The most recent episode of "The Good Wife," leading up to Sunday's series finale, ended on a cliffhanger: news of a jury decision in the corruption case against Illinois Gov. Peter Florrick.
The drama, though, didn't center on him as much as the title character, his spouse-largely-in-name-only, Alicia. A guilty verdict likely means she'll remain his wife throughout his prison term. Exoneration means they'll finally divorce and she can get on with her life.
"The Good Wife," which started with Alicia (played by Emmy winner Julianna Margulies) sticking by Peter (Chris Noth) through a prostitution scandal, comes full vicious circle as it wraps a seven-season run as one of the best dramas on network television. Once again, Alicia's stuck in the middle – her long, slow emotional jailbreak threatened by her own sense loyalty and evolving redefinition of what it means to stand by your man.
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It's a fitting set-up for the end of a show whose creators redefined the possibilities of primetime network drama in an era when cable and streaming outlets dominate the genre.
The intricate CBS program began in 2009 with a simple premise: a look at political sex scandals from the perspective of the publicly silent spouse. Alicia Florrick went from shell-shock victim to powerhouse, reinventing herself as a big-time Chicago lawyer, while raising two teenagers and maintaining a sham marriage to her ambitious, wayward husband (Noth imbued the cad with deceiving depth).
Alicia endured heartbreak (the murder of her lover/boss Will Gardner), betrayals (too many to mention) and even NSA surveillance, amid her ongoing comeback. That all sounds like soap opera fodder, but rarely played that way – even if at times the show stretched boundaries of coincidence with the same investigators, politicos, lawyers and lovers frequently set on new collision courses.
“The Good Wife” packed enough twists (Alicia giving up elected office after a scandal-tainted victory) and unraveling of old threads (Alicia learning this season of a loving, potentially life-changing phone message from Will that she never got) to keep viewers from turning away. Intelligent courtroom renderings of ripped-from-the-headlines legal issues, from abortion to gun control, also helped enliven plots.
Credit creators Robert and Michelle King with keeping the quality high while turning out nearly two dozen hour-long episodes per season. The top-notch writing was matched by strong performances from the likes of Christine Baranski (as Alicia’s boss and sometimes nemesis Diane Lockhart), Archie Panjabi (as Alicia’s mysterious co-worker/pal Kalinda Sharma) Alan Cumming (as conflicted political operative Eli Gold) and Michael J. Fox (as Louis Canning, a brilliant lawyer who uses his physical disability to his advantage).
But the clear star is Margulies, whose equal adeptness at verbal and nonverbal expression has grown more sophisticated since her “ER” days.
Sunday’s series farewell promises memorable final words as much as last looks. Perhaps it’s destiny the finale comes on Mother's Day, when Alicia’s best present to herself would be to break the bonds of wife and motherhood, and move on – presumably with hunky law firm investigator Jason Crouse (Jeffery Dean Morgan).
Whatever the decision of the jury that will determine the Florrick’s intertwined fates, the final verdict is that "The Good Wife" made for great television.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.