It was the slap heard around the Internet. “The Good Wife” ended its seven series run with an across-the-face slap from Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) to Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), after her betrayal in the courtroom.
Speaking to Variety, series creators and executive producers Michelle and Robert King defend the moment, as well as explaining Alicia’s future, what it was like having Josh Charles back on set, and their plans for “Brain Dead.”
Was this the finale you always planned?
Robert: At least with regard to the last five minutes. How we got there was a bit more of a negotiated route, with regard to what actors were available. We thought Carrie Preston would be the lawyer. We thought there would be moves we would have made if we had the actors available to us. So absent that, yes.
Michelle: We knew what the spine would be, but many of the details were created in the last three, four months.
Audiences reacted badly to the slap. How did you feel about it?
Robert King: It felt right. We knew fans, a lot of fans, would be upset. The difficulty we had that was that everything that was tempting to do was tempting to do in a way that undercut the seven seasons of the show. They were kind of good for the last episode of the show. We had a sit-down in our writers’ room about two to three months ago about the ending. And we had always had on our whiteboard, about the ending, the word “SLAP.” And it was, “OK, are we still sure of this?” It was a conversation that went all over the map. The other possible end had her running after a guy, falling into the arms of a guy, the usual running to the airport scene. We just thought that would be happy-making in the moment but it didn’t feel a wrap up to the seven seasons. And that seemed more important. We’re sorry if anybody’s thrown by this, but we do think it will be more resonant for the show in the rearview mirror. You may want to return to the first episode — how did she change from the first episode? That seems more important than whether she ends up with Jason and we see them setting up house together. That doesn’t seem to be what the show was really about.
Michelle King: Not only that, but the acting there at the end with Julianna and Christine was so stellar, it’s hard to reject anything that brings that about.
Was Jason always conceived of as her final love interest or was the role expanded because of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance?
Michelle: The role was always meant to go the entire season.
Robert: Just as Alicia has always been trying to find the guy in her life, the show has always been trying to find the right guy. What we thought this last year was about was that Peter, the Chris Noth character, was about weight, was about holding her down; as Jason said, you need to be needed or you’ll tip over. Jason was the opposite. He was about weightlessness, he was free-floating. He gives her a property on Mars. The third character in her life was the one who was there from the very beginning, Will Gardner. He’s this romantic figure in her mind who she can manipulate and be a dream character in any way she wants. Those felt like the three poles in her life of men. Jason was always there as someone who was representing a direction in her life.
Talk about filming with Josh Charles. What was it like having him back on set?
Robert: He came to the set a little nervous. We still have all the same crew. This is a family that stayed together. He wanted to see how everyone took it. He fell right into it. He and Julianna have so much chemistry it burns up the screen. There were no problem.
Michelle: It was fantastic. Everyone lingered around wanting to see the two of them in scenes together. In the same way, with old friends you start talking if you haven’t seen each other in a long time as though no one time has passed, that’s what it was like watching the two of them together again. The characters were right there.
Does Alicia end up in politics or back at the law firm?
Robert King: I would actually say it’s law. I don’t think she loves politics. I think Eli will constantly be there pushing her to go to bigger and bigger things, but I actually think her love is with the law. I think the slap has woken her up to the collateral damage she’s causing in her life. And she will try to correct that.
Michelle King: I agree.
But can she patch things up with Diane?
Michelle King: That was a pretty big rift. I think it will take something really large for that relationship to mend.
What have you learned from this show that you will bring to your new show “Brain Dead”?
Robert: Try to be more cinematic. Build an operation from the ground up. Don’t try to keep change it as you go. Use New York actors as much as you can. Try to be more conservative in your page count. I think the biggest thing is try to be more cinematic. I think movies in trying to be more of a spectacle have lost their cinematic bones and they haven’t really stretched themselves cinematically. TV now with their bigger screens and hi-def have allowed a lot more maneuverability. I just love our show when it goes silent. When it goes silent and the images are allowed to take over, like the Regina Spektor scene, it’s just a dream. We’re trying to do some of that in “Brain Dead.” It’s harder with a comedy because comedy is built around dialogue. And it’s harder with other directors because you have something in your mind’s eye that you want to communicate.
Michelle: How valuable it is to work with great actors. We had spectacular actors on “Good Wife.” And we’ve been fortunate in “Brain Dead” to also have a marvelous cast.
Robert, you’ve said you regretted the title of “The Good Wife.” Looking back, what would you rename it?
Robert: One of the titles we had thrown about before “Scandal” was “Scandal.” It’s a very good title. “The Good Wife” is probably best for the irony of the show but I also think it has kept some of the male audience away. I think it’s a very muscular show, it’s very cynical, very knowing. It’s not as much about female empowerment as much about power. Another title might have allowed other people to find the show.
Do you think there’s a possibility for another quality, broadcast, 22-episode drama?
Michelle: Yes if the actors are willing to do it. When we started there weren’t as many cable and streaming options for actors. Now I think 22 is such a grueling schedule that a lot of actors are going to gulp if they have the choice.
Robert: It’s very hard to maintain a voice over 22 episodes. It really requires a micro-managing that’s very difficult over 22 episodes. The good news is that there are so many great smaller shows these days filling the gap. The advantage of 22 is that we really felt we could do anything. Suddenly we’d do an episode that’s completely in Alicia’s mind. Hey, why not? It’s the 15th episode out of 22. Let’s do an episode about BitCoin. It doesn’t matter. We’ll teach the audience. Twenty-two allows more freedom to do that.
Aren’t lawyers supposed to zealously defend their clients?
Robert: That is the argument, isn’t it? Here’s the thing. Can you zealously defend a client to a point where you have strained the ethical demands of friends and family? And I do think there are needs for balancing out ethical demands. I think someone could look objectively at the situation, especially a lawyer, and say, “wait a minute, Diane, you’re overreacting. You’re the lawyer. Your husband got involved with this woman.” On the other hand, we were with Alicia at the party episode, two back. And we saw Alicia watch Diane and Kurt McVeigh huddling and kissing, and her jealousy in many ways of their relationship. And you can’t say that that didn’t play into this end. At least Alicia should have known what she was playing with. Either there was a hidden side of her that did want Diane brought down to her level: “If I can’t have a husband that I’m perfectly happy with, then I don’t mind that it happens to this other person.” On the other hand, you can view that under the guise of zealously defending your client. So what I love about the ending in my mind is one could defend both sides of this.
Michelle: I would say that’s what characterizes our best episodes. You can see the argument from both characters’ point of view.
Robert: I think that’s something that’s building over seven seasons. Will, when he cleared her desk said, “You’re awful and you don’t even know how awful you are.” There have always been justifications for certain ethical maneuvers. But in the long run, those justifications either became thinner or were built on shakier ground. This sounds like we’re ending up hating Alicia. Not at all. She’s as human as any character we’ve created. The character is not served well if she’s given a happier ending that doesn’t allow for who she is.
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