A lot of episodes these days get called "game changers," but last night's "Dramatics, Your Honor," certainly earned the title. TIME's James Poniewozik commends the series' writers for a well-done surprise but is eager to see how it'll play out. (Stop here to avoid spoilers!)
Quick thoughts–and a major spoiler! Beware! If you haven’t watched, go away!–for last night’s The Good Wife:
Midway through “Dramatics, Your Honor,” The Good Wife had a little fun with the idea of characters on TV shows promising dramatic changes that never seem to materialize. Kalinda comes to Will in the middle of a big case and wants him to start looking for a replacement, because she’s leaving; she doesn’t want to do this job for the next 20 years.
That’s “crap,” he tells her. Sure, she can take a few months off. But she knows and he knows that he’s not going anywhere. She likes what she does too much, he says, just like him. Go try to have a life, he says; “Life is overrated.” It’s an insight as much to his character as hers, but of course it’s also a commentary on the notion that TV serials tend toward stasis because, well, they’re serials. Kalinda can change jobs, but she’s going to stay around law firms because Archie Panjabi is in the cast.
Well, ka-pow! The ending of this episode disabused us of that notion. I had heard scuttlebutt that Josh Charles was planning on leaving the show soon, and had seen ominous tweets that this episode was a game-changer, but the nature in which the game changed was a shock, and certainly a risk for The Good Wife‘s staff–not only killing off a major character but putting a bullet through one of the central relationships on the show. At the least, I have to give them credit for that.
I can give them credit–or blame–for more yet, because how successful this move is will depend on what happens afterward. I can only give a few immediate reactions. The idea of killing anyone in sudden violence doesn’t really seem like The Good Wife‘s world; I’d expected that Will was eventually either going to make a career move (to another city maybe) or be disbarred. Then again, if you want a departure to truly shake your audience and characters, maybe it needs to be something that feels like an asteroid striking.
What did seem very Good Wife-ly was that Will’s death arose from a typically ambiguous case–one in which it wasn’t entirely sure if Will’s client was innocent, or if Will’s strategy was in Grant’s best interest. We’ve seen Lockhart Gardner skate through cases like this through last-minute revelations and ingenuity; this time Will, unbeknownst to him, skated onto thin ice. That, at least, was much more befitting the show than, say, a car crash.
Maybe the biggest repercussion of Charles leaving the show is that it end, all at once, not only the Will-they-won’t-they between Will and Alicia, but it cuts suddenly short the thrust of most of season 5, the former partners, friends, and lovers turning into enemies. (I guess it should have been foreshadowing that they got to end things with Alicia making one last decent gesture, tipping him off about his restless clients.) That changeup too is untypical of series TV, and whether it works or not, I’m excited to see the show trying.
Finally, I raise my glass of scotch to Josh Charles, who over almost five seasons pulled off a feat in making Will a believable lead and romantic interest without making him easily, uncomplicatedly likeable. The Good Wife is a grown-up show, and our relationship with Will was grown up: he could be charming, admirably dogged, but also something of a cold jerk sometimes. Charles had to make him the kind of guy we would want to see beat corruption charges while also believing that, yeah, he could do something corrupt, or at least glide close enough to corruption to smell its breath.
Well-played, Josh Charles; and well-played on the surprise, Good Wife writers. Now let’s see how well it plays out.