The Good Wife Drags Out Kalinda’s Abuse Story While Failing To Define It
By Alex Cranz
When you’re writing a play you can afford to be esoteric. You can use symbolism and leave things up to the reader’s imagination. Plays are a collaborative form of art and you’re never to say what a character is thinking unless in a monologue.
In film you have to spell everything out. You detail how a character reacts and you detail why nothing can be left to chance in a screenplay. Nothing can be open to interpretation.
But sometimes a film or television show puts faith in their audience and they’re creative staff. They invite others to interpret. They leave the details murky and consequently fill out their world and introduce nuance. The best shows on television often do this and some of the best characters on television embody this invitation to decode the story.
Look at Mandy Patinkin’s Saul on Homeland or look at Kalinda. She’s a sometimes tropish mysterious bisexual woman who uses sex to get what she wants. Where the show avoids the trope is in how much time they devote to her and her character. She’s a lead in what often threatens to become an ensemble show and its tremendous fun tuning in each week to try and figure out exactly what’s going on in her head.
The problem with Kalinda is she’s turned into a M. Night Shylaman film. We always look for a twist when Shylaman is directing and we’re so accustomed to Kalinda being a great mystery that we look for it even when there is none. Her current storyline with Nick isn’t mysterious. There is no quirky Kalinda kink at play or some long con that only Kalinda is privy to. Everything, her motivations and her failings, have been outlined from the get go.
Her husband comes into town and she’s forced to deal with him or risk him going after Alicia. So she does. Because he’s horrible and emotionally and physically abusive Kalinda’s control of the situation unravels and each week she tries, in little ways, to regain some control. This week she tries by wasting eggs and beaning him with a frying pan. That doesn’t work. So she seeks out poor Lana and waves her in Nick’s face hoping he’ll take the bait and go after her. He does and that’s when commitment shy Kalinda declares Lana is her girlfriend and a federal agent.
It’s her first successful attempt at regaining control of the situation. Too bad her story is entirely separate from everything else going on on the show, incredibly muddled by the show’s decision to make her abuse vaguely titillating and a little, dare I say, boring.
And it’s precisely because of what has made Kalinda fascinating in the past. She’s mysterious. It’s worked before because she was working hand in hand with Alicia so we saw her through Alicia and they bounced off one another allowing Kalinda to develop even as she gave very little up. When Kalinda is left to carry stories by herself things flounder. It’s as though they refuse to develop her as a character of her very own and instead rely entirely on her “mystery” to keep her interesting. In a show defined by the dynamic quality of its characters Kalinda has become completely static.
In most other episodes I would have rolled my eyes at just how predictably opaque Kalinda is. She’s reverting and we’re given no insight into why or, more importantly, why we should care beyond our desire to see Archie Panjabi act.
But this week she wasn’t the only one. Alicia drifted back into old habits that aren’t necessarily as destructive (what with taking back a philandering husband in no way being the same as engaging in a relationship with an abusive husband). Alicia spent half the episode nervously wondering if her affair with Will was about to be exposed by yet another savvy Southern reporter. Thanks to Eli’s ability to sit in a room and glare or something she learns she’s in the clear but that Peter may have cheated on her. Again.
Kalinda, in her one moment of glory all episode, tracks down the alleged lover and quickly sorts out she’s a big, fat liar. And Alicia reacts to the news by letting Peter back into her life. They’ve been flirting up to this point. Coy smiles and fond remembrances have shown just how deep their connection is, but Alicia’s maintained a grasp of her anger with him over the past infidelities and kept him at arm’s length. There’s such relief in her eyes when she realizes he was telling the truth for once. Is it smart to tear down all the walls between them just because he didn’t sleep with one woman? Probably not–but Alicia has been exhausting herself keeping him at arm’s length and it’s remarkable how quickly she shifts into the old relationship just knowing she can share a modicum of trust with him.
Remarkable and utterly heartbreaking.
- The case this week was all about search engine rankings. As a webmaster who has done her fair share of SEO work this hit a big ol’ nerd bone and kind of trumped all the weird Kalinda stuff.
- But the gag of Junior Soprano being old and deaf but technically savvy was older than his ear hair.
- I love Matt Czuchry, enough that I can spell his name sans reference, but why is he on the show? Are they going to use him at some point? I think Jill Flint had more lines in this episode than he did.
- Speaking of the Flintster, what a waste of Lana. Yes it was nice that someone noticed Kalinda is not okay and not just because she’s been absent from work, but it was still nauseating seeing her used by both the plot and Kalinda.
- Though it led to the pretty fantastic dyke punch moment.
- Eli Gold was also a straight plot device this week. The entirety of his dealings with the reporter happened off-screen. That’s like talking about the big battle instead of showing it. No thanks!
- There’s a but here though. Eli interacting with Alicia and being NERVOUS about it was a delight.
- I miss Jackie and I like the mention of Alicia’s mom. Stockard Channing will be playing her later this season and all of my current criticism will fly out the window.