A recent episode of CBS' "The Good Wife" packed a pulse-pounding scene worthy of Hitchcock: Law firm investigator Kalinda Sharma raced to download incriminating files from the home computer of her drug lord client/tormentor as he opened the front door.
For viewers of most weekly network dramas, the suspense of a sequence along similar lines probably would have been dissipated by the knowledge that everything, by the end of the episode, would turn out just fine for a familiar character. But that's rarely the case with "The Good Wife," and certainly not with Kalinda Sharma.
The end of Kalinda's run – and perhaps her life – comes with this Sunday's Season 6 finale of "The Good Wife," which will mark a farewell to one the most intriguing and mysterious TV characters of this decade.
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As embodied by Emmy-winning actress Archie Panjabi, who reportedly is leaving to star in a new show, Kalinda is a strutting enigma wrapped in a pencil skirt – and can be as slippery as her leather boots.
Credit the show’s creative team with inserting an ambiguous, pivotal character into the ongoing tale of Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), a once stand-by-her-man politician’s wife rebounding from his destructive sex scandal. But big praise also is due to Panjabi, who always let us see what Kalinda was doing, but never gave a hint of what she was thinking.
Sure, Kalinda often misrepresents herself while gathering evidence for Alicia and other lawyers – that's an old Jim Rockford trick. But Kalina’s deception and manipulation extend to the deepest levels of her shadowy life. She harbors secrets, even from her lovers, women and men alike – including Alicia’s wayward, in-name-only husband, a past fling.
Kalina sought refuge in Chicago after fleeing her own estranged husband, a psychotic criminal. He eventually found her – and then disappeared after he became a threat to Alicia, suggesting that Kalinda orchestrated his hasty exit or perhaps even his demise. She’s on the run again after faking evidence and subsequently setting up the drug lord and one of his lieutenants in a bid to save her on-again-off-again boyfriend, lawyer Cary Agos, from prison.
For all her self-preservation instincts, Kalinda appears prepared to sacrifice all for those she's allowed to get even remotely close to her. But then again, it's tough to say anything with certainty about a show that thrives on twists – including the courtroom murder last season of Alicia’s boss/love interest Will Gardner – while rarely dipping into soap opera territory. This season has proven particularly serpentine and satisfying, with Alicia gaining – and losing in disgrace – elective office, giving her a taste of what it's like to be her scandal-scarred governor husband.
Even if it seems as if the show has come full circle, don't expect closure. New cracks are bound to open. So are new doors, as seen in the preview for Sunday's season finale. Who's behind Alicia's door? The in-the-wind Kalinda or another surprise? The case is never closed on network TV’s strongest adult drama, which, like Kalinda Sharma, excels in keeping fans guessing and hanging on.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.