"Psycho" did it first. More than 30 years later, "Pulp Fiction" and "L.A. Confidential" pulled off their versions. What do these films have in common — besides boatloads of recognition for outstanding acting, directing and writing? They're wonderful stories with big-shot directors who, in the middle of the action, killed off leading characters played by superstars. It happens infrequently and almost never on network TV. But it happened last Sunday on CBS.
"The Good Wife" fired a spray of bullets through its primary love story and laid its leading man to rest. And they did it in such a way that left millions of viewers slack-jawed and turning to Twitter for a virtual pinch to determine whether what they'd seen was but a dream.
Far from it.
What we'd witnessed was a carefully guarded and expertly crafted plot twist rich in the elements of good storytelling: character, tension, humor, conflict and surprise.
In our media-saturated culture, where speculation, truth and lies are equally vulnerable to virality, that there was nary a whisper of the fait accompli that awaited Will Gardner is an entertainment miracle and a gift to viewers.
In what would be Will's final hour, in all senses of the words, neither the writers nor the actors, including Josh Charles, who plays Will, gave so much as a nod to what was coming. Will went on being an attorney — arguing, negotiating, strategizing as if his career and the fate of his firm depended on it. He went on being a partner and a boss — defending his decisions to partner Diane Lockhart and talking money and five-year plans over a drink with employee Kalinda. He went on being the on-again off-again love interest of Alicia Florrick, a.k.a. "The Good Wife." Executive producers Robert and Michelle King went so far as to ease the tension between Will and Alicia, whose relationship this season was far more Gorbachev/Reagan than Romeo/Juliet, with an unexpected moment of humor:
Alicia: The Grants called me for a second opinion on your trial.
Will: You're kidding me.
Alicia: No. I told him no.
Will: Then why are you here?
Alicia: I decided to warn you. I was thinking if I was in your shoes and I had a client calling behind my back, I would want to know.
Will: Alicia, thanks.
Alicia: Hey, we might have our differences, but you're the better lawyer.
Will: I am, aren't I?
Alicia: And the more humble.
They smiled, maybe even laughed, and went their separate ways.
It was a brief moment, but it was enough to remind viewers of the camaraderie underlying this longtime, complicated relationship. It was a seductive moment, a carrot for those viewers holding out for rekindled flames. What we did not know is that it was their final moment.
Even in Will's climactic scene just minutes later, inside a courtroom, defending his client, when viewers are assaulted with an array of cues to impending danger — muddled sound, freaky music, an increasingly agitated defendant, a POV shift to said defendant, a closeup of the guard's gun nestled in its unclipped holster and within reach of said defendant — even then, we never suspect. Even the empty shoe in the quiet wreckage, a man's shoe without its foot, Will's shoe. Not even under the weight of that visual evidence are we willing to consider what they ultimately deliver: death, sudden and unequivocal.
One commercial break later, Will is on a gurney with a sheet over his face.
That the show was able to keep its secret is a feat worthy of its ratings. That it unleashed it with the raw and brutal force that reflects life at its most furious is far beyond the stuff of everyday television.
It's March 28. It's been three weeks since Malaysian Airlines flight 370 vanished — 239 people, into thin air. That's not television, despite CNN's Herculean effort to make it so. It's tragic, it's unfathomable, and it's real. Death sometimes moves in swift, like a desert wind, arriving, as Pablo Neruda wrote, "among all that sound, like a shoe with no foot in it."
Follow Jessica on Twitter @sicaleigh. To find out more about Jessica Leigh, and to read features by other Creators writers and comics, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.
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