12:33pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Critic's Notebook: 'The Good Wife' Leaves Behind an Imperfect, Admirable Legacy
After first standing by her man in front of the whole world seven years ago, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) will face her final curtain call on Sunday's series finale of The Good Wife. Although the critically acclaimed CBS legal drama has endured many changes over the years — the many name alterations at the firm and the departure of two of the series' biggest characters — creators Robert and Michelle King say they're ending the series largely according to plan.
It's no small feat considering that the married showrunners almost didn't get to pen the final chapter. CBS only confirmed season seven would be The Good Wife's swan song weeks after it was announced that the Kings would be stepping down as showrunners at the end of the current season to focus on their new CBS comic thriller BrainDead, which launches June 13.
Ahead of Sunday's finale, aptly titled "End," The Hollywood Reporter spoke with the Kings about their goals for the finale, servicing the fans and the one recurring character they most wish they had brought back.
What were you hoping to achieve with the finale? Which other finales did you look to for inspiration?
Robert King: Every show is different. We're great fans of TV and are great fans of serialized TV and how it ends. I think what we were looking towards are shows that seemed to be honest and had an inevitable surprise.
Michelle King: And also shows that could tell you something new about the character that you've known and loved all this time, even in the last moment.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the finale?
Michelle: My hope is satisfaction that they've been told a complete and truthful story.
Robert: We like to tell stories, so what we wanted to do was not have them be 156 independent episodes but episodes that seemed to add up to something.
Michelle: That the series felt structurally sound as a whole.
It was announced that you would step down as showrunners at the end of this season before it was confirmed this would be the final season. How different would that last episode have been if there was going to be a season eight?
Robert: It wasn’t going to be any different at all. We had planned this out for a while. We weren’t trying to, in fact, endanger CBS' franchise if they wanted to continue with the franchise, so one could pick up where we left off.
Once you realized The Good Wife would go beyond that initial 13-episode order, when did you truly start discussing and thinking about how you each wanted the show to end and what you envisioned that ending to be?
Michelle: We had an image that we knew we wanted to get to. You never know exactly how you're going to get there in series television because there are a lot of things that step in the way: You lose actors, you gain actors, you get infatuated with a particular storyline, so there's this meandering path but we had an ending image that we wanted to get and we did.
Did you agree on that last image from the get-go? Or did you have different ideas?
Robert: We did not have different ideas. At that point, we were very much living day-to-day so I think we wanted to be able to write toward the future even if we didn’t know if the future was going to exist. We told ourselves the story that we were writing and that is kind of what we're aiming for, but look, there was a chance that CBS would say, "We don't love your ratings. We're going to cancel you after year two or year three." And then we just wanted to tell ourselves that story, we don't want to have it be known that we weren't on long enough to deliver the story.
You had two main characters leave over the course of the series, Will and Kalinda, so how much did that change the finale you had envisioned?
Michelle: That didn't change the finale, really. It certainly changed the course of the series because it's always been about the education of Alicia Florrick, and so those two people in her life played on her and we were able to play with those emotions, but in terms of what the show ending was, that didn't impact it.
What was the most challenging part of crafting the finale?
Robert: Well, we were working on BrainDead so it was probably the difficulty of balancing back and forth between two stories. I would say the second part was there was a lot of emotion in writing it. The only thing equal would be the emotion of writing the episode where Will dies and the aftermath. It really felt like, unfortunately, you were putting these characters away for good. They call it a bittersweet feeling; I actually think it's just bitter.
Michelle: I would say that we felt a great deal of obligation towards the characters, towards the actors, towards the fans — you want to do right by them. That’s a lot of pressure.
The fans have certain recurring characters they love or certain storylines. How do you balance paying service to the fans but also being true to the story and where you want it to go?
Robert: I don't know where that meeting point is because especially if you want to do something different, you're hopefully giving, sometimes, the fans something they don't know they want, and I'm not sure what the point is. I do know that we tried to have the last four to five episodes be a goodbye to characters who wouldn't all fit into the finale. So Stockard Channing playing Veronica, Dallas Roberts playing her brother; we just wanted all these characters to come back. It's not just the finale, it's kind of the last four episodes where you're saying goodbye to these people.
Is there one recurring character or fan favorite that you really tried to get back for the final episodes but it didn't work out?
Robert: Robyn, Jess Weixler, when we were plotting out episodes, it was kind of our investigators competing against each other but the scheduling didn't work out. We love Jess so maybe on the next series.
Cary has also played a smaller role in these final episodes because he left the firm. What was the reasoning behind that decision and saying goodbye to that character a little earlier?
Robert: One of those things we thought with Cary is he's turned into a very ethical persona and at a certain point, we needed to change it up from the usual firm fights over the direction of the law firm because that can grow a little old so what we wanted to do was make it seem like we're heading towards one of those climaxes again and then — which again, goes to character and not to structural conceit — to say, "No, I'm through with this. If you guys want to fight over it, go for it, but I'm out." And it felt very true to who Cary became over those seven seasons. He was someone who was sick of all the things that were not about practicing the law. It kind of felt like it was a way to pay attention to who the character was and then throw a monkey wrench into the plot.
In these final episodes, we've seen Alicia standing by Peter once again. What you hoping to portray and achieve with this storyline?
Robert: I think one of the things we wanted was a return, your ending is in your beginning and your beginning is in your ending. As we see with the characters and the politics, they have scandal after scandal. It's not an oddity, especially in Chicago politics. So if it's about the reality of it, that's just true to life. And it seems like when someone's been weakened by a run for presidency or a run for any office, and they lose, they're more vulnerable.
But as for Alicia, I do think one of the reasons to return to her original situation is to see how much she's grown or not grown, to see change. One of the reasons we probably do think this is a seven-year show is there are probably only a certain number of ways that we want to challenge Alicia and we wanted to challenge her one last time with this.
These last episodes saw the return of Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole) and also showed just how different Diane's marriage to Kurt is compared to Alicia and Peter's marriage. What were you trying to convey with this juxtaposition?
Robert: There was one episode called "Party," which was all about marriage, like marriage seen from 10 or 12 different positions; not only with Zach getting married to his girlfriend and going off to Paris, but there was Jackie and Howard, and I thought the key was that Alicia was looking at Diane and McVeigh's marriage as something very desirable. I think there was even a bit of jealousy. Like, why am I not happy like that? Why can't my commitment be like that? Why is everything in my life more troubled?
Michelle: What's interesting to me about the Kurt-Diane marriage is that it's a love that transcends their differences. That they acknowledge that they have very different opinions on certain issues, they embrace their differences and they can still love each other and commit to each other fully.
You're already writing a new show, BrainDead, but what is the biggest thing that you miss about writing for The Good Wife specifically?
Michelle: I know I'm going to miss all these characters terribly. When you're so used to wondering what Alicia would think or reading a newspaper and seeing something that's going on in the world and feeling like, 'Oh, that's the genesis of a case.' I'm sure I'm going to miss that.
Robert: For me, I think it's the humor. What I liked writing with these characters is I thought they were smart and clever and funny, and I think it was funny part that was most attractive about writing for them.
Look back at the moments that changed The Good Wife forever:
The Good Wife series finale airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.