Will Gardner died, but I left the last two episodes thinking about the other lost life….
With a quarter of the runtime remaining in last week’s “Dramatics Your Honor” Will Gardner was shot. At the end of the episode we realise he had died. Killed by a stray bullet from his client, Jeffrey Grant. The two episodes will forever be remembered as the moment The Good Wife changed – for better, or worse – bringing seemingly mindless violence to a show which had never seen it quite like this before. But, was the violence really mindless and without reason as it seemed?
I was itching to write on the Kings’ decision to have Charles exit from the due via death, especially when the critical conversation turned to whether the moment was authentic to The Good Wife universe or not. I tarried, though, when I saw that Hunter Parrish (playing Jeffrey Grant) was scheduled to make an appearance on last night’s episode of the show. For in an episode titled “Dramatics Your Honor”, the episode that will go down as the episode where Will Gardner died, I left the wreck of tragedy in this fictional Chicago more troubled, and moved, by the client-turned-assailant who killed him.
Grant first appeared early this season when a random traffic violation came to be revealed as a ruse to arrest him for murder. We left him before the case went to trial and he turned up a the opening of the last episode. In fact, he was the first thing we saw.
The Good Wife has always been excellent at using the fabric of the show and its characters proximity to so many hot-button issues to examine real world problems (DOMA, terrorism, spying, the death penalty) and despite the darker than usual turn the sidebar ruminations on Jeffrey Grant’s actions and what it portends for the penal system and the way it works were the at fore of my mind even before that series changing moment. It's right there in the shot of his eyes which open the episode with that heavy, percussive music. They're dead inside. (Look at Jeffrey's eyes and then look at this.) Something isn't right here, it tells us immediately. Jeffrey mentions it in brief, but never in detail. And, the question sat with me for a week. Considering how significant knowledge of Jeffrey's state of mind might be regarding the moment which changes the fabric of the show – why so short a time spent on Jeffrey’s sufferings in jail? Not because they’d necessarily mitigate the way the series’ fandom might be ready to villainise him in the wake of tragedy. But, for simple follow-through? The more I pondered, the more the lack of Jeffrey backstory in a Will centred episode seemed clear.
Consider the critical incidents of the shoot, a fateful difference between Will Gardner and Alicia Florrick as lawyers has always been their techniques. You were always the better lawyer, Alicia tells him in a moment that seemed a bit jarring even before his demise. Although what she probably meant was that he was the better litigator. With the dogged focus on winning his clients would be lucky to have him unless like Jeffrey, they were young, scared and lost. Alicia’s inclination to handhold her clients has been sometimes observed as a gendered role, but it’s the critical difference between the two so that when in “The Last Call” she says, He was my client, the first thing I think was - how might Alicia's focus on Jeffrey not as a client, but a person differed from Will?
The story’s insistence on shrouding the what of Jeffrey’s psyche, though, becomes part of a larger formal exercise in avoidance the episode takes on. Good editing is always best when unobserved the argument goes, except this episode depends on the savvy cuts director Brooke Kennedy makes in moments that seem odd. In the climatic build-up to Jeffrey losing his mind as his eyes gaze on the bailiff’s gun we don’t see chaos break but cut immediately to Diane in an adjoining courtroom. It’s a similar cut away from pain which closes the episode that has us ending not with Alicia reacting to the news, but just her opening “Hello” on the phone to Kalinda. Brooke Kennedy produced six episodes of peerless comedy Pushing Daisies in its first season, but she turns her comedic sensibilities on their head in “Dramatics Your Honor”. She doesn't direct the follow-up episode, but the way the camera circles Kalinda as she delivers the news to Eli in the opening to “The Last Call”, finally settling on her face informs the same avoidance of pain. Kennedy is doing excellent work, though. In the build-up to Jeffrey's gunfire the loud music seeps into the sound-design again as we focus on his face, going through emotions. Except, this time when the music take over the courtroom isn't silent. It may seem slight, but the opening use of the music rendered everything in the courtroom silent except this time the percussive music is accompanied by the faintest sound of Will laughing attached to the final image of a live Will we get. Kennedy, and the entire team of The Good Wife is giving its audience credit. The shrouding of Jeffrey's state-of-mind are not cop-outs, that cutaway from Jeffrey's desolate face to a laughing Will tells us everything that Jeffrey feels. He is alone and forsaken. No one cares about him, or so he feels.
|The most memorable image of the two episodes.|
Will's death, although, tragic was less heartrending both because the effectiveness of his send-off gave it a respectability and because of his prescient final bar conversation with Kalinda. He loved what he did, and even amidst the tragedy of Will and the not un-analagous tragedy of Jeffrey shone through. What was happening to Jeffrey in jail? Usual piling on the newbie in prison? Something more insidious? A great deal of the story line managing to succeed is on Parrish's performance giving one of my favourite guest-turns of the season. In an episode of quiet shows of grief, the most overt emotion shown in an episode of muted, clinical grieving was Jeffrey's loud sobs, jarring both for its overtness as well for the realisation that unlike the main characters he was not only grieving a friend, but something more. It's why I was so thrilled to see the always austere Becky Ann Backer turn up as his lawyer. I suspect, the show being what it is, focusing on Jeffrey's future in the penal system would be unnecessary especially since Kalinda's "only suffering for you" has so much finality. But, what an interesting and necessary subject. And even in an episode not about him, what a fantastic directorial choice to leave us with this image which represents the chilling, and depressing resolution to Jeffrey's life.