This will be the first instalment of a series of posts entitled Fab Female Characters (until I think of a better name, ideas welcome!) where I talk about an influential/well developed female character from a film or TV series. Mostly because having a regular series will help motivate me to actually write more often on this blog…
In terms of why I chose Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) as my first character, it’s a little complicated. I have a love/hate relationship with Alicia (as we will explore below) and there are many other characters from The Good Wife that I could have chosen instead. Diane, Kalinda, Lucca Quinn, Elspeth Tascioni and many others are all just as relevant and possibly even more interesting characters than Alicia.
I 100% fully intend to do an in-depth blog post on Kalinda alone because she is such a rare character to see on prime-time television. This time, though, I chose Alicia because (as the first post in this series), I wanted to choose a character who is the protagonist of her own show and who is also a character that we identify with but are not necessarily supposed to like all of the time. I think Alicia Florrick fits the bill on these two fronts.
I’ve also been spending many hours in the last two weeks watching The Good Wife, so when I decided I was going to commit to write this series – Alicia’s name was at the front of my mind. I’m also writing this because I have very recently watched the finale and my life seems empty of Alicia right now..
Alicia Florrick begins her journey as the titular “good wife”: mother of two and married to the recently disgraced state senator Peter Florrick, Alicia stands by her husband through accusations of corruption, bribery and of course, sleeping with prostitutes. It’s a familiar tale, and Alicia is positioned as the demure, loyal housewife who will stand by Peter, even when he is convicted and faces a short amount of time in prison. Alicia, who had previously trained to be a lawyer before becoming a mother, realises that she needs to go back to work if the family are to survive. That, and she is seriously reconsidering her future with Peter. If she wants to leave him, she will need to be independent – financially and emotionally. Not so easy when you haven’t worked a single day in the last sixteen years.
It’s pretty safe to say that Alicia Florrick goes through one of the biggest transformations of any character I have seen on TV. The Good Wife (especially in its later seasons) tends to use a lot of flashbacks or has characters watching ‘news’ footage of other characters from the beginning of the show. There is clear character development within Alicia, both physically and mentally, and The Good Wife uses this to prove to the audience just how much Alicia has changed. It’s pretty effective. Whilst we cheer her on when she finally stands up for herself against Peter, encourage her to leave Lockhart Gardner and pursue her own firm, and admire her limitless strength as she goes through some pretty traumatic times – it’s not always clear just how far she has come. Using flashbacks helps us to understand this gradual but pretty significant character development throughout the series.
Throughout the series, Alicia is hit with some major highs and lows. The catalyst for the series itself is her husband cheating on her and things don’t get much better from there. She secures a job at Lockhart Gardner, but constantly has to prove herself beyond the Florrick name. She starts her own firm, but is quickly devastated by the death of Will (on and off lover, and all round pretty great guy). In season 6, Alicia runs for State’s Attorney of Cook county – a big leap. We are sure she will succeed (because you know, this is television) and she does. Except, before she even gets into office her party kick her out (something to do with a scandalous voting fraud that has nothing to do with her). So Alicia ends season 6 crying on her apartment floor, with no job, no income and her name smeared all the way through the mud. I felt bad for her.
There is an interesting juxtaposition with Alicia’s experiences of life, and the lives of the women around her. Alicia regularly ends up defending a wide variety of different people, from all walks of life, and whilst The Good Wife is about Alicia’s struggle – it’s hard to forget that she does have it pretty easy in comparison to many of the women she comes into contact with. Even when Alicia hits rock bottom, she is still a wealthy white woman who has a great deal of savings, and a husband who will continue to provide for herself and her children even though they aren’t really together. It’s not to say that Alicia can’t struggle because she is wealthy and white, it’s just that her struggles are not really that bad in comparison to those of her clients, or others whom she meets.
One of season 6’s finer moments may have been when Alicia’s bond court judge tells her that he won’t give her cases because she doesn’t really need the money. When Alicia protests that she does, a chauffeur driven car pulls up to whisk her away, right on cue. It isn’t money or comfortable living that Alicia struggles with, it’s her own independence and getting back on her feet by herself.
It’s true that Alicia often faces (at best) chauvinism and (at worst) blatant misogyny within her workplace and from the media. The feminist ideals of having it all often seem far from her grasp – she works hard and pretty much all the time and often has little time left for herself. The ‘working woman’ stereotype is exploited throughout the firm, in earlier seasons Alicia’s emotions and ‘femininity’ are called into question when working difficult cases, just as Carey’s are not spoken about at all. The double standard is very clear – and Alicia sets out to prove how ridiculous it all is.
Alicia’s role as a defence lawyer is also one of multi-dimensions. The line between good/bad or right/wrong is blurred significantly throughout the series. Two of Alicia’s most important clients are Colin Sweeney (it’s widely acknowledged that he murdered his wife, but has not been convicted) and Lemond Bishop (Chicago’s most notorious drug dealer). The adjective of ‘good’ from the title never really fits well in Alicia’s line of work. We find ourselves cheering for her to win cases, despite knowing deep down that the clients she represents are evading real justice.
I also want to talk very briefly about Alicia’s role as a mother. Alicia has two children, Zack and Grace, and often finds herself in difficult situations with both of them. Though Alicia’s main narratives revolve around her legal cases, her career, and love life, there have been some pretty significant story-lines involving both her children. Early on in season 6, Eli reveals to Alicia that Zack and his girlfriend Nisa had an abortion. Zack had told Alicia he was on a trip to look at colleges, but Alicia later finds out that Nisa’s parents had gone to the abortion clinic with the both of them. Alicia is hurt, understandably. A combination of feeling lied to, deceived, and upset that her son doesn’t trust her enough to be open with her leads Alicia into an angry conversation with Peter about cutting off Zack’s college funding.
We understand that this is just Alicia lashing out – but it does bring together how difficult parenting can be. Alicia wants to appear approachable to her children but at the same time, also wants to be involved with their lives to the point where it could be perceived as controlling. Equally, Alicia and Grace’s relationship (though mostly very passive) becomes strained when Grace decides that she wants to begin going to church. Grace’s religious views become important later in the show and frequently Alicia is shown at a crosshairs – wanting to make her daughter and the voters happy, but also knowing that she doesn’t really believe in religion of any kind. Alicia, despite being a declared atheist, is more than happy for Grace to pursue her own faith although it causes Alicia to struggle with her own.
The Good Wife, as a whole, is a feminist utopia in the land of black ties, suits and old white man that typically make up the cast of a TV drama concerning the law or politics. Whilst Alicia may represent only a small handful of women in the working world, we are constantly encouraged to question her decisions and see her as a real person rather than a ‘career woman’ or the uber-feminist that people may want her to be. Slowly, throughout the series, Alicia becomes Peter (in many ways) and the series finale reconfirms this.
In the final episode, there is an almost short for short reconstruction of Alicia standing by Peter as she did in the pilot. Unlike the pilot, Alicia inadvertently abandons Peter to run after the shadow of another man, only to then be confronted by Diane (whom she has betrayed) in the hallway. Diane then echoes the slap that Alicia gives to Peter in the first episode, confirming that Alicia has become the anti-thesis of what she started out as. She has broken Diane’s ideas about a feminist utopia – for better or for worse.
We leave The Good Wife not knowing where Alicia will end up, or who she will become. One thing however is clear, Alicia has changed irreparably and this might be a good thing. She is a fascinating and complicated character, who is given no slack by the writers. The Good Wife itself succeeded in opening up conversations about gay rights, gun control, abortion and rape within the military – conversations which would not have been so effective if Alicia had not been in the driving seat. Red wine anyone?