(Washington Post illustration, CBS)

Political consultant and crisis manager Eli Gold wasn’t supposed to stick around very long on “The Good Wife.” Creators Robert and Michelle King hired Scottish actor Alan Cumming for the part after Nathan Lane turned them down. They told Cumming the character would stay for an episode in the first season, maybe a couple more.

Seven years later, Eli is not only one of the integral players on the critically acclaimed CBS drama (which airs its series finale on Sunday night), but he’s arguably the best. Cumming has been nominated for an Emmy three times for the role, and in a series known for a deep bench of stellar actors, Cumming regularly steals the show.

[Do ‘Good Wife’ stars Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi hate each other? Inside the Alicia-Kalinda conspiracy.]

While the writers are due a lot of credit, Cumming takes the part to the next level. Eli is a shifty political operative, manipulative and brilliant, and will stop at nothing to clean up a candidate’s mess or destroy an opponent’s life. As Paste magazine wrote, “Eli represents the passionate, slightly psychotic person inside of us all.”

The character started off loosely based on Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff turned Chicago mayor. Cumming told NPR he studied Emanuel’s characteristics before he signed on, particularly the “coiled-spring nature” of him and his famous temper. “When he loses it, it’s passion, it’s not mean — well, it is kind of mean,” Cumming said. “But it’s about this absolute, inexorable need to just vent about the fact that he hasn’t been able to do his job properly.”

Cumming adapted those characteristics to Eli. Yet while Eli is a ruthless fixer, Cumming has infused the character with a surprising amount of warmth over the years. When viewers first meet Eli, he’s been hired by the lawyer of disgraced state’s attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), husband of the titular “Good Wife” Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). The lawyer convinces Peter that he needs Eli to run his re-election campaign.


Chris Noth as Peter Florrick and Alan Cumming as Eli Gold. (Jeff Neumann/CBS)

“Eli Gold is a thug,” Peter complains. True, but a thug who gets the job done. A few scenes later, Eli coldly drops trou in front of Peter’s image consultant, who is getting on everyone’s nerves. “What are you doing?” the startled consultant asks. “Lowering my pants so you can kiss my ass,” Eli responds.

"Hearing" -- As the grand jury against Peter Florrick is assembled, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Connor Fox (Matthew Morrison) leading the proceedings, Alicia, Eli and Peter's lawyer, Mike Tascioni (Will Patton), attempt to discover what charges are being leveled against him. Also, Alicia and Jason attempt to spend a quiet weekend together but are interrupted by her meddling family, on THE GOOD WIFE, Sunday, March 6 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured (L-R) Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick and Alan Cumming as Eli Gold Photo David M. Russell © 2016 CBS BROADCASTING INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Alicia and Eli in a bathroom. It’s normal, we swear. (David M. Russell/CBS)

Eli keeps these characteristics in the first season, wielding his power and shameless political tactics to help restore Peter’s reputation. Yet as nasty as Eli could be, he calmed down when he was around Alicia and the two begrudgingly bonded. Eli also evolved as he ran into unexpected obstacles, such as Peter’s son’s girlfriend, Becca (Dreama Walker), who set up an anonymous Twitter account spilling Florrick family secrets — which meant a 16-year-old girl became Eli’s top nemesis.

Eventually, Eli integrated into the Florrick family life, and the character was humanized; like the time he brought all his business to Alicia’s law firm so she could keep her job, or tried to protect the Florrick kids from the media. By the end of the first season, you could see Cumming’s expression soften whenever he was around Alicia, as Eli started to become more emotionally invested.

Let’s not forget his most impressive feat: Eli is also hilarious. “The Good Wife” can get dark, but Cumming always brings a shot of comic relief with his deadpan delivery. “Peter and Alicia are inviting me over because, as you know, I have no life!” he says matter-of-factly to a donor when he forces the Florricks to throw an impromptu dinner party. As Vulture puts it, “Eli Gold Reacting to Stuff” is a glorious category on its own, whether he’s choking after hearing bad news or dancing after hearing good news:

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Cumming was promoted to series regular in Season 2 and got bigger storylines through the seven seasons: the many election cycles; the devastating chain of events when he deleted a voicemail from Alicia’s soulmate who professed his love to her; when he developed a crush on a nanny whom he almost had deported; and when he was investigated for one of his many shady dealings. Currently, he’s trying to get Peter out of a jam involving a grand jury investigation.

Eli recently had his first major setbacks this season when Peter unceremoniously dumped him from his presidential campaign, and Alicia found out about the deleted voicemail. Eventually, they all made up — because who wants a “Good Wife” where no one’s speaking to Eli Gold? He’s not only the best character, but he makes all the other characters in “The Good Wife” universe far more interesting, as well.

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