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When The Good Wife first launched in 2009, it looked like yet another CBS procedural. Sure, it had an intriguing premise — the wife of a disgraced politician returns to work following her husband’s scandal — and an impressive cast led by Emmy winners Julianna Margulies and Christine Baranski, but it appeared to be another legal case-of-the-week drama just wrapped in more prestigious packaging. However, the series quickly proved to be anything but.
The Good Wife showed early on that it wasn’t afraid to shake things up and irreversibly alter the DNA of the show with twists like the revelation about Kalinda’s rendezvous with Peter or Will’s death. The result? Seven seasons in and it looks very different from how it started. Ahead of the acclaimed series’ May 8 curtain call, The Hollywood Reporter looks back at the moments that changed the show forever.
1. Alicia Kisses Will … and Sleeps With Peter
Facebook’s “it’s complicated” option wasn’t just made for non-committal twentysomethings. In its freshman season, The Good Wife proved it wasn’t afraid to portray a messy marriage on TV. Up until then, the question had been solely whether Alicia (Margulies) would or would not stay with her husband. And also, whether Alicia should or should not hook up with her law school love-turned-boss Will Gardner (Josh Charles). The show predictably played up its central triangle by having Alicia and Will kiss (finally!), but few could have predicted the guilt-stricken (and possibly horny?) protagonist then running home and screwing her estranged husband in the guest room. Several years later, Alicia and Peter (Chris Noth) are still technically married, but their hot-and-cold marriage has become one of the most complex, and realistic, on television.
2. Cary Loses the Bake-Off
Stern, Lockhart & Gardner’s two junior associates spent nearly the entire first season competing with each other to win a permanent spot on the payroll. Although Cary (Matt Czuchry) initially came off as little too ruthless and cunning, audiences quickly warmed up to the well-connected Harvard grad thanks to his numerous, and originally fruitless, attempts to win over Kalinda (Archie Panjabi); not to mention that one time he got high before getting unexpectedly called into a late-night murder case. Most cookie-cutter network shows would have cheated by finding a way for both to get permanent gigs at the firm, but instead the drama took the road less traveled and sent Cary packing. Even more shocking, the show found a great way to keep series regular Czuchry in the fold working for the opposition in the state’s attorney’s office, first for Glenn Childs (Titus Welliver) and then for Peter.
3. Alicia Discovers Kalinda Slept With Peter
People may have come for the relationship drama, but many stayed for the friendship between Alicia and the firm’s mysterious investigator, Kalinda. Their honest conversations, frequently over tequila shots, quickly became a cornerstone of the series, which is why when it was revealed that Kalinda had slept with Alicia’s husband years earlier, and then Alicia found about it, it seemed nearly impossible to come back from. The storyline provided plenty of drama — Alicia’s angry confrontation, Kalinda’s teary elevator breakdown — but their camaraderie was sorely missed. The writers briefly flirted with putting the two ex-BFFs back together in season three, before basically keeping the two as far apart as possible until Kalinda left Chicago for good at the end of season six. Thankfully, Alicia eventually found a new sidekick in Lucca and Kalinda grew close to Will, Diane (Baranski) and, finally, Cary, before she left.
4. Alicia Leaves the Firm
The seed was planted in the final moments of season four when Cary showed up at Alicia’s door — an especially cruel bait and switch for #TeamWill fans who were led to believe it was him paying a late-night visit. But after quietly laying the groundwork for their exodus early in season five, word leaked to their bosses and led to the single most tumultuous day in Lockhart/Gardner history. Diane fired Cary and Will trashed Alicia’s office and had her escorted from the premises with two security guards. Although there have been many changes at the firm before and since, the result was possibly the series’ best episode ever and reinvigorated the second half of season five that pitted the former lovers against one another. That is, until …
5. Will Dies
What can be said that hasn’t already? One minute, Will was defending the son of a wealthy client accused of murder (Hunter Parrish). The next, he was bleeding out on the floor of the courtroom after being shot by said client. Viewers didn’t see Will actually get shot, but the image of his pale, lifeless body in the hospital emergency room was enough to send loyal fans into an emotional tailspin and led to the hashtag #TheGoodWifeSupportGroup. Even more shocking than the death itself were the lack of clues leading up to the fateful episode. The stunning realization that Alicia and Will would never end up together, and the enduring mystery about why he called her shortly before he was shot, loomed large over the drama’s heroine and viewers all the way into the series’ seventh and final season.
6. Cary Goes to Jail
Alicia’s bakeoff rival turned firm partner traded in his Brioni for a jumpsuit when Cary was arrested in the opening moments of the season-six premiere and thrown in jail for allegedly aiding in the transportation of $1.3 million of heroin. The arrest was, naturally, a way for the state to try to get to Alicia and Cary’s drug kingpin of a client, Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter), but Cary stayed loyal and had to suffer a nasty jail-room shakedown — which resulted in him stabbing his own hand — as well as a trial. Kalinda eventually helped get the charges dropped against Cary, but not without putting herself in hot water. She eventually had to leave town to escape the wrath of Bishop and his team.
7. Alicia Runs for State’s Attorney … and Is Forced to Resign
Considering her well-documented disdain for politics, it was a little — ok, very — disconcerting to see Alicia abandon the firm she and Cary had built from the ground up to step into the spotlight and run for office. But truly few could have predicted the role reversal to come at the end of season six when, after learning that voting machines had been tampered with in her favor, she was forced to step down days after winning. The image of a disgraced Alicia trying to hold back her tears in front of a swarm of press and photographers was eerily reminiscent of the pilot, except this time it was her giving the speech and grabbing her spouse’s hand as she made a hasty exit. Once again, the twist not only made for a jaw-dropping moment, but held longstanding ramifications for Alicia, who was ultimately forced to start over again as a bond court attorney at the beginning of season seven.
8. Kalinda Leaves Town for Good
Unlike Charles’ top-secret departure from the show, which was kept under tight wraps until the night his character was killed off, the writing had been on the wall for months for Panjabi. News first broke in November — a full six months before her curtain call — that she would leave the series at the end of her six-season contract. The reasoning behind Kalinda’s exit was not that surprising: She fell out of drug kingpin Lemond Bishop’s good graces to save her lover Cary and boss Diane. The big question mark was how the show would move on without the fan favorite. Producers were able to find two series regulars to fill Kalinda’s boots of justice. One was another British breakout actress, Cush Jumbo, who played Alicia’s bond court rival-turned-colleague Lucca Quinn. Like the early Kalinda years, Lucca was an important friend for Alicia, helping her deal with her midseason meltdown. As for an investigator with a dark past, that spot was taken by Jason Crouse (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who also ended up filling the role of love interest long left unoccupied after Charles’ onscreen death. (Matthew Goode’s Finn Polmar never quite filled those shoes.)
9. Peter Gets Arrested (Again)
For all the things that have changed over The Good Wife’s seven-season stretch — see above — some have stayed exactly, alarmingly, the same. Sure, Peter tried to (appear to) become a better man by finding religion and moving back into their Highland Park family home. But he had a hard time resisting the dark side. Let’s not forget that Will saw a member of Peter’s team commit election fraud when he was up for governor at the end of season four. So it was only a matter of time before Peter’s hand got caught in the cookie jar. The biggest shock? Seeing Saint Alicia swoop in and stand by his side once again despite her own growth. Will that remain the case if Peter is sent back to prison? There’s only two episodes left to find out.
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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