Friday, March 28, 2014

A Permanent Separation: 'The Good Wife' Eliminates Key Character in Shocking Fashion, Yet Executes It Badly

If you are a regular viewer of The Good Wife, or one day intend to catch up, do not read this post until you've seen Episode 15 of Season 5, which aired Sunday, March 23, 2014.

In life, all too often death defies logic.

So it is understandable, seemingly even realistic, if at times it also does so on television.

But when a TV series kills off or otherwise writes out a primary character, typically the choice is not due to a storyline decision either logical or illogical.

Most of the time such dramatic happenings are designed to spark publicity and increase ratings, with the decision prompted by the actor either indicating his or her desire to leave the show, asking for too much money to continue on it or, more tragically, having passed away or become infirm.

Roughly two-thirds through the fifth season of the fine CBS drama The Good Wife, the character of Will Gardner--a central figure since the original episode, portrayed by Josh Charles--was killed off rather abruptly and unceremoniously in the season's 15th episode, last Sunday.

I had tickets to the theater that evening and thus planned to catch the episode a day or two later via Comcast On-Demand.

Ironically at the theater I had mentioned to my mom--who I thought was still a regular Good Wife watcher but without a DVR or on-demand--that she would be missing what CBS had promoted as its "most shocking episode ever."

To which she revealed that she "gave up on the show as nothing different ever happens."

Well something different did happen, and given CBS' promotional tease, all it took was a Friend's rather nondescript Facebook post for me to correctly assume what had taken place.

Within 90 minutes of the episode ending in the Central time zone--it had begun 41 minutes later than its "normal" 8:00pm start due to an NCAA Tournament game, causing DVR users without the wherewithal to extend the recording time (most regular watchers have been burned enough by prolonged NFL games to know to do so) to miss the critical ending--you could barely look at a social media channel or Internet news site without being informed repeatedly that Will Gardner was dead.

By 9:55pm on Sunday, The Good Wife's showrunners had posted a letter addressing the decision on Facebook and, which then was frequently reposted. (I've included it here.)

Essentially Robert & Michelle King explain that Will's death was precipitated by Josh Charles' decision to leave the show--a well-kept secret, especially in this day of social media--and that his brutal, out-of-nowhere death (at the hands of a murder suspect he was defending in court) is artistically justifiable because untimely passings are a part of real-life.

Let me say that while I don't like Will being out of the show, because I think he was one of the very best things about it--and central to several ongoing plotlines--I do not feel like a member of my family, or anyone I care about, has died.

Will Gardner was a TV character. Now he isn't. This isn't a tragedy; I'm not torn up or angry about it, just mildly chagrined.

If, after nearly 5 full seasons of having the writers tease that Alicia (Julianna Margulies, the title character who is married to Peter Florrick, a politician who incongruously disgraced himself and went to prison BEFORE becoming the Governor of Illinois) will leave him and openly get together with Will--an old flame with whom she has had an off/on/mostly off affair--Charles decided he was done with the "been there, done that" plotlines, I don't blame him for wanting to bail.

Yet it does seem unfair to me that--especially because they knew Charles was leaving--the producers never had the balls to bring the always simmering Alicia-Will romance to full boil.

And in having made him a central part of another political corruption plotline running throughout this season, it would seem that there is more that could have been dramatically developed if he was killed as part of a coverup involving Peter, not just randomly.

One reason I'm sorry to see Charles leave the show was shrewdly enunciated by another writer--sorry, I can't find the exact piece again--who suggested that Will was one of the only Good Wife characters who could engagingly banter, as many others can be oft times be staid. 

And while I think the main plotline of this season--Alicia has left Will's law firm to start her own, and he's been overtly pissed at her--dragged on too long and made Will seem overly petulant, I felt that Will was just as much the moral compass of The Good Wife as Alicia.

I have watched every episode of The Good Wife since it began, and feel it is one of the best, smartest, most adult shows on television. So I am expecting the skilled producers, directors, writers, etc. behind it will continue to make the show interesting, and Will's death will undoubtedly have compelling ramifications.

But not only do I think they've forever severed the possibility of resolving multiple storylines that have engaged viewers for over 100 episodes, killing off Will in the rhyme-and-reasonless way they did just seems more crass than I'd expect from a show of such class.

Coming just days after The Good Wife was renewed by CBS for a 6th season, despite (per most reports) struggling in the ratings, the shocking plot twist--and the way it was carried out--just feels like it has more to do with resurrecting the show's faded buzz than having plausible artistic rationale.

Trying to sell the notion of 'sudden deaths happen in real life so why shouldn't we kill Will through an out-of-the-blue tragedy' also loses a sense of genuine gravity given that Charles openly joked about his exit with David Letterman.

Plus, you can call me a sentimentalist, but I'm not the only one.

Noting the Kings' phrasing in their letter of rationalization that suggest they alternatively could have sent Will off to Seattle, they are obviously referencing the way Doug Ross (George Clooney) was written out of ER, where he was the love interest of none other than Julianna Margulies' Carol Hathaway.

By not killing off Clooney's character, the producers allowed him and Margulies to reconnect when she was leaving the show.

And it is likely the single moment I most remember about a show I watched for several seasons.

Thus, The Good Wife didn't just kill Will, they eliminated the possibility for the happiest ending of the series--likely after next season--I, and likely others, could imagine.

This won't make me stop watching, instantly, but I already care less about The Good Wife than I had last week. Perhaps they should hire Clooney for an arc as Alicia's lover. 

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Gone is never quite permanent on TV. There are always flashbacks!