And then we came to the end. Well played, Kings, well played. You took an altogether inconsistent season that at times veered almost completely off the rails, and finished with a slick, slam-dunk reboot capper the likes of which have not been seen since Sterling Cooper became Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
How did you do it? Let’s count the ways. “What’s in the Box?” may not have had the zing of season-two finale “Closing Arguments,” but what it lacked in sexual tension it made up for in quick about-faces and taut, surprising writing.
We open on Zach in his prep-school blazer, all set to cast his first ever early vote for his dear old dad in the 43rd Ward. Since he’s tech-savvy and eagle-eyed (and this is just one of many callbacks to the season opener), he’s got his iPhone camera at the ready when he notices a suspicious ballot box with a broken seal being trucked in by some shifty-looking guys. There are loose ballots on top marked for Kresteva, and in a matter of seconds he’s ejected from the polling place with digital evidence in hand and we’ve got the beginnings of our rapid-fire, voter fraud case-of-the-week.
Meanwhile, Cary and the fourth-years are seeing office space under the cover of night, and we learn they’re planning to move in two weeks, but there’s just the pesky issue of Kalinda’s steep salary ask busting their budget. Later, the crew has to deal with a sniveling Colin Sweeney, who turns out to be their new prospective landlord, and Cary comes under fire from his team for letting his, ahem, close relationship with Kalinda affect their negations.
Over in emergency election eve court, the always enjoyable Judge Abernathy (Denis O’Hare) is presiding, and a breast-feeding Patti Nyholm (Martha Plimpton) is representing the Kresteva campaign. They get Zach and the pre-dementia-ish polling monitor on the stand, and since everyone’s under the assumption that the box was packed with Kresteva votes, L&G is arguing to get them thrown out while Patti’s trying to poke holes, alleging voter suppression and bringing up Zack’s arrest to boot. One by one, the gang shows up to bolster the charge, with Kalinda and Cary looking into where the box came from and Diane and Will lending gravitas.
It’s a funny lead-in to the cold open when we finally get the vote count and learn — surprise!— the box contained almost ten times the amount of Florrick votes as it did Kresteva ones. L&G immediately tries to backpedal, but Patti’s quick on the draw to change her motion to voter fraud, and the case continues. (Sidebar: I loved Will’s smirk in that reveal moment. Cynical foreshadowing to his mano a mano standoff with Peter later?)
Things are stressful over at Florrick HQ, with Cristian (looking mighty slimey) holding court at the piano with a giggling Jackie, Eli trying not to freak out about potentially being down in the polls, and Peter enlisting heavy campaign guy Jim to do a background check on Cristian.
In part two of election court, everyone’s trying to speculate on the provenance of that box, but things get interrupted because of a federal court injunction against the ballot by the third-party candidate. Who?! This leads to a funny set piece with the return of Jordan Karahalios as the surprise third-party campaign manager and Ana Gasteyer doing her thing as the in-my-opinion judge. There’s an O’Dell/Odell situation about Jordan’s candidate, and he’s claiming that dropped apostrophe on the ballot will affect their Irish base, but in the end it’s thrown out because the dude was not even Irish in the first place. Ha!
But in between all that, of course, is the Parked Car With Fogged Windows moment, and the Then Punch Me moment, both starring a confident and passionate Will. Remember when some of you in the comments were wishing for a whole cabin-in-a-snowstorm-with-no-electricity situation for Willicia so things could finally get real? This car scene I think was that: They were sleep-deprived, emotionally spent, and stuck together in closed quarters on a deadline. “I can’t figure my way out of this one,” Alicia says, right before falling right over onto Will’s mouth. What might have happened if an impatient Diane hadn’t banged on the hood of the car? (Sidebar: The two of them looked surprisingly unfazed about her catching them, right? But perhaps they were just tired.) “This night is over, we talk,” Will replies.
Then Punch Me was something a little different, with Will facing off against Peter to reveal that they found video proving that the votes actually were fraudulent, and Alicia hasn’t seen it yet. What should he do? Willicia leanings aside here, I have to say I thought Peter acted like a thug here. Even if he wasn’t directly responsible for corruption within his campaign, it’s still his job to be the last word. “I’m not owning this decision,” he angrily replies. Lame.
Jordan shows up back in election court later to claim the Eli proposed a dropbox of fraudulent votes during a meeting, and just when it looks like all is lost, Zach saves the day, testifying that Eli was not actually campaign manager during the date in question. The votes can stand, but in the end, they weren’t needed at all as it was Florrick in a landslide.
And as for that talk? As we learn in the final moments, it happens between Alicia and Cary, not Alicia and Will. Bold! In a TVLine interview, Josh Charles said that he thinks Alicia defecting doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Willicia, since it removes the whole boss/underling aspect of their tangled situation, which was certainly one of the sticking points. I can see this reasoning, and I’d like to believe it, but I honestly do think Alicia’s breakaway, at least in her heart at this point, was done partly with her marriage to Peter in mind, i.e. removing herself from the temptation and complicated feelings that proximity to Will presents, an idea Robert King echoes. What do you make of it?
So let’s see, an abridged overview of some of what we have awaiting us next season: Florrick, Agos & Associates, Diane as Supreme Court Justice and Peter as Governor, Kalinda scorned by Cary, and Will potentially on his own to pick up the pieces? To borrow a quote from Alicia, “I’m in.”
Bonus! In the tradition of Jada’s season-three closing recap, my very non-exhaustive survey of what worked and what didn’t in season four … Please add your own in the comments.
Good: Nathan Lane! He didn’t sing, he didn’t dance, and that bankruptcy stuff was mostly boring, but that bakery scene and avuncular bond with Cary was too sweet to miss.
Bad: Nick. Don’t even need to go into why.
Mixed: Amanda Peet never quite rose to the occasion in her friendship with Alicia or burgeoning romance with Will. Good lipstick, though.
Bad: That side ponytail on Mandy Post.
Good: Diane speaking French.
Good: Robyn. Whether she goes with Cary or not, her quirky ways were a consistent delight to watch.
Bad: Christina Ricci. Does she take the award for worst guest star of season four? Yes. Yes, she does.
GREAT: Stockard Channing. Whether it was discussing her favorite book, Vagina, with Will or spilling the beans to her grandkids that their parents had a shotgun wedding, any scene Alicia’s mom was in was always a fantastic one. More please.
GREAT: A final sign-off to you commenters: Thanks for always keeping me on my recapping toes with your whip-smart analysis, Twitter nuggets, and scathing critiques. Until next season …