Hands up, I wanted a happy ending to say goodbye to The Good Wife. Or at least a satisfying ending which signed off on an optimistic note and met my need to see equilibrium restored.
What we got was an unsettling, uncomfortable finale which brought the drama to a dark conclusion.
In retrospect, you realise it’s been moving in this direction for some time, and you weren’t paying enough attention.
We took our eye off the ball because, like Alicia, we were distracted by Jason, angry with Peter, absorbed in law firm politics, and we missed the significance of Alicia’s gradual withdrawal into icy introspection. We paid too little heed to her increasing hardness and cynicism.
The delicate thread of moral ambiguity, pragmatism and compromise, which is the very stuff of grown-up, intelligent drama like The Good Wife, suddenly snaps, and we, like Alicia, are thrown into the abyss.
What else might we have expected?
Jason was dangled as a romantic conclusion, but surely this was never on the cards. At first, it was stimulating to see Alicia’s total immersion in their erotic life (nicely underlined by the way her hairstyle became softer and wavier) but then you began to feel like a mother getting exasperated with her teenage daughter.
Can’t she see that Jason is the man who keeps his sleeping bag rolled up and stacked behind her couch, that he’s the man who goes out one day to buy a quart of milk and returns a year later? I-can’t-be-hemmed-in Jason is too shallow to be a viable foil for Alicia Florrick.
As for Peter, that ship sailed long ago, and wrenching him and Alicia together in a version of happy families would have been a grotesque cop-out.
And yet, Alicia betrays Diane partly for Peter’s sake. The most shocking thing about Alicia’s decision to humilate Diane in court by revealing Diane’s husband’s affair is the basis on which she acts.
In order to save her husband-in-name-only, a man she neither loves nor respects, from a probably deserved short spell in gaol, and in order to save her daughter from the unimaginable horror of a gap year, Alicia plunges the knife into Diane.
Not only does she betray a friend, colleage and mentor, but she also sabotages her own future as one of Diane’s projected all-female law firm and, as collateral damage, throws Lucca’s career into jeopardy as well.
Alicia has survived the scandal of Peter’s infidelities and his imprisonment. She has survived her lover’s death. She has survived the dirty race to be State’s Attorney, and so much more besides.
Alicia is no longer the wronged political wife, and she will not play the loyal wife any more, as seen in the way she disengages her hand from Peter’s at her final stand by his side. But her departure from his side is not a triumphant moment. She is about to come face to face with what she has become.
It’s a stunning, visually arresting ending. Diane’s slap — a parallel to the one that Alicia landed on Peter at the beginning of it all seven years ago — jolts Alicia into facing and accepting that now she is no better than Peter. We see Alicia recover from the blow, pull herself together and straighten her clothes as if putting on a suit of armour.
We’re reminded of the last line of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: ‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, from man to pig, and from pig to man again — but already it was impossible to say which was which.’
Looking straight ahead, Alicia marches into the moral void that is the future. It’s an unexpected, gut-wrenching note on which to say goodbye.
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