Character Study: Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife, Part 2

Read Part I here.

Bae, where you been?
Bae, where you been?

Rasha: Today we’re talking about Kalinda and her lovers who are not Alicia, yes?

Gemma: Yes. Much of the shallower critical writing about Kalinda has focused on her promiscuity, which also has seemed to be disproportionately Robert King’s focus in interviews. I always enjoyed Panjabi’s assertion that Kalinda was attracted to the minds of her lovers. That felt to me like a much more sophisticated dialogue with the notion of promiscuity.

R: Promiscuous is never a word I’ve thought of when I’ve thought about Kalinda. I think of her as a long-distance swimmer, a marathon runner. She’s always seemed to me like someone who’s trying to move through a long and lonely haul. She has significant relationships with her lovers, and those are usually professional relationships. We’ve never seen Kalinda just go pick someone up in the bar for a one night stand.

G: That’s true about the one-night stands. I never considered that. My take on Kalinda has always been “everywhere and nowhere”: she can access anything/anyone and belongs completely to nothing/no one. That fits in with what you’re saying, I think.

R: I’m thinking back to her affairs with women in particular: Sophia, Lana,  and the S2 character played by Lily whosis. She seems to both move towards and veer away from people based on energy—how good that person is at what they do, how independent and confident they are. In my memory, Sophia is the only person I’ve seen disappoint Kalinda in love.

G: You’re thinking of Donna in S2, actress is Lili Taylor. I like that you tied professionalism into the mix. That’s always been one of the most illuminating themes of TGW, I think: the relationship between work and identity. Kalinda takes that to novel dimensions and depths.

R: Looking back, we’ve seen her move away from Lana and Cary in earlier seasons because they both came on too strong, too possessive.

Better as a friend than a loverboy.
Better as a friend than a loverboy.

G: Yes. Which is one reason her S5 and particularly S6 relationship with Cary rang false. He set all the terms in a way that felt both untrue to Kalinda and untrue to loving Kalinda.

R: Say more about how Kalinda illuminates the relationships between work and identity.

G: Well, it’s the next step beyond Panjabi’s notion that Kalinda is “attracted to the mind.” Kalinda genuinely loves what she does: she loves her own skill, she loves deep and consistent intellectual stimulation, she loves a certain level of risk, she loves change and variety. Every one of those phrases can also apply to the romantic relationships we’ve seen—particularly with women, but I’d also argue it existed with that cop Tony in S1, say, and in the early days of her entanglements with Cary, and even existed in the way that the show tried to publicize Nick, if not in his ultimate idiotic manifestation—and in the fact that she enjoys having multiple lovers. What Kalinda loves in work she loves in people. And so it’s important for them to meet her with equal energy for work.


R: I’ll buy that.

G: We’re taught to think of connecting sex to work as “unprofessional,” see Alicia and Will. But Kalinda subverts that as she subverts so many things. For Kalinda the connection between sex and work is superprofessional, meaning a level above professional. Both are sources of deep connection, challenge, confusion, sometimes hurt, sometimes joy.

R: OK, yes. We are cooking now. I’m thinking back to the pilot episode, when Kalinda and Alicia are trying to get in to a warehouse to look at surveillance footage. Kalinda undoes the top two buttons of her shirt and says, “these are better than subpeonas.” We see in Kalinda someone who is profoundly aware of her own sexuality, how it is received by others, and who is always in complete control of it. She chooses how and when she engages that electrical circuit of her interactions with other people. It should be noted, that although she sleeps with people she has professional relationships with, she doesn’t just go around having sex with security guards to do her job. She’s still having relationships with people she is interested in.

Well, unless you count...
Well, unless you count…

The one exception I can think of is Peter, which is what makes her dalliance with him such an enigma. And one it seems the show will never deal with.

G: Unless it does so next week. I’ve always imagined that when she was with Peter we were dealing with a very different Kalinda, one who had been running from something far more powerful and traumatic than Nick turned out to be. But yes, I think that scene in the pilot is a wonderful point to refer back to. Because on a lesser show or with a lesser actor, that moment would have signaled a dismissible TV labelling as “slutty.” But Kalinda is profoundly self-aware and profoundly sensitive to the input of others. Her sexuality is of a piece with her intellect and her acuity.

R: If Peter is running from something nasty in his past, all my bets are on his father the judge, given what little we know about his philandering past from Jackie.

G: Oh, I meant Kalinda running. Peter was the person who could give her access in a new world. But I could imagine what you’re saying, too.

R: In my mind: Kalinda slept with Peter after he’d already helped her change her name and invent a new identity. There would have been chemistry between them, as there always is when Kalinda is entering an uncertain situation and turns on her reverse charisma magnetic field. And I’m sure it was only ever imagined as a one-time thing for either of them.

G: Yes, they made that quite clear in S2. Because Kalinda was not the kind of person Peter was sleeping with at that time.

R: I mean, not just that it happened once, but that neither of them wanted more, and yes, point taken about Peter’s well-documented type.

G: I want to look at your notion of Sophia “disappointing” Kalinda in love. Can you say a little more there?

Hey girl.
Hey girl.

R: It’s around the “Ham Sandwich” time. Sophia is swaggerously flirtatious and invites Kalinda out for drinks. We see them later in bed together, languid. Sophia tells Kalinda she used to be more fun, and then says perhaps it she herself who was more fun in the past. Kalinda moves in with post-coital sweetness to reassure her that they both had a lot of fun, and Sophia gets a phone call. From her husband. When Sophia says that she thought she told Kalinda about being married, it’s clear betrayal. The look that Panjabi pulls on Kalinda’s face is the most wounded I’ve seen Kalinda, aside from her break with Alicia.

G: Last ep in S2, I’m pretty sure.

R: The hurt she feels by Sophia’s cavalier attitude also gives the lie to folks who want to paint Kalinda as some free-loving swinger. I think the revelation changes her idea of who Sophia is, and their sexual relationship ends. We see them spar at work after that, but that’s all.

G: See, I read it as very linked to Alicia and to the moment. Kalinda couldn’t bear the notion that someone else would be hurt as deeply as Alicia had been, that she would be party to it.

R: That too, perhaps. But she’s done with Sophia after that, for having put her in that position. Their interaction in that scene also feels to me like an example of bad polyamory, the kind that many folks in mainstream think of when they think of open relationships. And Kalinda is having none of it.

G: That moment was also glorious in its gender subversion, which I think I’ve mentioned before. TGW always runs the the danger of falling into “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” tropes. Kalinda says, yes, different genders are different, and betrayal is betrayal.

R: I imagine that when Kalinda slept with Peter, she knew he was both married and also unfaithful to his marriage. And I think you’re right that she might have been a different person then—damn, this is making me wish that the show could draw the arc of Kalinda for us rather than only capturing her frozen in the amber of S1-3!

This, this is where it all went terribly wrong.
This, this is where it all went terribly wrong.

G: Well, they learned the wrong lesson from the failure of Nick. Instead of examining the notion that they might have done terrible, lazy writing and shoddy character development, The Powers That Be decided that the audience rejected that storyline because “they didn’t want to know so much about Kalinda.” Nobody learned anything about Kalinda from Nick, don’t fool yourselves. We absolutely wanted a way into Kalinda’s mystery, we just wanted it to make sense.

R: Argh, then in S5, they tried to throw us the lady cop whose name I refuse to learn, and the Leprechaun Lover of hers who had it in for Kalinda for some inexplicable reason. I guess they thought they were restoring Kalinda to her previous promiscuity, but none of that made any sense to me. You know how most shows have at least one character descend into a spiral of depression and drug addiction? I thought it was going to be Will in S5, but Kalinda’s whole storyline with those two buffoons seemed more like a lost weekend than even Will’s tattoo yogi. And once again, the show seems to hope we’ll forget all that.

G: I agree with you about Damian the Leprechaun, but thought Jordana Spiro did a respectable job given the limitations. The way they wrote Kalinda’s interactions with her character after Will’s death did make sense to me. Kalinda both needed tenderness and couldn’t accept it, and so deeply betrayed and violated that lover on a professional and friendship level. But the way they got into it in the first half of the season didn’t make any sense.

R: I hear you. I’m starting to get the feeling that we’ll be able to sketch out the major points of Kalinda’s transformative arc in the next installment when we talk about friendships. This conversation is giving me insights and ideas. Can we list Kalinda’s known lovers and see if we have anything else to add about them?

G: We haven’t spent time on Lana. We need to. And I think Cary would make a good transition into friendships.

R: Kick us off with Lana. Mostly, I’m stuck on being disappointed at her absence in second half of this season. Is the actress busy?

Busy doing something other than this.
Busy doing something other than this.

G: Yes, the actress is very busy. They’ve always talked about scheduling problems with her. She was on a show called Royal Pains for a while, and now she’s on something called The Night Shift.

R: Lana shows up all the way back in S1 along with opinions about Kalinda having relations with the gentleman cop, and Kalinda is genius because she interrogates from the inside nationalistic ideas about queerness.

G: Yes. Lana is the Gold Star Lesbian. And Kalinda is in some ways the ultimate in American individualism—in her insistence on her particular sexuality and her particular independence—which makes her being a WOC of multi-national origin even more delicious. Oh, we also have to talk about Donna.

R: I love Donna. I had such high hopes for that interaction. Donna is the sincere socially responsible lesbian who wants to process everything. I think she gets who Kalinda was, but not who she wants to be. Lana is the badass lesbian who eats at expensive steakhouses catering to women.

G: I think there was a lack of continuity in the writing of Lana—perhaps due to the lack of continuity in J. Flint’s availability—but always she was asking more of Kalinda than Kalinda wanted to give—in time, in information, in professional movement, or in sexual self-definition. Donna wanted Kalinda’s tenderness and compassion to mean commitment on the terms that she, Donna, understood. It doesn’t mean that.

R: Also, Kalinda is not just tenderness and compassion. Her tremendous sensitivity and perceptive powers will also cut you. Boots of Justice forever!

G: This is true. I was illuminating tenderness and compassion as the surprising parts, or as the parts that someone like Donna would connect to. She missed the rest.

R: Agreed. I did think it was smart then that they brought in someone like that to be one of Kalinda’s exes. I think it opens up some space for how Cary tries to connect with Kalinda in Seasons 2 & 3, and I think in those seasons he makes the same mistake of thinking that being tender and compassionate toward Kalinda is the most effective means of protecting her. Or that caring about her and loving her means “protecting her.” Lana in the earlier seasons always seemed like she wanted to eat Kalinda alive and sop up the au jus. At a high-end steak restaurant.

G: You really like Lana and steak.

R: It’s a spirit portrait. You know the kind of restaurants I’m talking about, right? Place in Atlanta called “STK.” There’s a dress code. Also, there’s no way Lana is a vegetarian.


G: Agreed on all fronts. I think there was a lovely dramatic shift with their relationship in that sex scene at the end of S3, and it goes back to the relationship between work and love for Kalinda.

R: Oo, say more.

G: Well, K has shown her boundaries before this. You give your all to your work, but you cannot use work to hurt people, and particularly people you care for. She thought she and Lana had an agreement, that work mattered and that because it mattered equally to both of them they were allowed to use each other within limits—now THAT was a consensual power game, and you should have learned from that for S4, writers. But for Lana to take “it’s my job,” something that means a great deal to both of them, and use it to justify putting Kalinda at risk … it kind of annoys me that K went back to her so easily in S4 and S6.

R: Frankly, I think the writers were just running out of people for Kalinda to have scenes with.

You know, now that there's that thing we don't talk about.
You know, now that there’s that thing we don’t talk about.

G: That seems fair, yes. And then there’s Cary, who cannot recover from his desire that Kalinda be straight.

R: There’s nothing else to say about that. Just flush that mess down the toilet. It is tired.

G: Well, I think there was always so much more nuance to their friendship that had sexual tension in it. They blew it when the storyline got to the point where Cary could think he was “seeing” her, never mind this ludicrous season of referring to her as “his girlfriend.”

R: They would have served the storyline better if they let him be delusional about other aspects of his life. Then I could buy his attitude toward Kalinda as the mind of man desperate to not go to prison, and then confused later when he hasn’t.

Man on the edge of a nervous breakdown?
Man on the edge of a nervous breakdown?

G: YES. That would have been smart. Oh, I miss smart.

R: You and me both, honey. Next week we’ll talk about Kalinda’s transformative friendships with Alicia, Diane, and Will?

G: We shall! Gracious, Kalinda means a lot to us.

R: Yes. She has taught us a lot.

G: She surely has.

R: Now we must go forth and create with what she has given us.

Fly my pretties, fly!
Fly, my pretties, fly!

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