After creators Robert and Michelle King teased that there would be a surprise in the season premiere of The Good Wife, fans who were still shattered by the shocking death of Josh Charles’ Will Gardner midway through last year’s stellar season may have watched Sunday night’s premiere through their fingers, cowering should another devastating character death be thrust upon them. Thankfully, that’s not the case—Alicia (Julianna Margulies), Cary (Matt Czuchry), Diane (Christine Baranski) all survived the premiere. But the twist the Kings promised was still deliciously unexpected.
The cliffhanger fifth season finale ended with Eli (Alan Cumming) asking Alicia to run for state’s attorney, and cut to black before Alicia could answer. Sunday’s sixth season premiere picked up exactly where the conversation left off, and Alicia scoffing at the idea. But this is Eli, and naturally he doesn’t let the idea go—especially after informal polling he commissions shows that Alicia would win if she entered the race.
But the real, unexpected jolt that kicked off the new season was the violent, sudden arrest of Cary. He is suspected of helping client Lemond Bishop (Mike Coulter) break the law, and is being prosecuted by Alicia’s friend, Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode)—complicating manners when Alicia tries to bail Cary out.
Cary’s arrest and incarceration, in a stroke of creative brilliance, is already beginning to reverberate in the season’s other big storylines: having a partner in jail will certainly not help Alicia’s chances of winning an election, and it definitely makes Diane’s planned move from Lockhart Gardner to Alicia and Cary’s firm more complicated.
So how long until Alicia announces she’s running? What does Cary’s arrest mean for the show? Will we ever stop missing Will Gardner? (No.) We called up the Kings, who also wrote the episode, to answer all those burning questions—and more—about the exquisite Season 6 premiere.
Let’s start with the thing that’s freshest in all of our minds: that last shot. Beyond the fact that I’m shocked that Cary’s still in jail, we end with the shot of him walking and keeping his eyes down. What does it mean???
Robert: First of all, it sets more of a template for the year for us. Our show has never been as serialized as it will be this year. So the final shot of Cary walking is very much to suggest that we’re going to pick it up in the next episode, which in fact we do. Usually when you see a case on our show you know the case will be resolved by the end. Even if it’s resolved poorly or ambiguously there’s usually some storytelling resolution at the end. In fact, one of, hopefully, the surprises of this episode was that the audience expects the usual resolution to the case but Cary’s travails are going to simmer over the next few episodes.
Michelle: We want people to be surprised by the fact that he’s marching back toward prison. Typically you imagine he’d get sprung at the end of the first episode.
At what point did the idea come up to make the Cary arrest and his ties to Lemond Bishop such a big part of this season? I think with the way last season ended with Eli asking Alicia to run for state’s attorney and the premiere picking up exactly where their conversation left off, a lot of people expected her possible run to be the driving focus of the new season. This added element was an unexpected twist.
Robert: We wanted to keep that a surprise. The bottom line is that we want the show to have an element of surprise where you feel like you have to watch it so you can be up on whatever conversations there are about it. The problem is that if you knew ahead of time that it was going to be about Cary’s arrest, you’d be braced for it. You’d be wondering, “My god, what is he being arrested for?” We also wanted in the storytelling for there to be some kind of dilemma in Cary or Alicia’s life to drive them back together. Because they left the last season shouting at each other at the top of their lungs, yelling over the direction of the firm. It’s Cary in trouble now that drives them closer together than further apart.
The other thing is just to surprise the audience—usually the season starts a little more sedately. There’s a little more of setting up the chess pieces for the chess game later. We thought this season it would be more fun to just start the chess game right away.
Michelle: Also what we liked about this particular surprise is that, hopefully, when people start to think about it there’s a certain inevitability to it. That obviously if you’re going to be dealing with a major drug dealer that the law enforcement is going to have interest in getting to him whatever way what they can. We also loved the fact that this does impact Alicia so directly. Her partner getting arrested, suddenly she has to weigh whether she can help him, how that impacts any run for state’s attorney. It really is all over her life.
Robert: To kick back to what Michelle said about this being a long time coming, in the first season the first one with Bishop was an episode called “Fleas” and the concept was that someone tells the lawyers “when you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.” I think now we’re seeing the fleas come to roost, if that’s not a bad mixing of metaphor.
Going back to the Alicia-state’s attorney arc. She says early in the episode that she’d never say yes to running, but then at the end of the episode we see Peter’s eyes light up when he hears about her polling and there was the casting announcement made recently that Steven Pasquale is joining the cast as a campaign adviser. How long does it take for her to consider the run seriously, because it seems like she is going to.
Robert: One of the things we’re bumping up against is that people don’t like politicians and Alicia doesn’t like politicians. Alicia also has an uncomfortable relationship with power. In her heart of hearts, she really does desire it. But she doesn’t want to be seen as desiring it. So the problem we run into is that she psychologically hasn’t gotten over that problem. Plus, Alicia is nothing if not practical. In her first year she said, “Poetry is easy. Show me the plan.” For her it’s all about the plan. So the audience shouldn’t feel teased too much on this. It isn’t going to be a big wind up. Whether she decides to run or not, it’s going to happen very soon.
The third major arc from the premiere is the possibility of Diane joining Alicia and Cary’s firm. At what point did that become a possibility in your eyes? Because, for me, the idea of the regal Diane in the ratty warehouse digs is positively tantalizing.
Robert: [Laughs] You should’ve written the second episode then…
Michelle: It’s amazing and fun for us, too. We got the idea—it’s all about contrast. And Christine Baranski’s Diane is nothing but elegant. To see her in this old T-shirt factory is sort of heavenly.
Robert: One of the things you realize in this episode is why Diane would want to do something like this. She tells Alicia, “This could be one of the biggest firms in the country run by women.” You begin to realize how much of the old Lockhart Gardner was, really, a marriage of Will and Diane. It was always a happy marriage at its center, and now with Will gone it starts to make sense that Diane would want to climb another mountain. And that mountain is to have a firm run completely by women. Obviously Cary is not a woman, so she’s very interesting that way: She doesn’t really regard Cary with much respect, you get the sense.
That line of hers was actually kind of remarkable, because the way Diane and Alicia are written, it never really dawned on me that it’s impressive that they’re in such positions of power because they’re women. They’re written so strongly and powerfully that you tend to forget about gender politics associated with their roles.
Robert: Thank you. But the difference between Diane’s character and Alicia is that Alicia did ride a lot on her husband’s coattails. Diane’s never ridden on anybody’s coattails, you know? She’s really self-made from the ground up, in a sense.
What would Diane going to Cary and Alicia’s firm mean for how much we’ll be seeing of Louis Canning and David Lee?
Michelle: You’ll absolutely be able to see them. We adore the actors. Zach Grenier has a contract with us and Michael J. Fox said he’s eager to return as a guest star. We love them, so they will be with us.
Robert: Of the first six episodes we shot, they’re in four, I believe. They’re a strong presence throughout the year.
The premiere also pins Finn and Alicia against each other at Cary’s parole hearing. It’s always fun with the characters who are supposedly friends are forced into a situation where they become unwitting enemies. Even Alicia seems to be a little giddy about it at first. How is being opposing sides going to affect their friendship? Or how will Alicia’s soft spot for Finn affect this case?
Michelle: Well, you’re asking all the right questions.
Robert: We set it up this year intentionally to create more of an Adam’s Rib quality between them. [Adam’s Rib stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as married lawyers opposing each other in court.] One of our favorite episodes with Matthew Goode [who plays Finn] was when he was battling Will before he got shot. We wanted to return to that kind of charm and spikiness. The question is: Can you really be on the opposite sides where there’s this much at stake—Cary’s freedom is really questioned—and not have it ruin a friendship?
Michelle: And is that even right? You should be taking that kind of anger home.
Robert: When it feels like a vendetta against Cary. So it’s a relationship that’s going to go through a lot of struggles.
One of the most exciting things to fantasize about if Alicia runs for state’s attorney is how it will affect her relationship with Peter, because their relationship already couldn’t be any more complicated than it is.
Robert: It was interesting. It is a complex relationship, and sometimes power simplifies things. The question is when they’re a power couple that really needs each other, where Peter needs Alicia to stand by him so the voters will know he’s forgiven for his dalliances, which Eli sees. And Eli sees that if Peter is to run for higher office they need Alicia. And Alicia needs Peter because if she does run, Peter is the connection to a lot of financiers and a lot of voters.
So the question is: Can you have a relationship that is similar to Bill and Hillary’s without being exactly Bill and Hillary’s? Does it become romantic because of the need for power, or does it always stay at a respectful distance? Almost like comrades on the battlefield. That’s where we hope we’ve pivoted with their relationship. It’s not necessarily sex first or not sex first. Now the next step: Is there actually a marriage there, or is it more of a business agreement?
What will happen with Alicia and love this season, then? How much will the ghost of Will haunt her? Is she ready for love again, whether it’s with Peter or a new character?
Michelle: With everything we do in this show we really try to adhere to what would be psychologically true with Alicia. So we’re very sensitive to her probably being a little bit shy about rushing into things and yet being a vibrant woman. Those two things are in tension with each other.
Robert: There’s also amazing chemistry between Julianna Margulies and Matthew Goode, and that comes through in the dailies. What you always want to do is react to the dailies to see where actors seem like they’re having the most fun. So we would not discount that there is a future in the Alicia-Finn relationship.
Well, there are certainly many fans who would be on board with that. There’s a pretty strong “shipping” movement, with people wanting Alicia and Finn to get together.
Robert: [Laughs] Well, Matthew Good deserves a “shipping.” He really is the real deal. In this season I think we use him even better.
Well, speaking of people who Alicia has good romantic chemistry with, here comes the Josh Charles leaving/Will Gardner dying question. I’m sure you expected people to be shocked and upset. But did you ever expect them to still be so shocked and upset all these months later?
Robert: No! Just with my mom. The only person I thought would still be upset about it was my mom.
Michelle: Turns out other people’s moms are still upset about it, too.
Robert: Look, Josh is both an amazing actor and he was a really good presence on the show. And we had so much fun together. He’s coming back to direct, but I’m still startled how deep that loss cut. The only ones I thought would still be obsessing about it were Alicia and Diane, because those are the two on our show who take the death the hardest. And Kalinda. They’re the ones who are having the most difficult times getting over it. So it’s nice that the fans feel the same way.
Does the fact that the fans are still feeling that grief so acutely change how much you write the grief of those characters into the upcoming season?
Michelle: That’s a great question. I think we’re just trying to stay very much to the truth of it, which is that if there is that level of loss there are going to be days where it doesn’t impact your moment-by-moment decisions or living, and then there are going to be days where it just knocks you over the head. I think that’s what we’re going to see this season. There are times when Alicia and Diane and Kalinda seem to be moving forward, and then there are other times when their heartache is very fresh.
Robert: When my dad died, there were months and months when you wouldn’t even think about it. But then there was a recording for US Airways or something and it sounded a lot like him. And suddenly you were brought back to these small little almost negative epiphanies of grief. So I think what we want to do is that at the oddest, strangest moment—maybe even at her happiest moment—Alicia will be dragged back to that place.
In Julianna Margulies’ Emmy speech, she had a great line about how impressed she is that you two can sustain such quality across 22-episode seasons. Whether or not she intended it that way, a lot of people seized on that to talk about why The Good Wife is so much more impressive and challenging to do than the cable series that were nominated for Best Drama over it, because you have to produce 22 great episodes, and they only have to do 10 or 13. How do you feel about that?
Michelle: We may have different answers. I’ll start. I was so very, very excited that Julianna won that it was impossible to focus on any other piece of it.
Robert: I probably whine more than anybody of having to do 22 a year, so there was pride in what she said. There is a pro-cable bias that seems to forgive so-so shows and so-so series and judges network series harshly. Now I know most network series are not really very good, and that usually has nothing to do with the talent of the showrunners or writers. There’s a difficulty in doing 22 a year that creates another rhythm for a series. For example, this season we’re cutting into two halves. So we’ll have one season arc in the first 12 episodes and another season in the last 10. So you have to do things like that, because I think modern audiences are so geared towards the cable rhythms of things that you want to supply that.
So I just felt proud that she brought that up. And we do lots of episodes! I whine a lot, though, and then I realize that if someone came to me and said, “Here’s enough money to make seven, eight small movies,” or if they came with more money and said, “Now go make 22 little movies,” I would always choose the 22 because it gives you more options to have fun and make mistakes and challenge yourself to do more things. But anyway, no one should cry for us. We’re really having fun.