Monday, May 9, 2016

Alicia Florrick's Powerful Tragedy

The series finale of The Good Wife, which aired Sunday night, is pure, unadulterated tragedy. Michelle King, one of the show’s writers, explains the jarring slap in the last scene with the statement about Alicia:

“The victim becomes the victimizer.”

The show supposedly comes full circle from the premiere episode in which she slaps her husband for publicly humiliating her. Now she’s being slapped for similar practices, by Diane, the woman we’ve secretly hoped for years would become a feminist mentor to her.

The idea that Alicia could be a powerful victimizer of others while her life has slowly gone to shit, 22-episode-season after season, is what makes the ending to the show so revolutionary.

As an audience watching a heroine for seven years, we held Alicia up to high moral and emotional standards, and we hoped she would make at least one “correct” decision to cut through her dozens of balls constantly up in the air. We hoped she would stop worrying about her familial obligations and give in to her feelings for Will. When it seemed things with Will weren’t going to work out, we rooted for her other love story to come through – her love story with the law. Somehow, we hoped, she would open her own firm, or become a successful politician and be able to utilize her “St. Alicia” image to gain power and influence. When she faltered in court, we yearned for her family to give her meaning and purpose. Instead, her connection with Will spiraled into intense hatred, he was tragically shot to death before they calmed their vitriolic relationship, she lost a political campaign and was kicked out of her own law firm, and she never quite liked the decisions her children made for themselves despite the sacrifices she made for them.

Considering things started out poorly for Alicia – she was that woman who stood by her governor husband in front of the whole world when he cheated on her with several prostitutes – we expected they would get the slightest bit better. But in one scene this season between Alicia and her friend and partner, Lucca, it was clear just how much worse things had gotten for our heroine since the show’s premiere:

“Sometimes I swear I just want to go into my bedroom, pull the covers over my head, and never do anything ever again,” she says. She says she doesn’t get the point of life. She doesn’t even know if she likes her own kids. “I hurt,” she says, “and I want it over, I just want it to end.”

Those are strong words - bordering on suicidal - for a television heroine, and they are never resolved. At the end of the show, Alicia is still grasping for a “point of it all,” alone - no magical prince in Will, no cowboy romance in Jason, no complacency in Peter, no feminist mentor in Diane.

Yet according to King, she is a victimizer, not a victim. The writers were still able to take her full circle. Because a woman’s power shouldn’t have to exist in a resolved world where her life has been tied up in little ribbons, or packaged to a certain brand of American happy endings, or edgy feminist independence. Beyonce successfully commoditized smashing windows in response to her husband’s alleged infidelity. But most women aren’t Beyonces. Most women are Alicias. We’re trying to make the best out of several bad situations, dreaming up ghosts of our ex-boyfriends so they can tell us what to do, and the ex-boyfriends almost never pass along the right advice.

Women deserve to know they are powerful regardless of how stupid their decisions have been that have led them to their pain. Because bad things happen to good women who make horrible decisions, just like they happen to good men who make horrible decisions. In the show’s last scene, Alicia is depressed and alone, and as powerful as ever. Kinda sounds like almost every male protagonist in a romantic comedy, doesn’t it?

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