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Sunday, 17 of January of 2021

Mid-season Checkup: Nikita – “All The Way”

We were the only real family you had, Nikita, and you betrayed us.”

Nikita captured

Percy. Did you really think that this would hold Nikita? Really?

Karen and I have been watching Nikita all season, though neither of us on a super-regular basis. I know I had to marathon the series twice, missing  three or four episodes at a time, never exactly sure when it was on (and when I would try to watch it live, it would be a rerun!).

The most recent episode is perhaps the best way to check on the series, and make the case for tuning in, or going back if you stopped after a few episodes, like I nearly did. While “All the Way” provides for nice plot and character advancement and the episode also nicely raises the stakes of the series, eliminating some aspects of the show that would’ve eventually gotten worn out.

Noel’s Take

Nikita has steadily improved as it went along in the first half of its season. I nearly dropped the show after “Kill Jill” and “Rough Trade” but the show managed to step up its game with “The Guardian”, an episode that helped expand the show’s world beyond Nikita and Alex running counter ops against Percy and Division.

Indeed, world-building has been the key to my blossoming enjoyment of Nikita. Had the series stuck with its procedure of having Alex feed bits of info and then Nikita saves some poor schmuck (or oblivious government official) and then Percy gets simmeringly angry the show would’ve gotten pretty stale (Burn Notice, anyone?). However, by setting up stories and characters to revisit down the road, like Owen or Robbie (played by freakin’ Alfalfa!) or the organization Gogol or, and this was actually my favorite bit, that someone else, Oversight (a nod to the first series, yes?), supposedly controls Division, Nikita gives itself, and the audience, more story potential, which is always a good thing.

In that vein, “All The Way” sets up the second half of the season nicely as it shuts down Alex’s window to Nikita as well as killing Thom, the one quasi-ally that Alex might’ve made within Division. Couple it with Alex’s promotion and the sealed off exit out of the headquarters, and suddenly our protagonists are forced to figure out what to do next. It’s a nicely paced and organic turning point for the series. And that’s one thing I appreciate about the show, I think, more than anything: it didn’t wait until the season finale to do this, but instead upped the ante at the halfway mark. That’s smart and exciting.

So while the narrative world has developed, the characters have remained somewhat flat, but I’m not complaining too much about this. The show and Maggie Q continue to give Nikita toughness and vulnerability that I find incredibly refreshing and believable. Do I think she’s broken a little too easily by Amanda’s video tapes? Yes, but I’m willing to gloss over this a bit because I don’t think Nikita has properly mourned (if she had, her vengeance against Division would’ve ceased, I imagine), so that wound is still oh-so-very fresh. And that the show doesn’t keep hammering this at me certainly helps matters.

The rest of the cast has filled out a bit. I still find Shane West dull to watch, and I think he and Q have little chemistry (“One Way” was a bit clunky for me), making their tension less than interesting. Xander Berekley, on the other hand, seems to be relishing the chance to play a sustained villain for once, and the show has done well by Percy, making his ruthlessness clearer with each episode (attempting to kill Owen, actually killing the old Engineer with his own hands). I know Karen was a bit frustrated with Percy’s lack of backstory in the pilot, and that hasn’t improved much since the first episde, but I’m simply grooving on Berkeley’s slimy performance that I kind of don’t care.

One pet theory to let loose, and then I’ll turn it over to Karen: I think Amanda is a top lieutenant of Oversight, stationed at Division to keep an eye on people, as well as find new people to promote within the ranks. And I doubt that Percy knows this (or even suspects it, because, at his core, I think he’s probably something of a chauvinist). So I’m waiting for that big reveal at the end of the season where we find out that Amanda is the real Big Bad. I think that would be pretty cool.

Karen’s take:

I pretty much agree with Noel on most of his thoughts here.  In order to add something new-ish, I thought I’d break the show down by a few of the categories Noel has set up here and see where that leads me.

Plot: So far, this is the main draw of Nikita.  The missions tend to be action-packed.  The gadgets/guns can be exciting.  Nikita often wears hot dresses.  Fight scenes are reasonably well choreographed.  But the format of the missions is as repetitive as Noel suggests.  Worse, Nikita always wins.  I’m relieved the show is shaking things up by letting Alex see a world beyond the Division basement.  Allowing Alex and Nikita to meet up on location will be way more engaging than their secret cyber chats.  But they need an opponent within Division that can take to the streets with them.  Nikita beating up random, faceless Division guys doesn’t cut it.  Michael also doesn’t cut it since we know neither he nor Nikita will kill the other.  (Should note that I did enjoy the episode where Nikita and Michael went on a mission together–this show could become a fun action-banter combo.  But I hate the dumb ending where Nikita supposedly did Michael wrong.  Felt false, though I understand what they were trying to do.)

Stakes: Thom’s death was moving (and moving is not something this show frequently achieves) because we got to know him, but we’ve also lost a character that could have turned on Alex in an intriguing way.  Now that Alex is an agent, let’s hope she is challenged more often by personal relationships.  Though Michael isn’t a real threat to Nikita, her repeated run-ins with him do offer the opportunity for a bit of deeper character development (shallow as it is), and Alex will need that as well.

Character:

Nikita is seeking revenge for her murdered lover.  The lover part has always been a weak link for this show—in part due to its redundancy (Alias did this story and did it better).  Moving Nikita beyond this motivation therefore becomes very important.   Oddly, it was the Russian mobsters that peaked my interest here—challenging Nikita that there is no life beyond her vengeance scheme because there is always a new bad guy she must face.  If Nikita finds a real mission—one drive more by a sense of duty and honor than vengeful anger—she may become a real character.  Oh, and vulnerability need not relate exclusively to love.  Nikita may also feel self-doubt or genuine fear at times.  See also “effective foil” below for more.

Future potential:

Like Noel, I think there is more to Amanda (the awesome Melinda Clarke, aka Matt’s mom/Damon’s lover (so much hotter than Rose) on TVD, aka Julie Cooper on The O.C., and other shows), and her continued efforts to break down her captors with psychology hasn’t matched the menace she imparts simply through her steely gaze.  In other words, the writers aren’t using this great actress fully enough.  I want there to be more to Amanda—there needs to be more to Amanda.

Owen’s recent return again demonstrated that his character lends much to this series.  Though I’m not as down on Shane West as Noel (as you may recall, I’m a fan of A Walk to Remember), Owen and Nikita have oodles more chemistry.  He’s a real equal for her, and the fact that they share a mutual goal (through different means) suggests his character will recur with some frequency.  I look forward to it and hope they let he and Nikita develop a more interesting partnership (without resorting to easy sex or empty romance)

Quick update about concerns I noted in pilot review:

Already mentioned the emptiness of the dead lover plot (and Amanda’s recent exposure of some secret video of Nikita and Daniel did nothing to improve upon this [lack of] motivation), so instead I’ll turn to the question of Nikita as a person. Interestingly, we don’t know that much more about Nikita’s past or her present—in particular her mysterious source of income.  The Russian mobster suggested he could provide her with means, so the show seems aware that this is a question that has not been answered.  But half way through season 1, there has been little progress here.

Most of the program’s flashbacks have focused on Nikita’s relationship with Daniel or Alex.  But what about the other parts of her past, like her troubled youth and recruitment by Division?  I still don’t quite get why Division is so successful at training these troubled kids to become spies.  You’d think there’d be some serious brainwashing (a la Jason Bourne or Wolverine) going on, but instead, the trainees simply seem desperate to leave the Division basement.  One would think turning someone into a killer would require more than the threat of persistent claustrophobia.  With Nikita, too, I want to know more about the costs of a life with Division—emotionally (guilt, inability to feel or connect, anger, etc).

I was frustrated in the pilot that Nikita did not have an appropriate enemy or challenger, and I’m sad to report the program has done little to alleviate my frustration.  Despite her repeated run-ins with Division agents, Nikita has had little opportunity to interact with Percy, seriously lessening her ability to target him as an emotional foil.  I hope Nikita can learn from Rubicon that the menacing white man bad guy makes for a pretty bland enemy.  We need character development, backstory, and plot-driven interactions.

I share Noel’s pleasure in the show moving Alex out of training mode.  Perhaps she can develop more as a person, even challenging Nikita herself at times.  The above concerns may persist, but the show remains a pleasure.


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