‘The Good Wife’s’ Good Call: Putting a Face on Grief

Television kills people so promiscuously and even cavalierly – just look at something like “The Following” – that it’s often rare to see the impact of a single lost life truly resonate. Credit “The Good Wife” with altering that dynamic, in a follow-up to its surprising twist that explored the nature of grief and different approaches to grieving – and also exposed the depth of a cast that should ease concerns regarding whether the show can survive the loss of a major character.

For those who might care but have somehow avoided the news (and Spoiler Alert — with references to both the March 23 and March 30 episodes — for them), Will Gardner unexpectedly caught a bullet at the end of the March 23 episode. It was, admittedly, a slightly inelegant way of addressing a personnel issue – namely, that Josh Charles, who played Will, had decided he was ready to move on.

Still, in the “If life gives you lemons” department, “Good Wife” showrunners Robert and Michelle King, who wrote Sunday’s episode, appear to have more than made the best of it, while positioning the show, and perhaps particularly star Julianna Margulies, in an extremely favorable manner heading into the period that will overlap with the close of the Emmy eligibility window.

Margulies’ character Alicia, not surprisingly – given her complicated history with Will – is devastated by the news of his death, and in Sunday’s episode haunted by what might have been, including an interrupted phone call from Will moments before his death.

Everybody loves a good emotional breakdown, and Alicia’s is certainly a doozy. That said, the latest chapter contained equally satisfying exchanges involving Diane (Christine Baranski) and David Lee (Zach Grenier), Will’s legal partners, who bring their own colorful approach to grappling with what has transpired, including an inordinately cathartic confrontation with one of Will’s more unfeeling clients.

Although much of the response has been positive (including a note of admiration for keeping such news secret in this day and age), there are those who have fretted about “The Good Wife” engaging in what amounts to a stunt and mortgaging its future, even if Will’s death stemmed from pragmatic considerations regarding the actor who played him. Charles will certainly leave a void, although Sunday’s hour made clear the show has no shortage of arrows in its quiver. Nor should much stock be put in those who are overly upset about Will and Alicia being denied a shot at happily ever after, inasmuch as virtually every show with a challenged romance tends to produce a small subset of people who live a little too vicariously through it.

Clearly, the series receives a short-term boost from this storyline in terms of media attention (guilty as charged) and potentially awards consideration – not too shabby, frankly, for a program nearing the end of its fifth season, in a network heavily steeped in crime procedurals.

As for where the show goes once all the tears are shed, for one thing, “The Good Wife” doesn’t seem likely to get over its brush with violence and tragedy the way they do, say, on “Criminal Minds.” Beyond that, well, nothing lasts forever. Especially on TV.

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