Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm not even sure I have a word for this emotion.

There are plenty of riveting, painful moments in this week's Good Wife episode “The Last Call”—almost too many to count—and I wish I could talk about all of them. Despite having one strong A-plot and two clear subplots, one for each of the women most affected by Will’s death, it was largely an episode of moments. Narrative stepped aside in favor of raw emotion and microscopic detail. I don’t mean this as a bad thing. It’s more or less what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in “The Body” (there’s a comparison everyone and their mother’s made), and it works. If you want to realistically portray the immediate aftermath of an unexpected loss, well, that’s just about the only way to do it, and The Good Wife does it well. Incredibly well.

It does mean, though, that it’s difficult to talk about everything that went into making the episode good, because more than narrative, more than A-plots and B-plots and arcs and resolutions, the episode relies on each and every individual moment being realistically written, heartbreakingly acted, and intensely personal. Every scene has to give us a slightly different but no less real perspective on the central tragedy than the one that came before; a single false note can throw us out of the episode. (For some people, that false note was the conversation Alicia had with her daughter about God. I loved that scene, personally, but the reasons why would probably constitute a blog post all their own, or, if I were going to be really clear about it, a memoir. For some people, the false note was Kalinda, and well, as with all things Kalinda, that's also its own post.)

Instead, I’d like to focus on one particular moment, out of the many. I’m not sure I’d call it the best moment, though it’s certainly a contender, but I do think it’s the most interesting one. It’s about a minute into the episode: Alicia, who was about to introduce Peter at a correspondents’ luncheon when Eli gave her the news of Will’s death, leaves, and Eli must take her place introducing Peter. Unfortunately, he’s still reading off a teleprompter of Alicia’s speech, which is full of references to Alicia’s dress, her children, her marriage to Peter, etc. Eli is shaken, and can’t quite figure out how to stop reading from the teleprompter.

I have never reacted to anything I’ve seen or read, ever, the way I reacted to that scene. It was an entirely novel experience for me. I started laughing and crying simultaneously, the two feeding off each other. It was funnier because it was so painful; it hurt deeper because it was so funny. It wasn’t cathartic, the way joking about a personal tragedy can be, nor did it have the sting and edge of dark humor. It didn’t break the tension, and I didn’t come out of it feeling any better. It was just—this joke, this perfectly normal joke that could conceivably be worked into any episode of The Good Wife, but it was here, instead, and somehow it was massively funny without breaking the tone of the episode, and without providing a single moment’s pause in my grief as a viewer. It’s not the moment in the episode I relate to most personally—those moments all belong to Alicia—but later, when the episode was over and I was talking to my sister, it was talking about that moment that made me cry, really cry, over what I’d just watched.

Quite simply, it was the most Good Wife thing The Good Wife has ever done. There’s not another show on television, now or in history, that could’ve pulled it off. Buffy couldn’t have pulled it off. Not because Buffy didn’t have the skill, although it took enormous skill to make the moment work, but because it’s just not what Buffy is. It was a triumph of tone, five years in the making. And if I still had any doubt, it’s proved to me once and for all that The Good Wife is the best it’s ever been—and that The Good Wife’s best is among the best television has to offer.

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