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'The Good Wife' season finale review: 'A Weird Year' ends Season 5 on high note

Photos from the season 5 finale of 'The Good Wife,' aired Sunday, May 18 on CBS.
Photos from the season 5 finale of 'The Good Wife,' aired Sunday, May 18 on CBS.CBS

Could there be a more apt title for the season finale of The Good Wife? This cycle has seen one firm split into two (each with their own contentious problems), the death of one of the show's most beloved characters, a political scandal, and the apparent demise of the Florrick marriage. A weird year, indeed.

Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) discuss a threat to their new firm in the season finale of 'The Good Wife.'
Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) discuss a threat to their new firm in the season finale of 'The Good Wife.'CBS

Legally, things are crazy as both firms find themselves in the line of fire regarding the failed adoption story that was last touched upon in 'The Last Week'. This gives us the excuse to see more of Christian Borle as uptight attorney Carter Schmidt, who's now suing both teams for six million dollars. Because when there's a season finale of a legal drama, this is when you roll out a big case, especially when you teased it earlier in the season.

The battle for control between Diane and Louis Canning comes to a head here, too, when Florrick/Agos accidentally overhears Canning and David Lee scheming thanks to a video-conferencing feed left open. Not only are they out to take down Diane, they want to destroy Alicia and by extension her firm, too, leading her to declare "That changes everything." Especially when Cary discovers that the wife they plan on using against Alicia isn't the one at the center of the adoption case - but Deena Lampard (Megan Ketch of Blue Bloods), the spouse of Chumhum boss Neil Gross, also known as Florrick/Agos's biggest client. And that's not even the worst thing that Canning does. This may be the only time in the history of TV we've ever wanted to punch Michael J. Fox in the face.

Politically, there's another Eli Gold meltdown about the State's Attorney's race, this one regarding how Finn once stepped in to help out his drug-addicted sister, and how Peter is subsequently planning to withdraw his support (which of course has nothing to do with that not really incriminating photo handed to him by Finn's opposition last week). He suggests Diane as a replacement, if he can get Diane to forgive him for screwing her over by revoking her state Supreme Court nomination earlier this season. She sees through him immediately. Finn, meanwhile, takes Eli's advice and drops out, leaving him a legal free agent.

And because no Good Wife episode is complete without a sprinkling of personal drama, Zach is graduating, which brings both Alicia and Peter's mothers (Stockard Channing and Mary Beth Peil) back into the picture. When Veronica tells Jackie about Alicia and Peter's new marital arrangement, it's gloriously awkward.

One also has to feel for Cary when he hears Diane tell his new girlfriend Kalinda to exploit his soft spot for her. Not only that, but almost immediately thereafter, Alicia comes to him and tells him that she plans to hold a vote to merge with Lockhart/Gardner no matter what he wants - which drives Cary to turn to the dark side and meet with Canning. When Canning promptly leaks his name on the video feed, Alicia and Cary's partnership implodes in spectacular fashion. Cary's come a long way from being the prototypical smug hotshot attorney, and one of the things that needs to happen in Season 6 is more character development for him, because these moments prove that there's so much more about Cary to discover and that Matt Czuchry needs more screen time.

When the dust settles, here's what remains: Diane calls a late-night meeting at Florrick/Agos to ask if they will accept her as a partner, which is pretty much a no-brainer considering that she brings over 30 million dollars in client billing that they desperately need. And Alicia just barely gets to Zach's graduation in time, just before her son leaves for college, making the same quick departure she did so many years before. But she can't even get that emotional, because Eli has an epiphany and asks her if she wants to run for State's Attorney.

It's a sneaky thing for The Good Wife to end its season circling back around to a case that most of us forgot in the wake of Will's death and all the fallout. Yet we should've seen it coming, since the situation wasn't wrapped up when it was last addressed. Those are the best kinds of plot developments: the ones that take you by surprise, yet when you look back, you realize that they make perfect sense. The show also ticks all the major boxes from earlier in the season: Diane's political aspirations, the merger talk, the State's Attorney's race. In essence, it's a near-perfect clearing of the deck in order to set up the machinations of Season 6 - which is exactly what a season finale is supposed to do.

So what about Season 6? Well, this finale left things much less cut and dried than we expected. Having Diane join as a partner at Florrick/Agos (it'd be stupid to reject her) sort of brings the proverbial band back together, although it prompts a moment of sadness for the demise of the original Lockhart/Gardner, the firm we as an audience invested so much into for the past four seasons. Finn has to find his way to their doorstep eventually, because he needs a job and it's hard to imagine him going anywhere else (one thinks he would also punch Louis Canning in the face).

As for Alicia running for State's Attorney? It's a great "OMG" moment to end the season on, but would it make sense in the long term? Then the show's main character would be shifted over to the political side of the story, while everybody else is still back on the legal half. The smart play here would be to unify the show again, by returning its focus to one law firm, therefore we're no longer splitting time between two storylines and two sets of characters, and we can enjoy everyone playing off everyone else just like in the good old days. Plus, with Zach out of the house (we're just going to guess that means Graham Phillips won't be a regular), that's one less Florrick kid to have to work into the narrative. All signs should point to a leaner, meaner Good Wife.

Looking back on Season 5, then, one has to admire its courage and how carefully it was played. While it wasn't flawless (there was the occasional weak episode), the creative team had to make some major, show-changing decisions, and they used those situations as opportunities to really blow up the formula at a time when most shows are flagging. The Good Wife is proof that a series can improve over time, even when it loses one of its brightest stars. The storytelling took some risks, and while not all of them worked, the fact that the leaps were taken is admirable in and of itself. With how things played out this season, the series has the potential to elevate its game again come the fall, and that's what you want a series to do: grow and get better but never lose sight of itself. We've been on an enjoyable ride this season, and we're already excited to think about what comes next.

The Good Wife will return for Season 6 in the fall. If you missed any of Season 5, you can check out our complete coverage archive here.

(c)2014 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.