The Good Wife had something of a hiccup during the latter half of this season. Unfortunately so, considering I assumed it would be the best series of 2015 way back in January. But that’s OK; to be a fan of The Good Wife is to suffer through some bumpy stretches of episodes. And in its final stretch this season, the show decided to pull a quasi-Buffy the Vampire Slayer—give you its season finale a bit early (episode 20, “The Deconstruction”), and then come back for an encore or two. And what an encore: after 50 episodes of never sharing a scene together, Alicia and Kalinda finally were together onscreen.
It was magical. It was beautiful. It was glorious.
Until it wasn’t.
Everyone’s buzzing about the finale, but all they’re really talking about is the technicalities of whether or not Julianna Margulies (Alicia) and Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) shared actual, physical space together. During their characters’ reunion scene, the two-shot of them (above) looked, in a word, iffy. And their medium close-up shots were over-the-shoulders framed by people who could have easily been stand-ins.
So was it split-screened?
I’m going to have to say yes.
I’m no expert—just compulsive and obsessive—and the so-called “evidence” agrees with me. We must first consider that if Margulies and Panjabi were in fact in the room together, then why film it in such way that it could be called out? The logic behind that is absurd, though not impossible. So for these arguments, let’s assume it’s split-screened.
Earlier in the scene, Alicia is sitting with Finn. Then, the camera tracks right and Kalinda enters. What was initially apparent were the background actors.
In Finn’s shot, there is a background actor in the middle, which would make split-screening impossible. Well, not exactly, but would make it a CGI nightmare. In Kalinda’s, no background actor is in the middle of the screen, making it easier to split the screen in post-production.
The Eye Contact
There is a moment in the beginning of the scene when Alicia and Kalinda lock eyes. Then there are moments when they’re not actually look at each other, which is normal, because nobody looks at someone else in the eye 100 percent of the time. And then there are moments where their line of sight does not match up at all. In the above GIF, it’s as if Alicia is looking at Kalinda’s earlobe.
Granted, TV shows have continuity errors between shots all the time. And sure, it’s more glaring because we’re putting this scene under a microscope, but it’s jarring because the scene with Finn just before has no continuity errors. By this, I mean, that in one angle, someone’s head is faced forward, but when we go to a close-up, their head has turned completely. Take, for example, the last frame of a two-shot, and then the first frame of Alicia’s close-up:
Like I said, this happens all the time in shows and movies, but this was consistent during this scene. Also, the fact that Alicia’s hair was parted as such so that her entire face could be covered whenever we get to Kalinda’s close-up is glaring in the scene too.
Not Crossing the Line
I can’t help but feel as though Panjabi was about to slam that glass over the split screen line, and then remembered really quickly, overcompensated, and slammed it way over on her side of the screen.
It’s not entirely true that they don’t cross the proverbial split-screen line. The characters do cross the line from time to time, though they don’t really touch. But, since we’ve assumed it’s split-screen, that’s easily explained. Split-screens don’t have to be straight lines down the screen; though that does help immensely. A TV budget at least allows you to cut some circular and diagonal pixels out of each video layer. Easy.
It’s doable. And when the ladies take their shots, their arms never once cross paths or go behind or in front of one another. We’ll get more on their brief touching soon below.
Let’s Get Crazy: Shaved Off Pixels?
Notice anything about the above still? They’re touching. Well, their pixels are. At least a little bit. This isn’t easy to show unless you take the image and blow it up in your own photo editor, but when you zoom in close, you’ll notice they don’t actually overlap. Kalinda’s hand pixels end where Alicia’s sleeve pixels begin. Another easy split-screen cut, diagonal.
And if I do say so myself, it appears as if Alicia’s sleeve, in the reflection on the bar, has been cut straight down.
It’s most apparent to me, in another two-shot.
That sleeve is definitely cut straight in the reflection.
Furthermore, you might remember that they clink their glasses. Actually, they do so in Alicia’s close-up shot. But when we go back to the two-shot, there’s this:
Kalinda’s weird hand. Alicia’s straight-cut middle-finger. And then, the next frame, whatever is going on here:
In this GIF, it may be hard to tell at such a small size, but there’s a shadow on Kalinda’s hand in the beginning. Then, Alicia raises her hand and it goes away, then comes back, and then goes away quite quickly. When she lowers her hand again, the shadow doesn’t return. There’s also a moment in the scene (the following GIF), where the bartender approaches, and a shadow casts over Kalinda and her glass, but not on Alicia nor her glass of wine. Even though a figure is seen approaching in the reflection, there’s still no shadow.
The Black Hole
And finally: what is the black hole?
Did you catch it as the bartender goes across the screen, on Alicia’s arm? Here are the frames that matter. Notice, it’s not there, then a black hole, and again, and then gone.
OK, But The Bartender’s Arm Crossed the Line
To that I say there are two possible solutions: film the bartender in front of a green screen and then place him in later, or CGI it up to the max. The Good Wife isn’t a novice when it comes to things like this.
— #RenewMichael (@michaelcollado) December 2, 2013
The Kings admitted that they went back and CGI’d a different dress on Alicia during season five, episode 10 “The Decision Tree.”
Orphan Black does it all the time.
What if we weren’t assuming?
A lot of this discussion has been on the assumption that this was actually split-screened, but what if it were not? What’s the excuse there? The truth is that we don’t have a master version of the episode. So no one can ever be sure. Every version of the show will be compressed to a degree. And the copy I was working with was 720p at what is surely a pretty low bitrate.
The low bitrate can cause these pixels to look differently at times. In fact, that’s what lower bitrates are designed for. In the Internet age, where everyone wants their downloads to be quick and their streams to barely buffer, lower bitrates tell the video to not change pixels unless it is absolutely necessary. That compression can distort an image.
But I don’t think that can explain the eye contact, or the general iffiness.
Does it matter?
Unfortunately, yes. Whatever is happening behind the scenes is a blemish on what is actually one of the greatest shows of this era. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. We’re distracted. We can’t stop talking about it. We can’t even observe this scene for what it is instead of what it technically is.
Which is a damn shame. Because otherwise this is a pretty great scene. I think that for the most part, keeping Kalinda and Alicia apart made narrative sense (I may be on the underdog team there). Would you forgive someone and be buddy-buddy if they slept with your spouse? Probably not. That physical separation even made it more palpable.
But when they started to work in the same office, and only communicated via phone: it was getting ridiculous. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you never share physical space with them. It happens. And using that physical space for dramatic tension would have been better than never seeing them together at all.
But context-wise, I love the scene. I think it is beautifully understated in a way that only Kalinda (and Kalinda with Alicia) can be. And I think, for Alicia, she has come through the other side of this political campaign and her relationship with Peter, to a point where she realizes that giving up her best friend has made so much of her past year (and her past three years) not completely useless, but isolating. And now there’s no time to repair it. Life just happens, just like it did with Will.
So was it split-screened? Was it not? I don’t think we will ever get a definitive answer one way or the other. I think we may simply have to live with it. Enjoy their final scene together, and either tune it next season or not. I know I will; possible split-screens and bumpy episodes aside, The Good Wife is still one of the best series on all of television at the moment. My watching of season seven is inevitable.