When The Good Wife premiered on CBS seven years ago, no one expected it to have the lifespan or impact it did. By the end of season one, however, a cult following had formed, and everyone wanted to know how life for Alicia Florrick, the show's protagonist, would unfold. During Sunday night's finale, we found out, but it definitely wasn't what anyone expected.
When we meet Alicia, she is standing at her husband’s side as he resigns from public office after a scandal involving public funds and prostitutes. Her husband, Peter, the State's Attorney for Cooke County, IL, has managed to throw their comfortable way of life to the wind, causing her both private and public humiliation and despair, yet asks that she stay with him. From then on, she takes on the role of the supportive wife in public as their personal life dissolves behind closed doors.
A main component of the show's allure lies in its cliché conflicts that somehow managed to feel authentic—a rare feat in most TV series. The Good Wife explored the themes of the ever-intriguing political power couple, work-life balance, a jilted woman standing by the side of her cheating husband, office love affairs, compromised ethics in the workplace, systematic corruption and more. But the ultimate testament to The Good Wife's endurance came in the series finale.
A lesser show would have left us perhaps with Alicia finally leaving her disappointing husband, Peter. She would have strutted out of a courtroom, the scene of so many powerful moments in the show, and walked off into the horizon toward a great man (perhaps the hunky Jason, whom she was involved with at the show's close), a thriving career, the promise of a better future—a happy ending.
But staying true to its roots, The Good Wife's finale was a slap in the face—literally. Just as Alicia slapped Peter in episode one for his various indiscretions, Diane, Alicia's longtime boss, colleague, mentor and friend, delivers a chilling palm-to-cheek smack to none other than the shows indelible good wife, Alicia.
This is a moment of true resonance. A full-circle moment, if you will. Structurally, as the show's creators said in a statement released after the finale: “The show would start with a slap and end with a slap. This would be a bookend.” But full-circle also in terms of how we as viewers reconcile fiction and reality. The romantics in us all wanted the good wife to become the ex-wife with guts and guile. But in a rare moment in which fictionalized television and real life might actually align, the show proved that happy endings aren't necessarily authentic. Sure, Alicia has markedly developed as a character, but it hasn't all been peachy keen.
“We were tempted to have Alicia chase after a man in the end—stop him from getting on a train or an airplane at the last minute, hold him, kiss him," the farewell from the producers said. "We like those endings. But there was something false about it here. It isn't who Alicia is. In the end, the story of Alicia isn't about who she'll be with; it's about who she'll be.”
Playing the part of “the good wife” has both served and failed her. By the end, she is a much stronger woman—much less naïve and more sure about her decisions than ever before. But there have been many casualties—both internal and outward—along the way.
She's used political power to manipulate situations, she chose to find love outside her marriage, she gained access by using her own feminine appeal—Alicia is guilty of many of the things that we face in everyday life, and the show stayed true to the notion that what's guaranteed in life isn't happiness, it's sacrifice, and no one is immune to that.
Part of what makes us love Alicia, perhaps, is the inner strength that she develops. She's no damsel in distress. Instead, she uses logic to survive. She’s a very good lawyer; she has learned to stand on her own and look out for her own. In the end, she is a woman who has been through the wringer and yet, she is poised as she wipes any tear threatening to escape her eye, straightens her jacket and walks down the hallway in her great outfit and black heels—not toward a fairytale ending, but toward the life she has actively created for herself.
She walks away strong, eyes open, and ready to pursue her next chapter. She is ready to make decisions and take charge, and isn't afraid to put herself first as the show comes to a close. In that way she became something that the Alicia in the first season would never have been. She's not a clichéd vision of a woman who's come out on top despite it all; Alicia Florrick is a woman with flaws, self-doubt, and a resume of what could arguably be deemed mistakes, but she's also a woman who made it work, who kept going in the face of struggle and compromise.
The ambiguity of the finale may not be comforting to fans, but it is seemingly fitting for the show. Without feeling the need to give Peter “one more favor,” or put Diane's need before her own Alicia is now strong enough to make her life exactly what she wants, without needing to be anyone's—not Peter's, not Diane's, not Jason's—metaphorical good wife. She may not be standing next to a man at the season's end as she was at the beginning, but that wasn't exactly an area she needed to grow in. Where she grew was in her journey of standing up for herself.