April 26, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), CBS
The Good Wife has always been less one show than four or five shows crammed into one. One of the most impressive things about the series is the way that, at its best, it juggles a seemingly impossible number of plotlines with ease. It is simultaneously a legal procedural and a legal soap opera, a show about politics both interpersonal and at a macro level, the story of one woman and the story of the system she works in. Keeping that many plates spinning has at times been the show’s undoing (remember Kalinda’s husband? Yeah, unfortunately, so do I), but just as often it is what makes the show one of the best things on television.
The most frequent brunt of the show’s tendency to be frenetic was always Kalinda Sharma. The show made a soapy decision way back when to reveal that Kalinda had slept with Peter (a decision that never really seemed to fit with her character, who always struck me as the type of person who would have seen through Peter’s sleaze), and then made the brave and revelatory decision to have Alicia cut Kalinda out almost completely. The show’s central female friendship was destroyed, and we learned a lot about Alicia and how she viewed loyalty and betrayal in the process. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn much about Kalinda, except that she respected Alicia’s decision, and ever since, the show has been at a loss for what to do with the character.
When it was announced that Archie Panjabi was leaving the show this year, I was not surprised, and ultimately, not even that sad. My sadness over this stemmed more from the fact that a great actress, who had proven her ability to be great in this role, had been squandered so often and for so long. Kalinda has been shunted to the side, thrown into the show’s most outlandish and outlandishly awful storylines, and increasingly distanced from everyone on the show who isn’t Cary (a character who also spends a lot of time sidelined and isolated from other characters). Kalinda has, for much of the show’s run, been more of a wasted opportunity than the sort of role that keeps an actress of Panjabi’s abilities around.
And so, in “The Deconstruction,” we bid an elongated goodbye to Kalinda. With any other character, this would feel a bit rushed and under-cooked as a departure, but with how marginalized Kalinda has been, it actually felt like the show gave her a lot of room to say her goodbyes. Her departure hung so heavily over the episode it was like the anti-“Dramatics, Your Honor.” Where Will’s death there hit like a freight train and stands as one of the biggest surprises in television history, it was obvious from early on this would be Kalinda Sharma’s last ride.
Kalinda gets to pull one last clever bit of subterfuge, turning in evidence against Bishop, framing one of his underlings, and avoiding a few very sticky situations in the process. She gets to wax philosophical with Diane, and leave Alicia an ambiguous note, and she gets to save Cary. And, at the end of it all, she gets offered a snack by Grace Florrick and gets to say her final goodbye to the closest thing The Good Wife has to a sainted Florrick. It’s about as fitting a tribute as I can imagine for one of television’s great “what might have been”s.
Kalinda’s departure will likely always be what “The Deconstruction” is remembered for, but it also contains another huge status quo shift in Alicia’s unceremonious ousting from Lockhart Agos (that is what it is called now, right? I have almost stopped paying attention to the named partner merry-go-round at this point). In the early minutes of the episode, I was rolling my eyes at the forced silliness of the complex misunderstanding that was Alicia’s negotiations to rejoin the firm. It all felt frustrating in a way that is totally unnecessary and overly sitcom-y, one of those moments where if everyone would just say what they were thinking, the problem would be solved in two minutes. Everyone’s reasoning for keeping quiet would make more sense if the show had ever been more than opportunistic about how it addressed the isolation between Alicia, Cary, and Diane this season, but here it just felt like that wedge was brought up again to make this story run more smoothly. However, it all built nicely to R.D.’s bombshell, and while that too feels somewhat forced, it at least makes more sense than the trumped up series of betrayals that seemed likely to push Alicia out of the franken-firm she sort of built. R.D. is a big client, big enough to be able to put his foot down about Alicia’s return and be listened to seriously. And his decision leading to Alicia’s ouster makes a sort of sense that is sufficient for me to accept the development.
This leaves the show somewhat at sea heading into its final episodes of the season. At this point, The Good Wife needed another status quo shift like I need a spin-off about Kalinda’s husband coming up in the Canadian crime world, and the show’s track record when it comes to blowing things up is mixed at best after this season, but it does leave room for a new direction that can shed a lot of the problems plaguing this season. I cannot imagine it will solve the issue that these characters all basically exist in their own shows at this point, but it may at least lead to new storytelling possibilities that don’t involve Lemond Bishop, everyone possibly going to jail, or another fifteen mind-blowing, world-shattering status quo shifts that make it hard to find an anchor as to what show you are watching in any given week. Alicia Florrick has lost everything this week. But there’s a kind of hope that can engender. Sure, she’s lost everything, but now, she may just be able to do anything. Who knows what tomorrow will look like? It could be more of the same. But it could, just maybe, be better.
- “Jailed Grandmas, people can pity. Jailed white guys, people can identify with.”
- “Most of the time, you don’t really have someone you believe in.”
- “Do you want me to pause it?” “Nope. I know how it ends.”
- “Oh, right, smaller government would have no such ironies.” “Perhaps there’d be smaller ironies.”
- “Gallagher just called me. He’s got her on hold. While I’ve got him on hold.”
- “Oh come on! It’s a play…idiots…”
- “I have…my man…down on the street. The street where I live.”
- “Life’s too short to be mad.”
- “You can do it Alicia. You can come back from this. I know it.”
The Good Wife has always been less one show than four or five shows crammed into one.