The Good Wife is the show I consistently recommend to people. It is the perfect blend of melodrama and procedural, anchored by an amazing cast portraying layered and interesting characters. It pushes the envelope just enough to be loved by critics and allows viewers who prefer their television straightforward and easily digestible to feel they are being a bit naughty by watching it. As the eponymous wife, Julianna Margulies has the role of a lifetime and, no matter what the quality of her story is, she delivers at least one memorable, Emmy reel quality scene each week. The problem this year is not with Margulies or her character, it is with the other most compelling character on the show, her former BFF now friendly co-worker, Kalinda Sharma.
Archie Panjabi as Kalinda burst onthe scene in season one as an enigmatic, kick-ass investigator known for her ability to keep her back story mysterious as much as for her ability to coax, coerce, intimidate and flirt the truth out of even the most taciturn witness. She and Alicia hit it off almost immediately and Kalinda became Alicia’s most loyal supporter, even more so than Will. Watching these two damaged women form a strong friendship was the highlight of the first two seasons. When an episode ended with them at the bar, sharing a tequila shot, the grade for the episode automatically went up. When the rug was pulled out from under the friendship at the end of season two it was more heartbreaking than Alicia breaking her relationship with Will off in season three. It has been almost a season and a half and they still have not completely repaired the relationship, nor have they figured out what to do with Kalinda if she isn’t Alicia’s best friend, and that is the root of the problem with The Good Wife.
Kalinda gave Alicia confidence to be independent and rely on herself. Alicia gave Kalinda an emotional connection that humanized her. The last season and a half without the balance that Alicia’s friendship brought to her character, Kalinda has just not been a compelling character. The one memorable Kalinda episode from season three was the episode she searched for and found Grace. Kalinda’s enigmatic answers about her background and personal life seem less like someone who values her privacy and more of a crutch the writers use to make her appear more mysterious than she really is. With the appearance this season of her estranged husband, Nick, we learn Kalinda’s big secret: she escaped from a mutually abusive, warped relationship. Unfortunately, the Kings have done a shitty job of showing us why Kalinda would have been attracted to this man in the first place, let alone marry him. He is all abuse and empty threats. They actually had him menacingly drink a bottle of Pelligrino when Alicia told him the firm would not be able to represent him. Yes, it was just as stupid as it sounds.
What is Nick’s story? He’s a criminal, abusive, likes rough sex and wants Kalinda to be a traditional wife, i.e. make him eggs in the morning and not sleep with women on the side. We know nothing about his background. Is he in organized crime? Is he a leader or a henchman? How did they meet? How old was Kalinda? How long were they actually together? How much money did she steal from him? How was she able to create a new identity? If she did create a new identity, why does he call her Kalinda and not Layla? I am beginning to wonder if the Kings even know the answers to these questions or if they, wrongly, believe they can get away with not telling the viewer anything and we accept it because that’s just how Kalinda rolls. Kalinda is no longer the strong, silent type. Now, she looks weak and pathetic.
The good news is there is an easy fix. It will solve every problem with her character and get the strongest aspect of the show (Alicia and Kalinda’s friendship) back on track. Kalinda needs to walk into Alicia’s office, or even better, go to her apartment after work, and tell Alicia absolutely everything, about Nick, what the attraction was, how she escaped, why she has done the things she’s done. If she throws in an apology for sleeping with Peter – something she has never done, amazingly – so much the better. Then, she ends it by asking Alicia for help in ridding herself from Nick once and for all. The only way Alicia is ever going to trust Kalinda is if she believes, 100%, that Kalinda trusts her. The only way for that to happen is if the enigmatic bullshit that defines Kalinda stops.
Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen. What will probably happen is Kalinda kills Nick, maybe in defense of Lana (though I would applaud if she was killed by Nick first; another problematic character) or maybe because she sees no other way to be rid of him. Alicia will, of course, be her lawyer, and the viewer will have to suffer through numerous episodes of Kalinda holding information back, Alicia being frustrated, etc., etc., etc. Basically a re-hash of their relationship for the last four years.
Which brings me to my other point: Kalinda isn’t the only problem, just the biggest. The other problem with The Good Wife is they are running out of new ideas. Lockhart-Gardner is in financial trouble again. Alicia is worried about her kids finding out about her affair with Will again. Cary still has nothing to do. Will is still a cocky asshole (another character that has little humanity outside of Alicia). Diane is still kick-ass but there are only so many ways you can play it. Opposing clients are being rehashed, as are their lawyers. Eli is freaking out about a potential scandal, again. The internet/technology was at the center of the case of the week, again. After three seasons, this show needs a serious shake-up. A kick in the ass. Something. I love Will and Diane and think Cary is a well of lost potential, but the best thing for this show would be for Lockhart-Gardner to go belly up and Alicia start her own, small firm. Diane becomes a judge. Will has to humble himself and go to work for someone else. Cary, Alicia and Kalinda work their own, small firm taking interesting cases. Or, how about this: Peter loses the election and he and Alicia start their own firm? Probably won’t happen, I see Alicia in the governor’s mansion as first lady at the end of season four, but it would be a lot of fun if it did.
I am not giving up on The Good Wife but I am not as excited about it as I was this time last year. In its defense, its track record has been great and we are only three episodes into season four. But, the trend of sameness with the story lines and Kalinda’s descent from compelling character to uninteresting character has been depressingly steady for a year. Hopefully, she’s about to hit rock bottom.