‘The Good Wife’ Surprise Earns Its ‘Shocker’ Label

'The Good Wife' Earns Its 'Shocker'

The adrenaline ante has been so upped on episodic dramas as to somewhat devalue the “shocker” label. So credit the producers of “The Good Wife” with delivering a genuine jolt in Sunday’s episode, precisely because the CBS series doesn’t rely on over-the-top “OMG” moments in the way, say, something like “Scandal” does.

Sunday’s episode (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) featured the death of a major character, in an unforeseen act of violence that had additional resonance precisely because “The Good Wife” isn’t one of those programs that normally settles story lines — or spikes ratings — with a bullet. That the character was Will Gardner — as played by Josh Charles, about as fundamental to the show as anyone save star Julianna Margulies — only magnified the emotional wallop.

Shrewdly, CBS teased the flight of episodes to come, indicating that Will’s death will guide the remaining arc. Not so shrewdly, the network also touted an appearance by Charles on “Late Show With David Letterman” on Monday night — an ostensible bit of synergy that played out awkwardly when Letterman hosted Taraji P. Henson earlier this season after her character experienced a similar fate on “Person of Interest.”

Memo to CBS: Letterman might grudgingly participate in such stunts, but always reluctantly — in a way that usually makes clear he knows nothing about the show. Maybe better to try and enlist Craig Ferguson to play ball?

Setting that aside, Sunday’s surprise reinforced the sense of “The Good Wife” as an outlier on CBS — a series so niftily written and acted, and so deftly mixing comedy with its drama, as to avoid all the procedural cliches that characterize most of the network’s drama lineup.

Of course, like a lot of character deaths — the departure of Dan Stevens from “Downton Abbey” comes to mind among the most recent examples — this one wasn’t rooted so much in creative daring as practicality. As detailed on Deadline, Charles was ready to leave the show, so showrunners Robert and Michelle King figured as long as he was going to go they might as well get maximum bang, as it were, for their buck.

Still, even with TV shows currently shedding characters at a rather alarming rate, “The Good Wife” demonstrated it’s possible to make a death mean something — precisely because this isn’t the kind of neighborhood where such eruptions are going to become a habit. “The Walking Dead,” this ain’t.

Charles thus gets the exit he wanted, and the series extracts a dramatic flourish that — in what’s already been a splendid season — should propel the show into the spring. (It will also produce a lot of whining from those who pined for the Will-Alicia relationship to work out, but what else is new?)

In that respect, credit “The Good Wife” with achieving something the squabbling lawyers on the show are usually denied — namely, a win-win.

The Kings reached out to fans via Twitter with a lengthy note explaining their rationale for Will’s send off:

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  1. P.J. says:

    I can’t wait to see what happens next with Alicia!! Where this will take her. She is one of my favorite characters on television ever. If not THE fave. Best wishes to Josh Charles and thank you for making the character of Will such a special and memorable one – many happy returns. To the remaining cast and crew – buck up and kick ass!

  2. Remarkable episode. Part of me is bummed this was done out of practicality and not just birthed out of some insane vision the showrunners had, but I certainly trust them to do an excellent job with this latest development. Not many writers on TV as consistent as Robert & Michelle King http://www.untemperedtv.com/?p=665

  3. Missing Josh Charles, But Not as Much as Joss Carter says:

    The news of Will Gardner’s death feels very different from learning about the death of Detective Joss Carter, on Person of Interest. The reason may be Josh Charles did not wish to continue being on The Good Wife and his character was eliminated in accordance with his wishes. Taraji P. Henson was eliminated form Person of Interest to make room for Sarah Shahi and the writers of the show initially made it appear Henson left the show of her own accord, later admitting Jonah Nolan needed his catwoman, and the show would become more sci-fi-ish. Henson was jettisoned. The ratings for Person of Interest and the decline in viewership, after Henson’s departure, add to the rest of the story.

    • sammyglick says:

      ??? The ratings have been just as good after Henson’s departure, as they were before she left the show. If anything, the reason for the slight dip is due to the show having taken several weeks off (airing repeats) as the season comes to an end. Audiences likely forgot or didn’t realize inbetween four weeks of episodes, one is new. Likewise, minus Det. Carter, the show can now focus more on other aspects of The Machine and who wants it (instead of Finch and the team having to spend time chasing down Russian mobsters and dirty cops). While those story arcs were fun, they ran their course. Personally I’m much more interested in the show’s current direction exploring issues related to personal privacy vrs. security than more stuff involving HR and the Russian Mob.

      • Henson was the "Soul" of the Show and Person of Interest is Worse Off Without Her says:

        Person of Interest writers could have found a way to INTEGRATE Taraji P. Henson into future scripts. They chose not to and that is the crime. The show is NOT BETTER without her, and fewer people watch since she left. The 18-49 demographic count is significantly lower. Face facts, sir, and do your research. CBS and Jonah Nolan made a huge mistake when killed the “heart and soul” of the show. They know it and so do everyone else with a pulse.

  4. bsbarnes says:

    This is how to do it, after last week’s excellent flashback episode, with characters not knowing that they are saying goodbye to each other: whew! Well played.

  5. Jack Myhervold says:

    Josh Charles has big things ahead of him, if Hollywood cares about story telling anymore. The show is terrific and has so many good characters. I think Dylan McDermott, formerly of “Hostages”, would be an interesting character to join the law firm.

  6. Isn’t this what entertainment is all about–PATA what People Are Talking About! When you keep you audience talking (and guessing) you keep them watching. Two great features for a successful Brand. WTG The Good Wife, for a wonderful series that delivers.

  7. j main says:

    What a terrific surprise!! The show will be much improved going forward.

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