Kalinda Sharma (The Good Wife)

Created by Michelle King and Richard King

Alicia: Are you gay?
Kalinda: I’m private.

CBS‘ hit legal drama The Good Wife, which ran from 2009 until 2016) was NOT a P.I. show.

But one of the major characters on it was, and for a few glorious seasons, we were treated to occasional glimpses of KALINDA SHARMAN, one of the best P.I.s on network television in years.

One of the 2009 television season’s most promising new dramas, it starred Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florric, mother of two and the feisty, principled wife of Peter, Illinois’ prominent state’s attorney (Chris Noth), who stands by her man when he’s arrested and sent to the slammer amidst charges of corruption and a sex scandal.

Humiliated, middle-aged and the focus of unwanted media scrutiny, Alicia’s steely resolves to take the high road, and throws herself back into the work force as a single mom/junior lawyer at a high-priced Chicago law firm. It’s that dramatic and unexpected moral underpinning that helps raise this one high above most pre-fab legal TV potboilers.

The real charm of the show, though, lies in its twisty, turny tumble of hidden agendas, lies and conspiracies, both personal and professional. Just when you have a character, a plot, a motive pinned down, the writers yank the rug out. Everyone, it seems, has something to hide. The show’s a tsunami of secrets; a tidal wave of political, legal and sexual intrigue that threatens to wash away everything in its path.

There is also–refreshingly–little black and white on display here, just endless variations of we say/they say, making this one of the few lawyer shows that goes beyond mere legal sleight-of-hand and simplistic finger-pointing to actually explore the true human cost and the vast gray areas of the legal system.

But nobody had more secrets–or prowled those gray areas better-than Kalinda, the firm’s tough, savvy, leather wrapped private investigator.  For my money, she was not just the most intriguing character on the show.

In fact, despite the numerous modern touches (data banks, computer hacking, cellphone taps and the oh-so-modern nods to her ambiguous sexuality), and the fact that she’s Indian-American, Kalinda is in many ways a throwback to the genre’s roots.

As played by Archie (Bend It like Beckham) Panjabi, she presented a tightly wound professionalism rarely seen in the genre these days, never mind on mainstream television. The leather she sported was not the skin-clinging stuff of adolescent centerfold fantasy (although she certainly wore it well) — rather, she wore it like armor; a thick shell to keep the world at bay.

Her antecedents weren’t nice guys like Jim Rockford or Thomas Magnum–nope, her roots went back much further, back to a time when private eyes weren’t automatically expected to be warm and cuddly.

Professionally she wasn’t just cold–she was Hammett-cold, hard and brassy when she had to be. Hell, the way she dispassionately worked her cases, facing down her enemies without flinching, standing up to violence, she could be The Continental Op‘s illegitimate daughter.

A shrewd and clever investigator, she’d do whatever and go wherever it tooks (from dumpster diving to infiltrating high school locker rooms to, yes, sleeping with someone to pry information from them) to get what she wanted, she’s a breath of fresh air and surprising complexity and moral ambiguity (Hmmm… maybe she’s Sam Spade‘s daugher…) in a genre that too often treats even major characters as shallow stick figures whose entire essence is delineated by the first commercial break.

The more we’re told about Kalinda, it turns out, the less we actually know.

Like much of the show, it wasn’t just her loyalty, ethics, allegiances and motives that are ultimately  shaded in ambivalence–her also personal life is also somewhere in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” area.

Is she a dispassionate hard ass who only lives for the job? Or an anything-goes party girl? Is she a lesbian? Bisexual? Straight as a crooked arrow? Asexual?

During her six years on the show, it was always hard to tell to get a hold on Kalinda–how much was really her and how much was simply a convenient persona to slip into?

But it was that frostiness, coupled with the murkiness of her background and her hard-boiled professionalism that kept me coming back. In the first season, it was revealed that she used to work for Peter, but later she seemed willing to sell him out to his political enemies. Or was she?

In the second season, however, Kalinda really came into her own, even as the veneer of her carefully guarded personal life oh-so-slowly started to slip. A merger brought Blake (Scott Porter), a professional rival, into the firm, but it was instantly obvious these two were not going to get along, either personally or professionally. And matters were exacerbated when Blake began to taunt Kalinda, dropping hints that he knew all about her past.

Suffice it to say she didn’t take it well. Given her buttoned-down aloofness, Kalinda’s hands-on attack on Blake’s unprotected car with a aluminium baseball bat is shocking and unsettling. But even giving into rage she’s still enough of a hard-ass to challenge a witness who stumbles onto her impulsive act of vandalism in the deserted parking garage. “What the hell are you looking at?” she snaps at the awestruck citizen. “Call the police!”

And then, as the citizen scurries off to alert the authorites, she continues to destroy the car.

Now that’s cold.

Later on that season an old lover, Donna (brilliantly played by Lili Tyler), also shows up, with an unspecified axe to grind, although it has something to do with Kalinda not being “domestic” enough–whatever that means.

Alas, in the last few years of her run on the show, Kalinda’s screen time was severely reduced (supposedly Punjabi and the show’s lead, Margolis, didn’t get along), and she became just another great character in a show full of them.

The last few years of her were particularly disappointing for Kalinda fans,, but even then, she remained absolutely riveting to watch, the held-in-check ambivalence and ambiguity a facet of her evolving character; not a cookie cutter substitute for actual depth.

Imagine! An old fashioned gumshoe, actually working cases on behalf of a client. No ghostly visitors providing convenient clues, no psychic baloney, no CSI voodoo, no burned spies, no OC cases, no human lie detectors, no personal agendas on every single case–just a hard-boiled dick who gets hired to investigate and actually work cases.

How long has it been since we’ve seen THAT? On network television?

Her much trumpeted farewell, with Kalinda betraying a violent drug dealer in an attempt to protect her friends, ends with her facing off against the dealer’s slimy toad of a lawyer, who realizes what a ruthless piece of work she is. He asks her, almost in desperation–his own days may be numbered–if she’d consider teaming up with him.

“No, I’m good,” she says, her last lines of her six-year run.

No, she was great.

 *  *  *  * *

The creators and chief writers of the show, Robert King and Michelle King, have been married since 1987.

THE EVIDENCE

  • “When you pick up a gun, you shoot to kill. Or you don’t pick up a gun at all.”
    Kalinda
  • Kalinda: You can’t ask me and I can’t tell you, but don’t conclude from what I’m saying it’s what you think.
    Alicia: Okay. Can you be any more specific?
  • “My marriage is none of your F***ING business!”
    — Peter takes a stand during a press conference.
  • Alicia: “You sound sarcastic.”
    Kalinda: “No, that was me being genuine.”

UM, ABOUT THAT EPISODE…

  • (SPOILER ALERT) More than a few folks (including my sister-in-law) were shocked and/or appalled by the death of attorney Will Gardner, with whom Alicia had been having a long-running, off-and-on affair. Many viewers were so angry they refused to watch the show after that at all. It was their loss.
    The death, which really did arrive without any fanfare, was no glib, cynical (and quickly dismissed)  “gotcha!” plot twist, but to me, a brave creative decision. To the show’s credit, the aftereffects of Will’s death carried true emotional weight, and were allowed to rattle around in the lives of the other characters for the remainder of the show’s run. Killing him off closed out  a plot thread that had been spinning its wheels, and opened up some welcome new plot directions and challenges for other characters, particularly Alicia.

UNDER OATH

  • “Just like Bogie–and just like Bacall: that’s the secret of Kalinda Sharma. She’s a mash-up of film noir archetypes (and gender roles), both gumshoe and femme fatale, tough broad and heartbroken sap. The knee-high leather boots get the attention, but it’s the luminous brown eyes, always alert, that tell the story. Panjabi takes a genre cliche–the combination of hard shell and tender interior–and redeems it by maintaining a constant but perfectly poised intensity, one whose tight control only emphasizes its operatic force. She provides a crucial emotional counterweight to Julianna Margulies’s equally powerful performance as Alicia Florrick, the good and mad wife. Kalinda smolders so that Alicia can burn.”
    — Mike Hale (September 18, 2011, The New York Times Magazine)
  • “Next time someone tells you that only cable can make smart, adult drama successfully, point them here… going into its second season, it’s become so much more: a political thriller, a family drama and a darn good case-of-the-week courtroom show. In each storyline, The Good Wife displays a moral complexity that most big-network drama has given up on, asking what ethical tradeoffs are justifiable for legal success, political gain and personal happiness.”
    — “Top 10 TV Shows 2010” (Time Magazine)

TELEVISION

  • THE GOOD WIFE
    (2009-16, United Artists)
    Created by Michelle King and Richard King
    Writers: Michelle King, Richard King
    Starring Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick
    With Chris Noth as Peter Florrick
    Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart
    Josh Charles as Will Gardner
    Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos
    Alan Cumming as Eli Gold
    and Archie Panjabi as KALINDA SHARMA
    Also starring Lili Taylor, Scott Porter, Michael J. Fox, Lou Dobbs, Gary Cole

    • SEASON ONE | Buy this DVD | Watch it now
    • “Pilot” (September 22, 2009)
    • “Stripped” (September 29, 2009)
    • “You Can’t Go Home Again” (October 6, 2009)
    • “Fixed” (October 13, 2009)
    • “Crash” (October 20, 2009)
    • “Conjugal” (November 3, 2009)
    • “Unorthodox” (November 10, 2009)
    • “Unprepared” (November 17, 2009)
    • “Threesome” (November 24, 2009)
    • “Lifeguard” (December 15, 2009)
    • “Infamy” (January 5, 2010)
    • “Painkiller” (January 12, 2010)
    • “Bad” (February 2, 2010)
    • “Hi” (February 9, 2010)
    • “Bang” (March 2, 2010)
    • “Fleas” (March 9, 2010)
    • “Heart” (March 16, 2010)
    • “Doubt” (April 6, 2010)
    • “Boom” (April 27, 2010)
    • “Mock” (May 4, 2010)
    • “Unplugged” (May 11, 2010)
    • “Hybristophilia” (May 18, 2010)
    • “Running” (May 25, 2010)
    • SEASON TWO |Buy this DVD Watch it now
    • “Taking Control” (September 28, 2010)
    • “Double Jeopardy” (October 5, 2010)
    • “Breaking Fast” (October 12, 2010)
    • “Cleaning House” (October 19, 2010)
    • “VIP Treatment” (October 26, 2010)
    • “Poisoned Pill” (November 9, 2010)
    • “Bad Girls” (November 16, 2010)
    • “On Tap” (November 23, 2010)
    • “Nine Hours” (December 14, 2010)
    • “Breaking Up” (January 11, 2011)
    • “Two Courts” (January 18, 2011)
    • “Silly Season” (February 1, 2011)
    • “Real Deal” (February 8, 2011)
    • “Net Worth” (February 15, 2011)
    • “Silver Bullet” (February 22, 2011)
    • “Great Firewall” (March 1, 2011)
    • “Ham Sandwich” (March 22, 2011)
    • “Killer Song” (March 29, 2011)
    • “Wrongful Termination” (April 5, 2011)
    • “Foreign Affairs” (April 12, 2011)
    • “In Sickness” (May 3, 2011)
    • “Getting Off ” (May 10, 2011)
    • “Closing Arguments” (May 17, 2011)
    • SEASON THREE |Buy this DVD Watch it now
    • “The New Day” (September 25, 2011)
    • “The Death Zone” (October 2, 2011)
    • “Get a Room” (October 9, 2011)
    • “Feeding the Rat” (October 16, 2011)
    • “Marthas and Caitlins” (October 23, 2011)
    • “Affairs of State” (October 30, 2011)
    • “Executive Order 13224” (November 6, 2011)
    • “Death Row Tip” (November 13, 2011)
    • “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (November 20, 2011)
    • “Parenting Made Easy” (December 4, 2011)
    • “What Went Wrong” (December 11, 2011)
    • “Alienation of Affection” (January 8, 2012)
    • “Bitcoin for Dummies” (January 15, 2012)
    • “Another Ham Sandwich” (January 29, 2012)
    • “Live From Damascus” (February 19, 2012)
    • “After The Fall” (March 4, 2012)
    • “Long Way Home” (March 11, 2012)
    • “Gloves Come Off” (March 18, 2012)
    • “Blue Ribbon Panel” (March 25, 2012)
    • “Pants On Fire” (April 15, 2012)
    • “The Penalty Box” (April 22, 2012)
    • “The Dream Team” (April 29, 2012)
    • SEASON FOUR | Buy on DVD | Watch it now
    • “I Fought the Law” (September 30, 2012)
    • “And The Law Won” (October 7, 2012)
    • “Two Girls, One Code” (October 14, 2012)
    • “Don’t Haze Me, Bro” (October 21, 2012)
    • “Waiting for the Knock” (October 28, 2012)
    • “The Art of War” (November 4, 2012)
    • “Anatomy of a Joke” (November 11, 2012)
    • “Here Comes the Judge” (November 18, 2012)
    • “A Defense of Marriage” (November 25, 2012)
    • “Battle of the Proxies” (December 2, 2012)
    • “Boom De Yah Da” (January 6, 2013)
    • “Je Ne Sais What?” (January 13, 2013)
    • “The Seven Day Rule” (January 27, 2013)
    • “Red Team/Blue Team” (February 17, 2013)
    • “Going For The Gold” (March 3, 2013)
    • “Runnin’ With The Devil” (March 10, 2013)
    • “Invitation To An Inquest” (March 17, 2013)
    • “Death of a Client” (March 24, 2013)
    • “The Wheels of Justice” (March 31, 2013)
    • “Rape: A Modern Perspective” (April 14, 2013)
    • “A More Perfect Union” (April 21, 2013)
    • “What’s In The Box?” (April 28, 2013)
    • SEASON FIVE | Buy on DVD | Watch it now
    • “What Love Means” (unaired)
    • “Everything is Ending” (September 29, 2013)
    • “The Bit Bucket” (October 6, 2013)
    • “A Precious Commodity” (October 13, 2013)
    • “Outside the Bubble” (October 20, 2013)
    • “Hitting the Fan” (October 27, 2013)
    • “The Next Day” (November 3, 2013)
    • “The Next Week” (November 10, 2013)
    • “The Next Month” (November 17, 2013)
    • “Whack-a-mole” (November 24, 2013)
    • “The Decision Tree” (December 1, 2013)
    • “Goliath and David” (January 5, 2014)
    • “We, the Juries” (January 12, 2014)
    • “Parallel Construction, Bitches” (March 9, 2014)
    • “A Few Words” (March 16, 2014)
    • “Dramatics, Your Honor” (March 23, 2014)
    • “The Last Call” (March 30, 2014)
    • “A Material World” (April 13, 2014)
    • “All Tapped Ou” (April 20, 2014)
    • “Tying The Kno” (April 27, 2014)
    • “The Deep Web” (May 4, 2014)
    • “The One Percent” (May 11, 2014)
    • “A Weird Year” (May 18, 2014)
    • SEASON SIX | Buy on DVD |Watch it now
    • “The Line” (September 21, 2014)
    • “Trust Issues” (September 28, 2014)
    • “Dear God” (October 5, 2014)
    • “Oppo Research” (October 12, 2014)
    • “Shiny Objects” (October 19, 2014)
    • “Old Spice” (October 26, 2014)
    • “Message Discipline” (November 2, 2014)
    • “Red Zone” (November 9, 2014)
    • “Sticky Content” (November 16, 2014)
    • “The Trial” (November 23, 2014)
    • “Hail Mary” (January 4, 2015)
    • “The Debate” (January 11, 2015)
    • “Dark Money” (March 1, 2015)
    • “Mind’s Eye” (March 8, 2015)
    • “Open Source” (March 15, 2015)
    • “Red Meat” (March 22, 2015)
    • “Undisclosed Recipients” (March 29, 2015)
    • “Loser Edit” (April 5, 2015)
    • “Winning Ugly” (April 12, 2015)
    • “The Deconstruction” (April 26, 2015)
    • “Don’t Fail” (May 3, 2015)
    • “Wanna Partner?” (May 10, 2015)
    • SEASON SEVEN | Buy on DVD
    • “Bond” (October 4, 2015)
    • “Innocents” (October 11, 2015)
    • “Cooked” (October 18, 2015)
    • “Taxed” (October 25, 2015)
    • “Payback” (November 1, 2015)
    • “Lies” (November 8, 2015)
    • “Driven” (November 15, 2015)
    • “Restraint” (November 22, 2015)
    • “Discovery” (November 29, 2015)
    • “KSR” (December 13, 2015)
    • “Iowa” (January 10, 2016)
    • “Tracks” (January 16, 2016)
    • “Judged” (January 31, 2016)
    • “Monday” (February 14, 2016)
    • “Targets” (February 21, 2016)
    • “Hearing” (February 28, 2016)
    • “Shoot” (March 20, 2016)
    • “Unmanned” (March 27, 2016)
    • “Landing” (April 17, 2016)
    • “Party” (April 24, 2016)
    • “Verdict” (May 1, 2016)
    • “End” (May 8, 2016)

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Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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