A shock twist highlights the high level of skilled writing at work in The Good Wife and also makes us rethink how we engage with Alicia Florick’s character as an empowered, self-made powerhouse of a woman. Can you still be self-made if men have helped to make it for you?
*Riddled with spoilers. Catch up on your Good Wife, kids*
If, like me, you invest far too much emotional currency in the lives and loves of fictional characters and have wisely invested some of that currency into the TV triumph which is The Good Wife (marketed stupidly as only being appealing to middle aged housewives. Fuck off, this is some of the best TV happening for people of all genders and ages) then you are likely heartbroken right now. A total, incomprehensible mess.
The Good Wife, since day one, has been full of the sort of punch-you-in-gut shock moments which a lot of television shows make ham fisted, cynical attempts at but never quite achieve. The Good Wife succeeds because although it has a wide cast of characters, it’s careful in skilfully crafting each and every one of them and their in depth interactions with each other. You actually give a shit about all of them, from the minor to the major, and how one decision is going to impact on all of them like a contagion which spreads from the one palm into the many.
There aren’t any minor throwaway plot lines in The Good Wife. Everything is purposefully and carefully placed there to simmer from one episode until it overflows into a boiling stew further down the line.
Many shows would have dealt with Wills death very differently. There would have been hints littered throughout the season to soften the blow when it eventually happened and a lazy narrative centred around the possibility that he might die or be killed.
But, just as it would be in life, there was no indication, no lead up, no build. His death is one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen on TV. I kept waiting for his resurrection. No TV show kills off a main character completely out of the blue like that. I kept thinking – right up until the end credits – he’s going to survive! He’s going to wake up! Will can’t die, right? They can’t do that?
But they can, the fuckers. They really can.
What makes Will’s death all the more interesting is the events which have preceded it, most importantly the events which have been affecting Alicia.
We’ve seen Alicia struggling to write a speech for a law convention in which she’s being commended for successfully returning to law after a 14 year hiatus to raise her kids. The idea being that she’s a powerhouse of a woman – somebody who’s accomplished a spectacular career all on her own and in spite of sexism, glass ceilings and the time consuming job of being a full time mother too, which many other female lawyers rejected the opportunity of to concentrate on their jobs.
Writing the speech brings up a clusterfuck of bad memories and complications. Her publicly unfaithful husband and the stigma she’s burdened to carry around with her for being the poor, sad, betrayed wife. Her struggle to find work to support the family she’s forced to raise on her own. And the reintroduction of Will into her life – a character whom throughout the show has been pinned, very clearly, as being the undoubted love of her life.
Alicia’s struggle to write the speech reflects on an idea which we realise along with her – she hasn’t achieved any of this on her own. Her romantic attachment to Will affords her the rare opportunity to re-start a career for herself, whilst her position as the Governers wife – which she never publicly rejects, including his surname – affords her a sort of prestige which picks up big name and big money clients which escalates her position from being a small part of a legal team, to becoming a partner and eventually starting up her own firm.
Alicia Florick has depended on the two men in her life – Will and Peter – and used both of them to get what she wants, bouncing from the power and privileges of one man straight into those of the other.
Since the first episode we’ve been privvy to Alicia Florick’s effect on men (and I mean, wowee does that woman pack a sumptious punch on the eyes. I so absolutely would) and her complicated relationship with her hot, scumbag, powerful husband Peter and her hot, slightly dodgy and slightly less powerful ex-colleague and sometimes shit-hot passionate lover Will. Since the beginning we’ve played into thinking that Alicia is an empowered, powerful woman somewhat single handedly juggling what can only be described as single-parenthood, a blazing sex life, a love of merlot and a successful law career. More importantly, the show has fooled us into thinking that – all nepotism and sexual currency aside – she got to her position in life on her own terms. YEAH SISTER.
Alicia Florick is a female role model, make no mistake. And Season 5 has been instrumental in cementing her need for complete independence and showy displays of female empowerment, strength and the sort of power she can exert over clients in order to start up her own law firm and finally start doing things on her terms, regardless of whomever she may hurt in the process.
The show has scarily sculpted Alicia from good girl lawyer to complete antihero. A cutting, remorseless, stallion of ambition dragging the remnants of a life she loved and people who loved her into a cold dust behind her. It’s been thrilling in many ways to see a female character finally achieving this on TV. Completely fulfilling, on the one hand, and completely devastating on the other. The whole time you’re not clear if her behaviour is an enviable achievement of female empowerment or an arrogant and self-destructive act of ambition.
Her estrangement from Will – the love of her frigging life, yo! – has been heartbreaking this season. The undeniable betrayal exerted upon him by her sneaky endeavours to leave the firm he generously gave her countless opportunities to climb the ladder within on less than professional circumstances, no less (wink wink. Those sex scenes! Sweet Jesus) were a tacky, tawdry act. This is a woman who’s dealt with betrayal time and again from her husband and afforded him countless opportunities to return to her and make shit right again who deals the same death card to Will and expects the same forgiveness that she has also thrown to the bastard gutter snipe in her life.
What Will’s shocking, sudden death will no doubt mean for Alicia is a crumbling of the foundations with which she’s built her current life. Her realisation that her achievements weren’t crafted by her own hands but by the hands of men is a crushing blow to any woman who considers herself self made, and the death of one will no doubt result in the refusal of the other.
Alicia is a game player, pure and simple. She’s a smart woman used to manipulating truth in legal battles who manipulates her own reality into the version most befitting to her own success. The in court sexual play between Will and Alicia, in which they use their intimate knowledge of each other and their turn ons against each other, are passive aggressive plays of affection like when you punch the boy in school that you’re desperately in love with rather than declare your love to his face, are an indication that Alicia is a woman in costume. She’s playing a short-term role for survival. To abandon her position as Governor’s wife would result in the sort of professional suicide that a woman can’t afford to risk and in many ways she was protecting Will from the same dangers, not abandoning him.
By losing the love of her life and 50% of the male influence who have helped her to become the woman she is will only make her push the other 50% – her husband who, lets face it, has had tellingly less screen time than her after work glass of wine recently – out of the picture completely. Her character will no longer be defined by her love interests or reliant on their influence. Alicia Florick will be out there having to make achievements on her own, and maybe she’ll finally become the empowered, self made woman who feels proud to tell her story to a room of professional peers.
R.I.P Will. I’ll never forget the dodgy basketball outfit you used to wear or the rude things you did to Alicia up against that wall of your flash apartment. Never.