“I want to be with you and only you. Forever.”
The Kings have always said in interviews that Will and Alicia’s doomed romance was about bad timing. Alicia’s responsibilities at home got in the way. Her relationship with Peter got in the way. Voicemails were deleted. True feelings were suppressed. Will once likened the relationship to a merry-go-round, but on the show its symbol was an elevator. There are myriad examples: Alicia’s hurried escape into the Lockhart/Gardner elevator after their first kiss; their rekindled flame on the way up to the hotel suite in the season two finale; Will’s longing question, after the romance had ended: “Do you think it was a mistake?”; perhaps most definitively in hindsight, Will’s hand blocking the closing elevator doors in “A Few Words”—an almost-miss.
Those elevator rides illuminated Will and Alicia’s relationship beyond their timing problem. They placed some of Will and Alicia’s most pivotal moments in a box. This was a couple that always felt constrained. Alicia seemed to only be able to picture Will in a certain, extremely limited context. As strong as their attraction was, she couldn’t imagine him in her real life, having a role in her children’s lives. Their relationship ended in season three because she couldn’t reconcile the dual worlds she had created: Alicia as mother, and Alicia as lover. Elevators are a fitting setting for a relationship that Alicia so vehemently tried to pack away and compartmentalize.
The real tragedy of Will and Alicia’s relationship, though, is that it could never be resolved. In “The Last Call,” Alicia desperately tries to find out why Will phoned her just before his death. She hopes the answer will come from Finn Polmar, the lawyer who held Will as he died, but Finn, of course, has nothing substantial to share. Will’s lips were moving, Finn says, but nothing was intelligible. In the voicemail, Will’s tone is vague; he doesn’t sound angry or gleeful. Alicia longs for some sort of clue that indicates what he felt for her in those last moments, but nothing comes, and in the episode’s final scene she imagines, dreams, of his confession: “Alicia, I’m sorry. I want what we had. I want to be with you and only you. Forever.”
That moment shocked me because Alicia is often emotionally opaque, particularly when it comes to her relationship with Will. I always knew exactly where Will stood in terms of his feelings for Alicia. As Diane said in “The Last Call,” he loved her, and it was always crystal clear. I often doubted, though, if Alicia ever loved Will. There were times when she seemed infatuated, attracted, but I could never tell if there was actual love there, in the way that Will loved her. The Kings have said that through the flashbacks this season, they have tried to make Alicia more emotionally accessible. The fantasy she experienced at the end of the “The Last Call”, then, seemed to indicate that in his death Alicia could finally acknowledge what she had always wanted Will to say. (Side note: female characters are often killed off in film and television shows to make way for the male protagonist’s emotional growth. Leave it to The Good Wife to flip that gender norm on its head.)
An elevator moves up and down, up and down, ad infinitum. For some, that infinity—the millions of things Will might have said—would be paralyzing. That is the challenge the show has set out in front of Alicia. When we first met her, she was facing heartbreak, and she had to find a way to persevere. Just as Alicia has found her footing atop the show’s power structure, she has been knocked down, and now, once again, she must find a way to get back to the top. This season I’ve found her increasingly unsympathetic, but this pretty much puts us right back at square one, with Alicia clawing her way out of an emotional canyon. Compared to Alicia’s recent ruthlessness—empowered by the privilege of being the governor’s wife—the story of her emotional journey post-Will’s death is something I’d like to watch.
(Random musing: I wonder about the acting in the voicemail. Did Josh Charles know what Will was calling about, and play it that way? Or did he not know, and if that was the case, how did he choose to play it? Somebody ask him that on Twitter, stat!)