The Good Wife rocked its audiences in its fifteenth episode of the season when it did the unthinkable: shots were fired in the courtroom, and when the smoke had cleared, Will Gardner (Josh Charles) was dead. The horrifically violent act was especially shocking because it came out of nowhere, and was so unusual for the show; the legal series usually deals in subpoenas, not in bullets. Will was a majorly important figure in the show – essentially the male lead, he was protagonist Alicia’s primary love interest, and more recently, her main antagonist as Alicia left Will’s firm to start her own. Fans were in shock. Social media exploded with outrage, grief, and devastation from viewers. Many fans of The Good Wife were genuinely disturbed by the twist, both due to its graphic and sudden nature, and because to many of them, Alicia and Will simply belonged together. Despite the harrowing nature of the incident, however, Will’s death is actually turning out to be a great thing for the series for several reasons.
Firstly, The Good Wife is at its best when it takes the characters in directions they cannot go back from. The drama’s thrilling character-based storytelling is most exciting when Alicia and company are faced with something completely new: the show’s previous season, the fourth, was perhaps less successful because it retread ground that the show had already walked before, like another campaign for Peter, or a return back to the Peter/Alicia/Will triangle. The show excels when it forces the characters to move forward. Prior to Will’s death, the season had already been the show’s most exhilarating ever due to the aforementioned split between firms. When Alicia betrayed Lockhart/Gardner and created her own firm, the show changed permanently, shaking up all the show’s core relationships and creating entirely new storylines the likes of which the show had never seen before. It was a point of no return. Similarly, Will’s death means the show has changed permanently and can never go back to the way it was, which from a story sense is incredibly exciting.
Secondly, the tragedy is paying off for the show as it is portraying one of the most realistic and profound explorations of grief ever depicted on television. Normally a character death is pivotal in a story arc, the culmination of a long plot. Here, Will’s death was utterly random, highlighting how devastating it can be when someone suddenly and unexpectedly dies. There’s no long goodbye, no last words… just a terrible accident that cannot be undone. Along those same lines, often television deaths are there to bring people together or teach them a lesson about life and faith. The Good Wife, ever the realist show, does not find meaning in Will’s death – only emptiness. Alicia, a professed atheist, tells her daughter she needs no good in the situation, just a meaningless accident. Alicia cross-examined a science expert in the latest episode, asking him about his theories that humans are just a collection of atoms. The audience understood the subtext; Alicia is questioning if life means anything at all.
Third, in the wake of the death, the show is giving amazing material to three lead characters most affected by Will’s death: Alicia, Kalinda, and Diane. Often on television women are relegated to supporting roles, especially women over forty. On The Good Wife, those three women are the most fascinating on the show, and the actresses are all rising to the occasion, giving nuanced, realistic performances. Julianna Margulies is often under appreciated as Alicia simply because her work is so subtle, playing a woman constantly trying to not let her emotions show. But with every new development, her performance soars. So despite the horror among fans at the loss of a beloved character, this shocking loss is actually a wonderful thing for the show.
Opinion By: Alex Warheit