I never wanted to like this show.
I caught up on it after the second season, when I friend told me it was the most feminist show on television. That's not a far stretch, considering most of television is primarily populated with vapid, shallow interpretations of women, but I was intrigued. How could a show about a woman standing by her philandering husband be feminist, or even interesting?
She was right. The women on this show are complicated and powerful. They cry, they fire people, they're mediocre moms sometimes, they're good at their jobs. These characters mess up their relationships, sometimes irreparably. They get drunk, they have regrets, they blow up their lives and we get to watch them rebuild. They're human. They evolve.
The show is also incredibly diverse. You actually get to see brown people as part of the infrastructure on a regular basis. It's a show about lawyers set in Chicago, and they actually address some of the long-standing racial tensions of that city in a way that never feels pandering or ripped from the headlines sort of way. The court cases they argue often reference the racial inequalities that plague our criminal justice system, but you'll also see Black lawyers, Asian judges, and the chief investigator for the Lockhart-Gardner firm is a kickass Indian woman.
You don't notice how much this matters until you realize how most other shows lack that seemingly effortless attention to diversity.
My entry point to the show was the gratitude of seeing middle-aged women and brown people on screen, but the real joy of the show is that it's just good television. The stories are funny and smart week to week, and detailed plots are returned to again and again, sometimes many seasons later. This show rewards the long-time viewer, but is still completely engaging if you're just tuning in for the first time. The Good Wife is daring—my favorite episode this season featured Will Gardner (played by Josh Charles) framing an argument against himself, working through every possible outcome to reach the most cutting opening remarks against his toughest witness, longtime lover and star of the show, Alicia Florrick (played by Juliana Marguiles). I'll be surprised if he doesn't get an Emmy nod.
This show somehow remains surprising in the best possible ways, even in its fifth season. But last night's surprise was the most cruel and shocking thing I've seen on TV in a long time.
(There are spoilers ahead. Major, major spoilers. Do not read beyond the jump if you don't want to be spoiled. Like, not even spoiled, but positively RUINED.)
Last night, Will Gardner was murdered in the courtroom.
It's always surprising when a show is willing to kill off a main character, but to say this was shocking is an understatement. Josh Charles apparently wanted to leave the show to pursue other opportunities, so this plan had been in the works for about a year, and the writers of the episode posted this letter to Twitter last night by way of explanation.
The fact that he was murdered is just as shocking as the way he was killed—a desperate defendant grabbed a bailiff's gun and opened fire, only to turn the gun on himself after all of the bullets were gone. (I screamed WHY DIDN'T YOU DO THAT FIRST before I realized I was asking why someone didn't commit suicide, which felt really gross.) We're never privy to the chaotic scene itself, only the deadened sound of gunshots ringing out in a courtroom down the hall, which made the whole thing seem much more eerie and, like real-life tragedies, frenzied and scary and difficult to decipher.
Will's death is sad. But the biggest shock is that after all these years, this show still surprises me.
I think this is going to be a really interesting turn. How is Alicia, generally reserved and thoughtful, going to process this immense loss? Thinking back to last week, which was heavy with flashbacks and references to Will as Alicia's personal savior, you could almost see how they were subtly laying the groundwork for this. He's been her adversary for most of this season, but last night she relented a little when she warned him that the defendant's parents had contacted her, and then he was gone.
It looks like Lockhart-Gardner is going to bring on Michael J. Fox's acerbic Louis Canning, Diane Lockhart is finally standing up to the rest of the board, and Cary Agos is rolling into a rage cycle. Are they going to address gun violence, a topic that has gripped most of the nation in the wake of school shootings and a generally astonishing amount of gun deaths? What does this death mean for Florrick, Agos and Associates, the fledgling firm born of frustration? Are we going to get to see the longview on how people process grief? If they stay true to their style, I doubt this will be wrapped up in one Very Special Episode.
I barely know how to end this because my mind is still reeling and the questions are coming hard and fast. But I'm happy to walk away from an hour of TV with a million questions, and I'm grateful for a show that elevates television.