By Tara Cavanaugh
Well, that was a slap in the face.
Literally, yes. As has been lauded in many write-ups, The Good Wife’s series finale ending scene mirrors its pilot one, this time with Alicia herself getting slapped for a brutal, if strategic, transgression against her friend Diane, in a move that ultimately “won” Alicia her freedom.
It was a depressing ending to a tedious episode and increasingly tedious season. The finale, as many have pointed out, hideously failed the Bechdel test, as its entirety was about Peter’s trial, Peter’s cheating (again), Diane’s husband’s cheating (oh come on), Cary’s noble search for missing bullets and The Truth, and the waffling between Jason and Alicia that has gone from clever and sexy to downright annoying. How many times this episode did they “have a talk” that consisted of hemming and hawing and middle school fidgeting? I stopped counting.
I shouldn’t have had high hopes for the finale. I used to watch the show with rapt attention, endlessly amused by the intertwining of storylines and the wonderful, zany characters. But after Will left and then Kalinda, the show never fully regained its momentum. Sure, there were still some excellent episodes, but I started to wonder about, and then get completely distracted by, Alicia’s true aims: What does she want, really? What is she even doing all this for?
We still don’t know.
Alicia is a woman who, at first, was the victim. Her husband had a high-profile downfall and prison sentence resulting from soliciting prostitutes, on top of affairs with other women. Alicia was forced into the public eye, humiliated, standing by her man. And then she had to go back to work after a 15-year-hiatus and suffer the hazing of life at a law firm. But all that trauma made a formidable character: ambitious, ruthless, complex. We watched her struggle with defending less than laudable clients. We watched her fight falling in love with Will and then have a delicious affair of her own. We watched her complicated relationship with Peter balance contempt, duty and tenderness. We saw her stand tough, we saw her cry, we saw her throw plates at Eli.
But we never really figured out what she wants.
Did she want to start an all-women’s firm with Diane? Not really, that was Diane’s idea. Did she truly want to be State’s Attorney? That was Eli’s idea and he bullied her into it. Did she want to stay shackled to Peter? No, but her career and political aims necessitated staying the wife. The only thing she ever truly seemed to want was Will, and he died.
Back to that monumental episode of Eli and the plate-hurling: she found out that Eli, so long ago, had deleted a confessional voicemail from Will that professed his love and devotion. When Eli finally admitted this to Alicia, she was livid. But even if she had heard that voicemail back then, would she have done anything about it? Probably not. She probably would have stayed latched to Peter for her career, or his career, or for some other duty.
After all, the show was always about duty and desire. Alicia had a duty to her clients, to her children, her husband. And she fulfilled those duties, while sometimes giving into her desires, sometimes even getting consumed by them, but she always was interrupted by her phone—and she always answered the call.
But what was always apparent, and never fully answered, was the call of her own desires. Sure, there were some episodes in which she did exactly what she wanted. Those moments of stubbornness were few and strange. (Grace to Alicia on a tour bus ride during Peter’s presidential bid: “What are you reading?” “Jane Eyre.” Puzzled: “Why?” Pointed: “Because I want to.”) It was odd to see her selfish. A dutiful woman is never selfish because her duties are always to someone other than herself.
So in the final episode, we saw Alicia leave Jason a confessional voicemail, which eerily reminded me of Will’s ill-fated voicemail to Alicia. We saw her stand by Peter as he resigns, effectively ending his political career and his marriage, and then run off stage after the shadow of Jason. Only it isn’t Jason, he’s nowhere to be found. It’s just her, alone in the hallway, and then she gets the vicious and deserved slap from Diane.
Alicia winces, whelps, soothes herself and recovers, moving resolutely forward. To what? Jason? We know he’s not the answer—a lasting relationship with him is as likely as living on Mars. To another political race that Eli is planning without her input, and that he’ll bully her into? Running after Jason is a sign that maybe she knows now that she has a right to go after what she wants, but I can’t shake the feeling that for her, it’s just too late.
In one episode during her State’s Attorney campaign, a high-profile potential donor asked Alicia what she wanted. Alicia, surprised by the impromptu meeting and a little buzzed, said: “I want to be happy,” looking a little incredulous at herself. After the brief meeting ended, Alicia collapsed into a chair. No, that wasn’t the right thing to say at the time. But it is an okay thing to want—no, it’s an important thing to want. And an important thing to go after. Too bad Alicia never really did.