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

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:

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • Fleabag Succession Emmys

    Could 'Fleabag' and 'Succession' Be Spoilers on Emmy Night? (Column)

    At the onset, this year’s Emmy Awards felt a bit anticlimactic, as the final seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” appeared to have this year’s drama and comedy categories locked up before campaigning even began. But that’s how upsets happen: Just when we’re pretty confident about how things might go, a couple of wild [...]

  • Climate Mobilization

    Marshall Herskovitz: Why the Climate Crisis Needs Movie Marketing-Style Muscle

     I’ve lived inside the climate-communications conundrum for 20 years, working with scientists, academics and activists to find ways to convince Americans that something they couldn’t see or feel was nevertheless a looming catastrophe worth upending their lives to fight. Now the climate crisis is undeniable, and we are finally seeing the beginnings of concerted action. [...]

  • Renée Zellweger, Adam Driver Gain Oscar

    Telluride: Oscar Buzz Builds For Renée Zellweger, Adam Driver and 'The Two Popes'

    This year’s Telluride Film Festival began on Thursday with the Guest/Patron Brunch on a private estate about a 30-minute drive from the center of town. Eggs, bacon and fruit salad were being served as the sun was shining on Martin Scorsese, Adam Driver, Noah Baumbach, Laura Dern, Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Ken Burns, Ric Burns, [...]

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    Telluride: Audience Laughs and Cries During 'The Two Popes' World Premiere

    Little did the audience at the world premiere of “The Two Popes” know that the papal two-hander is actually very funny. No, it’s not a comedy, but the jokes and ribbing between Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the future pope, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), played well in the packed Chuck Jones’ Cinema, as did [...]

  • Renee Zwllweger in Judy

    Telluride: Renée Zellweger Will Return to the Oscars With 'Judy'

    The Oscars love actors playing alcoholic, drug-addicted singers. Last year, Rami Malek took home the big prize for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” beating out Bradley Cooper for his work as the fictional Jackson Maine in “A Star Is Born.” Over the years, we’ve seen Jamie Foxx win for “Ray,” Jeff Bridges [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content