To say that The Good Wife‘s Season 5 finale was a veritable tornado of unexpected character collisions, eyebrow-raising power plays and delectable question marks would be an understatement.
Alicia and Cary discovered (via an accidental video-conference glitch) that Lockhart-Gardner was attempting to steal their biggest client (Chum-Hum) and put their fledgling firm out of business. Diane learned Louis Canning would exercise a nuclear option to dissolve Lockhart-Gardner if he didn’t wrestle away the managing-partner role. Cary went behind Alicia’s back and told Canning of Diane’s hopes for a merger with Florrick-Agos — a last-ditch effort to quash a decision that he didn’t have enough votes to veto. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough drama, Cary tried and failed to exert sexual power over Kalinda in an upsetting bedroom scene that occurred after her saw his lover/former coworker (via that teleconference) telling her bosses she’d use her relationship with him to extract needed intel.
Finally, after Finn Polmar exited the State’s Attorney race due to a family scandal, and Diane turned down Peter’s offer to back her candidacy if she ran, Eli closed the hour asking Alicia if she’d be the candidate of choice for the Governor (aka her estranged hubby).
Below, series creators Robert and Michelle King discuss the most polarizing and eye-popping moments of the Season 5 finale — including the “issue that raised more arguments than any issue” in the writers’ room all year.
TVLINE | The Season 5 finale had so many different character pairings through the course of the hour that it was almost head-spinning. Was that a goal of yours, to mix up the dynamic of characters in unexpected ways?
Robert King: Oh yeah. One of the things we said in the writers’ room — because sometimes what you’re struggling for is not even the specifics of the story, it’s for a tone — was that we wanted a tone of people running around in our two law firms. From that [sprang the idea that] characters that we usually don’t see together should be bumping into one another. So, Ben Rappaports’s character, Carey Zepps, would be struggling with Nathan Lane’s character, Clarke Hayden. And one of the things we wanted to avoid was having the [Season 5 finale] seem like it was memorializing the year, “Oh, here. Let’s look back over the times we had together.” It really needed to be forward-looking.
TVLINE | There weren’t any shocking cliffhangers, and yet the hour ended with a sense of flux: We ultimately have no idea how things will shake out for the core characters.
Robert King: One of the things we enjoy with the show is when it feels like you’re watching a juggler adding new balls to those being juggled, and you’re waiting for everything to fall to the ground. That’s what we thought would be fun for the last episode, that kind of panicky feel that you get when it feels like too many things are happening.
Michelle King: And we very much like the idea of suggesting that there are a lot of possibilities for Season 6.
TVLINE | Jumping to the final scene of the episode: Eli verbalizing out of left field the idea of Alicia running for State’s Attorney. I know you guys don’t ever bring up anything by accident. So, is that something Alicia is going to seriously consider?
Robert King: Oh, not immediately. She thinks that’s the stupidest idea she’s ever heard. But we ended Season 4 with Alicia saying, “I’m in,” meaning that she was going off with Cary [to start her own firm], and then starting [Season 5] not right where that immediately happens. So [in Season 6], there are going to be events that push Alicia to consider this idea [of running for office] more seriously.
TVLINE | The other big potential career move was Diane approaching Florrick-Agos about bringing her on — as opposed to Florrick-Agos merging with Lockhart-Gardner. Is Diane definitely jumping ship? And how would someone like her fit into this scrappy place that doesn’t even have doors on the offices, where she’s the last one in and may not have the same power to which she’s accustomed?
Michelle King: Well, that’s exactly what we hope to explore in Season 6. We will not say that it’s definitely happening, but we will say that it is definitely not a thread that we’re going to abandon by any means.
Robert King: This is a woman who had the worst tragedy happen to her, which is to have her best friend and business partner die, and Diane doesn’t curl up in a ball and fade away. She starts honoring Will by picking up some of his personality, some of his gambling instincts, and it makes her, in many ways, younger. There was a moment when she and Will entered Florrick-Agos for the first time, this old t-shirt factory, and it made Diane nostalgic for starting over again, for the energy of a startup. When you have everything taken away from you, there can be an excitement about starting over again. That’s what you’re finding with Christine [Baranski]’s character at the end of the year.
TVLINE | Diane and Kalinda’s bond has been taken to a new level as the season has progressed. I loved the scene where Diane seems like she’s about to just give up, and then she gets recharged when Kalinda makes it clear she’s in her corner. Do you like exploring these two women together, on an equal footing as friends as much as boss and employee?
Michelle King: We like it very, very much, and the sense is that both of them suffered a real loss in the workplace with Will’s death. He had a special place in both of their lives, and one of the ways that they’re getting through that is by the friendship together, helping each other.
Robert King: The episode before Will gets shot, Will convinces Kalinda to stay with Lockhart-Gardner, and so, in many ways, the best way for Kalinda to honor Will now is to transfer her loyalty to Diane.
TVLINE | The whole issue of the firms teleconferencing — and Lockhart-Gardner accidentally leaving on their camera feed into Florrick-Agos’ conference room — yielded very amusing results, but also a whole host of ethical questions. You seem to love playing with the idea of technology: Wiretaps, that telecommuting lawyer on wheels who David Lee hated so much, surveillance footage of Peter’s tainted election. Where did the teleconference idea spring from?
Michelle King: Well, we didn’t have to go far to find that idea because we have one of those teleconferencing systems in our office. The writers and the editors [for The Good Wife] are on the west coast, and production’s on the east coast. So we are forever on teleconference, and then it was just extrapolating what could happen if.
Robert King: Everybody [on our staff] has put tape over their cameras because it’s very easy to think you’ve turned off the machine, but all you’ve done is turn off the monitor, and the camera is still on, and the sound is still on, and you really are broadcasting. Plus, as you point out, surveillance has been a subtheme this year, but to see Alicia not being the one who’s watched — but instead being the voyeur — brought up all these ethical questions.
TVLINE | Alicia’s attitude turned on a dime the minute Louis Canning and David Lee said they were going to destroy Florrick/Agos in 48 hours. Her ethical concerns became secondary, and she knew she had to continue the surveillance.
Michelle King: One of the most exciting things about the series is seeing the maturation of Alicia Florrick and how she’s become so much more pragmatic over the last five years because she’s had to be.
Robert King: And you’ll find the more responsibility she has, the more she makes ethically questionable decisions. I think at one point in this episode, Nathan Lane says to Cary [Agos], “How can you be doing this?” And Cary says, “I’m responsible for [all of these] employees. If I don’t make this decision, those employees are without a job.” You’ll find the same thing with Alicia’s character.
TVLINE | I loved having Nathan Lane’s Clarke as this almost parental voice — telling them it was wrong to eavesdrop, possibly even illegal.
Robert King: In the writers’ room, we have three lawyers in there, and this was an issue that raised more arguments than any issue this season — whether [the camera being left on] was an unintended disclosure, and, even if it was an unintended disclosure, what you had to do based on that fact. I thought [our writers] were going to come to blows, and then we had our tech advisor, Irv Miller in Chicago, getting on the phone, and he had a completely different opinion that was a little more pragmatic and a little more like Alicia’s. [Laughs] What we loved about it is that it seemed to create quite a stir between between people who know the law. All the lawyers on our staff did exactly what the lawyers on the show did. They all started pulling out their iPhones and looking up what was said online about the ethics, the American Bar Association, and all that.
TVLINE | When Alicia goes to the offices of Lockhart-Gardner, she initially seems like she wants to leave the conference room and not allow the Florrick-Agos team to eavesdrop. Then, she eyes Will’s old office, and visibly pauses, and the meeting winds up staying in the conference room. Was she genuinely pondering the ethical conundrum, or did she actually use the sight of Will’s office to sell the deception to the Lockhart-Gardner people? How calculated was that move?
Michelle King: The latter. It was, perhaps, the most cynical we’ve ever seen Alicia in 100-plus episodes.
Robert King: She needed to get them to their marks, in a way.
TVLINE | I thought it was the latter, but I had to ask. I mean, she’s swimming with sharks — David Lee and especially Louis Canning, who, the more unethical and deceitful he can be, the more it gives him lifeblood. Is it fun to be able to let Alicia wade into that muck and outmaneuver them in that moment?
Robert King: One of the reasons we’re having fun is that Julianna Margulies had so much fun with it. But the other thing is that it’s very sad how women on TV so often cower away and, “Oh, I would never do that. Oh, that’s bad. That’s slimy.” So, it’s very nice to see an Alicia that goes right up to the line with the bad guys and says, “No, no, no. You’re not getting the advantage over me because you think I’ll cower away from bringing a knife to a knife fight.”
Michelle King: I mean, nor do we want to think of her as villainous in any way. She’s simply being smart and strong.
TVLINE | The other product of the eavesdropping that surprised me was Cary being so surprised to hear that Kalinda would use their relationship to extract intel for Lockhart-Gardner. How could he be so hurt when that dance between them has always been pretty clear? And can their relationship survive that revelation?
Michelle King: I don’t think it plays so much as surprise as mortification to have these things not only said aloud, but witnessed by your colleagues. That’s what really crashed upon Cary. Will their relationship continue in some way? Probably, but is there going to be less trust? Sure.
Robert King: One other thing that makes it hard on Cary is to have Diane talk about it, and this is a tool they have had at their disposal. It’s one thing if Kalinda and Cary know they’re using each other. It’s another thing to have it so boldly discussed in the [Lockhart-Gardner] boardroom: “Oh, we’ve used this technique before, manipulating Cary.” Whether Cary and Kalinda can survive is a really good question. It’s a relationship we enjoy, but one of the things we found with relationships on our show is, when they’re too close to happiness for too long, they actually become tedious, and they kind of turn into gray. It’s like a salt that’s lost its taste.
TVLINE | So let’s talk about the Kalinda-Cary sex scene — which went right up to the border of uncomfortable, with Cary trying to dominate, and Kalinda clearly not enjoying it. Suddenly, he’s making a quick exit. What was the intent there? What was it like filming that scene and hitting the notes you wanted to hit without…
Robert King: It was very difficult. It’s probably the scene that had the most disagreement regarding the morality, the border that we walk up to. I don’t think we went to Game of Thrones territory. I don’t think we crossed that line, but there’s an element of creeping up to the line. What we really wanted to do is that…Cary had been injured. Cary feels like Kalinda doesn’t respect him, and he needs to more be the aggressor in their sexual relationship. It was him wanting to be the aggressor [for a change], but obviously, he went down the wrong fork, so to speak. I mean, it’s supposed to be uncomfortable. We’ll see how uncomfortable it makes everybody. There was so much disagreement, even between Michelle and myself, on this scene.
TVLINE | What was the major disagreement? Whether it should happen at all, or how it should happen, or…
Michelle King: No, it was a matter of tone. It just kept being discussed right up until the final mix.
Robert King: We tried other words in Cary’s mouth instead of, “Shut up.” We tried another line in Kalinda’s mouth other than, “Cary get off me, or I’ll hurt you.” We tried a lot of things, but there was also such subtle acting going on there between Archie and Matt that we had to honor, in theory, where the script went and where they took it. The script was probably trying to go a little chancier and edgier, but they pulled it back into what people [in real life] would say and do. But again, we didn’t want it to be as chancy as, “Oh, this is getting close to rape” or anything like that. We wanted it to just play as the emotional give and take of two people who have given information about each other, and it’s coming out in odd ways.
TVLINE | It’s interesting what you say, because I can imagine those words on the paper, versus how they’re said, versus how it’s shot — and how the end result could come out 50 different ways.
Robert King: Yeah, and the only thing I did in shooting it was just try to give it a perfume-commercial kind of prettiness, so that at least it was a not a gruff world. It was a very pretty world where these harsh things were said. Anyway, it’s one we had a lot of debate about even up until the very end in the mix.
TVLINE | Interesting, and like you said, now you’ll have to see how folks will react.
Robert King: Yeah. I have a feeling we’ll change it again for the DVD. I think that’s just what we’ll do.
TVLINE | Speaking of Kalinda, I thought one of the funniest things from the Season 5 finale was when Diane referred to Kalinda as her “girl Friday” when she asked if she could bring her to her meeting with Peter and Eli. That just cracked me up. Can we expect that, whatever direction Diane heads in Season 6, Kalinda will likely be there with her?
Robert King: Yes, we can conclude that. First of all, the actresses [Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski] love working together. One of our worries was what the loss of Josh [Charles] would do to Jules’ [Julianna Margulies] character and Christine’s character. But actually, a second worry was that Archie and Josh played very well together, you know, in these bar scenes they would have. It was really nice to see when we put Christine and Archie closer together, how even though their acting styles are incredibly different, there was a real chemistry there too, which I guess we’d always played it a little cooler up until then. Now, it makes sense in the reality of the show that these two are hitting it off.
TVLINE | So I have to ask an Emmy-related question. In the wake of “Hitting the Fan” [Season 5, Episode 5], is there any way you don’t get a Best Drama Series nomination, plus a slew of acting ones?
Michelle King: You know what? We never predict and never expect.
Robert King: Yeah, you know, we loved this year. We had a lot of fun this year, but I thought there were so many ways the fans would hate us at the end of it, obviously, because we put a bullet into Will Gardner’s brain and throat. So the reward, really, is that people might be sticking with us.
TVLINE | That’s interesting. How much did you consider fan blowback in the midst of all the huge changes in The Good Wife universe over the course of Season 5?
Robert King: We’re very paranoid writers. So, even though we trust viewers, and we should trust viewers, there are times we go through the script and go, “Oh my God. That’s too far. That’s too far. No, no. We can’t do that.” The difficulty was we had a plan at the beginning of the year, a roadmap that really meant Will dying in episode 15, and the closer we got to that date, the more there was a real butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. Partly because it was the loss of Josh, an actor who we loved and a character we loved, but also there was a real worry that you were kicking the audience in the mid-section. That was part of the plan — with the shock, and then having the next episode play off that shock — but still, you never want to hurt anybody. You don’t want to hurt the audience. We’re always paranoid about the scripts, but this year, I think, was a little harder, because we knew the big event could really have bad repercussions.
TVLINE | Understandable, and with Josh Charles exiting after Episode 15, you couldn’t change lanes.
Robert King: We love changing the status quo, but there were two big status-quo changes this year. One is the breakup of the firms, and then Will’s death. And you never know, when you change it to a new world, into a new status quo, whether it’s going to hold up to the old one.