The Good Wife is a unicorn. It should not exist. When has a show that does drama, mystery, intrigue, thriller, romance, satire, and comedy this well ever existed? When has a show in the supposed Golden Age of TV that appears to love what it does and is produced with such joy ever been taken this seriously? Thus, The Good Wife should not exist. But it does—and damn if I’m not incredibly grateful it does!
A season and a half ago, The Good Wife was entering its stride to become the best drama during the 2013-2014 television season (for which it 100 percent should have won an Emmy). Julianna Margulies said before this current season began that she told the creators and producers of the show to not try to top last season, that they just couldn’t. It was too good. And it was; it was good. She told them to do different. And the exec producers listened.
“Different” came to somewhat of a close during the first Good Wife episode of 2015, the 12th episode of season six: Cary will no longer be going to prison after half a season of him being cornered farther and farther into a corner. On any other show, Cary not going to prison feels like the obvious choice. A major character not being sidelined? That’s the kind of stuff network television loves to do, but not for lack of milking faux drama from it. But this is The Good Wife. Had it not been for the show splitting up the law firm in season five or killing off the male lead of the series with absolutely no leaks about it, perhaps we would have shrugged off the chance of Cary ever going to prison. Heck, the writers even had their cake and ate it too in the last episode of 2014 when Cary pleaded guilty. This episode was just all a Hail Mary, as it was titled.
Which is why the outcome of the episode doesn’t feel cheap. It’s earned.
It’s also why throughout the 60 minutes of “Hail Mary,” the writers can trust that the audience truly believes Cary going to prison is an actual, potential outcome. It’s why my heart was racing throughout the entirety of those 60 minutes. I haven’t yelled that many obscenities at my television screen all year! Har har, I know, but the truth is that the last time I did is probably during “Dramatics, Your Honor,” which, yes, is a Good Wife episode, the one in which Will Gardner is shot and killed.
OK, so maybe it’s a bit premature to call The Good Wife the best series on television of 2015. We’re only one week in, after all. And just for a bit of heart racing?
What I think people get wrong when they talk about the supposed creative resurgence of The Good Wife is that they always cite season five as the moment the show found itself. It’s true: season five’s momentum was nonstop. But the resurgence happened a bit before that, back in the latter half of season four. The show had just winded down on the Kalinda’s husband storyline. And the first couple episodes of 2013 were a bit more procedural, a bit more light, but they quickly took a turn for blueprinting the beginnings of what would transpire during “Hitting the Fan,” the episode in which the firm split, with episodes like “The Seven Day Rule,” and then greatly so with the fantastic “Red Team/Blue Team.” The Good Wife was the best network drama of 2013, just as it was 2014. And it’s been riding that same momentum from the early episodes of 2013 all the way to now.
“Hail Mary” was a showcase in everything that makes The Good Wife the best series on all of television at the moment: a race toward the end of the clock, no outcomes ever being off the table, expertly executed humor (“I don’t like milk”), great cinematography and score, and romance—with a shocking smooch to bookend it. On The Good Wife, nothing is ever without several layers. So when Alicia lays one on her campaign manager, it’s not a romantic plea (at least not just one), it’s one of the most fully realized characters on TV ever Alicia Florrick acting out in pure excitement from hearing Cary isn’t going to jail.
Quoting from the series’ semi-bottle episode earlier this season “Oppo Research:” “I’ll tell you who’s the badass.”
So, sure, it might be premature. But believing that somehow The Good Wife is going to fall off the rails after an-equally-compelling-to-season-five first half of season six (and then some) would go against the nature of having watched The Good Wife‘s early 2013 episodes and beyond, and everything that came before that, to boot.
The Good Wife already hit its stride long ago; it just continues to ride that in fine form. And when the form is this compelling, well, it’s going to be difficult to beat that.