Death closes off the greatest venture we can ever undertake with another human being: the effort to know them fully. In life, a person’s true self is elusive, but we convince ourselves it is somehow attainable, dancing just out of our reach. But in death, all ellipses become periods, all question marks are left to dangle. There is no person left to know. There are no answers left to find. There’s just the seeking, and the void.
“The Last Call” follows Alicia as she confronts this harsh, nearly unacceptable truth, as she tries to decipher a brief, tantalizing voicemail from Will that is as ambiguous and tinted with possibility as all of their conversations were when he was alive. So long as Will lived, he could be Alicia’s person, the one out there with whom things could still be worked out, the happy ending wrapped in human form and sent out into the world to blunder, yes, but to find his way eventually back home. Will was not perfect, but he didn’t need to be. The real Will Gardner almost certainly couldn’t hold a candle to the one that lived in Alicia’s mind, to the possibility he represented for her future. The hardest lesson there is to learn is that you cannot make another person be who you want them to be, and while Alicia is clearly sure of that intellectually, she never quite learned that lesson when it comes to Will.
The Good Wife is a ruthlessly pragmatic television show, just like the woman who is its center. There are few niceties in “The Last Call,” because no one has time for them. There is private grief, and then there is showboating, crass opportunism that creeps in the moment news of Will’s death breaks. Diane stems the tide by firing that crying intern and that monstrously insensitive client (to learn their names is beneath me), but the world always finds its way in, no matter how mammoth our private pains. “The Last Call” has time for humor, as Eli tries to introduce Peter using Alicia’s speech. The jokes are not there to blunt the pain; if anything, they increase it. Rather, they serve as a constant reminder: Will Gardner is dead, but the world he left behind just keeps on turning.
Sadness hangs over this hour of television. Everyone, the viewer included, is stricken with grief. Every tear shed is vicarious in some sense (perhaps none more than the private breakdown of David Lee, a brutal and beautiful reminder that even this show’s greatest shark is, at heart, a man). Every major character on The Good Wife learns of Will’s death before our very eyes, and every one of them takes it like a punch to the gut. Even Peter, who immediately recognizes the threat Will poses, even in death, to his supremacy in Alicia’s life, is shocked to the core by the news. When Will Gardner was alive, he was a romantic rival, a snake in the grass to be stomped on and crushed. But nobody can compete with a ghost. Peter Florrick’s marriage just got one step closer to the chasm; his wife just moved slightly further out of reach. No one can ever really be known in this life, which means every person can surprise and disappoint you. But the dead never disappoint. The last image of the episode is another of those hypothetical calls from Will, in which he tells Alicia he wants to be with her, only her, and forever. This is the memory that will linger. This will become her truth. This is what she will see whenever Peter disappoints her.
The words “Call Back,” displayed on the screen prominently at one point this evening, have never meant so much as they do here. “Call Back” is possibility. “Call Back” is an option now foreclosed. It sounds just a little like “take back,” a retrieval of past recriminations and regrets. It also speaks to Alicia and Grace’s conversation about God. Grace tells her mother Will is in Heaven, whatever that might mean. But Alicia knows that pressing that “Call Back” button would be projecting her anguish into a void. No one would be there to answer. No one ever will again.
That voicemail is, ultimately, the perfect symbol of Will and Alicia’s relationship. Theirs was a tragedy of timing from the first. They weren’t destined for each other, not really. It was always the wrong time. Alicia spends the majority of “The Last Call” trying to solve, once and for all, the mystery of Will Gardner. But what she finds is nothing. When she finally meets Finn Polmar, tragically loopy on pain killers (Matthew Goode plays the wistful weirdness perfectly), she asks the most important question on her mind: “He called me. Do you know why?” And Finn gives the answer she feared he would all along: “No.” Finn doesn’t know. Alicia can never know, now. This is the end result of her searching. The last gasp of breath in the life of one of the most important relationships she will ever have.
We always think of questions in terms of answers, but a life spent as a fan of serialized television will teach you that, most of the time, it is the questions that are more interesting. It isn’t clear if that translates to human relationships, though. Every question asked is an attempt to connect. Every answer offered that falls on deaf or unaccepting ears carries its own sting. Each of us endeavors to truly understand the people in our lives, and while we often do a pretty good job, some part of them will always remain unknown, impossibly distant to us, across a void we can never hope to leap. Death increases that distance infinitely. It forces all our questions to go unanswered. Even if Will’s message had been more detailed, even if Finn had known why he was calling, even if Will’s dying words were a declaration of love to Alicia, she would never get the answer she’s looking for. Because that answer could only have come from Will: living, breathing, connecting, trying. And now, all there is left is one last, fleeting, missed connection.
-“Which brings me to a funny story about how I chose this…outfit… for today.”
-“Are you done?”
-“David, my best friend just died.”
-“I loved him.” “I know.” “He loved you.”
-“I have to call Alicia.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” “I need to speak to my wife.”
-“Don’t be a schmuck.” “Here’s the thing. I am a schmuck.”
-“Peter, don’t scold me for trying to protect you. Don’t you think I’d rather be doing something else right now?”
-“Do you ever think we chose the wrong profession?”
-“What do you want?” “I want to get out my aggression and my anger by destroying your client. Now sit down. I said sit the hell down.”
-“It’s not what Will would do.” “If I were dead, it’s exactly what Will would do.”
-“Why do you think Will is in Heaven?” “He was a good person, wasn’t he?” “He…He did some bad things. But he did them…because he wanted to be good.”