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We need to talk about that shocking death on 'The Good Wife'




Oh no, not again! First Scandal killed off one of its best characters Thursday night, and now The Good Wife is doing the same thing.


I saw the signs on Twitter shortly before last night's episode began: "Fans of The Good Wife, you should watch tonight, and in real time if possible." But, knowing this show well (I've watched since the first episode), I figured they were going to tackle a major case, or something unbelievable was going to happen with the Peter Florrick scandal. What I never, ever imagined was that one of the show's original cast members, heck, the male lead of the show, would be leaving.

Yes, Josh Charles' character Will Gardner was killed last night, courtesy of a bullet to the head from an enraged 21-year-old he was defending.

Here's how that went in my head:

WHAT? This can't be real.

Seriously, this is a dream, right? No way Josh Charles is leaving the show.


Whoa. Was that the right move for this show?

After a night to think about it, I'm still torn about that last thought. The Good Wife has a tendency to be bold and a history of making the tough choice, things that make it one of the most consistently fascinating network dramas and one of the best procedural-type shows anywhere on television. It operates at a level few shows can match. So, major props to the showrunners for continuing to push the envelope by introducing something that will really shake things up.

But, my very first thought upon realizing that Will is actually dead was, Is The Good Wife going to be as good anymore? The show is effectively dismantling its entire dynamic.

So, why'd they do it? Some background: We know now that Josh Charles asked to leave the show more than a year ago. It was his decision to take Will off the show, and showrunners Michelle and Robert King had to then decide how to do it. The Kings released a letter today explaining to fans why they did what they did. My biggest takeaway? This sentence here: "Television, in our opinion, doesn't deal with this enough: the irredeeambility of death." It helps explain a lot of my objections with last night's development, mainly that it was so unceremonious and a little cheap in terms of shock value.

Still, a bunch of other questions lingered:

  • If they knew Charles was leaving a year ago, why build up almost every plot so that Will played an integral part in each one by the time of his death? There's the Peter case, Alicia's lingering romantic and professional feelings, the Florrick-Agos split from Lockhart-Gardner, the Kalinda stuff. Maybe it's so the show can wring maximum drama out of each of those scenarios by having them come to terms with the fact that Will is gone, but on some level I wish they had built separate storylines that could now stand on their own, without Will.
  • Why that kid as the one who kills him? I really hope the show doesn't abandon that character - we need to know why he did what he did, because as it stands now, we didn't get enough insight to his psyche to understand why he'd open fire on a lawyer who was trying to help him.
  • Why not take a side in the Will-Alicia romance? That's been one of the biggest components of the show since it began, and intentionally so. Unlike what happens on a lot of shows with prominent male-female relationships, Good Wife fans didn't just invent the romantic potential between Will and Alicia - it's built into the fabric of the entire show! To leave it so up in the air like that, without even a meaningful final scene between them - well, it's unsatisfying at best.
  • Does this pave the way for Matt Czuchry's Cary Agos to become the male lead on this show? We hope so. He's great, and never has enough lines.
  • Not really a question, just a depressing observation: It's a real shame we have to lose so many interesting relationships with the loss of Will. Will-Alicia, Will-Kalinda, Will-Peter and Will-Diane, one of the most unique partnerships on TV right now and the one I'm going to miss most.
  • How in the world did they keep such a gigantic development a secret? This is Beyonce-level secret-keeping. Bravo, everyone who works on The Good Wife.
  • Why am I so affected by this death? Is it because Josh Charles' portrayal of Will was one of the best things on TV? Because this show is so good at getting us to care deeply for its characters despite the fact that it's basically a network procedural? Because the episode didn't follow the standard, cheesy, foreboding TV tropes that occur when tragedy strikes, and so it was impossible to see it coming? All of the above.

On the bright side, I'm excited to see how this show tackles Will's death. There are seven episodes left in this fifth season, and if the preview that ran after Sunday's episode is any indication, the writers have a lot of material to work with: an angry, grieving Alicia; Diane running things on her own; the return of Michael J. Fox. This was a bold move on the part of The Good Wife, and though I'm still not sure it was the best choice the showrunners could have made, I'm glad we're all talking about this show again. As one of most challenging, surprising, well-written (and acted!) dramas on TV, it deserves to be obsessed over and argued about. It's just a shame we have to do it without one of TV's best arguers. RIP, Will. We'll never forget this.

What does everyone else think? Are you applauding the show for the risk it took? Or do you wish they had handled it differently? If it's any consolation, Josh Charles is going to talk about his departure from the show on tonight's Late Show With David Letterman.

[Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 11:48am]


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