“The Good Wife” recap (5.15): Terror in the Courtroom

 
 

Kalinda steps towards the shoe, the trail of red, and when she finally turns the corner, the last witness who was on the stand when the trial was just a trial is now holding his own bloodied hand against Will’s ruined neck, his drenched chest.

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Diane and Kalinda rush to the emergency room, and as so often happens in emergency rooms, can’t get immediate answers. Diane thinks of all the people she needs to call—his family, his sisters. Alicia.

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They peer into a trauma room where they believe Will might be, but then Kalinda starts staring down the hall at some curtained partitions. The curtains are still, bereft of any hospital staff or beeping monitors. But a cop walks out of one. Kalinda starts inching down the hall, Diane padding softly behind. And then in a gap between two curtains, we see a man’s feet—one housed in a leather shoe, the other clad only in a bare sock. Still. Quiet. Diane weeps, “No.” Kalinda moves next to the bed, pulls off the sheet that has been draped over the body.

And then Kalinda Sharma cries like we have never seen her cry before.

Will Gardner is dead.

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Alicia has not been picking up her phone because she’s at the Chicago Correspondence Dinner, uncomfortably gulping wine at the front table while the city’s worst comedian makes excessive and crude marijuana jokes. After Diane doesn’t have any luck with Alicia’s cell phone, Kalinda starts calling Eli. Eventually, out of annoyance, he picks up. His usual irritated Eli tone swiftly turns to a quiet, humble shock.

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Yes, he says, of course, he’ll get Alicia. He walks gently to her seat, tells her she has to take this call, with a voice and a face that forces Alicia to quickly get over her incredulity at being interrupted now. He hands her the phone like he’s handing off a bomb, and steps away.

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Alicia, worried now, puts the phone to her cheek and says, “Hello?”

And the screen fades to black.

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The Kings released a letter to their fans immediately following last night’s episode, further explaining this unimaginable, devastating decision. Josh Charles, who plays Will, apparently let them know a year ago that he was planning on leaving the show. They’ve been thinking hard about how to carry him off into the sunset ever since. Depending on who you are, this bit of news might make you feel better or worse. For me, it made me feel better. But for others, the fact that the Kings chose the death route when faced with this decision made it worse, because it seems like EVERYONE chooses the death route these days.

While perusing the Internets’ opinions about it all, I’ve seen, and experienced myself, a variety of reactions to the death of Will Gardner. A lot of Willicia shippers on Tumblr immediately declared they would never watch the show again. Which is, of course, their choice. Obviously sensing that this would be a reaction from many viewers, CBS did pack in a walloping “Rest of Season Five” preview at the end of this episode as if to say, “Keep watching, please!” And it did indeed promise outstanding-looking developments with the rest of the cast. But still, those developments are a little hard to swallow when the death of the most important character of the show other than Alicia is still stuck in our throats.

Some critics called it jumping the shark, that it was too dramatic and out of nowhere, that so many shows are using death as ratings ploys, that as a population we’re beginning to experience death fatigue. As a lesbian who watches TV and movies, believe me, I understand death fatigue. Especially in a world where Shonda Rhimes exists, I’ve come to experience traumatic TV events like this with a slightly cynical side-eye.

But I think The Good Wife is different. This episode was different. This shit just doesn’t HAPPEN on The Good Wife, and I doubt it ever will again. It wasn’t overly advertised any differently than other big episodes have been (although the Internet, unfortunately, did do a great job of spoiling it for many people). It literally was a shock to the system, a shock I never saw coming. I can’t remember the last time a TV show made me so speechless, and I watch a lot of TV.

There were parts of the Kings’ letter that seem hard as a fan to take—the part about Will’s death advancing other characters’ trajectories, especially Alicia’s, for instance. Because any reasoning behind a death that involves pumping up other characters’ lives seems infuriating. You can’t kill a beloved character just so you can make another character more interesting. That’s a betrayal of the meaning and power of story. But this was a decision the Kings were forced into, and their explanations about any other ending for Will not making sense rang true to me. We sometimes have to take a step back and realize that writers have to look at their plotlines objectively, so that their talking about how a death will affect the overall plotlines moving forward isn’t heartless; it’s just their job.

But the part that made me really feel OK, or as OK as I can be about Will’s death is when the Kings said this. “Finally, we chose the tragic route for Will’s send-off for personal reasons. We’ve all experienced the sudden death of a loved one in our lives. It’s terrifying how a perfectly normal and sunny day can suddenly explode with tragedy. Television, in our opinion, doesn’t deal with this enough: the irredeemability of death.”

Maybe you haven’t experienced an unexpected death in your life. I’ve only experienced one. But when it happens, it happens like this. It is absolutely out of nowhere. It makes no sense, and probably never will. It is hard to comprehend. The shock seems to paralyze your system, like you ate something you weren’t supposed to and your body will never be able to properly digest it, and you just have this foreign, alien thing inside of you now that makes everything seem Not Right, Not OK. There is no moral at the end of this story. It was a random act of violence by a troubled young man. Will did not get to give a teary, pain-wracked final speech. He is just gone, like so many people, every day, are just gone.

The Kings also say this: “We’ve always taken as a guiding principle of this show that drama isn’t in the event; it’s in the aftermath of the event.” This is a wise statement that they have always followed through on. Even if we can’t conceive of it now, The Good Wife will continue to be a fantastic show, even if it never feels exactly the same.

Will Gardner’s death doesn’t make sense. But it was written honestly, and it made us feel. We can’t ask much more from writers than that.

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