Nikita—“3.0”

For its first two seasons, Nikita was about the efforts of the title character to tear down Division, the rogue intelligence operation that had turned her into a master assassin. Because Nikita is an acrobatic fighting machine who looks like a model—and she’s fighting a rogue mercenary outfit with its own agenda that maintains a pretense of serving the U. S. government—the show has always had a built-in resemblance to Alias. At the end of its second season, Nikita blew up its own premise, in the same way that Alias did midway through its second season: By allowing Nikita to triumph and blow Division wide open. (She was even allowed to waste her arch-nemesis, Percy, played by Xander Berkeley—a perk that was denied Sydney Bristow, because the powers that be on Alias were understandably reluctant to find out what their show would be like without Ron Rifkin. Happily, Berkeley can still be seen acting as if he knows something you don’t on the web series The Booth At The End.)

There was a time when Nikita would have been fated to fight Percy to a draw, week after week, for as many years as the ratings held out. A frustrating situation of perpetual stasis: That, as Miss Prism would have said, is what series television meant.  Allowing Nikita to emerge victorious at the end of last season—essentially bringing an end to the show’s main narrative arc—was a bold move that made for exciting TV, just as the wholly unexpected destruction of SD-6 on Alias did. But Alias also paid a price: Though it ran for another three-and-a-half seasons, and kept pitching to the end and had its moments, it never again felt as securely anchored as it did before the SD-6 plotline evaporated. 

On Nikita, however, Division is still there. It’s now being run by Nikita’s man at the CIA, Ryan (Noah Bean, looking more than ever like Adam Scott’s uptight little brother), who from time to time checks in respectfully with the president. All the characters fans are meant to love, such as Aaron Stanford’s computer whiz Birkhoff, are still in place, now officially using their powers for good, while the main surviving unredeemed villain, Melinda Clarke’s Amanda, is understood to be out there somewhere, plotting. What this comes down to: The show, which had really found its groove by the end of last season, now has the basic shape of a much more conventional government super-spy thriller.

Nothing wrong with a show being conventional if it’s good at it. The season première gets off to a bang with the entrance of Jeffrey Pierce as Martin, a former Division hit man who’s running around Hong Kong, taking out what he himself, with an apparent straight face, describes as “innocent spies.” Pierce, who played Jack Sylvane on Alcatraz, clearly relishes playing the meanest, baddest son of a bitch in the valley, and he has a terrific opening scene, sitting down next to one of his targets and watching the man’s son play while reminiscing about Marlon Brando’s death scene in The Godfather. He then casually pokes the man with something, and when his victim wheezes, “My son…” Martin jumps in, saying, “Will die today. Not really, I just needed your heart to beat faster. It speeds up the toxin.”

Soon Nikita and her glowering boy toy Michael are checking into a hotel in Hong Kong and debating whether they dare take their minds off their mission long enough to do the nasty. Having a sex life never slowed James Bond down much, but on The CW, things tend to be a bit more function-oriented, and it turns out that Nikita has only gotten horny because it leads her to a brainstorm: Maybe, she realizes, Martin gets horny, too. She hops off Michael and, after enduring a few minutes of Birkhoff’s conversation, has a new lead—Martin’s steady lady friend, a model he’s often used in his cover identity as a fashion photographer. Damned if Martin and his model aren’t rolling around in the sheets together as Nikita and Michael converge on their room. Martin senses something is up, though. He gets out of bed, dials the police, and says that he wants to report an assault: “There’s a woman screaming, and I saw two people with guns.” Then he hangs up, apologizes to his girlfriend for having lied to her, and snaps her neck.

Michael ends up under arrest for the girl’s murder, meaning that Nikita has to divide her energies between trying to bring down Martin and worrying about springing her boyfriend. “Loved ones are liabilities,” Martin tells her, and he seems to have a point. Nikita has to call in reinforcements—i.e., Alex, who the show seems awfully determined to keep around, even though the character has less and less excuse to be engaged in covert ops, and despite the fact that after two years of playing a trained killer with a lot of rage in her, Lyndsy Fonseca still can’t summon up an expression angrier than a pout and points a gun as if she were trying to use it to open her car doors. The idea that Nikita’s feelings for Michael and the other people in her life make her vulnerable as an agent is one that the show ought to be able to do something with. The idea that the best solution to the problems this presents is to bring in all her friends to help isn’t as good, partly because her friends aren’t the show’s biggest asset, and it pulls “3.0” down a bit; it’s better off taking its storytelling cues from the mean, tough Martin than from Barbra Streisand warbling “People.”

The real test of how the show continues to fare in the post-Berkeley era may be how well it can keep the love story between Nikita and Michael from gumming up the works. Tonight, he proposes to her, and there’s a scene toward the end involving his retrieving the stolen engagement ring during an extraction operation that’s reminiscent of Get Smart—except more violent, which may actually not be a bad thing. But no matter what else happens on this show, it’s nothing without Maggie Q ready to uncoil and spring into action at a moment’s notice. So if Nikita and Michael, like Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 before them, find out that they’re going to have a baby, it had better be Shane West who carries it to term.

Stray observations:

  • Making the call to track Martin down by finding his girlfriend, Nikita tells Michael, “Follow the honey.” Snappy dialogue is one of the pleasures of a good spy thriller, and that’s about as good as the dialogue on Nikita ever gets. In fact, it’s considerably better than the dialogue on Nikita usually gets. There’s one scene tonight that’s meant to show that, even with Percy dead and gone, Nikita can barely have a private life, given the constant demands on her time that she save the world at a moment’s notice. Nikita is taking a yoga class, and she’s seen walking out with a couple of women who invite her to coffee. Just as she’s accepting, Michael drives up and spirits her off. For something like this to even have a chance of working, it would help if there were an illusion of something like real life going on for Michael to interrupt. But the conversation literally sounds like this: “Giggle, giggle. Oh, well…”
Filed Under: TV, Alias, Alcatraz

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