Liz Tells Frank What Happened In The CW’s “Nikita” (Sorta.)
Like most of Los Angeles, I came down with a bit of a cold this weekend, which means that I failed to properly deal with my Liz Tells Frank responsibilities. I accept my shame! (I also blame Speed 2.) But I did do what I usually do whilst lying in bed willing my body to get better — watch a bunch of TV! Specifically, the CW series Nikita, which recently became available on Netflix. And Frank, Nikita? It’s faaaaaaaaaab.
I mean, it’s fab in a very specific way — basically, it’s Alias, but without a lot of Alias‘s mistakes, and a far superior lead in Maggie Q. (Sorry, Jennifer Garner, but Maggie Q is THE BEST). I know there have been many other incarnations of this tale before (and that the La Femme Nikita series has a certain fascination for some folks), but with having seen both the French and American films and without having seen the TV show, I feel comfortable saying that this is my favorite version of the story. Frank, let me break it down for you in a nice vague way, with only one major twist from the pilot revealed:
The classic La Femme Nikita story, as established by the original 1990 French film by Luc Besson, is as follows: drug addict/murderer/hot lady is rescued from the death penalty by a secret government organization, which gives her the choice to instead become an assassin. She does so, there’s the usual “falling in love with a civilian and maybe getting him killed” malarky, and usually an inconclusive ending with the lady assassin escaping.
Nikita, meanwhile, operates as a sort of a sequel to that tale; we start with Nikita, as played by Maggie Q, already free from the control of the secret organization (known as Division). But instead of enjoying her freedom, she’s determined take Division down, as it’s become corrupt and power-hungry under the control of a dude named Percy. (Never trust a Percy, Frank.)
Oh, and they killed the man she loved. I saiiiiiiiiiiid it was a lot like Alias, okay? Cut me some slack.
So the show, as of about halfway through season one, consists largely of Nikita trying to fuck up Division’s shit and other spy antics. The twist? There’s a new recruit at Division, a feisty gal named Alex, who is a) played by Ted’s Daughter from How I Met Your Mother and b) TOTALLY A SPY FOR NIKITA. It’s awesome.
How Alex and Nikita came to work together is explained slowly over the course of the first season, but what really matters is that in part because of their partnership, every fucking episode of this show passes the Bechdel test with a minimal amount of effort. It’s seriously so much fun, to watch a show that’s just about two women fucking up some shit and not overly concerning themselves with romance. (Because c’mon, this show is on the CW, both ladies have potential makeout partners, but all relationships are fraught with complications caused by spying.)
The writing isn’t Sorkin, let’s be clear — there’s no shortage of cliche lines and quasi-obvious plotting. But there are still some good twists and turns here and there, and the overall plot moves pleasantly fast with minimal lollygagging; without revealing too much, let’s just say that a plot point I wasn’t expecting to happen until the end of season one popped up in Episode 11, along with a game-changer moment (i.e. character death).
Plus, it really is a reminder of how fun Alias could be while simultaneoulsy improving dramatically upon that show. For one thing, Alias was built upon playing with the concept of Sydney Bristow’s dual identities: normal college student and bad-ass spy. But there’s no duality to Nikita — she is ruthlessly focused on her goal of destruction — which means a couple of things. For one, there’s far less of the cutesy concealing-secret-identity-from-civilians stuff, which definitely gets old after a while. For another, whenever Nikita plays silly sorority girl or drunk executive, there’s no uncertainty on the part of the viewer that she might be letting some of her true self leaking through; it’s clearly an act. Garner always seemed a little too comfortable in the role of dumb (wigged) blonde. Maggie is pure deceit.
Also Nikita? Totally kills people. No bullshit tranq guns for her (a Sydney Bristow classic)! People get shot and die for realsies, and Nikita is haunted by that, because she’s a complex character with a complex past and extreme guilt issues. Real stakes + real emotions = good TV.
In short, the show is far better than I expected, filled with fun actors (Shane West pretend to be a bad-ass only occasionally derails the series into farce, and Melinda Clarke as the badass lady stylist/interrogator is A-plus) and good action. The next time you are hacking up a lung in bed, Frank, you could do a lot worse. And yes, I consider that high praise.
Posted on December 13, 2011, in No Spoilers, TV and tagged A+ on the bechdel test, girrrrrrrrl power, la femme nikita, liz has a girlcrush, maggie q, nikita, television pilots, the cw sometimes gets it right. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.