Panjabi's Kalinda will appear in the Season 6 finale, but she bid a very direct adieu to us last Sunday. Always with an exit strategy, Kalinda decided to leave town after Cary (Matt Czuchry) foiled her scheme to pin the handover of the Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter) evidence on his minion Dexter. She turned to Grace (Makenzie Vega) — and the camera — and did this:
Keeping in mind that a marginally bigger sendoff might be in the cards on the May 10 finale, many fans have cried foul over this low-key, brief meta departure not being worthy of the goddess that is Miss Boots of Justice. But if that "goodbye" had been the last time we were gonna see her, I would be OK with it. It was blunt, so very Kalinda — vanishing into that good night — and, most bittersweet of all, emblematic of the strange, frustrating course her character has taken the past two years: untapped potential to do more.
Kalinda was a breakout fan favorite and groundbreaking character from the get-go, an enigmatic, sexually liberated woman of color with complexity and agency. Equally fascinating was her friendship with Alicia (Julianna Margulies), which at its early seasons peak, was one of the best between adult women on television. Two very different women, down to their diametrically opposed job obligations — sultry P.I. doing whatever it takes to get the job done and housewife-turned-lawyer playing inside the legal arena — bonded, opened up to each other and downed tequila shots.
But as is well documented, Kalinda and Alicia haven't appeared together in a scene since halfway through Season 4 on Feb. 17, 2013. That's 50 episodes ago. (This will come to an end in the finale.) Rumors abound as to why they've been apart, but creators Robert and Michelle King have maintained that the separation is intentional, due to the bombshell at the end of Season 2 that Kalinda slept with Alicia's husband Peter (Chris Noth) before she and Alicia ever met. Margulies also told The Huffington Post in April 2013 that she believes the Kalicia relationship is "played out."
While it is understandable and plausible for a friendship to be beyond repair after one sleeps with another's husband, nothing the show did in the nearly two years prior to and two-plus years since that final Kalicia interaction suggests that they are completely, irrevocably dunzo. They appeared to start anew when Kalinda helped Alicia find Grace in Season 3. In early Season 4, it was Alicia who expressed concern about Kalinda's violent ex-husband, Nick, in that quickly aborted abomination of a story line, and they both acknowledged that they "missed this" after Kalinda brought Alicia clothes in Minnesota. Since their physical separation, Kalinda and Alicia continue to amicably work together, interacting via phone calls — which, of course, in the (scripted) words of Robert Downey Jr., can be "shot separately from that insane actress that I hate." If you knew absolutely nothing about The Good Wife and watched one of these episodes, you'd probably never guess that these people's relationship is "played out."
And therein lies the rub. The frustration is not just that they haven't physically shared space in so long, but also because it's still unclear where exactly they stand. If they are no longer friends, nothing was shown to indicate that and validate the separation, which started after they spent a year slowly getting back on track. (Hell, when has not being friends ever stopped people from interacting on a TV show?) Instead, the show carries on like nothing odd is afoot, but the two never interact or address their issues in depth. At times, it even seems to ret-con and downplay the importance of the Kalicia relationship back in the nascent stages of the show. After he confronted her about the Peter affair earlier this season, Kalinda told Eli (Alan Cumming) she wasn't and hadn't been Alicia's "best friend." "Uh, out of all those things I just said, you find objectionable the best friend charge?" he replies. It all plays into a confusing limbo that makes scenes like Kalinda surveying Alicia's family photos in her apartment last week feel unearned and forced without duly invested time in this rift.
If the point of separating Kalinda and Alicia is to develop and grow each of them, that hasn't exactly panned out for the former. The Good Wife is about Alicia Florrick, so she will never be thirsty for new, exciting stories, which Margulies has handled with usual aplomb the past two years. After admitting to the Nick misstep ("You don't give James Bond a girlfriend"), the Kings have over-corrected and we haven't gotten a peek into Kalinda's life and backstory since, coinciding with the Kalicia scene split. But because the construct of her character is caked in mystery, Kalinda needs ties to other main characters to open her up. (The Will/Kalinda friendship is also sorely missed.) What we got, however, was a gradual phase-out, her use limited to her bad-ass info-retrieving skills, seductive bed-hopping skills and apparent phone-talking skills. She occasionally interacted with Cary and Diane (Christine Baranski) this season, but her final arc was babysitting a drug kingpin's son. What was once a three-dimensional, alluring character is now sadly tertiary.
Five years ago, I probably wouldn't have been able to picture The Good Wife without Kalinda, but now? When news broke of Panjabi's forthcoming departure in October, my first thought was, "Good." (No pun intended.) Kalinda has been sidelined for two years. I'd rather not spend another 22 episodes waiting for Kalinda and Alicia to interact, or waiting to find out how her brilliant mind operates (lest we forget, we learned how the mind of Elsbeth, a recurring character, works). I'd rather she leave now and free up the show to hopefully find new creative avenues and stories to tell without having to spend time coming up with ways to intercut phone call scenes.
Am I upset Kalinda's been marginalized this way? Sure — every Good Wife fan is — but it's been so long that, unfortunately, I'm used to it, so now it's all just a relief. They've written Kalinda and the Kalicia relationship to a point that it's time for her and us to move on. No matter what does or doesn't happen between Kalinda and Alicia in the finale, I won't be sad about her exit because I won't miss this Kalinda. The real Kalinda left us a while ago.
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9/8c on CBS. Will you miss Kalinda?
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
VIDEO: Relive The Good Wife's best elevator moments