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The Good Wife S05E16: "The Last Call"

Death can be hard for some television shows, and sudden deaths even harder. They can be difficult for the writers to conceive, difficult for the show to then properly dramatize, and then difficult for the audience to accept. If "anyone can die!" is built into a show's DNA—like on Law & Order (to a certain degree), Lost, most basic and premium cable drama since 1999—then you can expect the suddenness to a point, and death hangs over the characters and their every interaction.

If death isn't in the series' standard bag of narrative tricks, then the challenge is all the worse because we're simply not expecting it. Even on medical shows like M*A*SH* and House, where death is often a fact of life, the deaths of main characters can still come as a shock, whether it be over the Sea of Japan or a sudden and unexpected suicide. In the case of The Good Wife, we haven't had a sudden death since Jonas Stern (remember Stern?!) died quietly in his office in Season 2. It's why Will's death and Josh Charles' departure are both so shocking and so out of character for the show; that's not the kind of thing that happens on The Good Wife.

Like the death on House, the questions become "Why?" and "How?" For the audience of The Good Wife, those questions have been answered by a full-scale press storm of interviews and phone calls and open letters and discussions between fans. For three of the women in Will Gardner's life—Diane, Kalinda, and Alicia—"The Last Call" was about determining the answer to those questions.

I don't want to say that Diane had it the easiest of the three, but she may have been the one to earn the most immediate and satisfying amount of closure compared to where Kalinda and, especially, Alicia were by the episode's end. She also, however, had the more immediate concern of how to keep her business afloat now that that her other managing partner had died. It's a decent distraction from having to cope with the grief, but also a way to cope with it. Of course, that didn't stop her from firing a barely-hired intern who was sobbing in an hallway when Diane, who has known Will for decades, couldn't get that time to grieve.

It may have been crass when David Lee—whose near fit of crying almost broke me all over again; HE DOES HAVE A HEART—wanted to take the time to get Will's clients in line and make sure they didn't jump ship, but it's what both he and Diane ultimately needed. And it resulted in Diane getting to fire Will's asshole of a client who basically saw this as an opportunity to leverage himself some more attention with a face-to-face meeting while people are in mourning. Diane's brutal take down of him, including blackballing him for a couple other firms in Chicago, was the most pleasurable sequence in the whole episode: "That felt good." "Turned me on."

As a semi-related aside: Cary does the exact same thing to an opposing lawyer who decides not to be respectful of Cary wanting to delay a deposition (for a client they poached from LG). He comes out guns blazing in the deposition, destroying the doctor's character, leading the other attorney to want to call things off. Cary's reply to why he's being so aggressive: "I want to get out my aggression and my anger by destroying your client. Now sit down. I said sit the hell down." Always a nice to have a reminder that Cary and Diane are often one and the same.

Kalinda and Alicia both have mysteries to solve, and that means they're both in procedurals, of sorts. Kalinda wanted to know how Will died and Alicia wanted to know why Will called her, leaving a brief, ambiguous voice mail. Kalinda's search for her answer led her down the show's standard procedural beats of identifying suspects, figuring out if they did it, and why they did it. Then, as things often do with Kalinda, they got a little dark.

The speed at which Kalinda's investigation went could've been a distraction, especially as it involved Jenna greasing all the necessary wheels for her, but Kalinda needed answers here more than we needed this to be a driving mystery (that was partially the point of Alicia's plot, after all). Likewise, I don't know that it mattered all that much who killed Will, but Kalinda's someone who needs information, needs to know things. It is her job, yes, but it's also how she protects herself, how she gets what she wants. In this case, it was making sure he was laying down her wrath on the correct person.

Take this how you will, but Kalinda's enough of a cipher still that it her giving the belt to Jeffrey wouldn't have surprised me any more than her deciding to not give it to him did. Giving Jeffrey the belt would've been bad for Jenna—how horrible—but ultimately I think it's Kalinda's more sadistic nature that resulted in all the toying, her normal impulse to go Old Testament, either physically, emotionally, or sexually, to punish those around her. She's going to live with Will's death for the rest of her days, and now Jeffrey will as well, for however many days he'll have left.

Alicia had the bulk of emotional and story weight to carry this week, and understandably so. It is her show, after all, but it's also her relationship with Will that's been the engine for a lot of stories since "Hitting the Fan." His death shakes things up for her in ways that it simply can't for Diane or Kalinda, or anyone else for that matter. This is Alicia's loss, and the episode wisely chose not to shy away from that.

There's of course the search for who can fill in the gap of the voice mail, why Will called her, but it was the reaction to each bit of information to adjust her sense of how things happened, from a prison thug in an orange jumper to Jeffrey in his suit and tie firing the gun, to all the different possibilities of what Will's call was about. If it was him furious ("Are you kidding? Leave our clients alone."), him being apologetic about their fighting ("This feud is stupid."), or if it was him, as she may have chosen to make it as Peter embraced her, calling to want to take another swing at being together ("Alicia, I'm sorry. I want what we had. I want to be with you, and only you. Forever. Call me back, please.")

Like the show's memory pops, these imagination pops, are quick, staying around just as long as they need to before cutting back in less than a heartbeat to the external world as someone shakes Alicia out of her thoughts. It used to be that we had very little access to Alicia's inner-workings, relying only on Julianna Margulies's finely calibrated facial expressions. The memory pops give us access in a new but still vaguely elliptical way that doesn't undermine Alicia's emotional complexity by showing what she's thinking; it actually enhances it.

In the end, while Diane and Kalinda found some solace, Alicia did not. She did find out that Will wasn't calling because he was mad—Damian (remember Damian?) was stealing clients—but it's of little comfort because the question lingers. Between this and the thawing of their relationship in the previous two episodes, Alicia is left to deal with the trailing off that is her relationship to to Will Gardner, with little to draw comfort from but the sincere religious feelings of her daughter and the insincere sincerity of her husband. She's alone in her grief, both by choice and by circumstance, holding herself together with one last imagined smile.


– I do admit to singling out M*A*S*H and House on purpose since, like The Good Wife, both had to react to actors wanting off their shows as well. Indeed, House's episode was devoted to explaining the unexplainable, in a similar way to Alicia's fruitless search for what Will called her about. It ended without answers, too.

– Diane's massive chain-link necklace is yet another piece of statement jewelry that I'm convinced only she could make look amazing.

– Will's granola hippie girlfriend wasn't given any space to mourn Will's death. Thank goodness.

– I didn't mention it above, but I really loved Alicia and Grace's scene this week. Alicia doesn't keep her pain in check, Grace doesn't back down from that pain, and Margulies killed in it.

– That's two episodes in a row we've had detectives from the show's early seasons reappear. Last week it was Felix Solis on the stand; he hasn't been around since Season 2. And this week it was James McDaniel questioning Jeffrey; he's been absent since Season 1.

– One other blast from the past: This was the first time Kalinda and Alicia spoke to one another in roughly a season, let alone had TWO conversations. Maybe they'll actually share a scene soon, too, something I don't think has happened since the Season 4 episode "Boom De Yah Da," which was 27 episodes ago. When Alicia asked Kalinda what she was going to do, I hoped the answer was "shots of tequila."

– In case you missed the news, Matthew Goode, who plays Finn Polmar, was promoted to a series regular for... the remaining episodes of Season 5. No word yet on what this means for him in Season 6, but it seems to me like a pretty clear trial for the character's continued presence on the show.

– Now that we're all emotionally drained, it's time for a quick break from the show! We'll meet back here on April 13 to discuss "A Material World." Luckily, from that episode forward, it's new episodes and no breaks until the finale on May 18, so buckle your seat belts.

What did you think of "The Last Call"?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 11/22/2015

Season 7 : Episode 8

Next Episode

AIRS ON 11/29/2015

Season 7 : Episode 9

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