Four years ago, The Good Wife‘s Kalinda Sharma was, undoubtedly, one of the most fascinating characters of the new fall TV slate. Mysterious, beautiful, badass, bisexual and of South Asian origin…what an explosive, and intriguing, combination. She made us teeter on the edge of our seats, breath bated as we tuned in to see what she’d do next. She was the unknown quantity on a tightly written legal drama, exquisitely played by Archie Panjabi and a wild card foil for Julianna Margulies’ more controlled Alicia Florrick. Viewers knew only that Kalinda was unscrupulous and had a checkered past, with the hints and details of that past dropping like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs over the course of seasons two and three. But now, as we delve into season four, it’s becoming clear that those crumbs were never actually a fully baked loaf. The writers took all of Kalinda’s badassery and potential and scattered it to the four winds before it had even really taken shape. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the casting of Kalinda’s husband, Nick.
Up until this point, Kalinda’s husband was the bogeyman, a shadow figure who led her to flee her old identity — not just running from him but also from who she used to be. On one level, bringing in someone, anyone, to embody that role is genius: Suddenly, Kalinda’s sick cat-and-mouse game with Blake makes sense; suddenly, her inability to process genuine affection makes sense. But in execution, Nick and this story arc are just as ill-conceived as the Blake arc was. Because The Good Wife, perhaps in an effort to capitalize on Fifty Shades of Grey, is trying to play Kalinda and Nick as both erotic and abusive. Kalinda’s fear of a husband that drove her to change her entire life has suddenly become mealy-mouthed muttering to Alicia that he’s not that dangerous. Why? Because she gets off on his treatment of her? Because she doesn’t want Alicia getting into her business? TGW, thus far, has chosen to hedge instead of saying outright. And that undercuts Kalinda as a character, weakens her and makes her really hard to watch.
It doesn’t help that Marc Warren’s Nick just doesn’t inspire enough fear or radiate enough charisma to warrant Kalinda’s flight or whatever convoluted game she’s playing now. Nick is a two-bit thug, and we’ve seen her eat people like him for breakfast. Why doesn’t she just shoot him in the face or break out that infamous bat and shatter his kneecaps? What’s so special about this guy that he can dominate her, terrorize her and up-end her life? Why is he a threat? TGW isn’t showing us in any meaningful way. Nick’s not scary, he’s not sexy; he’s just a little boy in leather who wants his toy back. Maybe a more imposing actor could pull it off, but I’m hesitant to pile all the blame on Warren. I think it’s a flaw in the writing more than his portrayal. He’s doing the best he can with a very flimsy premise.
It would be one thing if we were being told, explicitly, that Kalinda hated who she’d become in her relationship with Nick, that she fled their effed up dynamic and his head games. It would also work if we were shown that Kalinda is genuinely terrified of Nick and considers him abusive. But TGW seems to want titillation over actual character work and is retconning what little we do know of Kalinda’s past to fit that agenda. Since Nick’s arrival, Kalinda has vacillated between mild annoyance, passive resistance and outright defiance without acknowledging a sense of dread or ofher own weakness for what Nick offers her sexually or emotionally. Sure, she clocked him one and she checkmated him with Lana, but it’s not enough when she’s also baiting him and seeming to enjoy the rough play and she’s adrift from people like Alicia, Will and Cary. We know damn well she doesn’t care about Lana (could her expression during their love scene have been any more unenthusiastic?), so why should we care that she used her to roadblock Nick? It could be argued that she’s trying to protect the people she actually loves, but that’s not playing onscreen. It’s something the viewer has to assume…and we shouldn’t be assuming, we should be told. This is the same problem I have with Gideon Cross in Sylvia Day’s bestselling Crossfire series: He does things that neither Eva nor the reader are party to. And I don’t think that’s admirable or heroic; I think that’s being an asshole. The TGW writers need to decide what Kalinda is: an asshole, a victim or a kinky spouse who can’t let go. She could be all three, but I don’t think TGW is adept enough to pull off those layers. They’ve certainly failed so far. Archie Panjabi still plays Kalinda with grace and menace and a hint of vulnerability, but from a narrative standpoint Kalinda is one Good Wife who’s gone very, very bad.