With two simple words (“I’m in”) the fantastic fourth season of CBS legal drama The Good Wife came to a staggering conclusion on Sunday evening with the revelation that Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), Illinois’s newly minted first lady, would be leaving Lockhart/Gardner to join the startup firm captained by former rival Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry).
The move effectively reboots the show, which will return for a fifth season in the fall. What will Alicia’s decision mean for her star-crossed romance with Will Gardner (Josh Charles) once he gets wind of her betrayal? And what does it mean for The Good Wife that its main characters are being split up and established as potential adversaries?
The Daily Beast caught up with The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King to discuss the love triangle between Alicia, Will, and Peter; the shifting dynamic between Alicia and legal snoop Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi); new investigator Robyn Burdine (Jess Weixler); whether Kalinda is a murderer; audience backlash to the Nick (Marc Warren) storyline; and much more. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
The Good Wife has mined the pull between idealism and ambition throughout its run. How does Alicia's “I'm in” represent the outcome of that battle?
Robert King: Alicia could have fought her way to the top of Lockhart/Gardner, given that she had been made partner. To us, it was a little bit more of a personal decision, because of the feeling that she could not control her sexual attraction to Will; their proximity was a problem. Yes, there's an element of what Cary is saying, which is, “We could be the new Diane and Will,” and there is ambition there. But it's joined together with the fact that she feels the only way to stop from being adulterous would be to leave Lockhart/Gardner. That sweet spot for the show that we enjoy so much is where the personal and professional combine.
Should it matter that it's Colin Sweeney's involvement that sways her? Has she in some ways made a deal with the devil?
Robert King: I was about to say yes. I can see on Michelle's face she was about to say no.
Michelle King: Apparently, there's a difference of opinion in the King household. I don't think it's relevant. She would have done it either way. It didn't matter that Sweeney was pushing her to do it.
Robert King: In many ways, Alicia wants to feel that she can do Lockhart/Gardner right. And yet, when you start with Colin Sweeney and Bishop and Chum Hum as clients, you are already starting off with a step in the wrong direction.
Is Alicia leaving Lockhart/Gardner a betrayal?
Robert King: Yes. As far as we're concerned, there is no way she can do what she's about to do now without screwing over Will. She's thinking of stealing clients from Lockhart/Gardner and going off with Cary.
Michelle King: Even if it isn't a professional betrayal, it would certainly be interpreted as one by Will and Diane.
What does Season 5 look like with Lockhart/Gardner and Cary's new firm in competition with each other?
Robert King: It's very complicated, because there's nothing really easy in this world. Reality isn't easy when you have these split situations, when you have basically a great divorce. We probably can't lay it out completely—even though we know where we're going—because some of the fun will be in the watching. It will not be simple and it won’t be easy for anyone, but in the best way, as far as we're concerned, for drama.
This season we saw Lockhart/Gardner struggle to get back on track. Was the decision to split up these major characters coming from a sense that things had begun to feel too safe again?
Robert King: Yes. Alicia is only fun in our minds when she's an underdog. As much as it satisfies our thematic feelings for the show, to have them struggling over becoming richer—at a certain point, seeing rich people scramble over money gives you no one to cheer for. So what you want to do is create a sense of “underdog” again and that was the real goal of this year, to try to get a reboot going where Alicia was having to struggle. She's a really worthy character when you see her struggle.
Does this mean that Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) will have to stay now that the firm is in jeopardy and not move on to the state Supreme Court?
Robert King: Diane's pursuit of the Supreme Court's judgeship is not gone yet. It's still in the mix. You're jumping two or three steps ahead, which may be where it's going, but we're not there yet.
There was a deliberate decision not to show Cary and Kalinda sleep together. Can you explain why that coupling was chosen to take place off-screen and does the finale effectively close off their dynamic as well?
Robert King: It doesn't close off their dynamic at all. Cary and Kalinda are just too potent a character combination and the relationship is too fun to do that. We felt the same way as when we had Jill Flint and Archie sleeping with each other on-screen, but you want to disguise them just because there seems to be added drama in waiting. Even though you knew what happened it seems like there was added drama in not giving the audience their appetizer, their meal, and their dessert all at once. So that is going to be saved for later, because there's probably more value in having it come at a moment of extreme drama.
Much of this season seemed to be moving towards repairing the gulf between Alicia and Kalinda. Given now that they are in competing firms, is that division going to create a wider gulf between them, one that is potentially insurmountable?
Robert King: I don't know that it’s insurmountable but it's definitely creating a gulf. The problem is our people cared for each other and they even care for each other when there is great division between them. People that we want to see getting closer together [are now] having this dividing line drawn between them.
Michelle King: It will play with the reality of people that are just going to be in different places logistically. How do they deal with each other when they are suddenly part of the competition? As much as you might like a former colleague, what happens when it seems like they are trying to undermine your firm? That's what's going to be fun.
In a recent interview, Julianna Margulies said that the Alicia/ Kalinda dynamic was “kind of played out because of the circumstances. I doubt she'll be able to trust that friendship fully.” Do you agree with her assessment?
Robert King: These are two really key characters to the show, and indifference is something that doesn't play dramatically. What's fun dramatically is either love or hate. It's very difficult to play somewhere in between. Look, Jules is a collaborator here and actually Archie is too, all the actors are. We don't have a flag planted either way, and we are leaving ourselves open on that.
Just to reiterate, you are saying that it is possible that they might continue to have some kind of dynamic.
Robert King: We leave all options open. We won't get into a public fight with Julianna on this because she knows this character almost better than anyone. When you're playing with a full deck of cards with a lot of characters you'll find that there is a potent mixture that you can create that you didn't expect. We can only say to the fans that we don't close any door at all. Wow, that was three mixed metaphors. It started with poker and moved to chemicals and now to doors closing and opening.
Did Maura Tierney's Maddie character work as effectively as you had initially envisioned?
Michelle King: Yes.
Robert King: We wanted to play a little bit off what had happened in the last presidential campaign, with the debate, bad polling and all that. I wish we had her in more episodes. It wasn’t always her schedule. It was a little combination of juggling several plotlines, but I wouldn't mind if she had been in three more episodes.
Michelle King: We were handcuffed a little bit to Chris Noth’s schedule as well, so it was a little bit of a tricky dance. But I thought she was marvelous and I thought she made a great foil for Peter.
In looking at Maddie and Amanda Peet’s Laura Hellinger, why can't Alicia keep any friends?
Robert King: We've always thought that there's probably no one closer to her than Dallas Roberts’s [Owen] and one of the things that we found with Alicia is there’s a certain privacy there. There is something that she closes off from other people around her because she's been hurt so much. Part of her growth will be finding a way to open that up. What you've seen is probably the struggles.
Michelle King: Not only that, but just look at the reality of Alicia's life. At the beginning of the series, she had a husband in prison; she had kids that required a great deal of hands-on mothering. As she's come along, Peter is now available to do more of the parenting. The kids are older and don't need as much time. She's getting to a point in her life where she probably has more time for friends that she did in previous years.
Robert: It's funny, we’re talking about her like she's a real person as opposed to a character that can be written one way or the other. It's very much, “Don't get down on Alicia! She's finding friends. What are you talking about? She's a nice lady, she's going to find a friend.”
Flat out, did Kalinda kill Nick?
Robert King: We can't say. That may rear its ugly head again and we don’t want to put our finger exactly on what happened there.
But that plotline will be touched on again?
Michelle King: No, we won't say that.
So it's a potentially dangling plotline that may or may not be touched on?
Robert King: If I can go back to poker, we do have a joker that we can play. We just don’t know whether we will or how and when.
Given the backlash to that storyline, did you read that at all as a suggestion that perhaps operatic plots don't work well within the show's narrative framework? And did that reaction shade the way you approached the back half of the season in terms of tone?
Michelle King: I don't think it was about it being operatic. I think it was very specific to not wanting to see the Kalinda character seem vulnerable or taken advantage of, rather than a tonal issue.
Robert King: My answer would be yes, there were tonal issues. With some of it, Michelle is right and the other part is the operatic thing. We used that as a fake-out in the second year, where you think this could be an operatic solution to Kalinda, but it turns out to be something very prosaic, which is that she slept with Peter. We didn't give ourselves the same kind of fake-out here. It was diving into the operatic headfirst and that may have been a mistake. I think we pursued theme over plot, and that was probably a mistake.
Robyn has been such an amazing foil for Kalinda. How was Robyn conceived and how does she fit into this world?
Robert King: We felt like we went down some dark paths with [Kalinda’s] husband and so part of it was to bring out this comic element and part of it was to open up her investigative process a little bit more. It was very exciting seeing someone who was very, very different from Archie and from Kalinda. Jess Weixler is just so smart and bright and has so much bubbly coed energy and that just seemed like a very good contrast to Archie’s mysteriousness. So part of it was to fill out and explore a little deeper this investigator world that Kalinda inhabits that sometimes cuts her off a little bit from the main thrust of the show.
Peter had enough votes without the compromised ballots, but he could have won the election with a lie. Why did you choose to show that Peter's campaign was corrupt? Is this just the price of politics in Chicago, and does that tie into Alicia's morality entering a gray area?
Robert King: Yes, on all of those fronts. What we wanted to show is that a candidate isn't always in control of all the corruption of his campaign. There seem to be layers that insulate him from these corrupt decisions and what Will was doing was trying to throw it right back in his lap, like, “Look you don't have deniability here if I show you this video.” Obviously there's a lot of corruption that Will deals in, in the law and ethical corners he's cutting. With Peter, we want to see him doing the same thing, not only in the way he wins, but in the way he will govern. Some of this is the show saying, “Part of being an adult is acknowledging that people who appear pure to you are not. In fact, part of the way they maintain their image of purity is by pulling corrupt stunts here and there.” Alicia is learning how gray the world is as she goes. She's not exactly Walter White in that she gets worse with each year on an extreme level, but that she's got her own gradation of having to own more and more of her own hypocrisy.
Michelle King: But her worldliness or pragmatism, it's not as though it's being led by what Peter and his campaign are doing. They seem to be on parallel tracks.
In looking back at this season as a whole, is there anything you would have done differently? And, conversely, what surprised you the most in terms of how the season turned out?
Robert King: We wanted to give Archie something meatier. If we had to do it again, we would not go down that route, as much as we enjoyed what Mark Warren did with [Nick]. Probably what worked out surprisingly well for us was the turn where the firm became rich and Jess Weixler playing Robyn. For a character introduced so late in the year—usually you don't want to introduce them that late—I think that played out very well and we're happy with that.
Where in the production did the renewal come along? Did that affect how the season ended?
Michelle King: We had been led to believe that the studio and the network were pleased with the way things were going, so we built the story with that in mind.
Robert King: We would probably have ripped it in another direction if we had been given some kind of waving off. You get hints from the network, especially with a show that has a serialized element—“you guys might want to start wrapping it up”—and because we weren't getting any of that, we knew we could write towards what we wanted.
What can you tease about Season 5?
Robert King: What we've been saying to the actors and what we'll happily say to you is this season is really going to start at 90 miles an hour, because next year it is going to be civil war in the firm. Every year up until now, we've had some kind of outside force. This year, it's going to be an inside force that's the problem, and that's going to play out as not needing as many guest stars to create tension, because most of the tension is going to be created by our characters within the firm. Usually, it's a little bit of PR bullshit when you say, “Oh, next year will be the year when everything explodes.” Well, it's not really PR bullshit for us to say that. This can't end happily for them. Once Alicia says “I'm in” to Cary, all the characters are going to be at each other's throats. You know what I'm most excited about? I think Matt Czuchry probably has not been as well served by our show as his talents deserve. Next year, obviously you're going to see Matt more at the center of what's going on.
The year of Cary.
Robert King: Yeah, I think so. Matt has always been off by his own in the state's attorney's office, or he's just been on the out. He's going to be kicking ass this year.