Shock, anger, denial — plus those other two, less memorable stages of grief — you’re feeling them all, I’m feeling them all. There’s no getting around that this was one of those episodes. You know the ones — Matthew’s car crash, Brody’s hanging — the game-changers, the Hail Mary reboots, the challenging hours that make you either throw up your hands in disgust or sit back and absorb that kind of complicated emotional hangover shows like this one can leave you with.
I’m not gonna bother saying spoiler alert — okay, fine, SPOILER ALERT — because by now you must know what happened. Will Gardner dies. He’s shot in a random act of violence by his client Jeffrey Grant (Hunter Parrish). The character, the actor, the man we’ve spent 80-some hours getting to know over the past five years was taken from us in an instant and none of it makes any sense except that it happened. It was harrowing, it was graphic, and it was excruciatingly sad.
(And, while we’re at it — one more discombobulating programming note — you may have noticed I’m not your regularly scheduled recapper, but instead your season four writer back to pinch-hit. Hello again.)
I, for one, was unexpectedly moved by it all. Not just because I’ve always loved Will and loved Josh Charles. But because even though it was high-drama television, something about the randomness of it all felt especially true to life. Sure, we had heard rumblings that this was going to be Josh Charles’s last season on the show, but no one could have seen this coming, and really that’s exactly the point. Things never go down — especially tragedies — how we worry they’re going to, and it’s occasionally much, much worse. In their touching letter to the fans, the Kings write, “We’ve all experienced the sudden death of a loved one in our lives. It’s terrifying how a perfectly normal and sunny day can suddenly explode with tragedy. Television, in our opinion, doesn’t deal with this enough: the irredeemability of death. Your last time with the loved one will always remain your last time.” Indeed.
Before we get to moving through those Kubler-Ross stages, just a few notes on how it all happened, and a bit about what else is facing each of our main characters leading up to Will’s death. The case of the week, the one that changes everything, is Will representing the handsome and stoic Jeffrey Grant, the college student accused of murder earlier this season who rejected a plea bargain so now he's in trial.
A sparkling Matthew Goode (Match Point) is the prosecutor, and things are not looking good for Jeffrey as there’s DNA evidence on the victim that seems just about irrefutable.
Meanwhile, Alicia’s feeling a wee bit optimistic looking around the bustling floor of Florrick, Agos & Associates and realizing how far she’s come in the past few months, so Cary takes that warm moment to tell her that he and Kalinda are dating. “I thought she was gay,” says Alicia. “Bi. Or something,” replies Cary. Okay, moving on.
That pesky investigation of Peter’s potentially stolen election and the stuffed ballot box is still kicking around, and Alicia’s forced to deal with Nelson Dubeck (Eric Bogosian) from the Office of Public Integrity again, who this time shows up at her office and asks her to give a deposition. Back at L&G, Diane’s trying to be the voice of reason with the Grant defense suggesting maybe they go back to the plea, but Will’s too passionate (and convinced of his innocence) to turn back now. Kalinda tries to dig something, anything, up to help, but it seems like it’s all bad news. Over drinks, she tells him so, and also that she’s leaving the firm. Will doesn’t want to accept it. “You and I were built for this, Kalinda. It’s what we do,” he says. “We can look at normal people and want to be like them, but we can’t really.” It’s funny and siblinglike and wonderfully bittersweet knowing what comes next. He tells her to take a few months off instead. “Life is overrated,” he says. “That feeling you get when you figure something out — you live for that.” (R.I.P., Will Gardner!)
Later on, Kalinda seems to have made a discovery at the hospital that could debunk Grant’s DNA evidence, but before any of it is admitted in court, the terrible, horrible, violent scene goes down. A panicked Grant, likely suffering a psychotic break, manages to grab a bailiff’s gun and opens fire. Most of it happens off-camera, but when we reenter the courtroom, Grant is cowering on the floor, trying to shoot himself with an empty gun, and Will is struggling for air after being shot in the neck, the prosecutor cradling him and trying to staunch the blood.
The rest unfolds with sickening speed: a heartbreaking scene of Kalinda and Diane identifying the body at the hospital, Kalinda delivering the news to Eli on the phone, and then to Alicia, who’s suffering through a tone-deaf speech at the Chicago Correspondent’s Club. It’s nearly too much to bear. But forward is the only way through, as we see in a quick coda of scenes from the rest of the season. (Passionate Cary, Embracing Diane and Alicia, stoic Kalinda.)
And forward we must go. It takes a (virtual) village to process a loss like this one, so now it’s your turn, commenters. Have at it down below, and I look forward to your thoughts. Mourn, rage, remember.