The following review will contain spoilers for the TV show Nikita on the CW.
I love Nikita even though I was sure I would hate it. Nikita is a show based on a show based on a film based… well, let’s just say, we’ve seen this before. Even Alias sort of did the same story, at least at first. But if you really want to know the pedigree of this show: Luc Besson’s Nikita got remade by Hollywood as Point of No Return, and the remake then got turned into the TV series La Femme Nikita. In the original film, Nikita was a drug addict murderer whose death was faked by a government organization to turn her into a killer, and Nikita fled the organization after falling in love and botching a mission. The TV series showed Nikita trying to gain some independence whilst working for the government all the time.
In the new series, Nikita (Maggie Q) was a troubled young girl who got taken in by the shadowy Division, led by Percy (Xander Berkeley) and trained as an assassin. When she fell in love, Division killed her lover and she flew, vowing to take revenge. All of this takes place before the series begins. I always liked the basic story because in the end, Nikita turns the tables and fights against the men controlling her, fights the power. And here, we get that fight right from the beginning. We don’t have to wait, the whole show is two women against Division.
Two? Yes, because while Nikita herself is in hiding, she manages to smuggle Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) into Division as a new recruit. The basic episode structure then is: Division is planning something sinister; Alex must get the info to Nikita without being discovered; Nikita comes and ruins Percy’s day.
So, aside from the basic idea, why does this show rock so much? It’s not because of its realism or its depth – Nikita is pretty much a pure action show with more or less isolated episodes, and the moments where Maggie Q needs to act more than just being a badass are few. But she is a badass. You might argue that she embodies the stereotype of tiny women kicking ass, but Maggie Q looks like she could kick people’s asses despite being tiny. What’s more, Nikita gets to kick ass mostly in sensible clothes. By which I mean leggings or jeans, tank tops and boots, and not in high heels. When, in the most recent episode, Alex is dressed up in high heels it is actually distracting because it happens so rarely – and if it happens, it’s often at the behest of Division.
Though I must make mention of the pilot: Don’t watch it. I only recently watched it, I started with episode 2, and it feels out of place with the rest of the series. Many pilots are shot long before the other episodes, and I suspect that happened here, as well. Nikita wears a bathing suit, and a stunning dress the camera loves, and high-heeled shoes. The dynamics aren’t in place yet. And while some of what’s happening in the pilot is relevant for the rest of the story, you can infer most of it if you haven’t seen it.
The show doesn’t that much differentiate between male and female characters. Nikita is out for revenge because Division killed her lover and turned her into a killer. In one episode, we meet another Division agent whose girlfriend gets killed by Division, and Michael (Shane West), the senior agent in charge of finding Nikita, joined Division after terrorists killed his family. And Division killed Alex’ parents – to be precise, Nikita killed Alex’ parents. So neither falling in love on the job nor swearing revenge is portrayed as typically female.
Alex has had an even better storyline with another recruit, Thom (Ashton Holmes). Thom was romantically interested in Alex early on, but Alex played it off, partly because she didn’t want to risk any attachment to Division. Then came an episode where she had to get information out to Nikita, and her only way was to hide the info in Thom’s suit pocket – so she gave him a kiss for good luck. It was clear that Alex likes Thom, and at the same time it was clear that she used him there, putting the mission first. And in the most recent episode, when Thom finds out she’s a mole, she ends up killing him and, while crying and regretting what she did, Alex also frames Thom for the security breaches Division discovered.
The women constantly seem to be more focused on their mission; where Michael already hesitated once before shooting Nikita, I don’t doubt she would kill him if that was the only way to destroy Division.
There’s another important female character, Amanda (Melinda Clarke). Amanda is Division’s psychologist and torturer, someone who portrays herself very much like a mother figure but may just be the coldest of the characters aside from Percy. She may be the most dangerous of the characters because Michael likes Alex and can be fooled, but you get the feeling that Amanda cannot.
Nikita has eight major characters, at least five regulars and three recurring ones. Four of them are women. The fourth woman is Jaden (Tiffany Hines), and she is very much the weakest character of all eight so far. She has been portrayed as Alex’s enemy from the start. Jaden is pretty much characterized only by the fact that she dislikes and mistrusts Alex, which is a shame. I hope in the future they’ll give Hines a little more to work with. It’s also a shame because Jaden’s the only black character in the show. And while the show looks pretty white, my research showed it to be more colorful than I expected. Maggie Q has, of course, a varied family background that includes Irish, Polish and Vietnamese; Shane West is part Cajun French, and Lyndsy Fonseca of part Portuguese descent. And Xander Berkeley is made of awesome and evil. Does that count?
In the end, Nikita is a show with a loose mythology and mostly hints of complexity, but with at least as many women as men on the show, and where the women have diverse roles and get to be regularly stronger or as strong as their male counterparts. It’s a show with a former model in the lead who nevertheless mostly goes out in form-fitting, yes, but not exploitative clothes. I love it because it’s not a show that seems designed to appeal to femaule audiences only, nor is it a show that is intended to be very ambitious – it’s just a run-of-the-mill action show that just happens to feature great women, which I see as a sign that times are, in fact, changing.
As a final piece of my argument, I have uploaded a scene from episode 11 to youtube. Nikita has been caught by Division, and while Alex is planning her escape, she is questioned by Amanda. We see Nikita being afraid of Amanda where not a lot can ruffle her feathers otherwise. Amanda proceeds to show Nikita clips of her and Daniel (the man Division killed), torturing her with what Division did, what they knew, and how Nikita betrayed them. It’s a great moment because Maggie Q gets to show vulnerability, and then of course because she gets to escape in an almost mythological fashion, breaking her chains. Also: see what Nikita was wearing on the job.
Sadly, I can’t embed the short scene from episode 11, but you can watch it on youtube.
I just love that moment. See her muscles? Yeah, Maggie Q is tiny, but she would kick my ass. I also like that while Division is bad, and Percy is evil, the other characters are more nuanced (except for Jaden so far) and all of them might be convinced to work with Nikita. And yet, when Nikita got to help Michael and prevented him from being killed (but also, at the same time, taking his revenge), this only strengthened Michael’s ties to Division.
It’s a bit cheesy, it’s not perfect, but it’s one of my favorite shows on television right now. And I don’t even feel guilty about its pleasure.