No one can say that Nikita didn’t have a full plate this season. In addition to trying to hunt down the “Dirty Thirty”—the former Division agents who had gone rogue and were peddling their lethal services to the highest bidder—she also had to chop off the hand of her true love, Michael, in order to save his life. Then, when having only one hand made him even moodier than usual, she had to track down the secret technology that would enable him to grow a new one. Last week, Nikita was informed by her enemy, Amanda, that Michael’s new hand contains a nanotoxin that will kill him unless he received an antidote, which Amanda will provide in exchange for a small favor: Nikita has to assassinate the President. “Even if I do this,” said Nikita, showing an admirably form grasp on the stakes involved, “even if Michael lives, we’ll never be together again.”
In the opening scenes of tonight’s season finale, Nikita hangs around the office in a daze, talking to Michael and Owen (who looks more than ever like a John Barrowman who isn’t in on the joke), and dropping little hints that all is not right and that, the next time she gets deputized to go on a coffee run, she’s going to zip on over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and shoot the President between the eyes She can’t come right out and tell her friends what’s going on, because Amanda’s eyes and ears are everywhere, and anyway, she doesn’t want anyone to stop her. But as she explains later, after she’s completed her terrible errand, she wants everyone to look back on her behavior that morning and realize that something wasn’t right.
It’s fun to watch Maggie Q acting a little off, in a way that’s meant to get the other characters’ attention but not make them feel they should forcibly sedate her or stick a wallet under her tongue, and it’s really fun listening to her embedded-clue dialogue, which is of the “There’s always money in the banana stand!” variety. One reason this is so much fun is that it heightens your awareness of what passes for normal dialogue on Nikita, where the lines often have the same relationship to spoken verbiage that the overripe CGI backgrounds on Spartacus had to a matte painting of a peaceful countryside by Albert Whitlock. “The nanotoxin is embedded in the carbon fiber bone of your new hand,” Nikita finally tells Michael, meaning that if she doesn’t do what Amanda says, the bad thing they put in his body will make him go permanent nighty-night.
This kind of spy-fi exposition is especially rich when the actors try to invest it with passion. When the scientist who developed the hand-growing technology finds out what’s been going on, he cries, “They took my nanopartical dry delivery system and weaponized!” leaving no room for doubt that, in doing so, someone has seriously pissed in his Post Toasties. The juiciest scene in the finale may be the one in which Nikita sashays into the White House for a private meeting with the President. She’s just about to shoot her when Michael starts gabbing into her earpiece. “Nikita, can you hear me?” says Michael. “Michael?” says Nikita. Hah? says the President. “It’s okay,” says Michael, “Amanda can’t hear me.” “Do you have the antidote?” asks Nikita. “Have you lost your mind?” asks the President, who can’t hear Michael either. Nikita finally tells the President that there are people close to her who want her dead, and to prove it, shows her the gun that the Secret Service detail has allowed her to carry into the meeting. The President, processing all this, gulps regretfully, picks up the gun, and blows her own brains out.
Over the course of its three seasons, Nikita has beaten itself into shape as one of the sleekest, most enjoyably outrageous comic-book thrillers on TV. It’s a fast, bright, shiny toy of a show, but Maggie Q’s performance centers it and gives it some emotional weight. Even in the middle of wild action scenes, she has the calm, unruffled surface of an emissary from a parallel universe that is much cooler than our own, but she can also throw herself into displaying outsized emotions, usually related to romantic setbacks, without losing her dignity—a useful talent, given Nikita’s and Michael’s romantic difficulties. I used to think that Shane West’s Michael was just a drag on the action and hoped that, if he wasn’t going to be killed off, he’d at least clear his throat and change into looser underwear. But either West has gotten with the swing of things or he’s grown on me. Maybe he’s just gone through enough in three seasons for his perpetual glower to seem justified, though his arid vocal delivery does work for the one line of tonight’s episode that I’m pretty sure is supposed to be funny. After the team decides they can save his life with the old gag about confusing the “nanotoxin” by killing him and then restarting his heart, Michael strips to his boxers and lies down on a table, whereupon someone explains that they’re going to pack him in ice; the resulting hypothermia will spare him brain damage. He considers it for a few seconds and croaks, “Brain damage would be good.”
That could be the motto for the network executives who decided to only renew Nikita for a final mini-season of six episodes, coming sometime next year. This episode ends on a cliffhanger, with Nikita, framed for the President’s murder, on the run and on the hunt for Amanda. (And, because she doesn’t want to drag her loved ones down with her, she carefully leaves the engagement ring Michael gave her out where he can find it, be still my heart.) If I ran The CW, I would’ve at least kept the show on a night where the likeliest members of its target audience were at home watching TV, but maybe one reason Nikita isn’t a bigger hit is that it doesn’t make a big, cluttered, Hoarders-like mess of its own mythology, so that fans don’t have to sit up nights consulting their scorecards to keep track of what’s going on. Of all the shows of this kind, it’s one of the most thoughtful about rolling up the carpet behind it. By the end of this season, Nikita and her team have only made about as much progress in neutralizing the Dirty Thirty as Earl ever did in making amends to all the people on his list, but in the climax of the finale, Amanda hires all the leftover bad guys and has them storm the compound, so they can be taken out in the ensuing firefight, so that’s over with. Then the team vacates the premises and blows up what, after so many battles and infiltrations and mutinies, is left of the set. The ceiling collapses and huge cinder-block columns fall on the furnishings and reduce everything to rubble, and it’s exciting and oddly lovely, but it’s also hard not to feel a twinge of regret. That mostly comes from wondering why they didn’t do this on the finale of The Office.