Sunday, March 17, 2013

TV: Nikita's greatest foe

Friday night The CW aired "The Life We've Chosen," an episode of Nikita, it's spy show. 

It was a win-some-lose-some episode.  Former head of Division and all around baddie Amanda (Melinda Clarke) had shot dead two police officers to kidnap Division agent Alex (Lyndsy Fonesca) on the previous episode and was now calling Division agent Nikita (Maggie Q) to tell her she would trade Alex for Russian spy Ari (Peter Outerbridge) who had been Amanda's lover of many years until she recently decided to steal his money and try to kill him.

Ari went running to Division which is how he ended up with Nikita and her gang.  As things heated up, Alex was rescued but adamant about going back to rescue a doctor that had helped her while Nikita was insisting that they had to follow Amanda and get Ari back.  Alex's lover Sean (Dillon Casey) sided with Alex and they went off together leaving Nikita with Owen (Devon Sawa) and not enough people to execute the plan they'd come up with.

Nikita and Alex divided are of no help to anyone.  That's long been the message of the show.  Friday night was no different.  The doctor died in a fire, Ari died shot in the back by Amanda.

As the episode wound down, no one with a brain was grinning.  Nikita was explaining to Michel (Shane West) just how badly it had gone.

Nikita:  Alex left and we lost.

Alex walks up and looks over at Nikita who stares back at her.  Michael looks from one to the other.

Michael:  I'll be in Ops.

As he walks off, the two women stare at each other for a moment more before speaking.

Alex:  So.

Nikita:  So. 

Ryan comes through, looks from one to the other.

Ryan:  I just want to say, job well done.  Look, I know we had some differences over tactics, but we got Alex back and we recovered the black box.  I cannot argue with those results.  You guys really do make a great team.

He walks off while Alex and Nikita continue to stare at one another.

Nikita is now in its third season.  The show is based on the USA series La Femme Nikita starring Peta Wilson and the US film Point of No Return starring Bridget Fonda and the 1990 French film Nikita starring Anne Parillaud.  The first episode of Nikita messed with you.  Like the ones before, it involved a break-in and a shoot out.  But the young woman injured was Alex.  Nikita has already been trained by Division (a spy agency working with the US government) and has already bailed on them.  She wants to get Alex inside the fortress that is Division so she can work on bringing it down.

Making Nikita a mentor and not someone struggling to learn spycraft wasn't the only change, there's also Maggie Q.


In the US versions, Nikita's been blonde.  In all three previous versions, Nikita's been White.  Maggie Q is bi-racial.  With a White father and a Vietnamese mother, she's Asian-American.  And carrying her own show.

August 27, 1951, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong aired its first episode.  That DuMont Network program featured Asian-American actress and star Anna May Wong.  Wong had found fame in silent films, then moved on to talkies before pursuing the stage and overseas films. At the age of 46, she began starring in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong which was the first TV series in the US to star an Asian-American woman.  And her character?  A spy.

Much is rightly made of African-American Kerry Washington being the star of ABC's one hour drama Scandal.  Similar attention should focus on Maggie Q's accomplishment.

Q's carried the series for three years.  She's played a vengeful and untrusting Nikita who wanted to bring down Division who managed to transform into a team leader in the second season and to someone with an ever increasing sense of right and wrong in the third season.  She's handled each evolution with skill and careful shading, forever finding new dimensions in Nikita -- the trained assassin who fights her way back to humanity.

If Nikita could go hand-to-hand with her worst enemy, The CW would be gasping for breath and begging for mercy.  The CW qualifies as worst enemy because its spent this season forever undermining the show via scheduling.  Once you put a show on Fridays, you need to stand by it.  Standing by it is not stops-and-starts.  Ratings show a season high for Friday night.  So how sad that this Friday won't feature a new episode.  This has happened too often in season three.  The show builds up steam and excitement and the ratings begin to rise and then it's time for the show to be off the air or for a repeat.

Maybe The CW needs to order more then 22 episodes of Nikita?  We're not talking about the 23 episodes it ordered for season two.  Up the order to 30.  Take a winter break of four weeks off and air the first half before the winter break and the second half after.  30 episodes with no repeats?  The CW could see Nikita build real traction.

Season four certainly has enough twists and turns in store.  For example, Ryan.

Back on October 27th, Mike (who covers Nikita at his site) noted, "But Ryan's turning bad.  [. . .]  He's becoming Percy.  He's shutting people out of the decision process, he's doing questionable things arguing that it's the only way, it's probably exactly how Percy started."

Ryan Fletcher (Noah Bean) was a CIA agent who became aware of Division and an ally of Nikita in her seasons one and two efforts to bring it down.  At the end of season two, to keep the government from killing the rogue agents of Division (who aren't aware that they're rogue and were led to believe they were on official, government missions), Michael, Nikita and Ryan agreed to run to Division.  Since Ryan had been a CIA analyst and not an agent, he didn't have the training for the field missions that Nikita, Michael, Alex and Owen did.  So he ended up running things.

And what the audience has seen is that Ryan is okay with killing children, he's okay with putting kill chips in the heads of people.  All the things Percy (who came before Amanda) and Amanada once used to justify their actions are slowly the things Ryan is grasping for.

How do you fight your friend when you friend becomes the monster?  If Division is the all corrupting -- as it appears to be -- how do you do anything but dismantle it in order to save the ones you love?

These are the choices Nikita will likely be facing in season four.  Fortunately, Maggie Q and the rest of the cast (especially West, Fonseca, Clarke and Casey) have demonstrated they can play complexities.  Season four should be the best season of Nikita so far.  In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that while the show's benched this Friday, the following Friday (March 29th), The CW spends the next eight weeks with a new episode of Nikita every Friday.  Trust us, you won't want to miss this.

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