Broadcast Date: 9 September 2010
Director: Danny Cannon
Writer: Craig Silverstein
Cast: Xander Berkeley, Melinda Clarke, Lyndsy Fonseca, Tiffany Hines, Maggie Q, Aaron Stanford, and Shane West
Amanda: “What does the butterfly on your back mean if not transformation?”
I don’t envy the creative team behind Nikita. Like V, the series is a remake of an immensely popular franchise, one celebrated both for its memorable characters and the richness of its universe. To complicate matters, the hardcore Nikita audience consists of two distinct groups: admirers of Luc Besson’s original film and fans of the Canadian series that aired between 1997 and 2001. The two factions don’t wage wars or anything (this isn’t Star Trek), but their expectations do differ. As such, the producers of this new show have to blend the best of both incarnations while making sure to keep things fresh and pertinent to a new generation. That’s no easy marriage.
Curiously, the weakest segments of this pilot deal with previously established concepts. The premise: three years after her escape from Division, a government agency that recruits teenagers on death row and transforms them into super spies, Nikita returns for revenge, the murder of her fiancé having apparently just now sunk in. The rogue assassin has a plan: turn or murder each of her old friends and make sure Division never recruits another unfortunate soul. Does she realise death row inmates who don’t get pulled into cartoonish government conspiracies typically get executed?
I’m just going to put it out there: Maggie Q, who portrays the titular character, needs to get a burger or two in her system. Maybe if she stopped starving herself in order to prance around in skimpy outfits, Nikita might find it in herself to crack a smile once in a while and not be so crabby, manipulative, creepy, and selfish. The woman’s a total maniac, goading her enemy at a public function and bringing about a gunfight amidst countless innocent bystanders. She may not have fired the specific bullets that killed all these waiters, but their blood is on her hands.
On that subject, Nikita also sets up her foster father, forcing Division to kill him. Why? On a technical level, the scene serves to demonstrate her ability to predict the villains’ every move. Within the context of the story, though, her cruelty is justified by hints that the man was a pedophile, something of which we’ll likely never hear again. Ah, yes, sexual abuse as an excuse for convoluted character decisions. As long as we’re not denigrating a real traumatic experience for cheap theatrics or anything.
It’s not all bad, mind you. The most engaging moments follow a new Division recruit as she tries to make sense of the agency’s rehabilitation process. I spent the first half hour convinced her scenes were flashbacks of Nikita in her younger days. Yes, they call her Alex early on, but she always pauses before answering, so I thought for sure the writers would try to surprise us by having the girl reveal her real name to be Nikita and grow up Asian for some reason. The twist at the end turns out far more intriguing.
It works because Alex is allowed to show vulnerability, which makes her livelier and more effective as a protagonist. Despite the excessive teen speak, she’s easy to root for, and I’m looking forward to watching her take down Division from the inside. Besides, spy shows are a dime a dozen these days. An evil government boot camp show, on the other hand, is ripe with promising ideas seldom explored on television. I wish this subplot made up the entirety of the series.
All right, it’s time to address the big French Canadian turned pretty boy elephant in the room. Fans of CTV’s La Femme Nikita should be warned this new guy is not in any way, shape, or form the Michael we all know and love. Sure, his loyalties are ambiguous, and he’s in love with our heroine, but the similarities end there. In fact, it occurs to me he and Nikita have sort switched places: she’s cold and calculated, while he leads with his heart. Or twitchy disposition. I don’t know what’s going on with this guy. It’s as if the producers borrowed the name Michael and slapped it on some random bloke.
As much as I appreciate remakes going in their own direction, inviting the comparison strikes me as sheer folly. Both in terms of acting and character development, Roy Dupuis’s Michael was a tour de force, a perfect adaptation of what made Bob in the French movie so fascinating with a heavy emphasis on his most romantic traits. The man oozed both sex and repression, but never sexual repression. By comparison, Shane West’s take, which involves a lot of huffing and puffing, feels downright adolescent. More importantly, I don’t see him hooking up with Maggie Q. When you’re building a romance for TV, make sure your two leads have that spark or chemistry or whatever you call it when I think my life might improve if two people got over their differences and kissed already. Your series depends on it.
Something Blue (Bits and Pieces)
- Maggie Q starred in a Hong Kong knockoff of La Femme Nikita (1990) titled Naked Weapon (2002). Her rage here is more fitting of that flick’s version of Division.
- As much as I liked Alex’s scenes, the teenybopper cattiness got a bit much: “You haven’t figured out in less than a few hours that the government faked your death and placed you in a secret facility in order to turn you into the perfect assassin? What, are you Amish? I’m, like, so texting about you tonight!”
- Did I get this right? In order to take out a bodyguard, one Division assassin slips a mild poison in his drink so he’ll run to the washroom, allowing another Division assassin to get the drop on him with a stronger poison. It seems to me the process could have been streamlined.
- Percy declaring Nikita a level six threat was a cute nod to the previous series, in which the heroine was a level six operative. It’s also the only positive tidbit in my notes (I remember there being more), and that makes me blue.
The least said about the dialogue, the better. Here are two lines I kind of liked. Two:
Roan: “Nikita knew what we would have to do. I don’t think she liked this guy.”
Michael: “Remember, you’re just getting started.”
Alex: “Damn straight.”
I try never to judge a series by its pilot alone, especially when a lot of the problems I cited can be ironed out once the network pitches in. Having mentioned that, I’m not ready for a committed relationship with Nikita just yet.