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The Unopened Door: Thoughts on the Season Finale of The Good Wife

Auteur Hal Hartley once said, "A family is like a gun. You point it in the wrong direction and you could kill someone."

The message therein, and the parallels between the potential explosive energy of a family and that of a loaded gun, was keenly felt in this week's outstanding season finale of CBS' The Good Wife ("The Dream Team"), written by Corinne Brinkerhoff and Meredith Averill and directed by Robert King, which posited two parallel situations between Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) that will fuel our imagination during the long summer.

The Good Wife is one of a very small handful of television shows that can take innately simple moments--those that may seem quotidian or mundane, such as a knock at the door or a look through an open window--and make them transformative. This has been the case in the past as well: look at Alicia and Will (Josh Charles) opening a hotel door at the end of last season. While the choice was apparent there (they enter the room, therefore committing to consummating their romance), here we instead find both Alicia and Kalinda at their own respective crossroads, each of which offers the same binary choice: do you stay or do you go? And each must make an ultimate choice, one that will likely have resounding consequences within their lives: do you open that door, knowing that your life will change?

That fantastic parallel (leaving/staying) plays out magnificently here, leaving both characters in a limbo state until the fall. By either choosing or not choosing to confront what's behind their respective doors, both characters become themselves the catalysts for change. There's a real sense here that every knock on the door has been like this for Kalinda since 2007 or thereabout, but that her choice is to stop running and face down the very real, very possibly fatal consequences of her actions.

I'm glad that she didn't initially take this step, instead seeing the brush of contact between Alicia and her mysterious and very dangerous husband as a harbinger of doom. There's a clear parallel between the sledgehammer scene and that of the Season Two baseball bat incident with Kalinda, but in one case her actions were punitive and vengeful. In the other, it was a matter of self-preservation as she smashed open the wall, revealing a hidden cache of guns and cash, so she could run: a rabbit in the wind, outrunning the fox.

Kalinda, clearly, has been running away her entire life, and Brinkerhoff and Averill set up the audience's expectations so that we're meant to believe that she's run again, failing to turn up for work, walking out on her life, her job, and her constructed identity, burning the framework of Kalinda just as she did previously with Leela. (Alicia even voices this aloud, pondering where Kalinda is.) But rather than set up a fall arc in which Kalinda is on the run or seeking revenge, we're instead given a scene where she's late for work, her choice perfectly clear: she's holding her ground. This is in turn echoed by her final scene at her spartan apartment (where even a mirror--a manifestation of identity and self--conceals instruments of violence) where she drags a chair in front of the door, loads a gun, and waits. She's waiting for that inevitable knock at the door and we're given that at the episode's end. Whether it belongs to friend or foe remains to be seen.

Likewise, Alicia herself wields the power in her final scene, standing on the welcome mat outside the house she once shared with her family. The house now belongs to Peter (Chris Noth) and Zach (Graham Philips) and Grace (Makenzie Vega) prepare a simple dinner of pizza, asking her to stay. It's an echo of the half-joking messages conveyed earlier by both kids, in which Alicia is subtly prodded to have them all live together again, even if she and Peter aren't really married anymore. But does a house make a family? If she goes back inside, attempts to grasp at the idyllic scene that she witnesses through the open window, she very likely won't be able to leave. The door here once again becomes emblematic of transformative change, a beginning and an ending, a literal Janus looking both ways.

If Alicia's inner question this season has been about whether you can ever go back, she's on the precipice of discovering whether you can or can't. There's something so warm and inviting about walking back in the door, joining her family for dinner, and allowing herself to be transported to a simpler time, a time before the scandal, the tragedy, the media circus. A time when the most important time was that spent around the table as a family. But Alicia has changed: we've seen her transformation over the last three seasons, from dutiful politician's wife to independent career woman, one whose morals have had to become decidedly more flexible than the simple black-or-white duality that she had in the pilot.

Personally, I believe that Alicia did go back inside and that we find her, at the beginning of Season Four, living with not only Zach and Grace, but also with Peter and Jackie (Mary Beth Peil) in the house that she went to war over, that she fought to regain in order to reclaim a piece of her past, a piece of her self. But in changing, we can't ever really go back. The Alicia that (potentially) moves into that old house isn't the same woman who once lived there, just as her family isn't the innocent clan that one walked its halls. They've been changed by their experiences, shaped by infidelity and betrayal, but they're also older and wiser now in their individual ways. Perhaps what's important then is that they're making a choice to be there, armed with the knowledge of what they had lost.

It's knowledge that also fuels the barroom conversation between Alicia and Kalinda, in which the latter answers a question that had been hovering in the air for two years, telling Alicia that she's "not gay," but instead sexually "flexible." These two women, once friends and now something else entirely, have been through a lot in the last three years but there's something welcoming and healing about seeing them knock back tequila shots again, something that it's (wisely) taken the characters--and therefore the writers--an entire season to get back to again. This moment feels earned, a confession of truth, as Kalinda opens that figurative door to Alicia just a crack. Alicia is far more wary of her drinking partner than she had been in the past, but that's okay: she once said that Kalinda gave her nothing in return for her own confessions. Here, Kalinda finally lets Alicia in an inch, sharing with her a detail of her identity, a sign that she wants Alicia to know her better, to understand her. It's a sign of friendship, as much as the elegiac "goodnight" she offers her when they part ways. Kalinda might not be one for grand gestures of emotion, but she's trying and while we've seen some thawing between the two women, this episode brought us an intense crack in the ice, as it were.

I'm intrigued by the notion of Kalinda's dangerous husband, one who is only too willing to harass and frighten Alicia at home. His laughter on the line when Alicia said the check was made out to cash was eerie and threatening, signifiers here of just why Kalinda has gone to such lengths to escape him. (Which of course connects back to Peter and her affair, making everything interconnected and circular.) I can't wait to see just who Robert and Michelle King cast as Leela's husband, and what his potential return to her life means for our favorite legal snoop. Hmmm...

A few other stray thoughts: I loved the handling of Jackie here, both in terms of the visit from Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) in the hospital but also by dint of her recent stroke. As soon as Eli was warily looking between Jackie and the television set--which was playing an old black and white film depicting a murder by shooting (there's that gun again!)--I had a feeling that the television was off and that Jackie had suffered some brain damage from her stroke (or was slipping into dementia), imagining a film that wasn't there. Once the same film played on the television during Alicia's visit, I knew I was correct, and we're given a confirmation of the fact that the television isn't even on. That she's witnessing a murder, playing out on a loop, while dreaming of her own death is a worrying sign for Jackie Florrick. I wouldn't count this hellraiser out of the game just yet, but clearly we're moving towards a Florrick clan that's going to be living in tighter quarters than before.

One of my favorite scenes in the episode was the masterful use of escalation in the Peter/Will elevator scene, in which the two are forced to undergo an awkward trip up to the 28th floor and into the waiting area, which becomes increasingly uncomfortable: the doors won't close, the buzzing, Alicia waiting there, the appearance of Cary (Matt Czuchry), the little girl in the musical car (a hilarious callback throughout the episode), Eli, and finally the reappearance of Kalinda ("We're throwing you a surprise party!"). This should be required viewing for screenwriters and film students, demonstrating how to pay off tension and escalation with deftness. Genius, as was Diane (Christine Baranski), Will, and Alicia learning of the threat to the firm... only to have the light above them flicker and then go out.

(Aside: I might be the only one, but I'm still curious about that eleventh hour phone call between Peter and Cary last week, which wasn't mentioned here at all.)

Kudos to Martha Plimpton and Michael J. Fox for reprising their roles as Patty Nyholm and Louis Canning respectively, who unite against Lockhart Gardner as the "dream team." And what a dream team they are: Plimpton and Fox are always fantastic separately but together the screen crackles under the intensity of their malevolence and trickery. And this season finale visit has massive consequences for Will and Diane and the firm itself. The lawsuit they engineer is all smoke and mirrors, distracting the partners from their true objective: ensnaring the firm's top client, Patrick Edelstein, which they do with ease.

Considering Edelstein accounts for twenty percent of the firm's monthly billings, this is a huge blow to the stability of Lockhart Gardner, which is already limping after Will's suspension. Add to this the balloon payment that's due on the firm's offices and we have a major crisis here, one that's aggressively threatening the long term viability of the firm itself. Whether they rebuild or crumble is up to them, but I can't imagine that we'll find the firm on sounder footing when we reconnect with them in the fall.

Change is afoot for all of the characters, it seems. Whether they open that door or keep it closed is up to them. But sometimes the knock on the door is insistent and demanding, and sometimes transformation occurs whether you want it to or not.

Season Four of The Good Wife will begin this fall on CBS.


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