Critics and fans alike have praised Archie Panjabi’s portrayal of The Good Wife’s sharp and quietly dangerous Kalinda Sharma. She even won an Emmy for the role. So why, over the past three years, have we seen Kalinda take a backseat on the show?
The Good Wife has had quite the five-year run and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. It’s one of the few network shows that gets the critical acclaim that cable and Netflix dramas do. The show burst onto the primetime network television scene in 2008 as a story about a disgraced politician’s wife, breaking ground with its bold tagline: “His scandal. Her story.” The “her” or “wife” in question is Alicia Florrick, played to nuanced and layered perfection by Julianna Margulies, who has become a regular at award shows for the role.
However, the “her” could just as easily have applied to any of the women on the show — Alicia, Kalinda and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) round out the female main characters. All have had their moments in the spotlight in seasons past. Characterization is something The Good Wife does very well, to the point that its guest starring roles are sought after. Wendy Scott Carr (Anika Noni Rose) and Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston) are just a few of the dynamic characters that have come in and out of The Good Wife’s revolving doors.
In the past five years, we’ve watched Alicia Florrick grow from a shell-shocked underdog, forced to reenter the world of law and compete with a crowd of associates half her age, to a confident and independent competitor, who can go toe-to-toe with the most corrupt lawyers and politicians in insanity-laced Illinois. Meanwhile, she navigates her struggle between work and home with a calculated and fierce determination.
Obviously, The Good Wife is first and foremost Alicia’s show. However, Kalinda’s role has decreased beyond a reasonable point, and it’s a shame. Kalinda Sharma was first introduced as the residential investigator at Alicia’s law firm, and she provided a lovely foil to Alicia’s controlled personality.
Where Alicia’s morality was black and white (especially at the beginning of the show), Kalinda’s was grey. Where Alicia tended to back down and respond in politeness, Kalinda pushed forward, willing to break a few laws to enforce the law. Kalinda’s bisexuality also played a part in her storyline, where the writers played with the boundary between Kalinda’s opportunistic nature and her feelings for her partners.
It’s not that the show has a bad history of utilizing its supporting characters. Main characters Alicia and Diane arguably interact less than any of the other characters on the series, but the show’s writers have shown that they are very capable of giving Diane a strong storyline. Through her political involvement, her own aspiration of becoming a judge and the struggles she faces in running a firm (and later running a firm by herself), Diane is certainly not a background character.
On a show where professionalism was very carefully maintained, it was great watching Alicia and Kalinda throw back shots together every once in a while. Kalinda’s character grew a little in the first couple of seasons. It was only natural that she grew out of her role as Alicia’s foil/friend who encouraged her to loosen up a little and think about herself every once in a while.
So, Kalinda and Alicia grew apart. Alicia found out that Kalinda had slept with Alicia’s husband and effectively ended their relationship. Alicia’s relationships with her boss Will Gardner (Josh Charles) and her husband Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) became the main relationships on the show. Alicia got promoted and left her firm to start her own firm.
Meanwhile, Kalinda took an uncharacteristic backseat in the action, as the writers (disappointingly) didn’t seem to know what to do with her. Kalinda’s skills never faded — she continued to be portrayed as an individual excellent at her job — but she took supporting roles: Will’s buddy or Diane’s right-hand woman.
It seemed hard to find a place for an investigator in all of the action—which is why it got confusing when a second investigator was added to the show, the younger and more optimistic Robyn Burdine (Jess Weixler). Kalinda did end up offering Robyn some mentoring, but Robyn soon left for another firm, leaving Kalinda…where?
The good news is that The Good Wife has a huge opening to bring Kalinda to the forefront this season. Following Josh Charles’ exit from the show (and the subsequent violent and sudden killing of his character Will), there’s a noticeable hole in the cast to fill.
The writers are bringing in Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode) to help fill the space, but wouldn’t this be a better time for Kalinda to take on some of that airtime? She could be very beneficial in helping Diane and Alicia consolidate their firms (they appear to be heading in that direction) and helping ward off the vultures that have been coming in since Will’s death and trying to destabilize his firm.
It’s a great time to bring Kalinda back to center stage. It would seem a disservice to Archie Panjabi’s acting to do otherwise, especially with a character that screams to be anywhere but the sidelines.