When The Good Wife was first screened in the UK – long before I discovered the joys of doing away with an actual TV set, TV Channels and the arduous tortures of routine ad breaks in favour of online streaming – it was marketed horribly. In a clutter of unavoidable adverts they (stand your ass up, E4!) portrayed the show as being a wholesome yet sexy(!) filler for housewives still mourning the loss of Sex and the City, focusing publicity on the fact that it starred the dude who played Big and the main woman who shagged George Clooney in ER.
The way that E4 told it, The Good Wife was a show pitched somewhere between Sex and the City and Law and Order. It was a soapish-serial about a naughty husband and his played upon wife who was forced back into work because he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. She wore beautiful clothes and had beautiful hair and would look great whilst she argued stuff in Court. She would also drink lots of wine, because this is the common trait amongst all suffering women, obviously: our shameful lust for Rioja.
It looked, by all accounts, like a cynical attempt to fill a gap in the market, targeting a demographic which TV executives only know about from a monthly half hour phone conversation with their own mothers. It seemed contrived and shallow. All pant suits and no business. But I – and the advertising genius’ over at E4 – got it completely wrong.
As the ever astute Emily Nussbaum once perfectly put it in this magnificent celebration – The Good Wife isn’t just a show that can be reduced as one ‘for women’. It truly is and has always been one of the smartest shows on television, ‘a sneaky condemnation of every institution under capitalism’ as Nussbaum nailed it. It’s sharp, satirical, biting, witty and unique. TGW is a powerhouse of contemporary storytelling, yielding influence from affairs so current that you wonder how a story you only heard about last week could be the central presence in the episode you’re watching this week.
And whilst the show was clearly something different – and exceptional – to everything else television was offering me at the time, the one character who really sucked me into the show was Kalinda Sharma.
A clear outsider amongst the crisp, buttoned down, power dressing white women of the shows first season, Kalinda was a marvel, strutting around law offices, court rooms and crime scenes with an armour of dark leather, a whip of black pony tail and a sexually provocative attitude which could manipulate both men and women into spilling whatever winning detail necessary to help her team win the case.
In the first two seasons Kalinda’s sexuality was empowering, intelligent and deliciously ambigious – when characters would question her sexual preferences she’d respond with a wry roll of the eyes and a devil may care shrug which suggested what those of us with less than straightforward sexualities always feel: it isn’t something which can so easily be stuffed into any one box and stamped with the restriction of one defining label.
In short, tequila drinking, super-smart, fabulously queer, leather clad Kalinda Sharma was my girl. It felt like I’d waited a lifetime to see such a character but just as she arrived, she began to slowly slip away from us too.
Kalinda is a character who was meant for original, unique storytelling. Mysterious from the offset and intensely private, there was so much more potential for her character’s arc than what she was eventually given. At her most essential, Kalinda is the sort of character which men have had the opportunity to portray for decades. An enigmatic, powerful bachelor(ette) sitting on a set of secrets and ploughing through a set of sexual proclivities with random suitors who can both satisfy sexually and professionally. Amen to that, sister.
Alicia and Kalinda’s developing friendship, of tequila shots and long, tipsy conversations around a bar, was also one of the greatest depictions of female friendship that I’d ever seen on TV. So when the bombshell was eventually revealed that Kalinda had previously slept with Alicia’s husband, it was truly devastating and also felt like the perfect opportunity to break from that old ferocious cliché of the two female friends split apart by a man. These are smart, confident, capable women – surely Alicia would never eternally shame another woman for sleeping with her no good, bastard of a husband?
TGW never quite recovered from that problem. Once cast out from Alicia’s friendship, Kalinda became something of a spare part, like those female characters in TV sitcoms who simply get written out completely once they stop being of necessity to their male counterparts.
In fact, Kalinda became a parody of herself. I don’t want to buy into the rumours of an on-set rift between Juliana Margulies and Archie Panjabi because holy fuck is that some high school garbage if it’s true, but it truly did feel as though Panjabi was being punished for something. In the increasingly reduced amount of screen time her character was offered, she was given the worst dialogue and storylines imaginable including a cringe worthy scene where she ate an ice cream that her ex-husband had sullied with her own vaginal juices (who doesn’t love a bit of public fingering in a family friendly establishment?) and countless plot lines in which Kalinda Sharma was no longer some kind of a superwoman, but a bare husk of a mortal using what used to be a cape as a stage for her weekly scenes of dutiful seduction.
In an otherwise perfect show, Kalinda had become an awkward blip – no longer a misfit to be celebrated but an oddity with little to no engagement with the characters who inhabited the core of TGW. For a show which champions female narrative and consistently pushes boundaries in terms of female and queer representation, it’s disappointing to think that the potential issue at the heart of the ruin of Kalinda Sharma’s character could be a simple clash of personalities behind the scenes.
Many different news outlets have rightfully questioned the authenticity of many of Panjabi’s final scenes in the show – did you notice that Alicia and Kalinda shared barely any actual face to face screen time together in the past four seasons? – with a poorly executed bar scene between the two women feeling completely disembodied and flat, as though they were acting against a stand in rather than each other.
I don’t know about you but I’d like to think that the millions of dollars I’d racked up over the years to star in one of the smartest shows on television would be enough of an incentive to bury the hatchet with someone enough to spend quarter of a day filming a two minute bar scene. Hell, you could have even made that tequila real if it would have softened the blow, ladies.
In a show which thrives off the corruption of capitalist institutions, it feels ironic that such corruption at the heart of a successful show could be the puny straw that broke its back. Apparently no money in the World can fix two women at war with each other, which isn’t just pathetic, it’s fucking embarrassing.
For a character who was so swiftly demoted from ‘Emmy Award Winning fan favourite’ to ‘sex scene of the week cameo’ it feels almost sickeningly fitting that the writers should have developed Kalinda’s character arc in the way that they did – with all the finesse of many an immature, mishandled seduction.
At the beginning we have the writers clearly enamoured with Ms Sharma and tripping over themselves to develop and discover more about her before realising that they couldn’t actually measure up to the fantasy that they’d created! Oops! But instead of just making a clean break of it, they play her out. They see her less. They speak of her less. They ignore everything that makes her a multi-faceted human and turn her into a cipher, reducing her to a rotary of sexual activity and little else until one day BAM! – she was gone completely. A one time dream girl we were never allowed to get to know as intimately as we would have liked.
The Good Wife didn’t just completely fail their best character, they failed their audience too.
Goodbye Queen. Tequila’s are on me.