That’s what we experience and learn on Sunday’s episode (9 p.m. ET/PT) of the CBS legal drama, an established classic that a week ago, after five seasons, suddenly became the sort of show that sends shock waves up and down the Twitter ladder. Lawyer Will Gardner (Josh Charles) was killed in a courtroom shoot-out in one of the most jolting twists ever – a jaw-dropper in an age when shocking twists are becoming routine as meals.
That episode ended with investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) on her phone, trying to reach Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), Will’s former lover and – although the show would never be corny enough to use the phrase – his eternal flame.
“Last Call,” which is the title of this latest, superbly written episode, begins with Alicia taking that call, trying to grasp the enormity of the death, then moves out in a widening circle to witness the grief, disbelief and dismay at her new law firm and, more significantly, at her old one, Lockhart/Gardner. Even David Lee (Zach Grenier), an attorney as hard-shelled as a crustacean, slips into a conference room and allows himself one gasp of a sob. Then he goes about the business of contacting Will’s clients.
The episode goes a bit too far with Kalinda’s behavior – her cold, melodramatic fury feels manufactured, which is very rare for this show. But most of the interactions in the firm have a believable, interlocking flow, moving from attorney to attorney, and there are some welcome bits of humor (not rare for this show) that give a shapeliness to the story.
I especially liked the reaction of Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) to an intern wailing out of proportion about her acquaintance with Will. Although that joke, in fact, ends up having quite a bite to it.
She’s reeling from the loss of the man she loved more than her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth). Peter knows this, and Alicia knows he knows, and he wants to give her space for her grief. And yet, she is still too thoughtful (or cautious) to diminish Peter by letting him acknowledge how much Will meant to her.
But Peter’s solicitousness can also be gravely overbearing, something like Downton Abbey‘s Mr. Bates and his almost threatening concern for wife Anna. Will Alicia allow herself to shrink inwardly (as she has done in the past) out of respect for Peter?
One doesn’t usually expect this kind of emotional delicacy in Chicago political circles.
And yet Peter reminds us – in the sort of fast, almost throwaway line that gives The Good Wife some of its most incisive moments – that he is a political beast. He could serve Mr. Bates in a meat pie and not lose a night’s sleep.
Alicia, meanwhile, floats in and out of moments of what might be described as magical thinking, alternately punishing and consoling herself by imagining the full content of Will’s last fragmentary phone message.
As fans of the series know, destinies hang on voicemail – and that’s as far back as season 2.
Margulies, whose performance tends to be underrated because Alicia operates within restrained parameters that she herself establishes and obeys, is immaculate in this episode. She wanders about in a state of troubled, searching sorrow. She’s like Ma Parker, the pitiable, grief-stricken character in a famous story by Katherine Mansfield:
Oh, wasn’t there anywhere where she could hide as long as she liked, not disturbing anybody, and nobody worrying her? Wasn’t there anywhere in the world where she could have her cry out – at last?
For The Good Wife, it isn’t easy.
FLASHBACK: Julianna Margulies: ‘The Poop Hits the Fan’ in Season 5