The Good Wife’s Kalinda Problem, or Fifty Shades of Meh

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 14 2012 10:18 PM

The Good Wife’s Kalinda Problem

kalinda2
Archie Panjabi on The Good Wife(CBS)

Over the last couple of weeks, friends, colleagues, and even total strangers have sent me variations on the following question: “What the hell is going on with Kalinda?”

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

They’re referring, of course, to Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi), the enigmatic leather-clad investigator who has long been The Good Wife’s secret weapon, used for both titillation (her love life is more exciting than anyone else’s on the show, even during the eponymous Alicia Florrick’s affair with her boss) and for instant plot resolution—her miraculous investigative skills crack the case almost every week. (As I wrote back in 2010, she “comes to the rescue so often she should wear a cape.”)

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Kalinda has always been a very sexualized character—and I never minded one bit. Quite the opposite, in fact. Her on-screen flirtations with both sexes—but mostly with women—were hot, steamy fun, occasionally reaching “I can’t believe they showed that on network television” levels.

She was distant and withholding, and the people she had sex with seemed as confused as the viewers about Kalinda’s feelings. In a sexy scene from the end of Season 3, FBI agent Lana Delaney, finding herself in Kalinda’s, um, hands, whispered: “I chased you for two years and nothing. What? Now you’re into me?”

Kalinda didn’t kiss and tell—indeed, she wouldn’t tell anyone anything about her love life. When her friend Alicia asked if she was gay, Kalinda simply answered, “I’m private.” It didn’t seem like a simple case of being closeted about her sexuality—in every other part of her life she was strong, confident, and independent—but she was hiding something.

The secret from her mysterious past was revealed two weeks ago at the beginning of Season 4, and boy do I regret it. The Season 3 cliffhanger had been the impending arrival of Kalinda’s long-lost husband: She took her position in an armchair facing her apartment door as the final credits rolled, turning the hiatus into a version of the break between the second and third acts of Madama Butterfly. The opening scenes of Season 4 showed Kalinda holding a man at gunpoint, grappling with him, then sadistically breaking his fingers. Sure, the guy was a brute—they were fighting over a gun he would no doubt have used on her—but she seemed to take pleasure in causing him pain.

This man wasn’t her husband, he was a henchman sent to tell Kalinda that her ex wanted her back. But we met the man himself soon enough: “Nick Saverese,” an ex-con client of the law firm where she works. Kalinda joined Nick in the elevator—on The Good Wife, as on Mad Men, the elevator is where everything of true significance happens—and they proceeded to beat the living daylights out of each other, punching and kicking with no holds barred.

And that has been the pattern ever since. Kalinda and Nick have had eight scenes together. Four of them involved violence, and three of them involved sex (two of which also included violence, the other contained verbal cruelty). In another, Nick threatened Kalinda’s girlfriend Lana.

Nick is played by Marc Warren, a wonderful British actor best known in the United States for playing Dominic Foy in the original TV version of State of Play and for his role in AMC’s Hustle. Warren is a likable actor who has been typecast as a working-class tough with a hard shell and a soft center. Here he’s simply annoying—a thug who won’t listen to his wife, who wants to impose his will on her, and wants to turn back time. She tells him, “I’ve changed,” and he replies, “Some things don’t change. You belong to me. I belong to you.”

This terrible unresolved relationship could explain Kalinda’s cold, unforthcoming nature. She wants to move on, but something—residual feelings, a desire to keep a dangerous man out of her friends’ and lovers’ lives—still connects her to Nick. The problem is that the interactions between Kalinda and Nick are dead ends that feel completely out of sync with the rest of the show. The Good Wife is already overstuffed with characters and plot points; there simply isn’t time to devote five minutes per episode to an irrelevant story line, even if it involves a beloved character. And what she’s doing makes no dramatic sense: During Episode 2, I tweeted that Warren’s presence was having a negative affect on Kalinda’s accent (Panjabi is also British), to which Salon’s Willa Paskin replied, “AND ALSO HER BEHAVING LIKE ANY REAL HUMAN IN THE WHOLE WORLD.”

Worst of all, the Kalinda-Nick sex is kind of gross. I’m all for shame-free explorations of sexuality, but, in addition to setting up two doms in this Fifty Shades of Meh storyline, their scenes haven’t been fun to watch. Take, for instance, the ice-cream parlor incident from Episode 2. Why on earth was Kalinda eating soft serve with Nick in the middle of the day? How exactly did he manage to put his hand you-know-where—I mean, really, how could he gain entry, given his position alongside her at the counter? And can anybody imagine anything less sexy than a five-second feel-up in a kiddie hangout? (It’s particularly icky that the sound of children’s voices gets louder when he makes his move.)

The last thing I want is to lose Kalinda from the show, but this relationship is even bringing fans like me down. Nick needs to go, and he needs to go soon. After all, there are plenty of other great shows to watch on Sunday nights.

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