Much like the sting that's probably still lingering on Alicia's cheek after The Slap Part Deux, The Good Wife series finale was supposed to leave you unsettled.
"We didn't want the ending just to be something that pleased us in the moment but wasn't resonant for what the whole seven seasons were," co-creator Robert King tells TVGuide.com. "We wanted it to have an impact."
The series bookended its seven-year run on Sunday just the way it started. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) slapped the hell out of Peter (Chris Noth) in the series premiere for his humiliating, cheating ways. Now, Diane (Christine Baranski), having been humiliated by Alicia exposing her allegedly philandering husband Kurt (Gary Cole) on the stand, slaps Alicia in the series finale. "The Education of Alicia Florrick" was complete: The victim had become the victimizer, as Robert and his wife, co-creator Michelle King, had planned, they shared in an open letter on CBS.com.
Below, they Kings further explain their slap-happy decision (was it always supposed to be Diane?), the alternate ending with Jason (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that they aborted, and if they'd ever reboot the series.
The Good Wife series finale: Alicia gets the ending she deserves
I'm in the minority, but I liked the ending with the slap.
Robert King: [Laughs] Thank you! It is very [polarizing].
It made sense for the character and the trajectory she's been on. We watched Alicia become confident and independent, but she also became cynical, bitter and cunning. You said in your open letter that you thought of the idea to end with the slap after you got a full-season order in Season 1, but when you first conceived of the idea for the show, how did you envision it ending?
Michelle King: I'll speak for myself. When we were first doing the pilot, I was certainly not thinking about how the series would end. It was more, I wonder if we'll be lucky to get the series to begin.
Robert: People react to the dailies and what they're seeing. You never want to get invested in something that's going to disappear on you. I think it was only a little later when we started to think about who the character was and who she could become and how you could tell a story over many years that you start to think in terms of what the ending could be.
After you decided to end with a slap, did you always know Diane would be the one to slap Alicia? If not, when did you decide that?
Robert: No, we did not! Good question! We knew that it would be someone that meant the world to Alicia. We knew it would be someone who she could not deny that that was a big thing. But it was only with Christine Baranski's performance and her being this woman who broke the glass ceiling who became a friend of Alicia's, who was kind of a mentor, that we headed in that direction.
Michelle: There had to be credibility to the slap. She's turned into the person she despised [in the series premiere]. It couldn't just be some person whacking her out of emotion [because] there could be no sense that Alicia could realize anything.
Robert: We definitely thought that it had to be a woman, so I think it was those things combined.
I liked the juxtaposition of each of them trying to defend and protect their husbands, being the "good wife."
Robert: Yeah, that was another way it all came together.
Do you think part of the reason she slapped her was because Diane was mad at herself? She's the one who taught Alicia to always put the client first and be ruthless. Does she think she created a monster?
Robert: [Laughs] There was a lot of talk in the writers' room about the Frankenstein-ness of Alicia, so, yes, that can play into it.
I think a lot of fans were hoping for a happier or more uplifting ending for Alicia, but you took the dark, cynical route, turning her from the victim to the victimzer, as you said. Did you waver at any point?
Robert: Oh, yes. Not waver, but we had a big debate in the writers' room about three months back about the possible other ways to go in case this was too harsh. They ran the gamut. I would say there was a version of the Woody Allen movie Manhattan, where you run to stop someone from leaving and there was this sense of, "Yes, they're leaving, but they will come back and maybe they will be reuniting later." There were other ones where you chase and stop someone from leaving. [Laughs]
They were all about chasing and stopping someone from leaving on a train or a plane. I don't know, for some reason, it felt like it might be satisfying in the moment. I guess that was the concern — even if it might be satisfying for this season or you might leave the show with a smile on your face, but the worry was that it didn't explain the show on a whole. We didn't want her to leave for a man, [Jason] or anyone else. We didn't want the ending just to be something that pleased us in the moment but wasn't resonant for what the whole seven seasons were. We wanted the ending to have resonance, to have figurative impact from [the slap]. We didn't want the temporary gratification; we wanted it to have an impact.
Michelle: The sense was, while this ending wasn't sweet necessarily, it should be satisfying and to my mind, it's not without hope. Because we do see Alicia compose herself and move forward into the future. I thought Julianna was so subtle in her performance. You see the slap registers and she recognizes the reason behind it. She acknowledges it and moves on. To my mind, that's hopeful.
You definitely know she will land on her feet again, based on what she's done the past seven years. She's still her inscrutable, tough self. She cleaned up her façade for her public image again at the end.
Michelle: Yes. She's been known to be resilient every step of the way. If there's anything that typifies her, it's resilience.
Alicia has destroyed relationships and alienated people for Peter. You've always called the show "The Education of Alicia Florrick." Has she learned that lesson and finally divorced Peter?
Robert: That's a good question. I think so. In my mind — I think we said this in the letter — the slaps are sort of chapter headings and endings. Michelle has always said about the beginning slap that it's kind of [an awakening for] her. I do think one can see echo in this slap — that there's a sense of wanting to do better.
The show aired during the rise of antiheroes on TV, all of whom were men. Do you view Alicia as an antihero in some way? She has many of the same qualities as some of them, and was one of the most complex and flawed characters on TV. The show wasn't about her trying to be "good" and never judged her when she wasn't. And you can say she broke bad in this instance.
Robert: [Laughs] That's a good one!
Michelle: Personally, I do not see Alicia as an antihero. To my mind, she's a real human being with flaws and she tries to do the right thing and sometimes she succeeds and sometimes she doesn't.
Robert: We watch a lot of TV and there's a new sense of villainy coming from monsters. I think one of the things we always wanted to avoid with The Good Wife was the villainy on the show — if you want to call it that, or the mendacity — comes from normal people who are in their regular workday and are denial either about doing wrong or doing wrong is built intrinsically into the job of what they do, which was in the lawyering, which seems to move away from truth and towards "what is the better narrative that can win?" So, to our minds, it's built into Alicia that she doesn't become a monster. She isn't a monster. She's just like any of us. Sometimes we do exactly what we're blaming Washington, D.C., or bad people of doing; we do it every day.
How would the finale been different had Josh Charles not left? Obviously Ghost Will wouldn't have been part of it. Would there have been a happily ever after with Will and Alicia?
Robert: Well, first of all, it wouldn't have been different in terms of what we were writing towards: the slap. It's hard to imagine. It would've been a very different series because someone would've been dead. We don't know who. [Laughs]
It could've been Peter.
Robert: It could've been! I don't know if Alicia is someone who could've been completely happy in a traditional relationship because I don't think that's what her character is about. I think it's about how you acquire power and independence and stay happy. And I don't know if she knows how to do that outside of the traditional role of — actually, I don't know how to answer that. [Laughs] Michelle, do you have a take?
Michelle: It really is so impossible to say because the last two seasons and a half have really spun Alicia in a different trajectory because she did suffer that loss. It would be like any person you know if you took out a huge life-changing event and you try to figure out, "Well, who would they be if that didn't happen to them?"
You guys have talked about possibly doing a spin-off, but would you consider a Good Wife reboot at some point? This could've continued into a Season 8, and you left Alicia at a point with enough loose ends around everyone else too that you can pick up on their stories eventually. She still doesn't know about the election rigging.
Michelle: It's the morning after the finale. I think it's a little early. [Laughs]
Robert: Can we just say we love these characters? Not just Alicia, but a lot of these characters feel very real to us and you could almost imagine a spin-off with any of them and it would be thrilling.
So you'd be up for either?
Robert: We're up for anything that allows us to live our life and see our daughter and do TV. [Laughs]
You don't have to do 22 episodes anymore. Do 13.
Robert: Yes, that's right! Twenty-two! Oh, my God. No more!
What do you want the show's legacy to be or what do you hope the show's legacy is?
Robert: I thought you could build a show around a complex, real woman. That doesn't mean the melodramatic turns to keep alive. Yes, we've had our share of little bombshells within the show, but we've always tried, at least in the main plot, stay to what seven years of someone's life might play like. Except for the lack of paperwork in the law office. [Laughs] So, for me, I think it would be lovely if there were more shows that hewed closer to reality. You're seeing that a lot with comedy, not as much with drama. Drama, it seems like, has to go a little wild.
Michelle: I would hope the legacy would be that it is interesting to see a smart woman in the middle of a show who is flawed in a real way, not in a way that only makes for good TV.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
Watch the Kings explain the finale below: