Friday 15 May 2015

The Good Wife - My time with you, as your friend, was the best I ever had.

“I wanna win.  I wanna beat my opponent.  You wouldn’t even blink if a man had said that.”

In the sixth season of The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick ran for the position of State’s Attorney. It’s where Peter Florrick, her husband, started out at the beginning of the show, the office that he was judged to have abused. Since then, he’s risen constantly, drawing only the fact that the media loves a story of redemption and is endlessly forgiving and even appreciative of men who cheat and repent. At the beginning of this season, Peter Florrick is the Governor of Illinois, rehabilitated in the eyes of the press, and thanks to a game that they started to play a season ago, perceived to have been forgiven by his loving wife. It’s only a marriage of convenience at that point, something that Peter needs more than Alicia – a marriage that fully acknowledges that for Peter to be successful after his transgressions, he needs to be happily married, and forgiven by Alicia, it’s a political necessity for him. His ability to realize his ambitions is tied to Alicia’s willingness to pretend. This is contrasted constantly with how Alicia’s campaign for SA works – for once, she hesitated to even accept the nomination, and discovered her ambition after it started, finding her feet in the process. This is what The Good Wife has always done: The path was always clear for Peter Florrick, he is a creature of power and expected to have that hunger and that drive, but Alicia, from the beginning of the show, was fighting for the space to be able to figure out what she wanted for herself, and how much she would allow herself to want. At its best, the show portrays her as someone constantly surprised by how much she wants things, and excited to be able to dare in that way, to demand things, to not back off when she is told to. She realizes what running a successful firm entails and does barely hesitate when it stops fitting in with the idea of being or doing good, and she grows constantly, while at the same time dealing with all the things that are expected of her. Eli trying to shape her into whatever Peter needs her to be, the press and public going back to the beginnings all the time, asking about her ability to forgive, when she has moved in, when she has shaped that event in her past into something that nobody but her can grasp. For her, it’s a starting point, not a tragedy that has shaped her, not something that is still weighing her down. At her strongest moments throughout the season, she uses the damage that Peter has done in the past and shapes their relationship into whatever she wants it to be, taking away his ability to dictate the terms of it.
Politically, it is about controlling the narrative, but that also applies to her personal story of herself, especially as she is struggling to deal with the fall-out of Will Gardner’s tragic death. Every time the show goes back to an earlier version of Alicia, it’s to show how Alicia herself is coming to terms with the past, trying to comprehend who she was and how she has changed. She wins the election, but more importantly, she wants to win it, and for a moment, the show hints at a future far removed from the beginnings – but then turns back on itself, when Alicia is asked to back down for the sake of the party, the old threads of corruption weaving back into the narrative. The party manipulated a different election, and Alicia is only a pawn, and eventually has to relent because their ability to threaten her exceeds what she has gone through with her clients. At the end of the season, Alicia is rebuilding, but differently, and it will probably be glorious to see what she does with all that anger and frustration over being used and being asked to be small, which she never was – but Peter is asked to run for President.
The show gets many things right this season, and it’s perfect timing too, considering: a female political candidate demanding to have the right to be just as ambitious as the male contenders, not having to justify her reasons for running (“Why is she running for President”, that absurd New York Times headline after Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy), and constantly being asked about Peter, while Peter always gets to shape that narrative into one of redemption and success. The political landscape in which the race plays out, and in which Alicia’s firm operates, especially Diane’s political liberalism in an era of divide – the show is almost utopian in painting the opportunity for genuine dialogue, even if it only plays out as a pretend court case about discriminating against gay people on religious grounds (a whole episode about the fact that the moment that argument is allowed to played out it is already a concession – Are women really people? Are gay people really people?).

But here’s the other thing. If we trace back Alicia Florrick to the beginning, there’s that whole first year in which she was struggling with everything, with being in court, with having a career after choosing against one, with being left behind in the fall-out of Peter’s political scandal – and the fact that the person who was always there to counteract her self-doubts, to ask her to want more, was Kalinda Sharma. Kalinda asked Alicia to allow herself to want things, and to allow herself to be good at things that she never thought she would be good at, and in turn, Alicia made Kalinda care, and rooted her, to the extent that the character who was so ready to run at a moment’s notice suddenly could no longer just leave everything behind. This was the central relationship of the show, without taking away anything from the fact that this is Alicia’s story – and then it stopped, and as good as the show is, it has never quite gotten over losing its core. I think if we allow the argument that their friendship was irreparably raptured by Kalinda’s confession about Peter, we allow a completely different concept of Alicia’s marriage to Peter to co-exist with what the show actually portrays that marriage to be, and nothing will ever make up for all that lost potential, throughout the seasons of no interactions. It’s all the more interesting to watch that final episode of the season with that in mind, because it’s almost as if the show is well aware of all the things that were lost, and Alicia is haunted by it all of a sudden. There’s one last drink between them, Kalinda’s “My time with you, as your friend, was the best I ever had”, and the mutual realization that they will likely never see each other again, because Kalinda does not back down on her goodbyes. As soon as Kalinda disappears, Alicia misses her. They were both friendless at the beginning of The Good Wife and then, as their friendship developed, they shaped each other, made each other contain more than they ever had before. I think as much as the show has invested in some of its central romances, Alicia’s grief, Cary’s doomed attempts to make Kalinda into something she will never be, none of that ever resonated as much as its original premise. Kalinda’s mysteriousness wasn’t compelling in and of itself, just as much as the answers that the show attempted to deliver to solve the riddle of Kalinda Sharma never lived up to that potential, and were often the weakest point of whatever season they were delivered in – Kalinda was compelling as a counterpoint to Alicia, as a companion, as the lens through which Alicia embracing her strengths and her ambition became even brighter. And in many ways, that loss will be irreplaceable in the show’s final season, as excited as I am to find out where Alicia will go next.  

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