Keeping An Eye on Kalinda

Exploring the allure of The Good Wife's mysterious bi character

Of all the television shows out there, The Good Wife doesn’t exactly scream for a lesbian audience. Procedurals really aren’t our thing in these post-Cagney and Lacey days. As a counterculture, I think we lesbians have learned by disappointing experience after crestfallen experience that a tough girl attitude, badass clothing, and all other trappings of procedural drama (uniforms, ladies pantsuits, cuffs and guns…) do make not a lesbian character.

Therefore I doubt the makers of The Good Wife counted on a large lesbian audience when they went forward with the Julianna Marguiles vehicle. Yet, somewhere in there is someone after my own heart, because law firms need investigators, especially when they are television law firms in need of drama and the occasional well-placed use of a bat. And of all characters to create, Michelle and Robert King gave us Kalinda.
Kalinda is sexy, beautiful, powerful and independent. She’s an updated warrior princess or vamp slayer or anyone really who wears hot leather boots on a regular basis and kicks ass daily. Played by Archie Panjabi, the character is a mystery from the beginning in a drama that tends to lay all of its other characters’ cards out on the table.

Part of the allure is how under wraps they keep Kalinda. For a great deal of the first season we were unsure if she was a lesbian, to the point where Marguiles actually asked her if she was. Response: “I’m private. What does it matter?” The tension set forth by leaving us in the dark is really only amplified by the fact that we know near nothing about her past, her likes, her dislikes and only understand her dedication to work and friends.
Yet, this isn’t a subtext only show that frustrates its queer viewers with a character that constantly hints at lesbianism. No, we get Kalinda with the seductive FBI Agent Lana Delaney (Played by scorcher Jill Flint) playing footsy, hinting at sex, making out behind a steel door making us wish we had x-ray vision. And just when this tense allusion becomes almost intolerable, as Kalinda pushes away yet another gal, this time her ex (played by old friend Lili Taylor who’s played gay in I Shot Andy Warhol, Ready to Wear and The Addiction), takes matters into her hands and plants a full-on kiss which is nicely returned.

Sure, Kalinda plays around with the boys as well, but details are omitted in these instances too, and she tends to rebuff her male encounters as often as she does her female. It’s a fresh breath of air in a television climate where every inch of skin and pre-coitus moment prior to setting off the censors are played out in a bare and open manner. Kalinda is the equivalent of the Hitchcock pan away, the hiding of the movie monster, the dramatic clone of the tension we get from when the director turns the camera at just the right moment. She’s a character who, in the words of the great Frankenfurter, makes us “shiver in antici-……..pation.”

For some reason I find her more fun than a lot of the other sweeps week encounters of the lesbian kind because her dalliances are part of who she is. She does not go to bed out of love, which we have yet to see as something she can even achieve, but more out of interest or need. Her alliance is with work and friends, and she often uses her body and sexuality as a tool within her box of skills when attempting access to information, places or people. What makes this not an issue of sexist writing is how carefully this is played. There is no shame associated with her use of her body, rather a certain amount of practicality. Furthermore, when she does use her physical allure, it is treated with discretion (no gnarly sweaty over-the-top sex scenes) and always backed by the clearly superior intelligence of her character.

I have never had respect for the bisexuals of television. I generally find them insincere efforts at creating ten-second promos that draw in audiences during ratings season. They are characters who will return to straightness until the next time the producers see a lull. However, Kalinda is far from that. There seems to be no alliance to her sexuality, just more of a realistic indulgence in whatever she happens to want or need at that moment.
When asked by Agent Delaney, “Sex with men, why do you like it?” Kalinda provides an honest response: “I don’t distinguish…Italian, Mexican, Thai, why does one choose one food over the other?”

This is obviously the direction in which they play her. Kalinda is someone who finds something she likes, samples it, and then moves on to the next meal. This is a compelling and honest facet of a personality, something most bisexual characters on television aren’t given. Usually after an encounter with a woman, they’re given a boyfriend, but The Good Wife makes it so much more fun.

Kalinda’s encounters with men are also being placed on the table these days, but are lusciously shrouded in mystery. From a reference to a past husband she has abandoned and possibly run from to an encounter with Marguiles’ husband on the show, every reference to her sex has impact on plot, but what full impact is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure, she won’t be toppling into a sappy love story anytime soon. Asked if she wanted intimacy, her response is a firm ‘No’. However, it seems she likes tension, passion, and her FBI Agents.

So, for those of you who seek the pure lesbianism in media, Kalinda may seem a concession of sorts, but I must say let a little bisexuality slip in there. Regardless of who she happens to be seducing, she presents a constantly compelling performance. And to be honest, the show isn’t all that bad either.

And for you purists who don’t want to even try out The Good Wife, I’ll let Kalinda make her own case: “Everything is you,” she says, “Everything you want to be you is you.”