Special To The Washington Post
As of Sunday, at 10 p.m. Eastern time, Alicia Florrick will cease to exist except in our memories. For me, the show’s finale is intensely personal. Over the past seven seasons, I went from a fan of the show to standing in for the main actress and several guest stars.
Working as a stand-in, while not glamorous, is necessary in making television shows and movies. We watch our assigned actor rehearse a scene; then while they head off to hair, makeup and wardrobe, we step in to their places to assist the camera and lighting departments in perfecting the shot. This continues all day, with each new camera setup. (I like to say that we’re efficiency experts, but we’re mostly referred to as “second team.”)
Whether or not you’ve literally followed in Florrick’s footsteps, as I have, we’ve all been “The Good Wife” in some way, haven’t we? Been thrust out on a public stage against our will, not having fully processed pain or betrayal, and been forced to smile or stay quiet? In the pilot, Alicia is silently introduced while questions are shouted at her husband and she exists in a paralyzed trance of not hearing any of them. The paparazzi snap shots of her standing by her man on a podium, glassy eyed and not fully there.
By 2009, we’d seen these scenes many times: Political scandals where a powerful husband is caught cheating and the dutiful wife shows her support. In Alicia Florrick, we saw a woman with power. And while at times it was reined-in or fully curbed, she reminded viewers of women like Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin and Silda Spitzer. Not just their resiliency but the ability to carry on with their lives. Infidelity will not stop them in their tracks, regardless of where — or with whom — they have dutifully stood.
The show was about a lot more than infidelity, of course. On a daily basis, we see women standing by while men claim the spotlight. For me it was facing bosses telling me that the man who consistently sexually harassed me made significant amounts of money for the company — as if that excused it. For an artist like Ke$ha, it’s been a choice between continuing to make music with a man who allegedly abused her or not making music at all. For the scores of women accusing Bill Cosby of assault, it was years of watching the public praise a man who broke them and made them think it was their fault.
Is it any wonder that the trope exists of women standing quietly by with a smile? When we do speak up, we’re often told to be quiet or blamed for others’ behavior.
Seven years ago, I had no idea of the impact Alicia Florrick would have on my life. I was tired back then. Tired of almost six years in finance and then advertising. A corporate world that sought to keep women down, pay us less and respect us less, and reward men for inappropriate behavior. In meetings I would share ideas that were met with surprised reactions or immediately shot down. Later, my male superiors would resurrect those ideas in some fashion but execute them with much less competence and far less panache.
And yet, like Alicia Florrick, I put on a resolute face for the company, to protect the brand. And for myself, so that I could continue going to work every day. Except that I could never walk out of a meeting and slap one of the executives who harassed or demeaned me. In case you didn’t know, that slap to Peter’s face in “The Good Wife” pilot episode was for all of us who have felt voiceless with no means to hit back.
On the show, Florrick goes back to work after a 13-year hiatus from law. She’s scared, humbled, embarrassed, but she does it anyway. I first stumbled across her when I, too, was floundering. I was starting over at the bottom of a new industry: television. I was wounded but determined. Bills needed to be paid. Structure had to be regained. Pride had to be restored.
It’s been said that it took a village for Hillary Clinton to move past her husband’s infidelity. Same for Alicia. She had Will, Diane, Kalinda; eventually Cary came around; Lucca, Jason; and even battling wits with Louis Canning (the inimitable Michael J. Fox) was good for her.
As a member of “The Good Wife” crew, I was lucky enough to watch Alicia’s journey close up before anyone else got to see it onscreen. And yet I still tuned in every Sunday because I also needed to be part of her audience, too. To root for her in Season One when she told Peter she didn’t give a damn about false corruption charges. To scream “YES” in Season Two when she and Will kissed in the elevator and then scream “NO” when she ended it in Season Three. To yell “what the hell are you doing to Alicia?!” in Season Four when her partnership gets delayed. In Season Five, her tears and guilt over Will broke my heart.
But seeing her start her own firm with Cary inspired me. I believed that decision was spurred by her constantly dueling conscience — her desire to do the right thing and not work under Will anymore, but also to strike out on her own and create something for herself. In season six I laughed hysterically when Alicia told Peter to “stop banging the help” because it felt like Eli Gold and his political strategies had officially rubbed off on her. In season seven I mostly wept because every episode was one step closer to me having to say goodbye.
It’s the best kind of goodbye, though, because Alicia has taught me so much. Not by being perfect (except for her wardrobe). But by being flawed. She made mistakes; she hurt herself and others; she drank too much. Finn wasn’t good enough for her (neither was Johnny). And she definitely should have started seeing a shrink twice a week sometime around Season Three if not sooner. But Alicia never gives up. She zealously defends her life in the same way she protects her clients in a courtroom, whether she’s in the right, completely wrong or mired somewhere in between.
I wasn’t happy when I started this gig seven years ago, but in that time I’ve fought toward finding happiness without an Eli Gold in my corner. I have lost people I loved very deeply along the way; I have fallen down personally and professionally.
But I fell in love with my life, every last imperfect and flawed part of it, while supported by female mentors at work, both real and fictional. Alicia and I have both had quite the character arc over the years. I, too, have kissed one of the loves of my life in an elevator. And also yelled “stupid, stupid, stupid” at myself after doing it.
Anyone who has been hurt, dug in their heels, said “I’m not going anywhere” and then started over understands what it is to be Alicia Florrick.
When asked in season 5 what she wanted, Alicia responded: “I want a happy life, and I want to control my own fate.”
Me, too, Alicia. Me, too. Thank you for sending me on my way.