Alicia Florrick Is A Woman Among Men
by Jennifer Schaffer
We cannot entirely avoid men. It’s well and good to praise women who go far without them — but frankly, going far with men can be just as hard. I am consistently impressed by those exceptional women who manage happiness, fulfillment, and success in spite of their terrible handicap of loving men: Beyoncé, of course. Rihanna. Katharine Hepburn. Alicia Florrick.
On Sunday, “The Good Wife” comes to an end, and I’ll miss it like I’ve never missed another show. Few series have so expertly weaved together meta-narrative, cultural criticism, and consistently excellent drama. It’s self-aware without being gimmicky, and intelligent without being preachy.
But above all, “The Good Wife” is remarkable because it is a show where all of the real adults are women. In the universe of Robert and Michelle King, as in our own, it is the men who throw fits, who pout, who grow hormonal and touchy. Set in contrast to law-firm matriarch Diane Lockhart, fearless leather-clad Kalinda Sharma, and nobody’s-fool Luca Quinn, there’s tantrum-prone Peter, skirt-chasing Will Gardner, paranoid Cary Agos, Jason “I-got-you-a-deed-to-some-land-on-Mars” Crouse. Alicia’s clients and opponents in court are often angry rich boys, tech wunderkinds with bone-china egos, druglords and killers who demand extra coddling.
Alicia walks through a landmine of sensitive gonads and refuses to tread lightly. She also refuses to walk away. No one says ‘No’ with as much finality as Alicia; on her, elegance is refusal, and refusal is power. Her relationships with men — marital, professional, sexual, or otherwise — are largely practical, something to be managed. Compared with her dramatic and evolving relationships with Diane, Kalinda, and Luca, Alicia’s men background characters, characters who serve a function in Alicia’s life, whether it be orgasms, political access, companionship, or comic relief.
Which is why it is so funny when Alicia meets her son Zach’s girlfriend-cum-fiancée Hannah in Episode 20, “Party”, the third-to-last of the series. Flowy-haired, husky-voiced, and strong-jawed, Hannah shakes Alicia’s hand firmly and tells her how much she admires her. “I loved that you stood by your husband. A lot of people my age think it’s a throwback to an old kind of domesticity, but I think it’s a harbinger of a new feminism. Like Huma Abedin! You know? Women should do what they want, even if what they want is to stand by their man!” Alicia stares at Hannah, raises her impeccable eyebrows, and shuts her down with a syllable: “Hi.” In her eagerness to identify Alicia by her relationship with her husband, Hannah largely misses the point.
As the show heads into its series finale, the Jason Crouse plotline has somehow become a crux for Alicia’s fate (Will they run off into the sunset? Will Alicia ever truly be free?), even as the writers actively mock Jason and point out his immaturity, his inability to commit. He’s a grown and graying man playing the restless-wanderer card, and it’s comical; Alicia stares at him like he’s a Martian, and insists they clarify the terms of engagement.
The true resolution of the series is conveyed in a dinner party aside in the same episode: Diane is finally creating the all-female partnership she has been working towards for several seasons, and Alicia will be a named partner. The Diane–Alicia relationship — arguably the most significant in the series — culminates in the gentle celebratory clink of their wine glasses. This triumph is overlooked in favor of the drama of Peter’s trial and Jason’s stumbling declaration of love, but its inclusion is important, as is the fairly bland reaction it evokes in us.
Towards the end of “Party,” Hannah approaches Alicia again, this time to explain her philosophy on marriage. Hannah, who is all of twenty-three, says, “Marriage should work for us, not us for it,” insisting that Zach can leave her at any time, if he hates living with her or finds someone he loves more. It’s all very open, very free-spirited. “Then why get married at all?” Alicia asks. Hannah shrugs, “Taxes!”
In the last scene of the penultimate episode, Alicia and Peter deliberate whether Peter should take a plea bargain of two years in prison. Alicia places an arm on Peter’s shoulders and urges him to sleep on it and decide in the morning. His mind elsewhere, Peter abruptly decides to take the plea. Alicia looks crestfallen, momentarily, and we are crestfallen with her: prison for Peter means Alicia will not leave Chicago, will not ride off into the horizon with Jason. “You’ll visit me, right?” he asks. Alicia assures him, “Of course.”
It’s easy to view Alicia as being trapped in roles she can’t escape — mother, wife, martyr. It’s also easy to view her in Hannah’s overenthusiastic terms — a woman who does what she wants, even if what she wants is to stand by her man! But both of these readings do “The Good Wife” a disservice. Alicia has honored her appetites and chosen her commitments; she’s known the price of things. Against a backdrop of unreliable men, Alicia’s steadfastness has set her character in striking relief.
Jennifer Schaffer is an American woman and writer living in London.