CBS

The Good Wife has always been a show that excelled at the long game: It's that rare network procedural that always has time for a case of the week alongside thoughtful, season-long arcs about political races, office intrigue, and the bleakest ethical corners of the law. Its sixth season, which concluded Sunday, had many such threads to wrap up—the aftermath of protagonist Alicia Florrick's (Julianna Margulies) failed run to become Chicago State's Attorney, her nascent flirtation with attorney Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode), and the battle of wills between drug lord Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter) and investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi), which led to the latter's departure from the show.

This time, none of it seemed to matter. In terms of quality, The Good Wife still surpasses almost any other current network show, but this season the series uncharacteristically struggled with messy long-term arcs. In years past, The Good Wife's season finale would wrap up all its major plots and dangle some cliffhangers, such as Alicia scheming to run for office. This year, the show reversed course and instead backtracked on many of the season’s big arcs to set up a kind of “soft reboot” for season seven. The slate isn’t exactly being wiped clean, but next year The Good Wife looks like it will go back to doing what it was always best at: focusing on Alicia the lawyer. The move feels like an admission of this season’s unwieldy plotting and a welcome chance to return to the show’s more disciplined early years.

Alicia's campaign for State's Attorney was probably the biggest misfire in terms of how much screen time it gobbled up this season without any real payoff. One of the biggest joys of The Good Wife is watching Alicia practice the law and struggle to make the ethical compromises it demanded of her every week. Running for office took her out of that sphere and had her contend instead with the ethical quandaries of politics. The former was presented with subtlety; the latter, with clumsy obviousness, as Alicia smiled wanly through meetings with sexist billionaire donors and struggled to rein in a campaign staff eager to go negative against her nice-guy opponent Frank Prady (David Hyde Pierce). The result after 19 episodes was a narrow victory for Alicia, almost immediately invalidated by Chicago Democratic party machinations that made no sense—she was forced to step down from a position she had just won to avoid a recount that would hurt other Democratic candidates.

This was, on the face of it, an implausible twist for a show that usually has a solid grasp on reality—if a recount is legally mandated after an election, a candidate "stepping down" would have no impact on said recount. Beyond that, the conclusion felt like an unnecessary punishment for both Alicia and the viewers—as she sobbed in the wake of the decision, it felt like the whole year had existed just to prove a point about the cruelty and venality women face in the political sphere, a point The Good Wife has done a far finer job proving in years past. Alicia ended the season estranged from the breakaway law firm she helped create, and working on starting a new one with Finn that would only take on cases that satisfied her wounded moral compass.

That’s not a terrible direction for the show to pursue in its seventh season, but it feels like a soft reset, down to the inclusion of Finn, who has served as Alicia's slow-burn love interest since the departure of Will Gardner (Josh Charles) in the middle of season five. Despite many a charged glance, Finn and Alicia haven't made much progress on actually getting together, and one imagines their story continuing along similar lines next year so that the show can re-discover the romantic fire that drove its early seasons, which featured many a stolen glance between then-coworkers Alicia and Will. The Good Wife’s best episodes also hinged on Alicia's partnership with Kalinda, another story element the show had to abandon with little explanation.

In a much-remarked upon phenomenon, Margulies and Panjabi have not shared any screen time since the fourth season for reasons unknown: Their characters used to drown their sorrows at a bar together almost every episode, but they drifted apart for purposes that felt only vaguely attached to the show's plotting. Whether or not Margulies and Panjabi don't get along on-set, the season six finale had a scene where Alicia and Kalinda met in a bar one last time, shot in a way that strongly suggested the two actors filmed their work separately. Whether or not that's true, there was no sizzle to Kalinda's goodbye there or anywhere else, as she exited to avoid the wrath of Lemond Bishop, another character who looked to be crucial to this season and then fizzled into nothing.

Bishop represented the darkest element of private practice: an obviously bad man who retained Alicia's firm to represent his legitimate business interests, while simultaneously dodging police efforts to expose him as a drug kingpin. But once Alicia ran for office, the firm could no longer represent him, and he was reduced to the status of vague menace, contracting Kalinda to do private work for him and threatening calamity if she ever spoke to anyone about it. Now, Kalinda has left the show with her life intact, and Bishop is practically nowhere to be seen, so it's hard to know what all his posturing was about, if anything.

It’s possible that Robert and Michelle King, The Good Wife's accomplished creators and showrunners, wanted to avoid the grand drama of previous years. In another universe, the show's seventh season would follow Alicia as Chicago State's Attorney, working to bring down Lemond Bishop after his shocking murder of Kalinda. Instead, Kalinda is gone, Bishop may not be seen again (Mike Colter has taken the prominent role of Luke Cage in Marvel's Netflix universe), and Alicia is pondering starting a firm out of her living room. It’s a softer approach, but after a year of swinging for the fences, that may be what The Good Wife needs to recover. As Alicia herself remarked in the finale, her strongest relationship has always been with the law; it's time for The Good Wife to rediscover that.

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