What I think made The Good Wife great (at least through its first five seasons) was how it was a modern version of a serial-episodic show. Time was, virtually everything was like this—if it wasn’t just straight episodic—you’d have an overarching narrative, but each episode could stand on its own. You could miss one here and there. Of course this made sense before the age of streaming, but The Good Wife stood out by doing it in the age of “prestige TV” in an exemplary way. Each episode had its “case of the week” but the characters grew over time. There were plot arcs that you’d only properly get if you’d been watching consistently, but even those would be baked into the current episode enough that someone could watch it without having seen everything that came before. That might be slightly less true when it comes to “The Last Call,” however. You probably need at least some familiarity with the characters on the show for this episode to hit you the way it should.
One of the big plot arcs over the first five seasons was the relationship between Alicia Florrick and Will Gardner. They were star-crossed lovers, kept apart by circumstances—the biggest being Alicia’s marriage, even though that had become more a matter of politics than love even by the beginning of the series.
I don’t know if Will and Alicia should have been together given all of the practical realities. You could be a romantic and think that love conquers all, but one of the things that was great about The Good Wife was that it didn’t fall into that standard sort of TV trope. Instead, things were all too realistic, with Alicia and Will’s affair falling apart, followed by their professional relationship.
And then in “Dramatics, Your Honor,” Will dies suddenly. The Good Wife doesn’t show us the shooting. It happens off-screen. But I think that makes it all the more powerful. This was a shocking death. It seemed out of nowhere in terms of the narrative of the show, but that made it hit all the harder. It gets to the randomness of death in general and how it can happen to anyone at pretty much any time.
Will’s client, Jeffrey Grant, shoots him in that episode, but it would seem this was a more chaotic act than anything. Grant had been arrested back in “The Next Week” if you recall—brought in on a trumped up DUI and then charged with murder. He insisted he didn’t do it, but his DNA ended up being a 100% match. Did he lie to Will?
“Dramatics, Your Honor” picks that story thread up several episodes down the line and follows Will’s attempt to defend Grant at trial. By the end, it seems to maybe be working—or at least it feels like there is a chance—before Jeffrey manages to get a cop’s gun and shoots up the courtroom.
But my focus here isn’t on either of those episodes. It’s on the next one: “The Last Call,” which centers on the aftermath of Will’s sudden and unexpected death, and how various characters on The Good Wife grapple with it.
Will is Dead
The episode opens with Eli getting a call from Kalinda. Alicia is supposed to introduce Peter at a lunch event, but once Eli hears the reason for the call, he pulls her away to take it, and then tells her to leave. He fills in and reads some inappropriate lines off a teleprompter, but I think the big thing that is worth noting is Eli’s response to the whole situation.
As Peter’s campaign advisor/chief of staff it would have been all too understandable if he’d withheld things from Alicia until the event was over, or something like that. But the weight of death presses with an urgency that hardly seems rational if you think about it. Will will still be dead later. But you can’t delay the relay of this kind of thing. It’s pressing even if you can’t point to a reason why it should be, perhaps just because it is such a big deal. Eli keeps other information from Alicia over the course of the series because he feels like the timing isn’t right, but not this. He’s too human for that. Will’s death punctures through any kind of political calculus. F*ck…go…none of this is all that important anyway.
David Lee’s reaction also strikes me. Son of a bitch that he is, after Diane informs the team at Lockhart/Gardner of Will’s death, he goes to his office, clears the room, and takes a moment to subtly cry. Because even he isn’t heartless, as much as he might often seem like he is—this death of a man who may not have truly been a friend but who was at least a business partner hits him. And he is disgusted at the intern sobbing uncontrollably outside his office.
So is Diane. After learning that Gail has only been there for maybe a week, she walks up to her, asks her if she is done crying, and then fires her.
This may seem incredibly harsh. After all, even if you’ve only known your boss for a week, learning that he’s been killed would be pretty traumatic. But I find this interesting to think about from Diane’s perspective. This was her friend and partner, for years. You don’t have the right, Gail, to weep over him like that. You don’t have the right to call that much attention to yourself while those of us who knew him better are doing our damnedest to keep it together.
She tells David a bit later in the episode that Will was her best friend. Had that come through earlier in the series? I don’t know, but the power of “The Last Call” is in how everything breaks down to the human level.
When Alicia comes to the office, Diane hugs her, and in their conversation tries to console her. It’s as though their disputes—which had gotten downright vicious at times since Alicia left the firm—melt away in light of their shared grief. And this is the sort of thing that can happen in the face of death. It reminds us that everything is fleeting.
The Last Call
The title of the episode refers to a call that Alicia got from Will shortly before he was killed. It’s a voicemail that she listens to multiple times over the course of the hour, because Will barely says anything before being interrupted and saying he’ll call her back.
Why did he call? Was it to berate her about trying to steal his clients? Was it to apologize? Was it to try to sweep everything aside and confess his undying love and desire to be with her?
OK, it almost certainly wasn’t the last one, since he was calling from the courthouse at 11:30am, but the fact is that Alicia does not know, and it eats at her. She spends most of the episode investigating this phone call—talking to the judge, to Finn in the hospital, etc.—but she never finds out.
And thus that call symbolizes the unresolved nature of her relationship with Will, the way that the tensions between them were left hanging. They thought there would be more time. He says he’ll call her back. But beyond that, they thought there would be more time to forgive and ultimately come to terms with everything that had happened between them. And that’s cut short, like the phone call, by the randomness of the world.
When Grace asks Alicia why her atheism is any better than believing that Will is with God in Heaven, she says it’s not better; it’s just truer. Don’t tell me that “everything happens for a reason” in the face of such a loss. What could such a reason be?
Why did Jeffrey Grant do it, anyway? Kalinda tries to investigate that, but also comes up with a lack of answers. I’m not even sure he knows. In that moment, overcome by the stresses of the courtroom, seeing the opportunity to grab a gun…
I’m reminded of the murder scene in Albert Camus’s The Stranger. There’s no real reason for it. Blame the sun beating down on Meursault in that moment. Why not do the rational thing, and walk away? Or, if you’re Jeffrey, wait for the outcome of your trial? Search for an explanation all you want and it remains absurd.
And this is what “The Last Call” confronts us with: the absurdity of death. It doesn’t have to be something like Jeffrey shooting up the courtroom. This just exemplifies it. Death is always right there. You never know when you might get that call that something has happened suddenly, and be left to think about what’s been left unsaid and unrepaired.
[Mr. Gardner, we’re just about ready here.]
H-hold on, your honor…
I’ll call you back.