Tuesday 12 November 2019

Saint, sinner or just brilliant tv... The Good Wife

As The Good Wife returns to our screens tonight, we investigate the appeal of the show's central character and her morally ambiguous approach to life

Julianna Margulies
Julianna Margulies
Strong characters: Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies

Vicki Notaro

Looking around, it's fair to say women on television are having a moment - but few more so than Julianna Margulies and her star turn on The Good Wife.

The sixth season begins tonight on RTE, and is currently reaching its climax to great acclaim in the US. The fifth was dubbed by many to be one of the greatest seasons of television ever, with one TV critic declaring it to be "near-flawless". But in recent times, the "good" wife's character has been called into question, with viewers witnessing her dark side and thirst for her own power for the first time.

The series revolves around Alicia Florrick, a stay-at-home mother who is thrust into the spotlight when her high-profile State's Attorney husband Peter (played by Chris Noth of Sex And The City fame) is arrested for political corruption amid a sex scandal. Alicia stands by her husband as he atoned for his wrongdoings.

Once Peter is thrown in the clanger, it's up to her to step out from his shadows. A qualified lawyer, she never practised, allowing Peter to enjoy the spotlight.

But thanks to an old college buddy Will, with whom she enjoys palpable sexual tension, and a job offer at his firm, things begin to look up.

However, as the show has progressed, Alicia has gone from being the poor, pitied woman to a powerful, assertive lawyer - and in season five, she takes part in a coup against her former allies, shocking both viewers and the other characters.

But what is it about the show that appeals so much to both men and women several years into its run, especially (spoiler alert) having killed off one of its main characters in the previous season? After all, in terms of dramatic series it's hardly groundbreaking in the way HBO's The Sopranos or True Detective were. The Good Wife is a network show, which means it must be episodic and far-reaching, but it's managed to appeal to our emotions and curiosity.

Legal dramas are always popular, but this is one with real heart, family at its core and characters we can root for.

There are case-by-case storylines, but it's Alicia's life that keeps us tuning in - her marriage, her relationships with family and colleagues, and her business dealings. And now with an added element of ambiguity on the part of Alicia's character after she seemingly shafted her friends in a coup, it's unclear just how good this wife is any more - especially when she's been the moral compass for the other characters throughout.

As things stand, Will has been shot dead in a shock twist (actor Josh Charles reportedly wanted out of the role). Alicia's grief did an awful lot in terms of softening her character who some might have felt became a little manipulative. Her marriage of convenience to Peter and the aforementioned coup had many fans wondering where her feelings had gone, but now Alicia is emerging from the tragedy a stronger and more likeable woman.

As season five closed, Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) is attempting to convince Alicia to run for State's Attorney and fill her husband's old shoes, while her former boss Diane (Christine Baranski) is considering going into business with Alicia.

Many thought killing Will off might destroy The Good Wife, taking away the possibility of an eventual happy ending for him and Alicia and destroying that oh-so-sexy trope of the love triangle forever.

Also, Josh Charles was a well-loved part of the show, with lots of appeal to female fans. However, his death has allowed the series to almost reinvent itself, focusing far more on the females in the forefront than any love story that might rear its head.

We start season six with a new Alicia. In her grief for Will, she found a new bond with Diane, and it's these two female characters alongside private investigator Kalinda that make the show unique. These women are truly in control.

But has Alicia really transitioned from saint to sinner over the past few years, or is she simply looking out for number one for the first time?

Her children are growing up, she's been badly hurt many times and recovered, so isn't it fair enough that she might want more for herself?

She isn't the little woman who was betrayed by her very important husband any more, and throughout her ascent, Alicia has become more compromised morally, and more at ease with the fact. She may have used her sad story to manipulate others in the beginning, but she's a lot less holier than thou and a lot more cunning these days. Still, she sees herself as a woman of courage, albeit not a perfect one.

And, so it seems, do the viewers.

For many, it's a treat so see women on television being as devious and as pragmatic as the men, not just in matters of the heart, but in business. Alicia isn't a saint, nor should she be one. She's able to play dirty when necessary, and viewers no doubt find that a refreshing change from the perfect maternal characters we see over and over again. But most importantly, we understand her motivations.

The trifecta of Diane, Kalinda and Alicia is a strong one representing women who aren't flawless and don't want to be.

But the men are no slouches either. Noth's Peter is sexy, dangerous and highly intelligent. Cumming's Eli is an odd character, a disrupter of sorts. Then we have Matthew Goode as Finn, a potential new love interest for Alicia, or perhaps just someone for her to spar with.

And of course there's Cary Agos, played by Matt Czuchry.

The only male character to be in as many episodes as the female trifecta, he begins the season under arrest for drug trafficking - and who can he turn to for help, only Alicia?

Over six seasons, Alicia has changed. She's not an ideal mother, but she tries hard. She's an excellent lawyer and a good friend. She may not be a good wife, or really a wife at all any more, but that doesn't matter. She's a character that we return to again and again because she's real, human, flawed - and she's a total bad ass.

The Good Wife is on RTE One tonight at 10.15pm

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