The Good Wife: “The Last Call”
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The Good Wife: “The Last Call”

Goodbye.

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The Good Wife

"The Last Call"

Season 5, Episode 16
A-

The Good Wife

"The Last Call"

Season 5, Episode 16

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“Do you know why?”
“No.”

It says everything there is to say about The Good Wife that the scene where Alicia discovers that her longtime friend and sometime lover Will Gardner is dead is the same scene where Eli Gold stumbles through a public monologue about what kind of dress he is wearing.  “The Last Call” is ruthless, both with tragedy and with comedy. Eli takes the podium to save Alicia the trouble of introducing the governor right after she’s heard the devastating news, but it means that his remarks aren’t prepared, and he finds himself reading Alicia’s monologue, which makes a lot of jokes about being the governor’s (female) wife. And in the middle of mourning Will, the viewer’s attention is drawn to a totally pointless digression: Are those hacky jokes about diapers and dresses really the best material Peter’s staff could come up with for Alicia Florrick?

It’s very Robert and Michelle King to slip social commentary in the most unexpected quarters. It’s hardly the time or the place, but that’s the general tenor of “The Last Call”—it’s never really the time or the place. In the midst of life, death; in the midst of tragedy, comedy.

So while “The Last Call” is an incredibly sad hour, it’s also a triumphant one—and at times, even funny. The show has shifted its lens slightly from careers and marriage and politics to how death really happens, and as we’ve come to expect from the show, it delivers. The Good Wife studiously trains its camera on the immediate aftermath, rendering the story of Will’s death and how it comes to the characters in exquisite (and excruciating) detail.

The primary plot thread in this episode is people telling other people that Will has died. Every adult in “The Last Call” hears about Will’s death on-screen; just for emphasis, the cold open replays the last minute or so of “Dramatics, Your Honor.” Kalinda tells Eli. Kalinda tells Alicia. Eli tells Peter. Alicia tells Cary. Diane tells the partners. David Lee tells the clients. Each time, it is heartbreaking—an opportunity for us, the audience, to re-experience the grief of his death. It’s also incongruous and unexpected each time—it follows a diatribe from David Lee about Diane’s tardiness and a set of jokes from Peter and Cary calling Alicia to get her to come to the office for a deposition. It is news that stops the normal tempo of day-to-day life on the show—though, regrettably, it does not stop it long enough. Even as everyone tries to pause, the rest of the world is largely unmoved.

“The Last Call” is the beginning of The Good Wife doing something different and weird and fascinating. This show has always defied categorization, because it aspires to be a bit more than just one category. Now that it is working with death and grieving, it’s working across two fields: one, the Sunday-night prestige crime-drama procedural, with its witty direction and musical cues and character work; two, the “family drama,” that somewhat patronizing name given to dramas like Switched At Birth and Parenthood. The former is all about intelligent questioning; the latter is so emotionally literate as to be occasionally maudlin. The Good Wife borrows from both wheelhouses, and is doing so again now. One of the reasons I’m so fond of the show is that The Good Wife is very aware of what else is on television, and deliberately wants to offer something different. So it knows how death is portrayed on other shows—and it has no interest in following suit. With Will’s death now, we get a range of types of grief and a ruthless attention to the details around death—and really, we’d expect nothing less.

So, given that The Good Wife is already interested in modern technology, it’s par for the course that much of the episode is built around a single final artifact of Will’s life—a short, cut-off voicemail to Alicia at 11:32 a.m., minutes before he was shot. The story builds around Alicia attempting to grasp that this has even happened—from quick shots of what she imagines happened in the courtroom, to memories from her point of view of Will speaking to her, yelling at her, inviting her into his office. She’s driving down a deserted street, and there’s no noise, no music, just silence. She sees geese flying in a broken formation overhead. Then she sees a woman stop her young son from crossing the street too soon, and she starts crying—that small moment of care and tenderness brings the tragedy home for her, for some reason.

A voicemail is a missed connection. An opportunity to connect that didn’t materialize. It encapsulates Will and Alicia’s relationship so succinctly—and now that Will is gone, Alicia spends all of “The Last Call” looking for that last moment of connection—so at least she’ll have that, in the end. The episode is her journey to find it, which makes this episode feel like a whodunit, more than anything else—but a twisted whodunit, because we know the answer already. Finally Alicia meets with Matthew Goode’s Finn Polmar, who is loopy on painkillers and post-surgery. She asks him the question I quoted above: “He called me. Do you know why?” Finn answers what Alicia knew and feared the answer would be all along: “No.” He doesn’t know. She doesn’t know. And now she never will. There is no going back from this one.

Alicia’s whole life, up until this point, has been hesitations and second chances. Going back to work. Taking back Peter. Living in the same house twice. Dating Will, then not dating him. A life built on gray areas and putting off tough decisions for a future date. And then this happens. It is finally hitting her in the face. There is no turning back. Will is dead, but the tragedy is Alicia’s.

Kalinda goes on the same type of quest for meaning this week, though unlike Alicia, she’s not looking for the missed connection; she’s looking for the missing clue—she’s an investigator, after all. She wants the kernel of truth, whatever that is. Two phone conversations between Alicia and Kalinda bookend the episode. The first one sends them both spiraling. As soon as they connect, Kalinda says: “I have to go talk to the police.” And when Alicia reaches out to her again, Kalinda says: “I have to go.” The Good Wife has never been totally clear about who it thinks Kalinda is—she’s been one of the show’s most problematic characters, especially in the last few seasons, because she’s been inconsistently drawn and oddly motivated. This is no exception, though I’m hopeful that Will’s death propels Kalinda to some greater sense of purpose. Kalinda pushes Alicia away to go on a quest of witnessing the most gruesome details of Will’s death—including both the interrogation of the killer, Jeffrey Grant, and Will’s corpse laid out on a slab. It suits her character, sort of—Kalinda would never be satisfied with an easy answer. But I’m not sure about The Good Wife positioning her as the show’s avenging angel of death or mercy or justice—that scene at the end with the belt was a touch too melodramatic for my taste. We know Kalinda is brutal and loyal to a fault, but I’m less and less sure of who she really is.

The episode ends with Kalinda playing God while Alicia quietly sits with Finn in his hospital room. It is nighttime—the momentous day is ending. Both have quested all day. Neither, obviously, has received any answer worth having. Alicia has learned that Will tried to speak before dying, but Finn couldn’t hear him. Kalinda learns that Grant definitely shot Will and cannot even articulate why he did so. Both have more information, but neither has solved Will’s death.

Stray observations:

  • David Lee has long been one of the show’s best characters, and this week he turns out to be the MVP—abruptly moved from his normal snide antagonism to actual mourning. His way of handling it is to be brusque and efficient and slightly yell-y, but he’s still feeling it, and we can see it.
  • Diane has no fucks left to give for the young intern in the hallway. “Are you done? Are you done crying? Get your things and go home.”
  • In general, Christine Baranski’s work as Diane in this episode is incredible. Her potent fuck-you to the client who wants to leave Lockhart Gardner after Will’s death is a fist-pumping moment of celebration.
  • As is Cary’s vicious cut to the opposing counsel who pushed the deposition on him. Go Team Will.
  • Grace’s religiosity is trite and boring for me—another experiment, like Kalinda’s character, that often runs aground. But I give her credit for standing up to her mother’s nihilism in this episode, even if her line of reasoning seemed to make Alicia more and more upset.
  • “If I start making sense, will you let me know?”
  • Becky Ann Baker great, as usual, as Grant’s attorney.
  • And just so you have your dose of bitter tears for the day: Will tried to stop Jeffrey Grant from shooting, and that’s how he was fatally shot.

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