One of the major strengths of The Good Wife is that it has often felt like a network show without the shortcomings we’ve come to expect from network television. In season five, it seamlessly gave us trenchant takes on the way technology shapes our lives, courtroom drama, comic material, sex scenes privileging the female gaze, and the sexual politics between men and women. Then season six happened.
While The Good Wife has had its share of questionable arcs (season four’s misguided attempt to flesh out Kalinda’s backstory), last season was the worst in the show’s history. Story lines were built up, only to fizzle out. Characters like Taye Diggs’s Levine Wilkins were given the spotlight, then inexplicably disappeared. Kalinda was used as a deus ex machina until the bitter end and given a send-off that was lukewarm at best. But it isn’t impossible for the show to course-correct with a satisfying, challenging seventh season that lives up to its former glory. Here are seven ways we’d like to see that happen.
Stop resetting Alicia’s life and career.
When speaking to Variety earlier this year, showrunner Robert King said, “What you are always struggling with in the show is trying to make [Alicia Florrick] an underdog. At the beginning of the series, there probably couldn’t have been more of an underdog than Alicia, because there were so many ways where life had screwed her over … Underdog status is always good in a hero.” The problem is Alicia hasn’t been a true underdog since season one, and even that’s arguable. Alicia is the Establishment, even if she doesn’t want to admit that. Her wealth, whiteness, and connections put her in rarefied air. For a while it felt like The Good Wife was boldly fashioning Alicia as an antiheroine willing to be as ruthless as Will and as coolly intelligent as Diane, while using the connections that her fractured marriage with Peter affords her, without acting like these major advantages didn’t exist. She was becoming an antiheroine unlike any other in television. It was a shift that felt earned and added new dimensions to her various relationships.
Unfortunately, showrunners Michelle and Robert King once again reset her life, forcing her into a pseudo-underdog role and a political race for a position she previously showed no interest in. For The Good Wife to evolve, its lead character needs to believably as well.
Make it feel like the characters are on the same show.
One of the by-products of the state’s attorney’s race in season six, which took precedence over anything else, was that Alicia felt squared away in a world separate from everyone else. In turn, characters often felt like they were on tonally and thematically different shows. While The Good Wife is essentially centered on the shifting moral ground and desires of Alicia, the show is at its best when dipping into the lives of its other main characters and supporting players to refract different looks at the same dilemmas Alicia is dealing with.
Have characters and plot develop alongside one another.
One of the most glaring issues last season was how people acted out of character in order to push the plot forward. Kalinda and Alicia continue not to interact meaningfully? Check. Alicia has nonsensical arguments with Diane and Cary in order to further her commitment to the political race? Check. Her campaign manager becomes an offscreen romantic conquest? Check. The Good Wife usually excels at marrying character and plot development with a light touch, which is why the issues last season were so glaring. (Take a look at season five’s “The Decision Tree” or season two’s “VIP Treatment” to see this done well.) Season six expected us to go on a roller-coaster ride without giving us a reason to. For the plot to resonate beyond the quick thrill of unexpected twists, we need to understand the reasons why the characters go there.
Stop sidelining important characters.
If you only saw Matthew Goode on The Good Wife, you would never think him capable of the kind of acting he exhibits in films like Stoker. His character, Finn Polmar, was built up as a replacement for Will, bringing much-needed friendship and, potentially, romance into Alicia’s life. The writers apparently forgot about him and gave us a weak resolution for his not-quite-relationship with Alicia. But the most egregious example of this was how little Diane had to do in season six. The Good Wife has lost some characters and gained new ones. While new supporting characters can be fun and engaging, the show is at its best when it remembers the importance of Diane and Cary as main characters whose own narratives enrich and provide an interesting counterpoint to Alicia’s.
Use that Lubitsch touch.
The Good Wife doesn’t get enough credit for how light of a touch it has when handling heavy subjects, in and out of the courtroom. At its best, the show can evoke the work of Ernst Lubitsch, a filmmaker whose style of wit, sophistication, and subtlety was so good, it earned its own name. But one area the show has always struggled with is how it handles race. Most of the conversation around the loss of Kalinda has revolved around the perceived behind-the-scenes drama between Archie Panjabi and lead actress/producer Julianna Marguiles. But more broadly, the show has routinely failed to properly write people of color (Kalinda being the most glaring example), especially black women. They turn into shrill stereotypes (Wendy Scott Carr), get little development despite providing fascinating dynamics to the show’s political underpinnings (Geneva Pine), or disappear as quickly as they’re introduced (Imani Stonehouse). Its clumsy attempts to address race have given us its most leaden episodes, like last season’s “The Debate,” in which Alicia and Frank Prady have an impromptu discussion in a hotel kitchen about systemic racism while the hotel’s kitchen staff (many of whom were people of color we’ll never see again) interjected. It was not only uncomfortable, it didn’t make for good drama. The Good Wife excels when it’s handling topical issues with Lubitsch-like nuance and speed.
Take a page from Justified.
Like The Good Wife, Justified mixed procedural drama with the more austere, literary aspirations of what we’ve come to expect from prestige television, albeit to very different ends. In its fifth season, Justified had a noticeable dip in quality. The new villains weren’t compelling, and the show felt internally confused, as if it had forgotten what it excelled at. But in its sixth and last season, Justified rebounded, bringing everything full circle in an outstanding way. It was thematically rich, fun, and exciting. The dialogue was crisper than ever. Most important, Justified focused on the heart of the show and let it inform everything else around it: the thorny relationship between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. The Good Wife needs to rediscover its heart. With Kalinda on the run and Will dead, what relationship will center the show? Of course, Peter is still around (please don’t make him the endgame), but the real heart of the show is Alicia’s relationship with herself.
Tell us what Alicia really wants.
In many ways, The Good Wife feels like the heir apparent to the 1940s women’s films that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford pioneered (it can be argued that the genre has been reborn elsewhere in television, from the empire of Shonda Rhimes to darker fare like Top of the Lake). This was a genre that delved into what it means to be a 20th-century woman, and the ways men and women relate to each other, professionally, sexually, and emotionally, often using memory and sartorial choices to express the arc of its central character. The Good Wife is at its best when tapping into this within a modern context.
It’s been a while since we’ve really been privy to who Alicia truly is (or wants to be) beyond her murky professional aspirations. We haven’t seen her interact with her children all that much. Her relationship with Peter continues to twist but hasn’t been all that fulfilling. Her friendship with Kalinda evaporated, and the one hinted at with Finn wasn’t able to develop. We’ve learned more about Alicia’s image as a public figure than we have her as a person. Who is Alicia Florrick? What does she really want beyond the constraints of her evolving public image and the needs of her family? If the show can find satisfying answers for these two questions, we’ll be more engaged than ever.