'The Good Wife' and its Kalinda problem

Archie-Panjabi.jpg

Image Credit: Justin Stephens/CBS

Is this the season Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) peaks, as a character? I think it may be: Her hubby-trouble subplot in the new season of The Good Wife has been so disconnected from the real meat of the episodes – the law firm in bankruptcy; the introduction of a marvelously low-key Nathan Lane as the firm’s fussily efficient appointed trustee; this week’s mini-showcase for Maura Tierney, who just becomes more beguiling, more forceful, more intriguing with every guest role she takes – that Julianna Margulies’ Alicia has even remarked on how detached Kalinda is from the rest of what’s going on.

The intrusion of Nick, Kalinda’s ex-husband and played by State of Play‘s Marc Warren as though he’d wandered in from Trainspotting, has thrown off the balance of the storytelling in the new season’s first two episodes. I really didn’t expect any grave danger to be inflicted upon Kalinda in the premiere as she waited with a gun, lights out, in that apartment, the quick pay-off to last-season’s cliffhanger. No way was Good Wife going to kill off/incapacitate Kalinda, right? And so the bickering that followed, along with Mark’s hanging around the law firm to make Kalinda uncomfortable, only served to make the viewer uncomfortable.

This Sunday, the whole he-hit-me-and-it-felt-like-a-kiss scenario left me thinking I might have had more fun, to judge from the reviews, if I’d gone out and seen Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy. And I almost never sit in front of my TV wishing I was at a movie. The Good Wife‘s much-bruited, down-yer-knickers, fingers in the ice cream scene made me laugh, and not in a good way.

A problem all successful TV shows have when a characters “pops,” becomes someone the audience wants to see more of, is in calibrating just how much more the audience needs to see. For a good long while, Kalinda was an excellent contrast to Alicia: Confident and unhindered by children or a regular relationship, with the added kick of kink that was usually applied briefly and wittily. When Kalinda and Alicia were dead to each other, we wanted them to be pals again, because it was fun to see two very different professional women bonding over work and a mutual contempt for the stupidities of (primarily) men. But now we get very little of that.

Which would be fine — characters evolve — except that it’s been replaced with a subplot that has a built-in short life-span (how many more weeks can the writers use Nick?), and so we have very little invested in it. Yes, I know that this week, Kalinda was an active help in the central case, and that by planting that premiere line from Alicia, The Good Wife must be revving up to do something to bring the Nick plot to a, you know, climax.

And to be sure, this is just about my only complaint about The Good Wife‘s new season, which is just dandy otherwise — who doesn’t like to see rich professional people in economic straits, or Edward Herrman returning to the defendant’s table as Lionel Deerfield, or James Urbaniak as a marvelously snotty judge? And I almost hate to lodge a complaint against the series at a time when it’s being buffeted about by ABC’s devilishly brilliant counter-programming of Revenge, siphoning off a certain amount of Good Wife‘s female audience.

But standards must be maintained on a show as excellent as The Good Wife. Something needs to be fixed with this Kalinda mess, and I’m just hoping that show creators Robert and Michelle King are playing me (and you) for a cat’s paw, and there’s a quick, satisfying resolution that puts Kalinda back in action and wary friendship beside Alicia once again. Soon.

Twitter: @kentucker


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