The education of Alicia Florrick began seven years ago with a slap. As she collected her breath, adjusted her skirt, stifled her tears, and steeled herself to march towards her future, it ended the same way.
It’s the slap that jarred The Good Wife fans into a collective gasp, ending the final moments of CBS’s crown jewel drama series with a full-circle moment certainly more violent than anyone expected. And, as reflected in the conveyor belt of emotions that sped through Julianna Margulies’s eyes in her last seconds as Alicia Florrick, it’s one that reverberates with the pain of the past as much as the current sting of reality.
When Alicia Florrick slapped Peter (Chris Noth) backstage after the press conference in which she stood by him—the Mrs. , the Hillary to his Bill, poster woman for Stand By Your Man—as he humiliated her by publicly admitting to a prostitution scandal, it was an act that set her forth on her journey.
She was a victim, and she was disgusted—disgusted by her husband’s behavior, disgusted by his guile and manipulation and how that reflected on her, and disgusted by her lot in life: a wife and mother who gave up her career and now was left disgraced and without a sense of worth.
The next seven years saw Alicia find her confidence, rediscover her professional ambition, become a top lawyer, find control as an assertive woman capable of divorcing herself from her emotions (when she needs to, as exemplified by two separate “What do you want me to do, break down and cry?” speeches in recent episodes), and even fall in love.
It also saw her absorb some of those very traits that disgusted her.
It was perhaps evident during her many moves in and out of the original Lockhart Gardner firm, each time (and arguably rightfully) putting career advancement ahead of those who assisted her on the way. Maybe there were glimpses of it in her merry-go-round of scheming and scoffing with Eli (Alan Cumming). But it was crystal clear in her decision to undermine Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), her mentor, friend, and adversary—depending on the day—and have her own husband’s affair exposed in order to help Peter’s case.
That guile. That manipulation. Those things about Peter that had disgusted her had, in the course of her own rise and grappling with power, become traits that she also embodied. Diane slapping Alicia represented that. Alicia is not the victim anymore. If not overtly the victimizer, she’s certainly become capable of being one.
And judging by her breathless, traumatized reaction—mirroring the audience’s—neither she nor us had realized it until now.
So many of us thought the education of Alicia Florrick was going to end with a series finale that doubled as a diploma in the studies of happily ever afters. Divorce the husband. Give in to love with Jason (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Relish the rise of the all-female firm with Diane, celebrate the return of friendship in your life with Lucca (Cush Jumbo), and balance it all—the job, the love, the motherhood—with the grace, power, and poise of the woman who has manifested “having it all.”
What we’re left with instead is a woman, at the end of her seven-year journey to discover and inhabit her true and best self, who represents some of the same ugliness she had set out to leave behind.
She’s not good and pure, but on a precarious spectrum or moral ambiguity and opportunism. That man, the love she was finally allowing for herself, might not want to accept her—and if he does, his disappearance in the final moments of the finale means we don’t get the satisfaction of knowing.
Reeling from being slapped by one of the most dignified and successful women she knows, Alicia’s hair is disheveled, her suit jacket twisted, and her tears resisting the gasped attempts to block them from streaming down her face. It’s hardly the image of strength and resilience we thought we were getting, and certainly not the tidy happily ever after.
But as Alicia steadies herself and walks forward, resigned to who she has become, it’s a more realistic and, in a way, more poignant image; a more human one; Alicia Florrick’s education and journey to lead to a happily ever after. It’s almost, even, a tragedy.
And as the last moment in a seven-season series, it’s one final bold statement from a network drama that will carry the torch for bold network dramas to the grave.