Weeks before the episode actually aired, star Julianna Margulies warned in an interview with Entertainment Weekly about The Good Wife series finale that "fans are either going to love this or they’re going to hate this, but there’s not going to be an in-between." Well, she wasn't wrong. A quick scroll through internet forums the morning after the finale hit the airwaves reveals that, although a minority of fans are defending the series capper as shocking and brave, the majority of the show's audience is up in arms — specifically regarding the episode's final moment, in which Diane slapped Alicia Florrick in the face… and left our protagonist alone and in tears as the screen faded to black.
It's a gutsy move to wrap up your show after seven award-winning seasons with your main character at such a low point, defying all audience expectations of things like happy endings and closure. But if you found the final episode (called simply "End") frustrating or dissatisfying, you likely had the reaction that creators Robert and Michelle King wanted. That very last scene echoed the show's very first scene so perfectly, it was clearly a conscious decision on their part — and one long in the making as well. But why? Why end it like this?
To really understand this choice, we first have to refresh our memories of the show's pilot. I'm sure most viewers will remember that The Good Wife began with a press conference, as Peter Florrick announced his resignation from the office of the State's Attorney while Alicia stood morosely by his side. But it's the specifics of what followed that press conference that are important: after Peter grabbed Alicia's hand and led her out into the back hallway, she stopped… looked him in the eyes… and slapped him across the face.
Compare that to the closing scene of the finale, in which Peter Florrick announces his resignation from the office of the Governor while Alicia stands slightly less morosely by his side. But rather than waiting for her husband to grab her hand, she takes off when she thinks she sees Jason waiting in the wings. When she goes into the same back hallway, her lover is nowhere to be found; and when she stops, it's not Peter in front of her but Diane, still fuming over Alicia's shocking betrayal in court. Diane looks her in the eyes… and slaps Alicia across the face.
These parallels are very clearly putting Alicia in Peter's position, as though saying that her seven years of growth and increased confidence — and, more specifically, her efforts to distance herself from her corrupt husband — have made Alicia more like Peter, not less. That's a tough realization to come to, and one that has been so gradual that it was difficult to recognize at times. Julianna Margulies' performance was always so good that, despite all of Alicia's flaws, you still wanted to root for her. It's not until you watch her betray Diane — her mentor, her ally, her friend, her partner — in court that you really realize how far she has fallen. Yes, Alicia finally "broke bad."
In a post-finale video, the Kings confirmed the cyclical nature of their show, stating that "the victim has become the victimizer." The cyclical nature also applies to Alicia's motivations, which at first glance seem static when compared to the first season: she's devoted to her corrupt husband out of some misguided sense of responsibility, and doing everything she can to save him. But the finale does an excellent job of outlining exactly why this isn't the case. Alicia is fighting very hard to keep Peter out of prison for two very specific reasons — neither of which have anything to do with Peter himself.
First of all, Alicia realizes there's a kernel of truth in what Jason said about the fact that she would never divorce Peter as long as he was in prison. Secondly, she was horrified to learn that Grace planned to drop out of college in order to remain close to her father should he be convicted. So Alicia is fighting tooth and nail not to save her husband, but to save herself and her daughter. This revelation is simultaneously thrilling and devastating: it's thrilling that Alicia is finally thinking of herself after years of being unflinchingly devoted to a lying, cheating husband; but it's devastating that Alicia's self-interest has to come at the expense of her ethics and her relationship with another strong, independent woman.
Lest you think the finale was too dark, the ambiguous ending does leave some room for hope. In their post-finale video, the Kings reiterated their common refrain that the slap in the pilot was the moment that "woke Alicia up" — and now "there's a slap at the end of the series that wakes Alicia up a second time." If that first slap launched Alicia on a seven-year path of self-discovery and independence, then this second slap signals the start of a new phase of her life. Just because the final episode has aired doesn't mean Alicia's journey is over. On the contrary, in the final moments, we're witnessing Alicia on the precipice of a new stage in her life.
The Kings stated at the show's Tribeca panel last month that they wanted the end of their series to feel "novelistic," exemplified by "a level of ambiguity." "I don't think the best finales have to wrap up all their loose ends," Robert King said. "You want a last episode that resonates." It's true that the best novels end with a sense that their characters' lives will continue past the events on the final page; in that same way, it's clear that Alicia's story is far from over. This lack of closure may be frustrating for some, but I prefer the idea that Alicia is still out there somewhere, learning and growing and occasionally failing but always trying her best.
For seven years, the Kings delighted in moral ambiguity: as often as Alicia defended the innocent, she also defended drug kingpins and serial killers; as often as she sacrificed for her husband and children, she also made a choice that was driven by her own selfishness. So we shouldn't have been all that surprised when The Good Wife ended with Alicia in such a morally ambiguous position. After all this time, a clean and clear-cut ending would have betrayed everything that this complicated show — and its complex protagonist — were about.
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