Why ‘The Good Wife’ should drop love triangles

“The Good Wife” is often considered by fans and critics alike to be an “underrated” show, worthy of much more praise than the other TV shows on CBS. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to reconcile the fact that CBS airs both “The Good Wife” and “Two and Half Men” (or similar swill) because of the vastly disparate caliber of such shows.

But right now, everyone is talking about “The Good Wife” — and for good reason. Although high dramas relish the dramatic midseason twist, no TV show is able to pull this off quite as subtly, or as well, as “The Good Wife.”

As The Atlantic put it, the death of one of the most important characters on “The Good Wife” was “arguably the most shocking TV demise in recent memory.” More shocking than Walter White, more shocking than Robb Stark, more shocking than the upcoming major death(s) on “Game of Thrones,” (which premieres April 6).

 

 

But the death that rocked Twitter wasn’t just shocking. It was a legitimate game-changer.

For a show largely defined by the eponymous Alicia Florrick’s relationships — with coworkers, friends, her children, her husband and her lover — to remove one of the most pivotal relationships from the equation necessarily alters the show’s landscape. Will one of the other characters be promoted to the male lead? Does “The Good Wife” need a male lead?

Alongside “Game of Thrones,” “The Good Wife” is a female-driven, high-stakes drama that rivals male-driven “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” in its scope, if not in ratings. These shows constitute what Vulture called “prestige dramas” — shows that tackle social issues, feature complex storytelling, incorporate tropes and break stereotypes.

But “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” also feature gratuitous sex and violence. They’re allowed to, of course, thanks to more lax regulations on what cable TV can show viewers. “The Good Wife,” however, manages to stay fresh and compelling without resorting to gratuitous sex or violence to draw in viewers. There is an ever-present undercurrent of sexual tension but relatively little overt sexuality.

What overt sexuality was present was mostly contained in the love triangle between Alicia Florrick, her sometimes-estranged, previously imprisoned husband who happens to be the new governor of Illinois and her late boss and Georgetown Law School classmate, Will Gardner.

Based on Sunday’s episode, “The Last Call,” this love triangle will continue in the wake of Will Gardner’s death, but it will be a triangle with a dead corner.

This is a mistake. For those fans who “shipped” Will with Alicia, the continuance of the love triangle is a tease. For those who enjoy the show for its politics and its social commentary, the triangle’s continuance is a distraction. There are subplots aplenty in “The Good Wife,” none of which are made less compelling by a death in the law firm.

As The Atlantic’s Kirthana Ramisetti said, “Viewers don’t expect male protagonists like Don Draper or Walter White’s story arcs to be solely propelled by their love lives. Why should it be different for Alicia Florrick?”

This is what the remainder of season five and subsequent seasons should focus on: the political intrigue of Chicago, the inner workings of Alicia’s fledging law firm and its competition with her former employers, the inner workings of the governor’s office and Alicia’s relationships with her mentor, her law partner, her children and herself.

“The Good Wife” is a story about one woman’s second coming-of-age, one woman re-entering the workforce and learning to navigate her own ambitions in the face of her husband’s political downfall.

Here lies the nexus of conflict on “The Good Wife” and where its strengths as a TV show lie. It’s where the show needs to remain.

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas