He Said/She Said

‘The Good Wife’: Has Season 4’s Kalinda Storyline Gone too Far?

Jace Lacob and Maria Elena Fernandez debate the merits and flaws of this season of CBS’ ‘The Good Wife.’

Jeffrey Neira / CBS

Archie Panjabi’s Emmy-winning turn as Kalinda Sharma has been one of the highlights of CBS’ stellar legal drama, The Good Wife. But something happened on the way to fleshing out the fiercely independent investigator’s storyline—and not everyone is thrilled about it.

Entertainment Weekly’s TV critic Ken Tucker last week criticized the show’s handling of the twisted dynamic between Panjabi’s Kalinda and Marc Warren’s Nick. “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,” wrote Tucker, “… the bickering that followed, along with [Nick] hanging around the law firm to make Kalinda uncomfortable, only served to make the viewer uncomfortable.”

It’s a viewpoint echoed by The A.V. Club’s David Sims, who wrote, “The Good Wife’s writers seem to have introduced her nasty husband Nick just to see how much they can get away with on CBS. The whole thing certainly isn’t dramatically effective, and aside from how gross it can get, it’s not very gripping.”

The Daily Beast’s Jace Lacob and Maria Elena Fernandez are at odds about the storyline and teamed up to discuss the highs and lows of The Good Wife’s Kalinda/Nick plot so far. (WARNING: The conversation below contains plot points from the season’s third episode, “Two Girls, One Code.” If you have yet to watch that episode, read at your own peril.)

He Said: I am taken aback by some of the reactions to this season’s Kalinda storyline, which I’m finding to be really revealing and intriguing. Kalinda has always been a fairly enigmatic, dark character and Season 4 of The Good Wife has begun to strip away the armor she wears in order to reveal why she is so damaged. We’re not meant to like Nick or root for him, but I am utterly captivated by their screwed up dynamic.

She Said: We’ve waited a long time to learn more about Kalinda, why she created another identity, and why she likes to keep a mysterious quality. My main complaint is that there’s no payoff. I don’t buy their relationship or the predicament she finds herself in at all. It has not been set up for us. And while we are not supposed to root for Nick, we are supposed to root for Kalinda. I don’t. I don’t feel anything for her.

He Said: You really don’t feel anything for Kalinda? That surprises me, because I feel a great deal for her during this storyline. The way that she looks at her wrist after her rough sex with Nick speaks volumes about her past as an abused wife who was little more than a possession for her obsessed, Svengali-like husband. The fact that he has tracked her down to Chicago to (A) get her back and reclaim her, and (B) get back the money she stole from him while he was in prison speaks a lot about the relationship here, as does the great skillet scene from last night’s episode. Their struggle—his of proto-traditional husband/wife dominance and submission and hers of freedom and independence—are at cross-purposes. He wants to own her and Kalinda wants to remind him that she can’t be owned. That it plays out in such a domestic setting, in a kitchen and he demands that she make him an omelet, is telling as well. There is real darkness in him and within her: he’s the source of her angst and why she can’t get close to anybody.

She Said: First of all, there’s nothing traditional going on here. This is a completely sadomasochistic, sick relationship.

He Said: Yes, but I only meant traditional in the sense of patriarchy: he wants her to fall in line with his whims and appetites, whether it is public sexual contact or, well, eggs.

She Said: Well, he definitely doesn’t have a hold over me. Worse than that, I don’t feel a thing for her and that’s the fault of the writers. The woman we have known is a tough, resilient person who changed as a result of whatever trouble she had in her past. It’s been fun to see how different she is from Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and just about everyone. Because of that, it’s not believable in the least to me that, after all this time, he would still have a hold on her. In the first episode of this season, I thought she was faking it because she’s got a plan. But now they’re in their sick rhythm and it should scare me. It should make me feel sad and worried for her. But it doesn’t. I feel extremely annoyed when they are on screen, and some of the stuff that’s happened between them is laughable.

He Said: Such as what?

She Said: The ice cream scene was ridiculous. If they were looking for it to have salacious impact, it was the opposite. It was downright silly. Then they went there again with the eggs in the kitchen. It’s almost like it’s a parody instead of a real story. And at the bottom of it all is that it’s impossible to believe that Kalinda would have ever been attracted to this man in the first place.

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He Said: I completely disagree, and I see both the ice cream cone scene and the omelet scene entirely differently. In both cases, it’s a power play in which Nick tries to regain his ownership over Kalinda. In the ice cream scene, it’s about trying to turn her on sexually in this public place, which she subverts. In the omelet sequence, it’s about him attempting to force her in the role of a dutiful wife, using language that screams “traditional gender roles.” He wants her to cook for him, to please him, to offer herself up. She’s little more than an object to him, something to be owned. In both cases, she kicks off—sometimes violently—those shackles. With the ice cream cone scene, she denies any pleasure from the encounter, emasculating him in the process. With the eggs, she swings both a skillet and a knife at him. He has a dangerous hold over her. Even though she’s repulsed and scared by him, she’s also excited at the same time. He has a psychosexual hold over her that is intentionally fraught with peril for the audience. But just like Alicia’s season finale theme (the question of whether you can ever truly go home again), Kalinda’s represents a darker side of the coin: what happens when your past catches up to you? I feel like Kalinda is who is she is because of this man and the terror and chaos he created in her life. He sees the fact that she didn’t run this time as an opening to worm his way into her life. I see it as the fact that she’s trying to hold her ground, even if she’s given to bouts of temporary weakness when it comes to their sexual past.

She Said: None of those explanations makes for good storytelling. That’s my problem here. I understand what Nick is doing. I just don’t care. I don’t buy that the Kalinda we were introduced to would react to him this way now. She turned her world upside down to end that horrible situation and the person we’ve seen completely kick ass, for example, where Blake was concerned, just would not fall in this trap again. Too much time has passed. If they wanted to go this way with her, they needed to show the audience hints of this in her psyche and character prior to Nick’s arrival. It’s a weak story.

He Said: Yet, they did show this element prior to now in the Blake storyline, which there are clear echoes of throughout. Their game of escalation is similarly enacted by Kalinda and Nick. He came to the firm in order to disrupt her workplace and throw off her balance. But he’s clearly becoming a more physical threat, if that’s possible after their parking lot throwdown. His targeting of Lana (Jill Flint) in this week’s episode was creepy, as was his insistence that Kalinda stop the “college dorm room” experimenting. Did you not cheer when she socked him after he called her a “dyke”? Because I did.

She Said: I will cheer when this story ends. And I wonder how I will feel about Kalinda when all is said and done. Right now, it feels as broken as those eggs.