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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of The Good Wife, “End.”]
The series finale of The Good Wife left fans with ringing ears – courtesy of the slap heard round the Internet – and with many unanswered questions. What was that slap real? What was the thinking behind Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and the late Will’s final, if not real, exchange? Where do she and Diane (Christine Baranski) go after that slap? (After all, they just renamed the firm, again.)
Thankfully, co-creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King have answers. Rather than go radio silent after the finale like some TV auteurs, the Kings opened up about the final episode of their critical darling in a video, a letter and in a telephone chat with The Hollywood Reporter the morning after.
Alicia says “I’ll love you forever,” and Will responds, “I’m OK with that.” Why was that important to include in that episode? When did you come up with those exact lines for Alicia and Will?
Michelle King: First of all, can I just say, I think that’s how they feel about each other. In Alicia’s fantasy life, that’s exactly how they would communicate.
Robert King: One of the things we wanted from Will was his… there was a wit that he had, kind of an off-handed wit, a guy’s guy’s wit, so all of his lines were meant to be not iconic or like written down for the ages, they were supposed to be kind of flippant and said with a smile, partly because you wanted to give Josh Charles really good lines and lines that he can hit out of the park. I think that was it, and also, as Michelle said, there have probably not been two people on our show with more than chemistry together than Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles. There was clearly this love that she didn’t find in any other part of her life, but also in her dream state, she does kind of elevate him to a romantic status that if he were alive, he might not achieve.
What was it like to film that scene after they hadn’t in quite some time?
Michelle: It was actually wonderful. It was marvelous to see those two characters together again, and Josh and Julianna are so good at their craft. The way when you see old friends, if they’re true friends, it’s like not a moment has passed? That’s what it was like to watch them act together. There was no bumpy re-entry. They were immediately back in it.
Robert: I think Josh came to the set a little nervous about coming back to it and all the crew was there. We have a very family-oriented crew because most people have stayed here all seven seasons and then within five minutes, especially when we started blocking, it was just like, ‘Here we are again,’ and they fell right back into the characters. That scene was shot fairly late at night, I think at like 10 o’clock, and there was quite a bit of coverage and unlike most times when people go off the set to grab a bite at craft services or go to their dressing rooms, everybody wanted to hang around just because it felt very… it felt like the closure to something, so that was really cool.
Moving into the big final scene, how many ways did you film the big slap?
Michelle: You saw it.
Robert: We filmed it in two ways. One way where we just ended on the slap, and then another way where there was the walkway and we filmed it in a few directions because we wanted to cover our bases. Look, after we argued within the writer’s room whether this was the right way to go because it was always the way we intended, we all pretty much committed that we were heading in this direction so then it was just trying to cover your ass when you shot it, that you didn’t leave any chips on the table so to speak.
What was improvised in that scene?
Robert: Julianna, when you see her from behind, does this thing where she tugs her dress into place and she does a little bit of a hand exercise with both her hands. I didn’t recognize this but then [executive producer] David Zucker pointed out to us, that is something Alicia does when she’s ready to go into court. So it was this really cool improvised thing that I was just glad the camera angle was wide enough to get, to catch what Julianna was doing.
I think the biggest thing we did was we had very long takes after the slap where you saw her turn from shock to pain to realization that she’s at fault and then trying to suck it up and suck up her tears and go. So, you probably saw the one that was medium because we did some that were short and some that were very long, and Julianna was amazing because she really worked through those slaps to get to there.
What was it like on set to film that scene?
Michelle: It was difficult because Christine and Julianna are friends and genuinely like each other and no one wants to slap a friend, but they’re also such professionals and committed to the show that they both recognized that, OK, if Julianna’s to get to that place in her acting, Alicia actually really needs to be slapped.
Robert: The stunt coordinator that kept telling the actors, “No, fake it,” and then Julianna went up to Christine and said, “No, you’re not faking this. That’s the only way I get there emotionally is to do this.”
“Better” by Regina Spektor is a huge part of the episode and plays again in the final moments. How did you pick that song and what were you looking for?
Robert: First of all, I really love Regina Spektor, and that song to me plays both as romance but also something more, which it needed to be. It needed to start in romance and seem to make a turn in the lyrics to be a little evocative about friendship and some kind of female comradery. But more importantly in the music, especially the piano can vocal version, seemed to rise and fall in ways that would really help this three-vision fantasy that happens in the teaser when Alicia imagines coming home and seeing three different men. Especially the way the lyrics fell, that helped it. With regards to the ending, it was a little barer than we wanted at the ending so what we had was David Buckley, who’s our amazing composer on the show, did this kind of orchestral overlay that takes over right after the slap. The Regina Spektor is still there, but it tends to rise and be a little bit more ambigiously… you could say triumphant or emotional. It just kind of rises in a way that the music starts to flatten out, we wanted to go in another direction.
In your letter, you said you knew you wanted someone who had victimized Alicia to be the one to slap her. Who were your other options or other characters that you thought would slap Alicia in the end?
Michelle: I would say every other character who’s ever been on the show. I’m almost not exaggerating. The writers spent a lot of time, we all did, talking about what this would look like and what made sense and when we came to Diane, that’s the thing that really stood out to us as making sense.
Robert: The two other prominent ones were Jackie, Mary Beth Peil’s character, and then Grace, but the only reason we brought them up is it felt like it had to be about generational feminism too, but those both seemed tainted. Jackie, by the sense that there’s a slight comic quality. You’re not supposed to take her seriously 100 percent as a character. And Grace, it just seemed like it had so many other odd, almost incestuous elements if you brought in someone who was of blood relation doing that. Diane has always been a character that we’ve thought of almost being co-lead with Alicia so that made sense to us.
Michelle: The slap needed to have credibility if the ending were to make any sense because you did need Alicia to have some recognition of, ‘Wait a minute, she was right to slap me. I did help bring this on myself.’ And Diane brought that credibility.
Where do Diane and Alicia go from here? You left it very open with Diane.
Robert: Just speaking of them as human beings, which is rare because they are just characters, but speaking of them as human beings, I don’t know how you get past this. You never say never, but that is a relationship that seems like it’s torn asunder. Michelle, you and I haven’t talked about that, but what do you think?
Michelle: I think you’re right.
Robert: That’s a hard one to get past.
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