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Bring Kalinda to ‘The Good Fight’

After ‘The Good Wife’ bungled its most alluring character, the spinoff has a chance to make things right

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It is a thrill to reunite with Diane Lockhart, and, since the reunion is taking place on the internet, it is an ever greater thrill to cower in fear and awe as Diane Lockhart unleashes innumerable, righteous F-bombs. We met many vibrant, immaculately dressed characters on The Good Wife, the CBS legal drama that ended last year after seven seasons, but Diane, as portrayed by Christine Baranski, was arguably the most vibrant and inarguably the most immaculately dressed. The brooches alone! The Good Fight, a spinoff that premiered Sunday night on the streaming service CBS All Access, is a blessing that allows us to continue to bear witness to Diane’s wardrobe while reuniting us with several other old friends (Lucca Quinn! Marissa!) and charismatic enemies (David Lee! Howard Lyman!). Everything suggests this will be great. But it would take only one person to make it fantastic.

Let’s not be coy: That person is Kalinda. The show needs to bring back Kalinda.

For Good Wife enthusiasts, she needs no introduction; for Good Wife nonenthusiasts, ah, geez, the introduction is a little embarrassing. Kalinda always sounded ridiculous on paper: a tough-as-nails legal investigator, mysterious and unflappable and bisexual, who dabbled in BDSM and the occasional burst of CBS-caliber violence. She wore boots all the time. It is a great credit to British actress Archie Panjabi that the character ever worked at all — Kalinda was ridiculous, but with Panjabi’s guidance, she was Prestige Drama Ridiculous. Panjabi won a Best Supporting Actress Emmy in 2010 and remained a fan favorite throughout the series. But she left the show in Season 6 under bizarre circumstances; her exit is among the most insulting things ever broadcast on television.

The Good Wife starred Julianna Margulies as humiliated-spouse turned high-powered-lawyer Alicia Florrick. For the first couple of seasons, Alicia and Kalinda were inseparable drinking buddies. The characters eventually had a legal-soap-opera-type conflict, but that’s unremarkable; what became remarkable, over time, was the pre–Season 6 revelation that Panjabi and Margulies hadn’t appeared in the same scene together for a season and a half.

This is a legal soap opera, with everyone in the same town and (usually) working for the same law firm — it’s not like the writers could just send Kalinda off to Qarth or something. The actresses’ feud was never quite confirmed, but the narrative gymnastics required to keep Kalinda onscreen and yet entirely out of Alicia’s line of sight were considerable, and, over even more time, a little too obvious. She practically got her own spinoff within the original show. Panjabi announced her departure halfway through Season 6, and though Kalinda’s days were sadly numbered, the hope was that the departure would at least force some sort of tearful onscreen resolution.

What we got instead was one last drinking scene where Alicia and Kalinda were still very obviously not in the same room. It was fake as hell and did very little to disguise itself — the two characters never touched or even made convincing eye contact, and were confined to their respective halves of the screen, clinking glasses with one in silhouette. If the show was gonna green-screen this thing, it really oughta have put them in Jurassic Park or something. This fakery was never quite acknowledged either, which only compounded the insult; if something like this had happened on, say, Mad Men, there would’ve been riots.

As a wounded fan stumbling through The Good Wife’s seventh and final season, you found yourself torn between praying that the show would get better and perversely rooting for it to get even worse, just out of spite. Maybe Margulies would start feuding with every actor and actress on the show, to the point where, by the series finale, she’d be forced to interact with various holograms, a handful of cowering extras, a few remaining fan-favorite characters shouting their dialogue from several offscreen rooms away, and this incredible creepshot of Christine Baranski on the subway mounted scarecrow-style to a Roomba. Instead, the show ended with a relative whimper, never quite able to recover from a scene that bad.

This is the great injustice The Good Fight exists to remedy, whether it realizes it or not. For devout Good Wife fans, “Is ________ Coming Back?” will be a central component of this new show’s drama; series creators Robert and Michelle King are already fielding questions about whether Alicia or Alan Cummings’s neurotic political strategist, Eli Gold, might resurface at some point. But those characters have proper, logical, at least partially satisfying closure already — it’d be delightful to see them again, of course, but their returns don’t feel necessary. Whereas Kalinda’s abrupt and bungled exit still feels like a travesty, a slap in the face to the actress, the character, and the befuddled viewer alike. The Kings owe her, and also us.

If Panjabi’s involvement means that Marguiles will never go anywhere near this new show, so be it. The central message of The Good Wife, near as I can figure it, was, “The crap men in your life will always drag you down,” and Alicia, in a never-ending love-hate battle with her philandering husband, was stunting the growth and happiness of every other character on the show in turn. The Good Fight should be a blast, with an established universe to explore, a new political climate to confront, and new weird technologies to patiently explain. It’s great to be back here, to see all these people again, but The Good Fight is still missing something. Kalinda was always The Good Wife’s best character — the silliest and most fantastical, for sure, but also the richest and most weirdly alluring, pushing the show from a legal soap opera into something volatile and unpredictable. Until she stalks back into frame, glaring in knee-high boots, The Good Fight will not have reached its full potential. Kalinda deserves the chance to drop a few righteous F-bombs, too.