Character Study: Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife, Part 3

Read Parts 1 and 2 here and here.

We love to see you coming and we hate to see you go.
We love to see you coming and we hate to see you go.

Rasha: Shall we turn for a final time to her Kalindaness?

Gemma: I am kind of sad that this is the last serious occasion that we, or most critics, will have to discuss Kalinda.

R: Indeed. I may not have as much to say for this one as for ones previous, but it feels to me that Kalinda’s relationships to her friends deserves attention. You know, we can always write academic papers.

G: I’ve considered it, believe you me.

R: Dude, you should do it. I’d be glad to be a reader/editor/sounding board for you. We can roundtable that sh*t.

G: I’m in. Because I still maintain she represents a significant transition in the history of queerness on television.

R: Kalinda deserves to be known by science. She is like the wonders captured by the Hubble telescope.

G: Her wonders are only beginning to be visible on Earth.

Even from a distance, ever luminous.
Even from a distance, ever luminous.

R: YAS! How do you see that moment of transition re: queerness on TV?

G: Oh, lord, there are so many angles. For one, Kalinda has been genuinely queer, “flexible” per her term as you pointed out in the first installment. Although bi women characters were starting to come in before Kalinda (on House and the like), the bi woman on network seems to be treated as kind of a sexual exhibitionist before Kalinda. Kalinda is deeply committed to herself and her point of view, and at least for the first few seasons demanded that other characters respect that. Now that I say it that way, I think that’s the loss in and post-S4. Kalinda ceased to command the respect of other characters with regard to her personal life and her understanding of herself.

R: I’m curious to ask what you mean by “committed to herself and her point of view.” In my view, Kalinda doesn’t really operate as someone subject to the normative gaze of others or their framing of her—hence her answer to the question: who are you? which is always “I’m Kalinda.” If people look at her, her selfness just radiates back. I was going to say LIKE THE SUN because Kalinda makes me wax poetical.

G: Also, that’s the meaning of her name. :>D


G: Nope, completely serious. Look it up, it’s a well-trod concept in the fandom.

R: Somehow, time and space expanded to accommodate even more respect for Archie Panjabi. HOW DOES SHE KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH AN ACTING DIRECTION LIKE THAT? BUT SHE DOES.

G: Archie Panjabi is a genius. I think even more highly of her having watched her other work. She has beautiful craft anywhere she goes, and Kalinda remains sui generis within that.

Always, Panjabi's energy centers the scene.
Always, Panjabi’s energy centers the scene.

G: I think what you said reflects well on what I meant—Kalinda commands attention, but will not be subject to a gaze, normative or otherwise. She will participate in any dialogue that pertains to her, or she will blind you. And so her understanding of friendship, of who and how to trust, becomes essential.

R: I’m also curious which bi women characters you’re thinking of. Thirteen on House comes to mind, but all we ever see of her relationship with women is in an episode where she’s having a downwards spiral re: her health. After that, she’s dating Omar Epp’s character. And of course, on House, everyone else’s job is to wait around to be poked by Hugh Laurie.

G: Angela on Bones was also on my mind.

R: Thirteen’s relationship to work and other people does not feel queer. Angela had some queerness, though for me too much of it was lost in the free-love hippie aesthetic that came with it.

G: What makes a relationship to work feel queer?

R: In the case of Kalinda, I think the centering and grounding of self that she has, her sense of boundaries, create a zone in which she doesn’t conform to workplace norms. If something isn’t right with her, she says something. So yes, she pushes back for better pay because she knows she deserves it. She doesn’t let people ask for more information or attention from her than she thinks they deserve. She doesn’t check her sense of autonomous self at the reception desk, and I think that’s something most of us have to learn how to do through hard experience, particularly if we’re women, and especially if we’re living at the intersection of other identities– racial, ability, sexuality, citizenship.

Kalinda thrives at the margins.
Kalinda builds a life where she has agency.

R: In terms of her work relationships, I think her queering of work leads to her creating a selectively collegial sense of intimacy and trust with certain people. She has it with Will, and comes to develop it more with Diane, I’d say even through Season 5 (though I think that development has more to do with the titanic acting powers of Baranski and Panjabi combined than it does with the script). In the case of Alicia, I think it becomes more personal than those two, which leads us to the sticky and delightful experiences of S1-S3.

G: Ooh, this is good. I like the notion that queering work means that she creates her own norms and has the power, agency, and autonomy to do so in dialogue with other people’s existing workplace norms. I’d forgotten about that 50K-a-year-increase episode, the sharpness of the negotiation there.

R: Kalinda will hardball without ever raising an eyebrow or her voice. The facts are on her side, and she deploys them with extreme prejudice.

Kalinda brings it.

G: What I found fascinating about her relationship to Will was the strictness of its boundaries. Neither pushed beyond what the other was prepared to give (unlike with Alicia, where each, in her own way, did exactly that), but the strength of each one’s presence for the other was tremendous.

R: Yeah, the distance that comes between them in S5 when Will starts to lean on Boyle to do the backroom work for him is one of the first clues to me that Will was spiralling. Of course, what happened was that we lost Will, but that shift in his relationship with Kalinda felt like a projection to me.

G: Well, you definitely saw us losing Will, in one form or another, well before I did.

R: One of the things that’s brilliant about Will’s character is that he knows what to ask people for and how to use people in a team. It makes him very slippery ethically, but I think it also makes him someone that Kalinda could have for an employer/client. Keeping in mind that Kalinda is an independent contractor and likes it that way. Which is also queer. Some of us who can’t find a space to hold us in our lives and work end up making those spaces and opportunities for ourselves.

Oh, nothing … just chilling with my pal Will and queering the workplace.
Oh, nothing … just chillin’ with my pal Will and queerin’ the workplace.

G: Kalinda can handle people being slippery ethically because she isn’t so herself. She knows her own ethics so well, even as they are not necessarily shared with those who surround her, that she knows her job to be creating dialogue with the ethics of others, and she’s good at it.

R: I think you’re right, though I’m curious to hear more about how you see that showing up and what her ethics are. I think of Kalinda in contrast to Diane’s sense of ethics, which are SO strict. I have a hard time imagining Kalinda working for Diane alone, particularly the Diane of S1.

G: And yet, the genesis of the Kalinda-Diane relationship, and its use of ethics, came in S1. I think of two episodes: first, the one in which Diane had Kalinda investigate a man she was planning to get romantically involved with, and both she and Kalinda pretended it was a professional vet.

R: Kalinda definitely makes Diane feel naughty.

Which she should sometimes have the freedom to feel.
Which she should sometimes have the freedom to feel.

G: That’s part of it, yeah. But I think there’s something else to it, too, although as you said, maybe it’s what Baranski and Panjabi bring. That was ethically squicky, and yet it worked for Kalinda because it went unspoken. She would never do that if someone asked her to do it directly. But as it was, she saw vulnerability in Diane, and she used both of their boundaries to protect her.

R: I think Kalinda also creates trust with Diane by being someone who is capable of doing things that are necessary but perhaps a bit sneaky. I don’t imagine there are many people in Diane’s world who could help her the way Kalinda can. Whereas, I’m sure Will has other folks he could ask favors of, but he’s a connoisseur and knows that Kalinda is one of the best in the game.

G: But her relationship to Will I would also call a friendship. It goes beyond favors, and into presence. I’m not sure I would say that about Diane.

R: They seem like they were approaching it in S5, but then nothing was carried through to S6. I would agree with you that Kalinda has more of a friendship with Will. I’m thinking of the end of S3 when Kalinda meets him at a bar to ask for an advance on salary but won’t tell him why.

"I have to go …"
“I have to go …”

R: Were Will and Alicia and Kalinda ever in scenes together? I mean, ones that were significant?

G: No, but I did once read a fanfic where they had a threesome. But I digress.

R: Somehow, that isn’t at all interesting to me. You know that I fall harder for the romance of friendship in art than I do for hookups.

G: I hear that. Will and Kalinda trust that what goes unspoken between them NEEDS to go unspoken. They say everything they can say, and they know they respect each other’s reasons for not saying anything else. And what a loss for Kalinda that represents in S5, when the closest friend she’s left with is Cary, who demands All The Things.

R: Ugh. The way Cary does relationships is the opposite of everything Kalinda is and everything that makes her such a subtle lotus of revelation.

G: Can you imagine the kind of beauty we could have had if she and Alicia had been able to recover their friendship in that stretch? (WHICH WOULD HAVE MADE SENSE)

This wasn't really that significant.
These three were all together sometimes, but it wasn’t really that significant.

R: Yeah. To me, Kalinda’s interest in, initial impatience with, and increasing respect and affection for Alicia were so compelling, so complex, and didn’t at all have to be sexual to be that. I think probably Kalinda would have slept with Alicia earlier on in their relationship if it had at all been something someone like Alicia could conceive of. It’s interesting, but I think the way Alicia’s super hetero-straightness enters into the first three seasons, gives us a chance to see growth for Kalinda as a character.

G: YESSSS. Wait, one more thing about Diane before we move into Alicia. There was one more episode that mattered, the last episode of S1, in which many, many things happened to and with Kalinda, but the case was that a cop who had planned to go into the WPP with his wife after exposing a drug ring of corrupt cops was killed. (The WPP cop turned out to actually be the only corrupt cop in this particular scenario, but one of the others he had accused was the guy Kalinda was seeing.) Kalinda and Alicia found out it was his wife who had gotten him killed, but the city was already offering to settle with the wife. Diane and Will were both entirely down with quelching Alicia and Kalinda’s discovery and accepting the settlement. Kalinda was not down. There her own ethics came into conflict with even Diane’s, with the mores of the legal world.

R: To protect your own client above all else.

G: Right. Kalinda can play that legal concept as a game with Will sometimes, but when the stakes reach a certain level—and definitely when they reach people she’s decided to care about—she is out. Diane has mixed feelings about that, because of her passion for Law, Justice, and Her Own Career. Kalinda experiences conflicts, but she doesn’t experience mixed feelings. There’s a difference.

G: Lana was in there earlier. But the denouement is that Kalinda tells Tony what actually happened, quietly torpedoing the firm’s case.

R: And for Kalinda, I think, also torpedoing the relationship with Tony. Her willingness there to let go if it looks like there might be conflicts between her personal and work relationships seems to end with Alicia in the S3 finale. Kalinda’s choice to stay in that episode comes after she’s said goodbye to everyone but Alicia, and after Alicia’s call, she dumps out her packed bag and tucks in with a gun and a sledgehammer. O, the promise of that cliffhanger that was despoiled so quickly.

G: Oh, wow. Yes, rewatching those end-of-S3 episodes was devastating. So much was being built, so quickly and fully squandered.

Never coudl that season deliver on the promise of this moment.
Never could that season deliver on the promise of this moment.

R: It was interesting to see a friendship between two women that is more subtle and more transformative than a romantic relationship or even having a passionate career.

G: I liked what you said about Alicia’s straightness allowing the friendship to develop. Kalinda was, unquestionably, attracted to her, but she was attracted to her in all the ways, and knowing that Alicia was not for seducing made her open up to her, in a way, more deeply.

R: I think only in retrospect can I fully appreciate how important that was.

G: Well, even back in the first two seasons critics were talking about it as one of the more honest portrayals of female friendship on TV. I remember even seeing that in Cosmo. But the truth is, the Kings at one point in S3 spoke of it as the great romance of the show, and it really was for the first three seasons, and it gave the show a unique and, yes, queered power.

Kalinda was always deeply protective of Alicia, and surprised by the richness of friendship.
Kalinda was always deeply protective of Alicia, and surprised by the richness of friendship.

G: The reason people believe in the Margulies-Panjabi feud is because there is simply no explanation within the logic of the story.

R: Here’s the thing: we can be angry about how Nick was badly handled, wrongly cast. But the real mistake of S4 was making Kalinda’s conflict with an ex-husband take up her story arc. That was not her story. She’d already left and changed her name from that story. Kalinda was quite literally a different character. The real story arc of S4 should have been the deepening alliance between Alicia and Kalinda.

G: Well, I was excited about the prospect of the husband at the time (“the time” being the end of S3). Panjabi spoke about that story being an opportunity to reveal some of the logic of Kalinda as a character, and to have seen that reveal—you know, one that made sense—in CONJUNCTION with a healing and deepening relationship between Alicia and Kalinda would have been transcendent.

R: Even if the Kings were going to go for a parallelism of the two of them as “good wives,” which we’ve noted before they were terrible at trying to do, the interplay between their lives and their relationship with each other should have been the focus. I too longed for backstory on Kalinda, but I think we could even have gotten there without the resurrection of a zombie husband into the storyline. I think we’d see a very different dynamic between Alicia and Peter now if that had been the case. Think of the roles Kalinda could have played in Alicia’s campaign! She and Eli would have had a field day!!

G: Yes, that Kalinda-Eli relationship they were teasing at in S3 was delightful. It would have been fascinating to see Kalinda really working to support Alicia, in ways that Alicia understood and approved, in the gubernatorial campaign. I think one of the things that was beautiful about Kalinda and Alicia’s relationship so long ago was the work and identity interplay, which we discussed in our last installment. When Alicia said in “Ham Sandwich,” “I was different. We would’ve hated each other,” that’s what she was talking about. Kalinda feels her work feeds who she is, and she welcomes Alicia into a society of people who feel that way and are outsiders. Kalinda is an outsider both because she has to be and because she wants to be, and that lets Alicia feel she has some agency there, too. So if the husband had been a force to harm Kalinda’s work intelligently, rather than stupidly which was what happened, Alicia would have responded to that, I think.

R: I think Alicia’s role as a pariah after Peter’s public humiliation and downfall is something I’ve missed as she’s become so much more of a glossy battleship. I think you’re right in naming Kalinda’s friendship with Alicia as an opportunity to embrace outsider-ship. Now, it does feel a little like Alicia’s that kid in high school who suddenly got cool when she made the team and didn’t hang out with any of her old friends. Really, she’s on a path of alienation. It’s hard to see that as a natural or interesting result of “the Education of Alicia Florrick.”

Walking away from Kalinda is walking away from the most compelling relationships and stories.
Walking away from Kalinda is walking away from the most compelling relationships and stories.

G: Yes. And, again, if she still cared what Kalinda said or thought in a way that we as viewers could see, we’d have a real way of questioning her. As it is, we have to rely on Alicia’s own POV about herself, and that’s silly. The uniqueness of the Kalinda-Alicia relationship, too, was that each pushed the other’s boundaries, and thus her conception of herself, without ever asking her not to be who she was. TV rarely gets that about friendship. The only way Kalinda can trust someone is if that person takes her as she is, but the only way she can be really close to someone is if she admires them enough to trust them when they ask for more.

R: Rest in Peace. Rise in Power. I hope we get to see it again in the extra special selective project that Fox is looking for Panjabi to lead.

Somewhere, Kalinda is dreaming of us and all the adventures we'll have in her name.
Somewhere, Kalinda is dreaming of us and all the adventures we’ll have in her name.

G: May Kalinda’s transcendence be Panjabi’s too.

R: Praise Kindred.