A Chat About Bad Wigs On ‘The Good Wife’
by Lauren Duca and Laura Snapes
Julianna Margulies’s “Good Wife” wig happened like the dissolution of Alicia Florrick’s marriage — in fits and starts, then all at once. We watched for years without really, truly knowing, and then we found out, and suddenly it was there the entire time, its unflinching, ridiculous hair line mocking us from episodes past. How could we not have known?
Of course, the wig was never really a secret. It was revealed during a 2010 Banff TV fest panel and written up in Variety, though the show had yet to develop the kind of cult following that might have rendered such information a news item. And so, our true awareness of the wig itched onward, while remaining just out of our grasp. That is, until that time Margulies was on “Letterman” and talked about the wig, and said it cost $10,000. ($10,000 isn’t a crazy enough number for an “IMAGINE WHAT YOU COULD BUY WITH $10,000”-type post, but, like, imagine what you could buy with $10,000.)
There have been a lot of supposed reasons for the wig. It was to distinguish Alicia’s hair from that of “E.R.”’s Carol Hathaway, it was to make her looked more “coiffed,” more “WASP-y,” it was to allow for Margulies to spend more time with her then-baby son instead of with a flatiron. Those are not all totally distinct reasons, though it does feel a bit like we should have had One Clear Reason after the wig became the most obvious thing we had ever seen, dear God how did we not always see it?
For me, the wig is a high-concept metaphor. It’s poorly concealed, in the way of Margulies’s feud with Archie Panjabi, slapped on like a green screen in a beloved character’s farewell scene (it likely won’t fully convince audiences, but the job gets done either way). And then, of course, there are the many changes to the wig(s), which take on different meanings in the context of Alicia’s story, be that via bangs, or light waves, or that godawful middle part she started with at the beginning of this season, which could only plausibly signal her return to underdog status in the legal hierarchy.
We can speculate for hours about what the wig might mean, and, actually, let’s do exactly that! The show is ending for good this Sunday. When else are we going to be able to reverently discuss a woman’s fake hair for more than 75 words? In honor of what may be the greatest experimental procedural of all time (and our last time watching three to five minutes of “Madame Secretary” waiting for it to start), Laura Snapes and I have come together for a grand finale discussion of the arc of the wig.
Lauren Duca: So, when did you first become aware of the wig?
Laura Snapes: I came to “The Good Wife” really late — I started watching about a year ago, and binged intensely so I could watch S7 in real time. I think my friend Bethany told me that it was a wig, and I didn’t believe her, so my boyfriend showed me episode 1 of “E.R.” so I could see Margulies’ bountiful curls in action. But I had noticed that she cycled through different hairstyles depending on her love life/workload/stature at Lockhart Gardner Stern Lee Canning Florrick Agos [delete as applicable]. How about you?
LD: I started binging about three years ago. My parents got in from Episode 1 and tried so hard to convince me to watch, and I was like, “Ew, it’s called ‘The Good Wife’? I’m such a feminist, what are you talking about?” So, shame on me, because it’s my favorite show.
I think I really noticed Alicia’s hair for the first time when she got bangs in Season Three. I feel like those were sexual-awakening bangs. But I didn’t know about the wig until right before swallowing Season Five whole, and Christ, after I was told of the wig, I could not un-see it. That hairline is practically another character at this point.
LS: THE HAIRLINE. That wig costs $10,000. There is no way that hairline is so square by accident. Maybe it’s some not-so-subtle characterization — she’s such a friendless square, you guys — but maaaaaaybe the people in hair and makeup are Kalinda/Archie Panjabi stans and had an axe/hairdryer/budget to grind.
LD: Oh my GOD, I am not ready for a wig-as-sabotage conspiracy. But how is it… not a better wig for $10,000? Also, she has multiple wigs — which she has mentioned helps make flashbacks easier to shoot — are they ALL $10,000? Is there some cheap-ass $7,000 wig in the mix? Obviously, hairstyles can be indicators of shifts in character (see: SEX BANGS), but it’s all so much more deliberate when it’s thing that could pay off a significant portion of my student loans. The intensity of the hairline as compared with the bangs is also so interesting. It’s if she’s attempting to smooth over the fault line between her previous and current lives. (Too far?)
LS: There is no such thing as too far when it comes to the mahogany symbolism of Alicia’s wig. Talking of previous and current lives: I always wish we had gotten more of an in-depth glimpse at Housewife Alicia than the few flashbacks peppered throughout the early seasons. Her hair when she stands by Peter as he confesses to his misdeeds in the very first episode is scraped-back, austere, a little puritanical. But to me as a non-American, she seems to have longer, more girlish hair than the classic two-set bob trimmed just high enough to let your pearls shine that I would expect from an upper class housewife? Though it feeds into the first episodes nicely — there’s a definite ‘back-to-school’ look afoot.
LD: I actually can’t picture Alicia in housewife life. There were comments earlier on in the show that made it seem like she used all that calculating brilliance for bake-offs, and it really doesn’t click for me. It’s as if the show wanted us to harken to a figure like Anna Camp’s masterfully parodic Deirdre Robespierre of the “Kimmy Schmidt” universe, and I’m not buying it. That said, maybe the hair from the first moment of the pilot is supposed to be our only true glimpse into who Alicia was pre-scandal. In that clipped back, vaguely dowdy look from the pilot, I think we get a glimpse of a meeker, even softer Alicia. She’s not using her pent-up energy on mom activities, she lost sense of her pent-up energy altogether. Also worth noting: We rarely, if ever, see her hair clipped back again in the series. It’s in up-dos at events, but never that almost childish half-up look, which is less a hairstyle than a rushed PR decision.
LS: We do at least once! In the flashbacks to her job interview at Stern Lockhart Gardner, she has the same hairdo, a high collar, and a TERRIBLE dowdy lilac blazer. I can never imagine her being soft, though! In many ways, having her husband getting caught in flagrante delicto was probably the best thing that could ever have happened to Alicia, liberating her from a passive role that makes no sense on her (politician’s wife, not mom in general) and letting her shapeshift along with the demands of her job each week. She got to test out previously hidden emotions in a courtroom, where they could win her cases — and in doing so, reveal her own capacity for manipulation, corruption, and self-serving, the antithesis of the smiling, obliging governor’s wife who subsumes her desires in the name of her husband’s work. One of my favorite things about Alicia, for all her compromised morals, is that as a woman/character, she’s never mealymouthed. (Obv the result of some fairly privileged schooling that teaches you that you deserve to be heard, but that kind of background is no guarantee that the Accomplished TV Heroine won’t be written as some meek caricature.) Her interpersonal failures are never there to be “fixed,” and nor do they interfere with her prowess at work. I’ve never really talked in-depth about this show with women before: damn the curse of female likeability etc etc, but do you like Alicia?
LD: I DON’T! I feel the same way about Alicia Florrick as I do about Hillary Clinton: I respect her so much it makes my heart beat faster, but I don’t want to hang with her. (Unlike Diane Lockhart, for example, Diane Lockhart is my mentor and a second mother to me in my mind.)
Also, there is something deeply depressing about Alicia. She carries such an incredible tension in even in her most outwardly relaxed moments (read: when she is rolling around with Jeffrey Dean Morgan). And, to take us back to The Wig, they’ve definitely tried to go with a wavy-ish look a few times this season, as if she let her perfectly-flat-ironed look go (although, probably it took triple the amount of time to get the wig right or they bought another wig worth a year of my rent). But waves or none, I can’t imagine her truly content. Even in the lovely flashes of vulnerability and flirting with Jason (JDM) that have been sprinkled throughout these past few episodes, it’s as if happiness is something so foreign to Alicia, she doesn’t even fully grasp what it might look like.
Could it be that she transcends likeability for the audience as well as in the context of the show? In the New York Times interview on closing out the series, Margulies said, “Alicia’s biggest change was not caring what people thought,” and that’s almost meta in the way it applies to the show.
Do you like her? Do you think “The Good Wife” has always operated in a post-likeability space… or did it creep its way there, keeping us unsure of precisely how we felt about our heroine?
LS: I do like her, probably because I can deeply relate to a repressed workaholic with a taste for red wine. I think the smart thing about “The Good Wife” is that although you’re aware of Robert and Michelle King’s politics, they fill an ostensibly left-leaning show with subtly unpleasant people, but rarely tell you what to think of them — it’s all about viewer distance from the character. So to me, Alicia was always set up to be dislikeable: standing by her man looking meek; then she does well at work, but it’s total Lean In party-of-one feminism (not that the show really uses that word, which I am weirdly grateful for). I started liking her when she started getting with Will, because I am an immoral and base viewer who is mostly interested in watching characters who shouldn’t get off with each other getting off with each other.
Speaking of which: Season Three, episode 1. She and Will can’t talk about banging, but her brand new bangs SAY EVERYTHING. Although bizarrely they don’t cover her whole forehead — metaphor for being unable to wholly commit to her decision? But then they’re swiftly pushed to the side JUST LIKE THEIR RELATIONSHIP WHEN ELI DELETES THAT VOICEMAIL. Too far?
LD: Oh no, The Wig is whatever we decide it is, and no one can tell us any different. The bangs entirely line up with the Will affair, and the lack of full coverage could also be read as the inability for those two crazy kids to conceal their relationship. As it endures, the fact that they are sleeping together becomes an open a secret, well known yet unconfirmed, in the way of the fact that Jon Snow was 100% going to come back to life on “Game of Thrones.”
I also just realized that about midway through Season 3, Alicia tries a few half-up-half-down looks, though they are less extreme, and, I would suggest, a markedly different choice than what we saw in the pilot. Midway through Season Three is when Peter returns to the State’s Attorney’s office. It’s as if she halfway between the career benefits of her marriage and love for Will — an in-between she is still working to navigate in Season Seven. Her hair and her heart are in a liminal space to reflect that conflict. (Note: I refuse to ask if this has gone too far, because I just convinced myself of it.)
The other changes are so much less extreme than bangs. Which other shifts stand out to you? (How many wigs do we think there are?)
LS: The captivating world of Florrick fan tumblrs has some good hair rundowns. There’s the flicky Fawcett look when she runs for State’s Attorney, which returned a little in last week’s penultimate episode and neatly ties up a couple of strands (sorry): She’s being judged on her proximity to Peter again, and that hairdo is definitely one of the showiest down-dos a lady can do; she’s sort of in control, but her fate is once again in the public’s hands. It’s such a strange, sad position for her to be in — even though she and Peter are estranged, she has some of her tenderest moments around him. They’re some of the only times we get to see the depth of her capacity for feeling. A cynic would say that’s because she knows how much she has to lose from him losing — and I wonder if, should she divorce him, she’d change her name and have a totally fresh start — but that conflict and inability to let go… although their relationship has been mostly fake for seven seasons, and they’ve both used it to manipulative ends, there’s something true there.
It’s heavy, and Julianna Margulies has said as much: “‘The Good Wife’ is a show about strong, flawed women,” she told last year’s New Yorker festival. “But I’m constantly reminded about how sad Alicia is. The only way I can separate myself from her is if I leave her at the door. That’s why I insist on us having wigs every season. I need to be able to physically take her off.”
I for one am heartbroken that she’ll be taking it off for the last time this weekend. But where do you think we’ll leave Alicia, wearer of wigs, lover of wine? Or where would you like us to leave her?
LD: That quote about “physically taking Alicia off” is actual poetry, and also not the real reason she has the wig, but I support it. In so many ways The Wig has played a role in Alicia’s journey and Julianna’s relationship with the audience’s engagement with the show. It’s also pretty cool that two women just had an extended discussion about a third woman’s fake hair. That wig is so goddamn meaningful.
I suppose the best way to wrap this all up is to answer the question of where we’ll leave Alicia. In the reality of the show, I would I like to see her realizing the exhausting morality play has been for naught, before tip toeing toward something resembling contentment through self-awareness. In my wildest dreams, however, Will rises from the dead as Alicia rips off her wig and hurls it in Peter’s fat face. The end.
Lauren Duca is an award-winning and -losing freelance writer who is mostly just trying to get you to follow her on Twitter.
Laura Snapes is a writer from Cornwall, England.