[Contains deadly nerve-gas-emitting ear-rings and SPOILERS!!!]
One of my early Xmas presents this year (or rather, one of the presents I bought for myself with money I hope to recoup from Santa at a later date) was the first season of The CW’s sequel/spin-off series Nikita.
First off, I have to say that Maggie Q is an absolutely outstanding action heroine. She’s tough, she’s athletic, she’s aggressive, she’s cool, she’s sweet, she’s sexy, she’s funny… she ticks all the boxes, and then draws a few of her own, just so she can tick them as well! And I like the way the series gives us an older, wiser Nikita, picking up her story long after she’s been “recruited” by a secret black-ops organisation known as “Division”, seen them at their worst, and sworn to bring them down. It’s a great premise for a series that pay its dues to the original film, without stepping on its toes too much. So, in my book at least, this Q/Nikita combo is unequivocally awesome… it’s just everything else around her that I have a problem with.
At first, the idea of Nikita training up a mole and then letting Division “recruit” her, seemed like a winner. It was a neat way of catching new viewers up on how they press-gang sullen, super-cute young criminals into serving their country (on pain of cancellation), while also allowing the writers to flesh out the organisation that their heroine(s) would be fighting, from an insider’s perspective. But the fact that no one in authority realised that ‘Alex’ (Lyndsy Fonseca) was a double-agent until long after she’d actually graduated and been released into the outside world, rather beggared belief and seriously undermined the supposed threat posed by Division and its “intelligence” operatives. It was especially galling when someone would remark that Nikita (or Alex) had tricked them using the same subterfuge techniques that she’d learned from them! Well, yeah… you’re supposed to know all this spy stuff… that’s kinda why you exist. Gah! How could they have so much trouble keeping tabs on their recruits, when their training facility was so small, and so sparsely populated? I mean, they can surgically implant GPS trackers under people’s skin, but they can’t set up a couple of cameras in their computer room, or monitor keystrokes? Meh! In fairness, a fellow recruit (‘Jaden’, The Angry, Angry Young Black Woman™, played by Tiffany Hines) did smell a rat pretty early on… but since she had an inexplicable grudge against Alex from the moment they first met, her accusations didn’t carry much weight.
While I found Alex’s magical ability to avoid detection kinda dumb, what really pushed her character into laughing-stock territory was the mid-season reveal that she wasn’t just some random junkie-sex-slave that Nikita had rescued and rehabilitated… no, she was the long-lost daughter of a shady Russian oligarch who’d been assassinated by Division in front of her childish eyes, leaving her the sole living heir to the billion-dollar company he’d built! Oy vey. I just couldn’t take her seriously after that… although the fantasy-sequence/flash-forward of her turning to the dark side and following in her father’s despotic footsteps was pretty cool, and I hope the subsequent seasons take her in that direction, because it’s the only way I can see to redeem that Batman-biting backstory!
Still, the most groan-worthy aspect of her arc was the way that she immediately fell in love with the first guy she spotted while moving into her fancy, post-grad apartment. Gah! Didn’t she learn anything from Nikita’s whole “Division killed my boyfriend, because they don’t like us having boyfriends” anecdote? Apparently not… so we have to suffer through a whole bullshit subplot in which she cuddles up to her generically-handsome hunk of a neighbour, and dreams about having his babies, instead of doing something kick-ass or interesting instead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a bit of romance, but his “character” was so thinly-sketched and perfunctory, their story was about as romantic as slapping a Barbie and Ken doll together and declaring “They’re in love now!!!” The fake-out nightmare Alex had, where her boy-toy turned out to be an undercover agent tricking her into revealing her true allegiance, actually made far more sense to me than the “reality” they were trying to sell us! Tch! To be clear, I think Fonseca gives a great performance in the role, both on an emotional and a physical level… in fact, her commitment to fleshing out her character as a three-dimensional human being is straight-up heroic in light of the nonsensical material she’s asked to play here.
In fact, the number of Division agents (male and female) who “go soft” and try to settle down behind a white picket fence is truly ridiculous… and the number of dead loved ones littering the back-stories of the characters nudges them beyond cliché and into self-parody. Just once, I’d like to see an agent go rogue for a reason other than personal revenge! What about all those innocent people being killed who weren’t directly related to them? Isn’t that motivation enough? I almost tossed my remote at the screen when Nikita’s former handler/mentor ‘Michael’ (Shane West) had a flashback to his days in Navy Intelligence, when he was driving around meeting shifty foreign informants with his wife and daughter sat in the back of his car! No surprise they get blown up, of course… and the eventual reveal that the terrorist responsible for the hit was actually working for Division at the time, was the effluence-icing on the half-baked turd cake. Meanwhile, the later reveal that Nikita was already in love with Michael before she went undercover, and that he’d only resisted her charms out of respect for his dead wife and child, rather undermined her supposed “love” for the rebound guy she ended up with, whose cold-blooded murder supposedly spurred her to screw her former employers over in the first place!
As for the baddies, I thought Melinda Clarke was fantastically sly and seductive as ‘Amanda’, Division’s resident stylist/shrink/interrogator… but the way they made her “multitask” in so many capacities stretched credulity a tad, and also made the organisation seem a lot cheaper and pokier than it might have done with a larger cast of senior agents and mentors. Still, at least she had the excuse of being spread too thin, to justify the fact it took her 20 whole episodes to figure out who the mole was! I can also credit her with the only truly creepy/shocking moment of the entire season, conducting her final electric-torture-chair interrogation of Alex, and coaxing the girl into expressing her heartfelt desire to live, just before zapping her to death! Sadly, this display of existential sadism was immediately undercut by Amanda resurrecting her victim with an injection of adrenaline, and explaining that she’d only snuffed her to cheat the “kill-chip” in her head and set her free. Bo-ring!
I hate to sound like a broken record going on about how superior Joss Whedon’s shows are, but when that dude pulls a plot-twist it really punches you in the brain-guts… and there’s nothing here that even comes close to that level of storytelling trickery. At one point, Division’s Big Bad Boss ‘Percy’ claims that he and Nikita are engaged in an epic Chess match… but really, it’s more like a drunken game of Cluedo with half the cards face-up!