Two seemingly unrelated things have been on my mind lately: Kalinda Sharma and Gilmore Girls — the former because CBS recently announced that Archie Panjabi will exit The Good Wife at the end of the current season, and the latter because Gilmore Girls has been on Netflix since October 1, and if you aren’t in the midst of a rewatch, I don’t trust you.
As for the Panjabi news, I’m happy that she is already in talks to star in her own drama in fall 2015. But I’m also really, really sad. Because Kalinda is my favorite character on television, and a small part of me was still holding out for a Kalinda/Alicia reconciliation that we’ll almost certainly never get before her departure. But my mourning period, coupled with my nightly Gilmore Girls marathons, made me realize something: Kalinda and Alicia (Julianna Margulies) are the Luke (Scott Patterson) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) of The Good Wife. Or at least, they were.
Hear me out. For the first two seasons of The Good Wife, the characters follow a textbook will-they/won’t-they trajectory. Kalinda is the closest thing Alicia has to a friend after her husband’s corruption scandal turns her life inside out. And for the course of the first few seasons of the show, the two form a layered relationship that rivals even some of the more overtly romantic pairings on the show.
Early on, Kalinda and Alicia’s post-work bar sessions become a critical part of their relationship. Alicia never celebrates her victories in court with her husband or the other associates—only with Kalinda. They sling back tequila shots and laugh and talk about whatever they want to talk about. It looks exactly like Luke and Lorelai’s one-on-one sessions in the diner, just replace tequila with coffee. Luke, known for his hardened personality, opens up to Lorelai in these moments. Similarly, there’s an intimacy between Kalinda and Alicia when they’re out together that allows Kalinda to show more emotional vulnerability than she does with anyone else. One of the only times Kalinda ever openly discusses her queer identity happens in one of these bar scenes.
In most will-they/won’t-they setups, the two characters will pursue other relationships. Throughout the early seasons of Gilmore Girls, Lorelai ignores the people of Stars Hollow, who all tell her Luke’s in love with her. She dates other people. And Luke remains supportive, if not necessarily thrilled about it. He builds her a goddamn chuppah for her wedding. Sustained presence is the name of the game when it comes to will-they/won’t-they. Lorelai’s boyfriends come and go, but Luke is always there.
Kalinda, similarly, operates as Alicia’s escape from her marriage. Of course, Kalinda and Alicia’s relationship is complicated by the little detail that eventually leads to their undoing: Before they were friends, Kalinda slept with Alicia’s husband Peter. When Alicia finds out, she calls their entire friendship into question. And while it’s a natural response on Alicia’s end, it’s hard to believe Kalinda’s closeness with Alicia was simply Kalinda’s way of keeping her from the truth. It may have started out that way. Kalinda, after all, has ulterior, often self-serving (or Lockhart Gardner-serving) motives for almost everything she does.
But right away, there’s something noticeably different about the way Kalinda treats Alicia, the only character Kalinda never plays power games with. She helps her, protects her, often without even being asked. And even if that comes from a place of guilt, the fact that Kalinda—who emotionally manipulates other characters without batting an eye—feels guilt at all in this situation speaks to just how much she cares about Alicia. She would build a chuppah for Alicia—I have no doubts.
In fact, she does, in her own Kalinda way. Proving once more that she understands and knows Alicia better than most people, Kalinda encourages Alicia to act on her feelings for Will Gardner in season one, episode 22 , “Hybistrophilia”:
Kalinda: I phone Will. I tell him we’re in a bar and that you’re too drunk to go home. So you’re getting a hotel room upstairs. Alicia. One night. No repercussions.
Alicia: And tomorrow?
Kalinda: Tomorrow, you wake up.
Alicia: That’s just not me, Kalinda.
Kalinda: Everything is you. Everything you want to be you is you.
Kalinda values Alicia’s happiness in the same way Luke does with Lorelai, but there’s also something else going on in this subtle but telling exchange—an added layer of subtext that permeates many of Kalinda and Alicia’s early interactions. And here’s where the parallels between Luke/Lorelai and Kalinda/Alicia start to get a little fuzzy. I don’t have to work too hard to empirically prove to you that Luke and Lorelai are an example of a will-they/won’t-they relationship, because the two characters fit the very normative, dominant definition of the device, which is almost always written with two heterosexual characters at the center.
Reading Kalinda and Alicia as a will-they/won’t-they example requires reading against the text a bit. The more obvious example in The Good Wife would undoubtedly be the back-and-forth relationship between Will and Alicia, because they, again, fit the more conventionally agreed upon depiction of will-they/won’t-they tension. How can Kalinda and Alicia be the show’s Luke and Lorelai when they never become sexual? One of the most frustrating things about the will-they/won’t-they trope is that it’s hardly a question worth asking. The pining pair always end up together eventually, even if it doesn’t last, as with Luke and Lorelai. Kalinda and Alicia never reach the usual conclusion of a will-they/won’t-they arc. And I’m sure many would argue that that’s because Alicia Florrick is straight.
And many signs do point to that conclusion. Alicia is married to a man and has an extramarital relationship with a man. She has the heteronormative compulsion to want to categorize Kalinda’s fluid—ahem, flexible—sexuality. But we only assume Alicia is straight because of social norms. In fact, when Maddie Hayward asks Alicia to get a drink with her and Alicia thinks Maddie could be interested in her, she doesn’t turn down Maddie by saying “I’m straight,” but rather “I’m married.”
Queer viewers constantly look for latent meaning within the rigid confines of heteronormative media, and there’s certainly something queer here with Alicia and Kalinda. Take, for example, their falling out, which happens when Alicia finds out about Kalinda’s past with Peter. Alicia stops talking to Kalinda, goes out of her way to avoid her at work. Presumably, she’s pissed because her friend lied to her. But if we dig a little deeper, is it really all that crazy to think that Alicia’s anger could also be driven by romantic feelings for Kalinda? What exactly—other than the fact that it works against socially constructed assumptions about gender, sex, and sexuality—makes that interpretation any less valid?
Regardless of why Alicia and Kalinda’s falling out happens the way it does, it’s yet another parallel to Luke and Lorelai, whose friendship crumbles in the second season when Luke’s nephew Jess accidentally crashes Rory’s car. Lorelai stops going to the diner, and for several episodes, we’re deprived of any real interaction between the two. It’s a noticeable shift, and even though they eventually reconnect, for most of the final season, they aren’t even on speaking terms.
Alicia and Kalinda’s drift cuts even deeper, particularly because they never truly make up. They briefly reconnect when Kalinda finds Alicia’s missing daughter Grace, but from the fourth season on, the question becomes: Will or won’t they ever be friends again? Now in the sixth season, we’re in the midst of a painfully long streak of episodes that never once place the two in a scene together. The Hollywood rumor mill has churned out plenty of speculation about how behind-the-scenes drama could contribute to the fact that Kalinda and Alicia seem to exist on entirely different planets now (and the Luke/Lorelai parallels continue: Many Gilmore Girls fans speculated Lorelai’s sudden switch from Luke to Christopher in the final season had something to do with Lauren Graham and Scott Patterson’s allegedly strained off-screen relationship).
Whatever the reasons may be, The Good Wife’s writers have struggled to develop storylines for Kalinda outside of Alicia, and while the shift in their relationship is believable, their complete lack of interaction is becoming harder and harder to swallow. Kalinda has faded farther and farther into the background, becoming little more than a leather jacketed mannequin for Cary Agos to hang all his insecurities on. The decline of Kalinda Sharma is a confusing one, and it’s doubtful that the writers will be able to save the character before she’s gone at season’s end. For so long, Kalinda and Alicia’s relationship was one of the most complex and beautiful arcs on the show, and while The Good Wife excels at shaking up character dynamics, in this case, the writers just cut the arc short. I’m not saying I ever expected Kalinda and Alicia to ever share a romantic dance or have their first kiss, but the writers once had on their hands a truly innovative take on the will-they/won’t-they trope. And the ultimate fate of Kalinda and Alicia seems destined to be even more unsatisfying than that of Luke and Lorelai.
Kayla Upadhyaya is a contributing writer. She tweets here.