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‘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:

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