The Good Wife Season 4 Finale Review: The Deciding Factor

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Apr 29, 2013

The Good Wife S04E22: "What’s In The Box?"

Much in the same way that I don't think a bad season (or series) finale ruins the run of episodes that preceded it, I don't think it's impossible for good finale to salvage a lackluster season. Either type can influence how you end up anticipating a show's return, but it cannot erase all the highs and/or lows that came before.

"What's in the Box?" puts us (or at least me) in such a position. It was a damn fine finale, and it was probably one of the most entertaining, invigorating, and surprising episodes of The Good Wife's run thus far. But it capped off an uneven fourth season full of of ill-conceived and half-baked plots. The episode didn't make me forget any of it—in fact, it reminded me of one of the season's worst annoyances—but it did leave me brimming with anticipation about the show's future in Season 5.

Since we don't cover the show regularly on, you'll have to excuse the following rundown of Season 4's highlights and lowlights...

First and foremost was the Kalinda and Nick debacle. I'll admit that at first I thought the show was setting up an interesting parallel with Kalinda's inability to escape Nick mirroring Alicia standing alongside Peter, and choosing to do so time and again. That just never materialized. Instead we got sexually charged violence and defiled ice cream cones, with nary an insight into why Kalinda would tolerate this schmuck sticking around. At least it was nipped in the bud fairly quickly; while it did leave Kalinda a tad rudderless until the introduction of Robyn, a rudderless Kalinda is better than an anchored-to-Nick Kalinda.

Oddly for The Good Wife, the political campaign was sort of wishy-washy, but for that I place at least some of the "blame" on NBC and its decision to pick up Go On. I suspect the plan was for Peter to cruise through his primary and just keep campaigning against Matthew Perry's wonderfully smarmy and horrible Mike Kresteva. Since Perry was busy with Go On, we got Maddie Hayward (Maura Tierney) as a feminist challenger in the primary. It was a neat idea to pit Hayward's feminist politics against Peter's moral failures and past history, but it never really came together, and long gaps in Hayward's appearances sort of undercut her threat. Toss in the rushed "We're friends, and now we're not" plot with Alicia, and Maddie was a bit of a mess.

More egregious for me, though, were Eli's various plots, which also felt like the result of Perry's unavailability. T.R. Knight's Jordan Karahalios never actually seemed to do, well, anything even remotely impressive, despite being called a wunderkind by other characters. There was no evidence of him as a threat to Eli beyond his very presence on the campaign, and then the show even dismantled the idea the he was this brilliant campaign manager in the debate episode. His arrival as the campaign manager for the third party candidate in tonight's finale only locked in this idea that Jordan was nothing but an empty suit.

So while Jordan was lurking about, Eli dealt with that bizarre campaign finance corruption case. It was more of an entertaining bit of filler than a real conflict, between Elsbeth's quirky presence and Kyle MacLachlan's even quirkier Josh Perotti. I did appreciate that the show sort of acknowledged this with the musical chairs witnesses to prove the case—it very much said, "Yes, even we know this is kind of silly." At least it was a fun silly.

But while these elements had varying degrees of success (or none at all), at least Season 4 did a decent job with the ups and downs of Lockhart/Gardner. Nathan Lane as Clarke Hayden was an inspired bit of casting against type, and it paid off handsomely for the show. Lane hit all the right notes of pragmatism, loneliness, and zealousness, and all with a restraint that you don't typically associate with the actor. He was never a bad guy, or even an antagonist. He was delightfully more subtle than that, and it helped to give the first half of the season a solid dramatic core.

After recovering from bankruptcy, the show managed to pivot nicely to a new arc about labor issues within the firm. It highlighted the clashes between equity partners and the fourth-year associates led by Alicia and Cary... until the partners promoted Alicia in an effort to break the spine of the rebellious associates, and (again) Kalinda's place in the firm, and her value to them. Unlike past threats to the firm, be it Derrick Bond in Season 2 or the corruption charges against Will last season, this one pitted the show's characters against each other in ways we hadn't seen before, even when Cary was in the state's attorney's office.

All of which brings us to the finale.

"What's in the Box?" was timely (voter fraud and election rigging!), funny (Judge Abernathy! Judge Lessner! Patti Nyholm! Colin Sweeney?!), and surprisingly suspenseful in its final few moments. It also managed to tie up the labor issue surrounding Lockhart/Gardner in a way that promised to really shake up the show in Season 5. It didn't make me forgive any of the bad stuff we saw this season (only lots of drinking will make me ever forget about Nick), but it left me so completely excited for the next one that I cannot wait for the fall season to begin.

The big bombshell, of course, was that Alicia had decided to cast her lot in with Cary and the other fourth-year associates and leave Lockhart/Gardner. Alicia's fielded offers from other lawyers and firms before, the most notable and persistent being Louis Canning, but this time the offer coincided with a couple of factors that I think motivated her to finally accept. The first one is something I think we can all probably agree on, and the second is me perhaps reading too much into Alicia, though it's hard not to do that since she's so damn stoic.

The thread of Season 4 that I opted not to mention above was the Peter-Alicia-Will triangle. Part of the reason is that it's the aspect of the show that I find least interesting, but it's also a part of the show that it'll never give up, so I've generally decided to just take a wait-and-see approach with it.

This season as a whole ramped up the Alicia/Peter stuff, and continued to show Alicia's dedication to Peter, and his to her. The second half, though, brought that absurdly unmotivated kiss between Alicia and Will. While I wasn't a fan of how that played out, the ramifications of it—Alicia dreaming and daydreaming about her time with Will—brought me around on these emotions resurfacing for her enough so that the conflict didn't feel completely tired.

It's this conflict within Alicia, this concern about slipping further with Will—a man she doesn't see much of a future with—that I think led her to accept Cary's offer. The temptation will ease, the frustration will perhaps lessen if she doesn't have to see him every day. Out of sight, out of mind. It's an emotional decision for a woman who has tried to avoid making too many emotional decisions in recent years, but it speaks volumes about just how serious she is about making things work with Peter.

The other reason is a more business-oriented one and again this is just me spitballing. One of the reasons Lockhart/Gardner have kept Alicia on, and eventually offered her a partnership, and what attracts clients to her as well, was her connection with Peter. I think all this talk of being "management" sank in a bit, and now that she's the First Lady of Illinois, her standing has increased that much more. Why shouldn't she step into a firm where she can control and benefit from the influence much more directly? I do still think that, ultimately, the decision was one of emotion, but I given how much emphasis this season has placed on business and managing resources, I couldn't help but think about it.

I just hope it all sticks. One of my quibbles with the show has been its treatment of Cary, and how he was sort of a pinball, bouncing back and forth between L/G, unemployment, and the State's Attorney's office, and I really hope this big narrative shift isn't undone by Episode 2 next season. I want this plot to play out, I want to see the tensions we saw in "Red Team/Blue Team" occur over the course of a season, and I want to know where it all ends up for these characters. 

Even before that final scene, "What's In The Box?" was firing on all cylinders. The issue of a tampered ballot box provided a way for the case-of-the-week to intersect with a larger story in the show, and that was refreshing. Normally the cases rely on twists and legal maneuverings to maintain interest, but with this one's connection to the election, it had a real sense of urgency. In typical Good Wife fashion, the legal proceedings ended up being undercut by something else, in this case the votes not mattering in the final count. That the show does this a lot (see last week's episode about the unionizing software coders) is supposed to be one last twist in the case to surprise you, but it also serves to exemplify the occasional futility of the legal system. This time, it was just a much happier ending than they normally have.

While that ballot box issue would be interesting enough, the reversals, the witnesses (poor Nana Jo, poor Buckley), the careful and restrained uses of the quirks of Patti, Abernathy, and Lessner, and the running back and forth also served to elevate the episode beyond a standard Good Wife-quality case.

There are still some stories lingering for us as we go into Season 5 beyond the law firm one. There's the video of Jim with the stuffed ballot box that does not look good for Peter or Eli (and possibly Alicia, since she was in court over the issue); there's the matter of Kalinda and Robyn and which of them ends up where (Kalinda's employment issues have never been the strongest element of the show, and it also only strengthens my conviction that the show never developed a strong baseline for Kalinda, which is why the character struggles with stories that don't involve Alicia); and finally there's Jackie and Cristian and whatever the hell is going on there. 

We'll just have to wait for Season 5 to see where it all ends up.


– Alicia's smirk as Abernathy was not going to be swayed by Patti's babies ("Is this a new one?") was priceless.

– Totally forgot about Amanda Peet as Laura Hellinger. I thought she was very good on the show, but sort of like Maddie, her friendship with Alicia just sort of faded in and out so that it never really went anywhere for me.

– "This kind of stunt went out with Perry Mason." "And yet I enjoy it every time."

– "I have dedicated my life to not predicting what Jackie knows."

– "I just want to go home!" "Can you remember your address?" Will is such a bastard.

– Dylan Baker was in full-on scenery-chewing mode. The way he was drawling out Alicia's name was killing me. 

– "I love horror movies. You know why I love horror movies?" "Why?" "Because they’re awesome."

– "Can I ask you a hypothetical?" "Nope."

– "She's my wife." "Then punch me."

– "Okay, so, I was thinking over my earlier determination, I thought of a story. Uh, it's about a very young boy, um, an old man, and a donkey. Uh... what the hell, I'm too tired. Judgement in favor of the defense." I like how this indicates a degree of performance in Abernathy's slightly kooky demeanor.

– The appearance from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was a nice nod to the show being shot in New York while being set in Chicago.

– Alicia leaving Lockhart/Gardner did make me think of one other thing: She's never getting that equity stake back from L/G, is she?

– The emphasis on the door in the final scene kept reminding me of the Season 1 episode "Hi." And I thought for sure when Alicia called from the campaign suite that were revisiting the Season 1 finale with the cellphones and the voicemail.

What'd you think of "What’s in the Box?" and the season as a whole?

  • Comments (82)
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  • vespa4 Sep 23, 2013

    More Lana Delaney in season 5!

  • Metissa May 01, 2013

    Awesome finale with some of the best recurring judges, lawyers and clients all in one episode! I laughed so hard at Will cross-examining the old woman! I can't believe Alicia is quitting L/G. My heart really goes out for Will if he loses both Diane as a partner, the 4th years and Alicia all in one go - as it is setting up for now. How can they do this to him? :(

  • Vicky8675309 May 01, 2013

    love it!

    Eli is so fun to watch--> "I love horror movies. You know why I love horror movies?" "Why?" "Because they’re awesome."

  • noelrk May 01, 2013

    It's that pause that Eli took that made the joke land, like he was searching for some profound reason and then he settled for the most honest.

  • makuyi May 01, 2013

    The "Alisssia" thing was killing me, it was like nails on a chalkboard.

  • NasiaVoulieri Apr 30, 2013

    I really enjoyed this episode! It was, indeed, one of the GW episodes that kept me on edge.

    Alicia leaving L/G is a major "twist" in the plot. When she signed on as a partner there, didn't she sign papers? Won't there be any legal or financial troubles on the way of this "separation"?

    Me wants more Sweeney! The writing for this character is amazing and it is amazingly portrayed by Dylan Baker!

    Peter's look was worried when he hugged Alicia after the results so I believe that he knows Alicia is not totally with him and I think this was the reason he asked her to renew their vows. I'm not saying he doesn't want it, but I think that he partly did it because he feels her slipping away.

    I must admit that I - too - thought the final scene was parallel to the finale of the first season (and I really really wanted it to end with Will and Alicia...) but I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to see Carry at the door!

    And who/what tells us that she isn't going "away" not in order to be away from Will, but to be able to be with him without having to answer to the firm? (I wish...) [I was so mad when Diane interrupted them!]

    Or maybe she wants to feel sure that she has earned everything because she is good and not because Will favoured her...

    I really need to see her and Will having a true chance at a good relationship. I don't want to see it rushed or hidden or anything so if the writers want to make those two work things out, I know they're going to take their time. I hope they'll end up together. I don't believe that they want each other just because it is the "forbidden fruit". We need more info on what happened between them and how she ended up getting knocked up by Peter (thus making her marry him). Right now, I'm on team Will & Alicia. Peter had his chance and he screwed her over. I'm not saying people don't deserve a second chance but after such a public humiliation it is next to impossible to trully recover (no matter how some women want to make it look). And I'm sure that back when the first season started, Peter's character would be happy to continue getting money or prostitutes etc if he hadn't been caught red handed. Yes, jail was a big lesson for him and maybe he did find God (or Buddha or whatever) I can't say that he's really convinced me. The stunt he pulled with the home probation was just dramatic enough to make Alicia go back to him. The fact that he had agreed on a voting scam shows me that he hasn't turned the page 100% and I'm afraid of what that means about his relationship with Alicia.

    I know, I'm babbling... Sorry! :-p
    Let's wait for season #5 and see just what the writers have in mind!

  • NasiaVoulieri May 01, 2013

    The site should have the option to unlike something! I accidentaly like my own comment two times! (I'm not that smug...) :-p

  • ludoTV Apr 30, 2013

    I loved the finale! Not only it was a great hour of TV (even if the final fake out felt a bit gimmicky) but it set lots of great drama for the 5th season... The most obvious thing is the aftermath of the 4th years (now inc. Alicia) stepping out to create their own firm. Alicia's departure will be felt as the biggest betrayal since she was just made partner and for Will it will be even more bitter since he gave her an opportunity when she was an inexperienced lawyer back in Season 1. Plus there is all the unresolved tension / feelings between them...

    Although it seems as if Alicia is staying with Peter, this was not explicit so whilst this is the most likely scenario, it still feels open to me... Not just because she was making out with Will again but also Peter's look once the results were announced seemed worried... At the very least, it seems as if Alicia is now more concerned about her own career than about his husband's governorship win. And of course the video that Will now has could be a real issue in Season 5 and if Alicia finds out in the wrong way, it could be a source of much drama...

    Yep, this season had some useless plots (though I would have liked to see the full development of the Kalinda-Nick weirdness but I think it was a bit too insane for network TV) but overall a 'bad' episode of TGW is still amongst the best network tv has to offer...

  • jolgarcia Apr 30, 2013

    This is exactly what I was waiting for from along time ago... I was hoping that Alicia had left L/G by season 3. I think that Cary & Alicia make a great team and I'm looking forward for season 5, just hope the writers don't screw up this thing.

    By the way, I think that Kalinda will be pissed off when she founds out that Alicia is leaving L/G (if she really does it) and she stick with Will and Diane. I guess that she looks to much for Alicia's attention.

  • Akyriel Apr 30, 2013

    Yeah, but what happened to Nick? What did Kalinda do to him? Anything? It wasn't so much "nipped in the bud" as it was something of a cop-out or a giving up on it without a real explanation simply because people supposedly did not like the storyline.

    What happened to Micheal Boatman, the black lawyer of the firm??

    I'm honestly sick of the whole Alicia and Will thing. I actually liked Will with that long-haired brunette actress whose name escapes me. They had a relationship, then she left for her job to Europe, I think, then came back for an episode or something. She was also on Grey's Anatomy one time as the Jane Doe patient who lost her memory and was so banged up as to be unrecognizable. I think her and Josh Charles had better, more believable chemistry.

    I don't think Go On will be renewed, so if not, maybe Matthew Perry will return.

    I always liked Cary and Alicia's professional relationship except for that period when he was not liking her very much. I always thought they could have developed them to be like Will and Diane and maybe be the future of the firm in that regard, but if they join against that firm now, maybe we'll see that anyway, just on a different path. Please keep it from being romantic in any way what-so-ever though!

  • tnetennba Apr 30, 2013

    That ending was very surprising. It doesn't really make sense to me. A few hours earlier she was making out with Will, and they were both hinting that she should dump Peter and be with Will. Instead she stabs him in the back. Well, not really, but that's how he will take it.

    I guess that was the point. In her somewhat twisted mind, staying with Peter is the "right" thing to do, so she wants to put distance between her and Will, both physically and emotionally, because she thinks that she won't be able to resist him as long as they're friends and working together.

    I think it's a very weird choice. If she really isn't able to resist him, then she should just be with him.

  • Lestie89 Apr 29, 2013

    I forgot to say I'm dying to see season five. I'm sure it will be greater than this season, because of the great changes that are right around the corner. It'll be fun seeing Will & Diane face Cary & Alicia. I don't think I can have enough of that. I'm mostly curious about Kalindas reaction to Alicia leaving and how hard Diane and Will are going to take it. They most certainly will see it as a betrayal, which it is in many ways, and I don't think they're getting over it anytime soon.

    The Will and Alcia chapther will have to wait much longer than I expected. I'm not optimistic about them getting back together during season 5. It may be some pecks here and there and sexual tension but I don't Alicia will let herself or hurt her kids. Will don't seem like someone that's capable of forgiving her easily and even when he does, I don't think he's ready for a relationship that's not consisting of hotell visits. Let's see if Alicia will even see a future for the two of them and if she can get over tha fact that she once again gave up on them.

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