March 24th, 2014 The Good Wife 1
Death is often the most powerful — and most used — way to shake things up on a television program. Countless shows have used the death of a major character to breathe new life into a long-running show by giving a foolproof way to create dramatic storylines and explore established characters further. Many of the most heart-wrenching moments in television history have occurred due to the exploration of death, likely because it is the most universal part of life. Everyone has questions about death, everyone experiences loss in some way, and everyone can feel the pain death brings. Certain shows use a major death as a cop-out, a way to increase viewership because of the predictable buzz that comes after something so shocking occurs. After spending so many hours getting to know a character, we feel as though a real person has left us, and with that often comes real sadness.
The reason I bring up television’s use of death is because of the way this week’s The Good Wife, “Dramatics, Your Honor,” completely blindsided me with their version of the Major Character Death. This death was not the result of a creative-drought or low viewership. In fact, the show’s current season is likely its most creatively rich due to the separation of Alicia and Cary into their own law firm, which sparked an intense rivalry between them and former bosses Will and Diane. This death was use to relieve an actor of his duty, and thereby giving the character the powerful send-off he deserved.
The death I’m referring to is that of Will Gardner, one half of the partnership that runs Lockhart/Gardner, and personally my favourite character. It’s never easy watching your favourite character leave the show and it’s even harder when the death is both so shocking and so easily avoidable.
This episode began with Will defending Jeffrey Grant, a young man who was accused of raping and murdering a fellow student. We’ve seen Jeffrey before, so the show is able to dive right in without having to setup stakes. This case has more weight on it than the typical case-of-the-week, as we already know how much Will wants to clear Jeffrey’s name, even when it remains ambiguous whether or not Jeffrey really is innocent. It’s a pretty interesting case, and it leads to some great moments between the cast, including a conversation between Will and Alicia that hints at them turning a corner in their angst-filled relationship, but overall it’s pretty standard The Good Wife for the majority of the episode — until the shooting, of course.
Will’s death is the reason that this will be the most talked about episode of TGW this season, and possibly of the whole series. There have been mixed feelings towards the way Robert and Michelle King decided to write Will out so that Josh Charles could go on to other things. Many feel like this is the type of move one of the more soapy and, for lack of a better term, worse network shows would pull. In fact, shows like Grey’s Anatomy have episodes like this nearly every season. Though it does seem odd that this show would choose to go for the intense dramatics rather than a more nuanced approach, I am appeased because of how much sense the way Will died makes for his character.
Jeffrey loses trust in Will’s ability to win the case, and ends up shooting him. That’s a heavily simplified version of how Will ended up dead on a gurney with only one shoe, but it’s essentially what all the action boils down to. This entire season we’ve seen how Will can never let things go. When Alicia and Cary left to start Florrick/Agos, Will made it his mission to bring them down for betraying him. He’s fueled by passion and anger, as well as intense trust in his legislation abilities. Earlier in the season Will decided that it would be a good idea to expand Lockhart/Gardner to two other cities, an idea he didn’t want to back down from. We see the same determination from Will in Jeffrey’s case: Will won’t back down even when little evidence can be found to support Jeffrey’s innocence. There were many times when Will could have walked away, and he would still be alive. His determination had to catch up with him eventually, and it led to his end.
This episode really utilized directing techniques to increase the impact of the moments leading up to and following the shooting. By opening with a soundless courtroom shot from from Jeffrey’s perspective, we get to feel the dread and confusion that he feels after believing that there is no way to prove his innocence. The same technique employed towards the end of the episode gets us back into Jeffrey’s head, letting us know that he still has no faith that Will will be able to help him. At this point the audience knows that Will has evidence that can possibly determine Jeffrey’s innocence. The audience also knows that Jeffrey previously stated that he would rather kill himself than go in solitary to avoid the beatings he endures in prison. When the dead-air technique that opened the episode is used again, it’s used to remind us of what Jeffrey’s thoughts are at that moment. All he knows is that the original suspect lied on the stand, and that he’ll have to be completely secluded while he waits for his sentence. When we see Jeffrey eyeing the guard’s gun, we have an idea of what’s about to happen, but still have no idea of the repercussions, largely because the shooting occurs off screen.
The episode’s Big Moment also eclipses a huge development that occurred just a few minutes before: there is new video evidence that all but confirms that Peter’s election was stolen. I assume that this revelation will be put on the back-burner in at least the next episode in favour of mourning Will’s death, but having this new information out there will surely lead to storylines that deal with political corruption, one of my favourite facets of this multifaceted show. The stuffed ballot box has been a major part of this season, and acknowledging it in this episode hopefully means that we aren’t finished with it yet.
It isn’t easy seeing Will Gardner leave The Good Wife. He has always been a formidable force, both as Alicia’s love-interest and as her antagonist. The show may technically be about Alicia (she is the good wife, after all), but so much of what makes the show great is because of the people that surround her, Will included. There is no way that Will’s death won’t be felt throughout at least the rest of the season, but I have faith that the show will be able to expertly navigate this storyline as it has all its others. It may seem like a cop-out, but sometimes a sudden death may be the best way to write a character out of a show, even if it’s not the most realistic. This season has been the show’s most creative, enough to grab a spot on my Top Ten list last year, and I expect that the creativity will continue to flow. I have faith that The Good Wife will remain one of the best dramas on network television, if not television as a whole.