NIKITA “Game Change” Season 2 Episode 1 – When reviewing Revenge earlier this week I likened it to a guilty pleasure. It’s a show that knows how bad it is and revels in its corniness. Nikita is a show that revels in how good it wants to be. The heavy tone Nikita strives for is unattainable, mainly due to the frankly awful acting, directing and writing, and thus Nikita, instead of reaching pinnacles of high drama, often cedes into mediocre banality.
So, why do I love this show so much? It’s not Alias. It’s not Luc Besson’s film. Yet I can’t help but reach for Youtube immediately following an episode to get just a taster of the next episode. Why?
If there’s one word to describe the cast it would be charmless. I am, of course, excluding Melinda Clarke who has perfected her villain routine and stands out as a true scene stealer whenever she’s on screen. Nikita herself is played by Irish/Chinese actress Maggie Q, who has an awesome name (her surname is actually Quigley), awesome moves, awesome looks and when you see her interviewed on shows like George Lopez’s, she’s charming and hilarious and incredibly likable. Alas, when she acts, she’s devoid of all of these qualities and turns lines which really shouldn’t be all that bad into laughable drab clichés. Shane West is worse and he and Miss Q have about as much onscreen chemistry as a squid and a hoover.
But Nikita has a writing staff behind it that’s not afraid to take ridiculous risks. Oh sure, the actual dialogue may not be brilliant, and the case of the week structure (this week it involved a cop wrongly imprisoned for committing a murder he was investigating, who pleads guilty to keep his son safe) is just silly, but they take so many ridiculous twists and turns – like the drones showing up to bomb the crap out of the Division agents – that the show is pulsing with adrenaline.
The real reason, however, why I love this show, especially as it rolls into its second season, is the obvious relationship between Nikita and Alex, and these writers know exactly what they’re doing in that regard-or at least appear to. Last season Nikita wanted to take down Division. Why? Something about a fiancé who nobody really cared about. But to take them down she basically planted a proxy bomb in the form of Alex. But Alex, while she was supposed to help Nikita, ended up getting the raw end of the deal: she was surrounded by the people who’d killed her parents, tortured multiple times, risked her life just by messaging Nikita and basically endured hellish missions she’d no choice but to go on, eventually killing the guy she was kinda sweet on. Last year, Alex was the one with the fascinating arc and Lyndsy Fonseca was unquestionably the show’s breakout star – as she should have been, with the storylines she was given. (Sidenote: her hair style this season? Get rid of it. What the hell is she doing with a groomed mane like that?)
Nikita works best when it’s these two working with each other, and even better when it’s these two working against each other. And they jump about twenty nine layers in complexity when they share a scene. Their fight near the end of this episode was just an example of how brilliant this show could be, and why I’m so enthralled even though I know there are numerable flaws which I’d usually consider unforgivable.
I love that the writers did not even try to make Alex a potential fighting match for Nikita. As Nikita broke Alex’s arm and put a bullet into her thigh, it was a “HOLY CRAP!” moment that just made me throw my hands up with glee. It was not meaningless-that would have been annoying. As I was trying to comprehend why Nikita would resort to so violent and aggressive a tactic it was soon obvious that she had backed both herself and Alex into two very different corners. She got out which was the easier task, but she couldn’t take Alex with her, nor did she want to put her down. It was ruthless, but it was a message: you will never take me, this is too big for you and if you pursue this course you will suffer. I love that the show, which can often be exposition heavy when it comes to plot details, decided to forgo justification for Nikita’s cold actions.
Yet you can’t help but sympathise with Alex, and that’s where the writers have really excelled. Nikita is the protagonist. It’s her name at the beginning of every episode. It’s her mission we support. But she is not the hero. She’s not a good person who just fell in with the wrong crowd. She’s filled with moral ambiguities, and instead of seeing her in terms of black and white, we’ve been offered a million different shades of gray. Then there’s Alex, the (beautiful) Frankenstein to Nikita’s Prometheus. Except, the writers have not made her a monster. Indeed, she’s the hero of the show and if this show was called ALEX, we would totally sympathise with her and Nikita would be like that clichéd best friend who taught her everything but then fucked off and left she stranded to take care of her own needs, which is actually exactly what Nikita did – except so much of the episode is from Nikita’s point of view so our portrait of Alex is gloriously distorted. The only reason she’s in Division (or so she tells herself: layer alert!) is to root out what happened to her family, the catalyst which essentially brought her life crashing about her ears. From her point of view, Nikita screwed her over big time, getting her into a game with Division which, it’s very likely, she’ll never get out of.
So yes, I can see the flaws, I detest the flaws, and I know I’m projecting more complexity than there actually is, but I don’t care. This show offers so much potential that if it could sort out some of the plotting problems, get Maggie Q a few acting classes so she can loosen up and insert some of her own charismatic personality into Nikita (and there was a moment of that when Birkhoff reappeared so it shouldn’t be too difficult) and just have a bit more fun about itself, this show could be deadly. It’s got something only a few great show have: from Kalinda and Alicia to Walter and Jesse to Don and Peggy to Boyd and Raylon to Nikita and Alex, it has that central relationship which is just kick ass (no pun intended).
What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below.
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