*Oh hey, there! Unless you’ve seen every episode of The Good Wife ever then we recommend that you stop reading and start watching otherwise you might spoil a bunch of stuff for yourself*
About 7 years ago, during a brutally painful phase that I’d like to call ‘screaming, sobbing and drinking’, my best friend told me to start watching The Good Wife. We were living together at the time and I can only presume that hearing me gratuitiously self-destruct on a consistent nightly basis pushed her to relay the message as less of a recommendation and more of a demand: Watch The Good Wife, she told me, you need it.
And at first, I didn’t listen. The Good Wife, by all appearances, seemed like a glossy, embarrassing soap opera about rich women who spent their lives crying about their powerful, corrupt husbands and all the mistresses they came second to. The marketing made the show appear cynically shallow, as it were designed to appeal specifically to middle-aged women who a TV network had made an unfair set of assumptions about: that they loved booing bad men, loved ogling beautiful clothes, enjoyed women catching up over cocktails and to hell with great storytelling, just deliver some great sex.
Around that time I hit a supreme low point (yay) which caused me to burrow under my duvet for a full week and thankfully The Good Wife found me under there, because I was so very wrong about it. And my friend was right, I did need it in my life.
The Good Wife was nothing like how I’d imagined it to be, either. It wasn’t superficially glossy nor was it charging forward on only soap opera twists and courtroom tropes, it was smart, satirical, political and dare I say it, feminist as fuck. It portrayed women not as caricatures, sex objects or ciphers but as complex characters with deep, troubling flaws and monumental ambitions and desires.
This was a show which took the time to appeal to women and deliver to them, and it never took that as an opportunity to be frivolous or patronising. It was a show which listened to modern intersectional feminist discourse and delivered upon it. A show which understood the severity of not respecting your female audience and of the dangers of relegating your female characters to background props or stereotypes.
I mean, it goes to show just how ingrained sexism is within our culture when a show like The Good Wife comes along and even self-identifying feminists are initially cynical about watching it.
Our defence, however, is understandable as the title hardly helped, presenting an eyeball rolling combination of standing by your man and matrimonial duty in TV form which felt putridly archaic and distinctly unwatchable. The title of the show presented the idea that this would just be yet another TV show in which even the leading female character wouldn’t be defined by her own merits, flaws or life, but instead by the man that she had married. What we failed to realise was that the title was actually a cool sneer at this culture.
Alicia Florick, at least when we’re first introduced to her, is playing the role of the good wife by presenting public support to her corrupt, duplicitous and cheating husband, Peter. It’s clear the sacrifices she’s making in order to do this, that she’s shedding several brusque layers of self-respect in order to do what she thinks is right for her family at that time. But one majorly satisfying slap on Peter’s face later, and it’s also clear that her resignation to fulfil her duties as wife are only for show; Alicia is beginning a new life phase and she has no intentions of being good to anyone who can’t reciprocate it or of allowing herself to continue being the victim of matrimonial service.
Alicia is a one-woman rebellion against the idea of what being a good woman or a good wife entails. She escapes suburbia, she stops being a housewife and gets her career back, she buries stress under the sweet escape of booze, she is bold and domineering, she takes control and will not be controlled and she even sometimes fails to support other women in return for her own success, piece of mind or survival (bad form, lady).
As an audience, we were never made to sit through the sort of tawdry sobbing scenes where a female character begs for our respect in order to understand that they were worthy of it. The majority of stories on The Good Wife were led by women, moulded by them, ended by them and we respected them not for rising above the stereotypical confinements of their gender, but for their humanity.
The Good Wife was never a show about a woman who was the victim of a bad marriage, a cheating husband or a system which forced her to have to get her old job back in order to provide for her family, but rather it was a show which provided a progressive analysis of modern womanhood. Just as Mad Men became a significant TV drama with a lot to say about masculine identity, so too The Good Wife was also a terribly significant show in deconstructing female identity within the confines of capitalism.
This was a show which used its weekly framework of court procedurals and legal battles as a platform to highlight societal and legal injustices from a female perspective. Classism, racism, ableism, ageism and sexism were repeatedly made the focus of the show, providing platforms for characters to express the many horrifying ways in which the World challenges women and fails them, but also the ways in which capitalism, as a whole, screws us all over in the end, taking time to repeatedly highlight the members of society who are most vulnerable to it’s failings.
In the build up to the show finale, episodes have felt deliberate in their approach towards providing a happy ending. At certain points throughout this season, Alicia has been the screaming, sobbing and drinking sister to the woman I was when I first discovered the show. She was a character repeatedly pulling herself away from a plummeting edge, teetering between doing the right thing for everyone and just doing the right thing for her.
What was reaffirmed in The Good Wife finale was that the show has been carefully pivoted on questioning ideas of the truth since it’s first episode – the value of truth, justice of truth, realisation of truth and corruption of truth, especially when considered within the capitalist structures of our culture.
Whether it be in love, life, business or in the courtroom, truth has a way of being manipulated and distorted to protect our personal interests, and often those interests are influenced by monetary gain and success. The Good Wife reminded us that truth, and even falsehoods, are often powerless without the ugly legitimacy of financial backing.
As a result we were presented with a number of painful truths and distortions of truth in the finale: Eli believed in the power of Alicia more than Peter, Diane strived for a version of the truth which didn’t make her client, Peter, or her husband, Kurt McVeigh, look bad, Kurt was exposed as having had an affair with his ‘favourite student’ (whilst under oath no less) and Alicia discovered many truths about herself, but none so painful as her final epiphany.
Because in those final ever frames of The Good Wife, we’re brought back to some of the first ever frames of it, and it stings. Left literally red faced and gobsmacked, Alicia receives an understandably harsh slap from a publicly humiliated Diane which echoes the one that Alicia plants on Peter at the very beginning of the entire show.
Over the course of seven seasons Alicia has come to possess many of the callous traits of her husband which caused her so much hurt at the beginning of the story. Manipulative, exploitative, heartless and emotionless, she became the sort of person who thought nothing of hurting others (even those that she loved and respected) for her own gain, power and success.
And with that the show left us with it’s one definitive, bittersweet and aching truth, the one mantra we could always take from nearly every ending that the show has ever presented to us: you can be as good as you like but there are still no happy endings.
Amy Roberts (a.k.a Alabama Roxanne) is a writer, blogger and musician based in Liverpool, UK. She’s published internationally, in print and online, and has had work published with Bustle, Kinkly,The Independent Online, Hello Giggles andQueen Of The Track. She was featured on a panel of David Lynch experts at a Northern Film & Media event in early 2015, and is the bassist for crust-punk band Aüralskit. Her blog ‘I Never Knew You Were Such A Monster‘, fiction and non-fiction about the horrors of everyday life, was shortlisted in theBlog North Awards two years running. She’s interested in illustration, photography, go-go dancing and Timothy Olyphant. She is vehemently, batshit insanely, Team Catalano.