I really did not want to grade this episode. I have to put a grade up in that box, and I can defend why I made that choice, but this episode is an example of one of the ways that weekly reviews can sometimes fail us—this 39-minute snapshot of The Good Wife doesn’t really invite grading. Someone died. Out of nowhere. That is not something that invites a score on a rubric.
This episode triggers so many “jumping the shark” flags for me that it’s hard to write about it with the faith that this is an episode of The Good Wife, a show that I consistently find to be one of the best on television. Despite Robert and Michelle King’s lovely letter explaining their reasoning (which, among other things, indicates just how much they think about television when they’re writing this show), this is an episode that literally kills off a character in a random act of violence, and though that is a real thing that happens, it’s a thing that happens far, far more on television, because it’s an easy way to provide shock value.
Looking back, the shooting doesn’t entirely come out of nowhere, but it more or less does—even for our young murderer, poor Jeffrey Grant (who is played with facility by Hunter Parrish). But it’s sudden enough that the episode neatly comes apart into two sections: before the shooting and after the shooting. Before, “Dramatics, Your Honor,” is an average episode of The Good Wife. Good, but nothing special. Hunter Parrish, best known as Silas from Weeds, returns to reprise his role as the accused rapist Jeffrey Grant, as his case is brought to trial. For an average episode of The Good Wife, it is suspiciously a bit too focused on Will—but that’s only clear in hindsight. At the time, it seems just as much an episode about Kalinda. Cary tells Alicia that he and Kalinda are seeing each other, and Kalinda talks to Will about leaving the firm, and those are two things that seem to point in a certain direction.
Will is having trouble, and his trouble is Jeffrey Grant. Grant looks guilty—very guilty, at times—but he rejected his plea bargain. Will is fighting what looks like a losing battle, and he refuses to give up, at all.
It’s kind of an encapsulation of the entire story of Will Gardner: going down, but fighting the good fight. Will is a fighter, and that instinct led him to the top of a leading firm in Chicago. But (as Diane observes) he doesn’t really know when to give up. It’s true in his feud with Florrick/Agos, and it’s true with his clients. Will didn’t have to take this client (which was explored in “The Next Week”). The trial never had to make it to court. It could have been settled in a plea bargain. He certainly didn’t have to be doing it alone (Will could have easily been accompanied with or farmed it out to an associate). And there was a hair’s-breadth chance that Alicia would have been the one in that room defending Grant, because his parents tried to jump ship. It’s so heartbreakingly obvious how this could have been avoided, or been different. Maybe Alicia could have talked him into the plea, or maybe another lawyer at the table would have seen Grant beginning to reach for the gun.
The other thing, though, is that Grant’s case is also a profoundly unsettling story—the story of the attorney who is either blind or uninterested in the truth that his client is extremely guilty. The whole case, and even Grant’s life, begin to feel like projections of Will’s experience. The case only exists in the room, at this time, in this way, because he’s pushing it. The DNA testimony only drags out for so long because he wants it to. He’s spun a whole world out of his need to fight, but he’s forgotten that these are other people’s real lives.
I credit “Dramatics, Your Honor” with not coming down on one side or the other with Grant’s guilt—that last scene with the boy desperately trying to shoot himself in the head and failing is as much insight we need into that kid’s mind—but it’s sort of shocking how little Will cares. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t care, really—the legal system rewards it. But Will’s desire to win the game divorces him from the reality of the case. This is this guy’s life (and a dead woman’s life), but Will is instead mostly intent on the competition.
It’s tragic—because although maybe Will is sometimes in the wrong, he’s passionate. This has always defined his character—especially in opposition to his partner Diane, his lover Alicia, and his romantic rival, Peter, who are all pretty cold fish. As we saw last week in “A Few Words,” Will went against the grain when no one else would. And though this elegy to his character, his final trial, is in some ways critical of this kind of law, it’s also pointing out that passionate figures go out in flames. With your shield or on it, as the Spartans might say.
As horrible as this is, it is a dramatic response to a real-life problem: Josh Charles wanted to leave the show, and this is how it played out. And they handled this as well as any show could, I think (with the exception of, I don’t know, Blackadder Goes Forth). Charles’ willingness to stick it out until the show could handle his exit gracefully gave us a lot of fantastic episodes leading up to the end (the Kings have been planning this for a year, apparently).
Lastly, I just want to point out: Whatever you’re feeling right now, Alicia Florrick is feeling it tenfold. She will be devastated, and the show is going to find a way through this, even if it’s so hard to think of loving this show without Josh Charles. Say what you will about tonight’s episode, but The Good Wife hardly lacks for follow-through. Last week, I made much of the question posed to Alicia at the end of the episode, and her answer: “To be in control of my own fate.” I wrote: “The problem is that no one has any control over their fates. Like, a little, but not really. We can move through the world and make empowered choices, but what’s going to happen will happen, regardless.”
Oh, Alicia! The irony is too awful. (I mean it, King and King: Maybe just a little too schmaltzy.) For The Good Wife’s central romantic pairing, the timing was never quite right. Now the timing will never be right. All the careful planning in the world can’t stop death.
- On a personal note, I just want to say that Will Gardner has meant a great deal to me on this show, and I am devastated to see him go. I happened to be spoiled for the ending, through no one’s fault but my own. I was already suspecting foul play when I didn’t get an advance screener, and then when Twitter blew up I went ahead and read what happened because I couldn’t take the suspense. How did you go into it? What was your experience? (Will’s death is The Good Wife fandom’s Kennedy assassination.)
- This title. “Dramatics, Your Honor.” I can’t.
- This also goes a great deal toward explaining why Kalinda has been just sort of hanging out in the background all season—this is clearly a galvanizing moment for her. And Archie Panjabi is devastating in this episode—a welcome change after not seeing her do much.
- I enjoyed seeing the preview for the rest of the season, but I wish I hadn’t seen it right after the episode. Ending it with that cut to black right as Alicia answers her phone actually made me tear up, just from anticipating her devastation.
- Never forget.
- Apparently I wrote the review for “The Next Week,” which I entirely forgot. This paragraph made me upset:
The second features guest-star Hunter Parrish, and interestingly, it doesn’t resolve. Jeffrey is charged with a murder he swears up and down he never did; Kalinda and Will go to work on it, but nothing comes up. He rejects a plea bargain, and Geneva Pine is on hand to make sure Will feels really bad about that. I like Pine, and I like Jeffrey, and I like that Will cares about someone he’s working with. But as yet, the rest of this story remains to be seen.