and helps fix rifts. But for Diane, this has to be a hard decision to make. Going to them, hat in hand, is not the same thing at all as absorbing them in a merger, which she previously considers.
The big deciding factor in if Florrick, Agos, & Associates will take Diane in is Cary. He is the one vehemently opposed to the merger, but might he take Diane on her own, knowing he’ll keep his decision-making ability and not having to give up what he’s built? Cary likes Diane personally, even if they’ve had their differences in the past. I think Cary’s anger at Alicia for trying to force the merger earlier in “A Weird Year” could play a role in his thinking, though. All most fans want is to see Alicia, Cary, and Diane get along, really the three stars of the show now, but for drama’s sake, it may not be an easy coming together. If they do accept, though, at least they can finally afford an office with walls.
Another issue in allowing Diane to join Florrick, Agos, & Associates, besides adding her name to the letterhead, is that Kalinda is most likely part of the package. This would be difficult for Cary because, after overhearing what sounds like Kalinda playing him, his romance with her is soured. He doesn’t stop sleeping with her, but he does feel like she has done a huge, horrible thing to him. That alone might prompt Cary to reject Diane. It’s a shame Cary seems to be getting such a rough deal. He’s suffered enough, having been fired from Lockhart/Gardner previously, then being denied partnership by them, and having to fight his way back to the good place he is in now.
Amidst all of this, Alicia almost misses her son, Zach’s (Graham Phillips), graduation. She does miss the dinner and festivities surrounding it. The Good Wife could let Alicia spend time agonizing over this, but it’s far too fast-paced for that right now. The moves going on for Alicia professionally are important, and thankfully she’s gotten over that working mother’s constant guilt, making time when it’s important, but not always able to be there. The fact that she gets to the school in time to see Zach walk across the stage, and then shares a private goodbye at home afterward, is enough. She is present for the milestone, and he knows she loves him. There is no animosity between mother and son.
It is a little bit of a shame that Alicia doesn’t get home sooner, though, because what’s playing out in her absence is hilariously awesome. Any time Jackie (Mary Beth Peil) and Veronica (Stockard Channing) come into one another’s orbits, conflict erupts in the most entertaining of manners. They may not be central to the main story lines, but both add something really cool to the overall tone and the big picture, fully fleshing out the world into something engrossing and authentic, something that The Good Wife consistently does well. Its roster of recurring parts, second to none on any network, cable or broadcast, contributes to that.
The style of the show is well illustrated in “A Weird Year.” There is a case and a client, but those matter only as far as they affect the main players. Instead, the focus is on the core cast. There are some neat conceits, such as when one law firm first accidentally, and then purposely, spies on the other after a camera is left on, showing that the series is up-to-date on incorporating technology, trends, and current events into the story. Overall, though, it’s the quick pacing, light style mixed with heavy emotions, and fantastic acting by a stellar cast that sells the show.
Speaking of the wonderful actors, Alan Cumming’s Eli Gold has little to do in “A Weird Year,” but he is nearly never wasted. Instead, he gets a small side bit about trying to find a State’s Attorney candidate to support, which he actually thinks Diane may accept because he misjudges his own actions so severely. But at the end, his search ties into a heck of a cliffhanger when he asks Alicia to run. I hope she doesn’t, but it’s cool that Cumming is still threaded into a plot he isn’t a major part of to start, and is instrumental in bringing it home perfectly.
“A Weird Year” is an accurate descriptor. The Good Wife is weird in that it defies the genre of legal procedurals on a network not known for pushing boundaries. This entire season has been a showcase of what happens when a broadcast network actually gives their writers free reign to develop a worthwhile series, and the finale is a great capper for that. I hope it runs for many years to come, definitely the best thing CBS has to offer, hands down, as well as one of the top three broadcast network shows currently running.
If only the network treated it as such, instead of letting the time slot constantly be pushed at the last minute because of inept scheduling of sports coverage. It deserves better.
The Good Wife has been renewed and will return in the fall on CBS.
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