Sally Kohn: After complicating "stand by your man," "The Good Wife" finale leaves Alicia Florrick's future vague
Peter Florrick has more in common with Bill Clinton than Alicia does with Hillary Clinton, she says
Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator, and a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Since the beginning of the CBS hit show “The Good Wife,” which aired its final episode Sunday night, observers ranging from cultural critics to political scholars have drawn analogies between the lead character Alicia Florrick and a host of women who stood by their politician husbands after salacious affairs. When viewers first meet Alicia, she is with him facing down the cameras during the mea culpa press conference.
Was Alicia Florrick a stand-in for Silda Wall Spitzer, the wife of Elliott Spitzer, former New York governor who was caught doing tawdry things with prostitutes? Was she a stand-in for Huma Abedin, who stood by former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was sending pictures of his private parts to various women online? Come to think of it, was “The Good Wife” itself really just a stand-in for New York or a parody of its significant political sex scandals? After all, the TV show based in Chicago was actually, often conspicuously, filmed in New York City.
Either way, one of the most enduring analogies was between Alicia Florrick and Hillary Clinton. Here, after all, were two incredibly smart and talented women who gave up their own careers to support their political husbands — who they presumably knew all along were cads but thought would somehow change. And when their husbands revealed they hadn’t changed, but had in fact gotten more audacious with their affairs — in the case of Florrick, with prostitutes; in the case of Clinton, in the Oval Office — both women famously stood by their men. And at the same time, the relative public downfall of their husbands created an opportunity for both women to rise from their shadows and, in both cases, eventually run for the same political office their husbands had once held.
It’s easy to see why these analogies are tempting. Hillary Clinton, after all, is currently the most visible iteration of “The Good Wife” plot line. Alicia Florrick could also represent all those Republican women who supported their politician husbands who championed anti-gay policies in Congress only to be caught sexually soliciting male interns or bathroom patrons. Or Alicia Florrick could be a proxy for many women behind the scenes in every city and town worldwide who have to reckon with the fallout when their husbands cheat.
Good television is good because it speaks, in some way, to aspects of our human condition — and “The Good Wife” was definitely good television. Still, Hillary Clinton is running for President, and after the vexingly uncertain series finale of “The Good Wife,” those who analogize Alicia to Hillary Clinton will naturally scrutinize the episode for any commentary on the vexingly uncertain outcome of Clinton’s candidacy. But focusing too much on the women here is mistake. The better comparison to dissect is between Peter Florrick and Bill Clinton, two unfaithful husbands doggedly pursuing public redemption.
Because while the series finale of “The Good Wife” leaves the prospects for Alicia’s future annoyingly vague, it’s quite clear with respect to Peter’s. Here’s a man who began the series incarcerated for corruption, was eventually cleared and re-elected state’s attorney and eventually governor, only to be charged with corruption again, this time taking a plea deal of a year on probation. But even without consistent convictions, it’s the repeated stabs at Peter’s reputation that doom him. And yet, he somehow still thinks he has a future in politics.
When still facing a possible jail term, Peter is still begging his donors to wait for his triumphant comeback before abandoning him to oblivion. Meanwhile, Peter’s political adviser says Alicia will divorce Peter after the verdict and is advising the same donors to invest in her for future political runs.
Politicians, especially the male ones, often have delusions of grandeur but it always seemed especially apt that Peter Florrick was played by Chris Noth, best known as Mr. Big in “Sex and the City.” Mr. Big, indeed. But Peter’s self-aggrandizement also leads him to sabotage Alicia’s own political future. In announcing his plea deal before the press, Peter asks Alicia to stand with him in front of the cameras — a visual throwback to the opening scenes of the show but also perhaps a way for Peter to try to ding Alicia’s public image and chance of eclipsing him.
Not so with Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton has his own well-publicized and often incredibly inappropriate (if not worse) sexual misdeeds to contend with. And while Bill Clinton has built an effective second high-profile career as a philanthropist — because the real world is sometimes even more sexist than fiction — there was no question that when he left the White House, his political career was over. And it appears as though Bill Clinton has been nothing less than 110% supportive of his wife’s political aspirations from Day 1, first during her Senate run, in her first presidential campaign and now.
Looking back on the series, “The Good Wife” was perhaps ultimately a meditation on its title. When Alicia Florrick was being a “good wife” in the traditional sense, was she also being a bad person, as a lawyer, mother, or political candidate? I’m left unsure where the show came out on that question.
But on the question of “the good husband” and any larger political analogies to the Clintons, I think the message of the show was crystal clear. Peter Florrick was an awful, unreformed, self-important jerk who often damaged his wife’s future in his efforts to try to recapture his past. Bill Clinton is not making the same mistakes. Hillary Clinton is not The Good Wife, but Bill Clinton is now playing the good husband. He is standing by his woman.
Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator, and a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.