Julianna Margulies, Alan Cumming
In a sudden, shocking (and heaven be praised, unspoiled) twist, this tremendous fifth season of CBS's The Good Wife has shifted from the dueling-firms spectacle of Alicia-vs-Will to the gut-wrenching reality of Alicia — and everyone else in her universe — grieving Will. Her former lover and boss-turned-rival (a succulent role for Josh Charles, who will be terribly missed) was the victim of a courtroom shooting, which in a savage irony was perpetrated by the vulnerable young client (Hunter Parrish) Will was busily defending. Will died doing what he loved best, you might say with his boots on — although one of his shoes was blown off in the violent melee — and now it's time to mourn.
Series creators Robert and Michelle King cannily stage-managed this terrible surprise, enhancing its impact by having it occur well before the end of the season, and without the sort of "Who Will Die" hype so common on melodramas like Scandal (which offed one of its own major characters several days earlier, but blunted its effectiveness by blaring that some such thing would happen at least a week in advance). The suddenness of Will's death leaves everyone reeling in the Kings' brilliant script for Sunday's episode (9/8c), "The Last Call." The title refers to Will's interrupted cell-phone call to Alicia (echoing his interrupted life), placed shortly before his death, which sends Alicia on a quest for answers that she has to know will never fully materialize or satisfy.
"It's really pretty awful, isn't it?" says one of the bystanders to tragedy she encounters on this fateful journey. It really is, and as Will's survivors go through various stages of grief, denial and anger — it's way too soon for acceptance — everyone rises to the occasion, most especially Julianna Margulies as Alicia (whose silences are emotionally deafening), Archie Panjabi as Kalinda (whose ruthlessness is tempered with anguish) and Christine Baranski as Diane (whose leadership in a time of crisis is nothing short of awesome). Amazingly, there are even moments of levity that had an audience in whose company I screened the episode earlier this week laughing out loud — though quickly lapsing back into stunned silence and barely suppressed emotion. It's a heavy hour, but a necessary one, as The Good Wife once again ascends to greatness.
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THE GOOD MIDWIVES: As if we needed another emotional workout on Sunday nights, PBS offers a third season of the splendid import Call the Midwife (8/7c, check tvguide.com listings), with the dedicated midwives and their supportive network of colorful nuns moving into new digs — though little else has changed in the late '50s East End, where desperate families try to raise and start families amid impoverished circumstances. In the season opener, Jenny (Jessica Raine) deals with an especially troublesome diagnosis whose solution comes from a most unexpected source. The scene stealer, as usual, is Chummy (the marvelous Miranda Hart), happily married but uneasily trapped in a clumsy, unfulfilling domesticity. A visit to the new clinic by Princess Margaret is a catalyst for reuniting Chummy with her chums, but the real royalty of Call the Midwife are these tireless sisters of mercy, whose work is never done.
Midwife is being paired with a second season of the Masterpiece Classic series Mr. Selfridge (9/8c, check tvguide.com listings), starring Jeremy Piven as the department-store visionary who's more loyal to his business than to his wife. The eight-week run begins with the store's fifth anniversary in spring 1914, a celebration clouded by the winds of a looming world war.
SCARING UP FINALES: As usual, we don't know much going in to the season finale of AMC's The Walking Dead (Sunday, 9/8c), except that many of the prison-gang survivors seem to have found their way, after much meandering — some riveting, some not — to a "sanctuary" named Terminus. How safe this harbor is remains to be seen, and if experience is any guide, a zombie jamboree might be more restful. The official description promises: "Rick comes face-to-face with sheer brutality* when multiple paths collide." (*Is there any other kind?) ... Syfy's atmospherically creepy but ultimately muddled sci-fi/outbreak thriller Helix wraps its first season (Friday, 10/9c) with another round of "Who's Got the Virus?" as the CDC heroes, led by Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) and his immortal ex, Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), combat the Ilaria Corp's feared assassin The Scythe, who turns out to be a nasty little brat presumably modeled after Game of Thrones' King Joffrey (though nowhere near as memorable). I liked Helix better when it was about a mystifying disease in a claustrophobic setting rather than just another global conspiracy. And I never forgave them for killing off the awesome Doreen so early. Why couldn't she be immortal?
GREAT PERFORMERS: PBS's Live From Lincoln Center returns to its "American Songbook" format with Patina Miller in Concert (Friday, 9/8c, check tvguide.com listings), featuring the glamorous Tony winner (for the current revival of Pippin) singing in one of New York's most spectacular concert venues: the Appel (formerly Allen) Room, with its soaring wall-length windows looking out over Columbus Circle and Central Park. In that setting, Miller shines with a program of standards and show tunes, spiced with the gospel of her South Carolina roots. ... After a three-week hiatus, NBC's Saturday Night Live returns (11:30/10:30c) with Louis C.K. as the host — a reminder that his great FX series returns from a much longer break on May 5. Musical guest is Sam Smith.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: Eddie Izzard returns to NBC's Hannibal (Friday, 10/9c) as fiendish Dr. Gideon, whom Will hopes will help him expose Hannibal as the serial killer in their midst. ... The rare event at which celebrities don't mind being slimed, as long as messy green goop is involved, Nickelodeon's 27th Kids' Choice Awards (Saturday, 8/7c) is hosted by Mark Wahlberg, with performances by Aloe Blacc and American Authors. ... Wynton Marsalis makes his first appearance as a 60 Minutes correspondent (Sunday, 7/6c) with an inspirational profile of blind jazz pianist Marcus Roberts. ... Anticipating next Sunday's return of Game of Thrones to HBO's Sunday lineup, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion!) is a guest voice on Fox's Family Guy (8:30/7:30c), playing an ad exec who enlists Peter Griffin to be the poster boy for his anti-smoking campaign — as long as Peter doesn't quit smoking. (He's definitely a "before" sort of guy). And an actor new to Thrones this season, Pedro Pascal (who plays the libidinous Oberyn "Red Viper" Martell), begins an arc on CBS's The Mentalist (Sunday, 10/9c) as an FBI agent who captures Lisbon's fancy during a case involving art thieves. (If she knew what he got up to in King's Landing, she might have second thoughts. Or maybe not.)
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