As it crosses the 100-episode threshold, The Good Wife is riding high. A few weeks ago, showrunners Robert and Michelle King pulled off the gutsy move of blowing up the show by having Alicia split from Lockhart Gardner. Watching the characters wade through the wreckage has proven just as explosive. In “The Decision Tree” (the series’ last new episode until January), Will's brave (pissed off?) face began to crumble, Kalinda hopped into bed with a sexy new friend, and Marilyn caused Eli to do a spit-take. Baby steps to January, everyone! Until then, Vulture rang up the Kings to help break down Sunday's episode and tease what's ahead.
Will is not just furious about Alicia’s split with him and the firm. He’s heartbroken, and it’s finally catching up with him.
Robert: Yes. What we wanted to go for was the delayed reaction. Right after the events of episode five, he goes into commando mode. He’s revitalized. He’s thinking, There’s that weight off my shoulders, this relationship that I couldn’t really embrace because she’s married. And it feels like she kind of keeps pushing me around. But as with most things in life, there’s that problem that’s buried deep beneath, that you kind of push aside, something that you’d rather not face because to go there is the dark night of the soul time. That’s what we were trying to explore, that dark night of the soul of a relationship that meant more than almost anything to him, that is now over.
Michelle: And also, how he can push that vulnerability into his work, and try to make it work for him?
Josh Charles was excellent playing that turmoil. Where did you get the idea for using the decision tree as a showcase for what’s going on in his head?
Robert: We’d always had the idea of doing a whole episode where you saw the preparation for a cross examination. It felt like an interesting structure, testing whether this question is a good one, or if the person answers one way, deciding what you would ask next. We decided to use the decision tree idea for this episode because we knew it would be diving back into the tension between Alicia and Will on a very personal level. It’s been very structural up to now, the firms against each other, but in fact there is this sense of betrayal Will feels.
What kind of discussion, if any, did you have with Julianna Margulies in terms of how you wanted her to play Will’s vision of her when he’s imagining the cross-examination?
Robert: Jules is incredibly intuitive in her acting. The only conversation we had with her was about what was in the script and that it should feel a little like Perry Mason. Emotions of cowardice or anger should be accentuated. When Will is there with her in his imagination at the end, when we see that they’re in the courtroom, that final emotion from Alicia where she’s sorry was meant to be very real. But prior to that it was supposed to be kind of Perry Mason — the swallows, a little overacted — because that’s the way Will would imagine her in his mind.
I loved that in reality she’s not sorry at all!
Robert: [Laughs.] Yeah, that was supposed to be more comic than it turned out being. It turned out very dramatic, which we loved, too, but it was supposed to be about how you can prepare as much as you want for a witness, and then sometimes the witness has no problem answering you at all. You can control someone in your mind, but in reality, it can be just the opposite. And Jules is amazing in that scene, like, “Fuck you. You wanna take out your anger in court? Well, you better come prepared.”
The way you see Alicia right now, is she just more angry than Will is? Is she too busy getting her firm off the ground to mourn the relationship? Or is she just more over it than he is?
Robert: She’s not more over it than he is. At the end of act one, when she looks over at him and sees what he’s suggesting, that he wants to put her on the stand, it’s like, Oh my God, your hatred really is appalling. You’re seeing her disbelief that he’s gonna go there, that he’s going to use pillow talk in his cross examination. But when she remembers him rubbing her leg under the table, it’s because she’s still attracted to the idea of Will as sexual object. And obviously what comes with that is passion for love, or passion for another person. I don’t think she’s over it at all. Will just hasn’t faced his heartbreak until this moment, and it’s coming out in very ugly and depressing ways.
Between the presence of ethics watchdog Marilyn Garbanza [Melissa George] and Peter’s surprise chat with drug kingpin Lemond Bishop, it feels like we’re building to the point where Alicia’s willingness to use her husband’s name to get ahead is going to bite her in the butt.
Robert: Yes, the difficulty she has there is that there’s a lot of rules against that. But when you’re poor or struggling, you try to pull out all the strategic possibilities you have.
We left off with Marilyn telling Eli she was going to name her baby Peter, which was hilarious. But she doesn’t seem like much of a kidder.
Robert: She’s not kidding. The only thing we’d say is we pick up the next episode right where we left off. Literally a second later. You’ll find out about that immediately.
Kalinda takes a quick liking to Damian’s cop friend Jenna [guest star Jordana Spiro]. How is she different from the love interest who was reportedly going to be introduced in the series premiere but was ultimately scrapped?
Robert: The role in the beginning of the year would have been a prosecutor, and what we wanted to do was create this tension between Kalinda and the other side of the law often in cases. The difficulty we ran into was while we had a great actress, and a great thought for future episodes, we had no time to build that relationship. So much of the problem with this show is that it tries to build the relationships while on the run with whatever case or B or C plot that’s going on. Having Damian [Jason O’Mara] allowed us to get there for Kalinda and this new woman in a way that is hopefully surprising to the audience.
How has the story changed by making her a cop?
Robert: Some of it you’ll find out as you go, but we love the idea that she is someone who can show even more toughness than Kalinda, someone who is sensitive and kind with her in many ways in bed, but has a real tough exterior to her. She can be just as savvy as Kalinda so that Kalinda might not ever know when she is being one-upped. Jordana Spiro’s got this great guy’s energy mixed up with great femininity. We tend to write toward the actor, so once we knew we got Jordana we started fashioning the role more towards her.
Can you say anything about the season’s other new face, the mischievous and shifty Damian?
Michelle: That’s what we love about him. You can’t place him. And we love that we’re playing him Irish, too. That’s something we haven’t seen before.
Robert: We always thought of him as being a Harpo Marx character, the unpredictability of him. You just don’t know what he’ll bring to the table. We’d rather not give away anything there. He’s that chemical that could cause the mixture to explode or be a perfect combination. That’s what his character is about.
Let’s talk about hitting 100 episodes. Congrats! How does it feel?
Robert: A little more absurd than anything. You’re just eating an elephant, a little bit every day, and at the end it’s, “Oh, I guess we did eat an elephant.” So I think we’re looking back and going, “Wow, what happened to that elephant?” But it’s really great because I feel like all the actors feel revitalized and excited. It would be one thing if we felt exhausted coming across, but I think we feel exhilarated because we’re happy where we’re going creatively.
To commemorate 100, you obviously had a few big set pieces: the Kalinda-Damian car chase, the debut of SmackTalk, Donna Brazile at a party with criminals … What did Donna think of that?
Michelle: [Laughs.] Donna’s been such a trooper about the whole thing. She’s really been a ton of fun.
Robert: She’s stayed in e-mail contact with us, having appeared on the show before. When we asked her back, she was like, “Just tell me where my party dress is. I’m ready.”
The show usually comes up with original names for Internet and social media things like Scabbit (a.k.a. Reddit), but you showed some reverence for SmackTalk. Had you been waiting for a good point to use it?
Robert: Yeah, we were introduced to it through our daughter. I think we were at a party; it might have been Christmas or Hanukkah three or four years ago. She was just recording the conversation and irritating us by playing it back. We were like, Okay, either that is something you should be scolded for or we will pay you because we’ll use it in the show.
So you paid her?
Robert: Uh, well, we pay her for her music suggestions, not for her plot suggestions. Those she does because she loves us.
In 100 episodes, what has surprised you the most? Have there been any characters who have turned out differently from how you originally envisioned?
Michelle: I would say it would be Diane and Cary. They were both meant to serve as antagonists to Alicia, and if we have one fault, it’s that we fall in love with our antagonists. They morphed into protagonists rather quickly.
Robert: Diane was supposed to be the bitchy boss. Oy. That would have been a very different, not as good show.