Roughly once per season I like to check in on The CW’s “Nikita.”
It’s a show I continue to watch largely because it’s on on Fridays where I don’t have any DVR conflicts, which isn’t really a very good excuse for watching things unless you’re a TV critic and a completist. And it’s one of many CW shows that Sepinwall doesn’t watch, so I like to keep vaguely in the loop, just in case it’s urgent that somebody at HitFix know what’s happening on “Nikita.” It hasn’t happened yet, but I keep waiting.
The third “Nikita” season wrapped up on Friday (May 17) with an episode I’ve already seen fans calling “shocking,” but which left me really cold. I’d be contemplating dropping the show from my viewing roster, except that The CW has announced that “Nikita” has only a six-episode final season coming up at a TBD point next fall. I can stick it out for six more episodes, even if nothing about where the show is going seems especially interesting to me.
Click through for my thoughts on the finale and the season and then, assuming y’all have thoughts, you can chime in. If not? I’ll know why I only write about “Nikita” once a year.
The disappointing part about the past three or four episodes of the “Nikita” season is that, for me, I was finding Season 3 to be a big improvement in many ways. In the first season, “Nikita” struggled to integrate mythology episodes at all and over-relied, as so many procedurals of this type do, on bland case-of-the-week episodes. In the second season, the concentration on the Michael-Nikita relationship opened the door for character development, even if I wasn’t always gripped by the developing narrative.
The premise for Season 3 turned things on their heads nicely.
Michael, Nikita, Birkhoff and Alex had cleared Amanda out of Division and suddenly they were in charge of Division themselves. Tasked with bringing in a certain number of off-the-grid Division agents, they had clear week-to-week tasks, in addition to a developing arc that was simultaneous inevitable, but also interesting: What happens when the outsiders become the establishment? And what if becoming “the establishment,” in this case, means a stealth government offshoot tasked with political assassinations and other dirty deeds? In short, what if, in attempting to conquer your enemy, you become the thing you hate?
I wasn’t fully on board. Noah Bean’s Ryan Fletcher and Dillon Casey’s Sean Pierce were always blandly interchangeable and I stopped pretending or caring if they were supposed to be different people. One died this season. One kinda died but was resurrected. “Nikita” is, unfortunately, one of those shows that near-kills its characters with such frequency life-and-death stakes lose all meaning. The show introduced Richard T. Jones as a potential adversary and then killed him off without any payoff at all. And I’d also be really skeptical of anybody who tries saying that Aaron Stanford’s Birkhoff and Lyndie Greenwood’s Sonya have any chemistry at all.
But I liked the idea of snowballing compromises and the idea that the choices these somewhat heroic characters were making were sending them down a dark spiral. Even the choices that seemed noble and selfless and unrelated to Division — Nikita boldly hacking off Michael’s hand to save his life — led only to more compromises and more darkness and, oddly, human trafficking.
The growing rift between Alex and Nikita was worth pursuing and I endorsed what I thought was a progression that would cause Alex to question her mentor and foment a revolt from within Division, a revolt that implied that Michael and Ryan and Nikita had become the new Percy and Amanda. Meanwhile, Devon Sawa’s likable lapdog Owen recovered some missing memories and turned out not to be such a nice guy.
Of course, Alex hadn’t really grown to distrust Nikita and I’m not really convinced on the veracity or lack thereof of Owen’s memories, because “Nikita” decided that Amanda needed to be given some absurd mind-altering technology that rendered the idea that there were real character journeys happening meaningless. The episode in which Alex, having unleashed all manner of hell and basically destroyed New Division, went, “Ooops. It wasn’t me. It was what Amanda did to me,” and everybody squirmed for five seconds and then welcomed her back into the fold was an excruciating cop-out.
Friday’s finale followed in those corner cutting footsteps.
When we left Nikita last week, Amanda had revealed to her that she’d infected Michael with nanotoxins when he got his artificial hand and that, with the push of a button, Michael could be made to bleed out from every orifice. She told Nikita that if she didn’t kill the President, she’d activate the nanotoxins and kill Michael and blah blah blah blah blah, but she couldn’t tell him because blah blah blah blah.
It took about 10 minutes into the finale not only for it to become clear that Nikita was perfectly willing to kill the President to protect Michael, but also for her to give the whole team the entire story via some really broad clues that somehow Amanda missed, despite being in Nikita’s head. The team gets involved in trying to help, or at least to kill the nanotoxins and take away Nikita’s leverage, but it becomes clear that Amanda thought everything out in advance. Michael lies and tells Nikita the nanotoxins are out, she confesses to the President, who blows her own brains out, making Nikita and Oswald-style patsy. [Sorry. Just felt like getting a little conspiracy-theory-heavy on you.]
By the time Nikita escapes, because Amanda thought out everything in advance other than the fact that Nikita is capable of escaping from everybody, the team figured out that by killing Michael for 20 minutes, they can also kill the toxins. This would be awkward under most circumstances, but as I said earlier, characters on “Nikita” are pretty much constantly having their hearts stopped for one reason or another. And of course this works, because Nikita cries over Michael and that brings him back to life.
So the whole episode is about how important it is to have a team or have a family. Nikita started off with only Alex as her family, but now it’s relatively large and that helped her somewhat, except that problem with the President being dead and Nikita being blamed. The search is on for Nikita and the gang reassures her that they’re gonna clear her name. Apparently that doesn’t take, because Nikita sneaks out, leaving her engagement ring behind. It’s basically “Buffy” at the end of Season 2, only not as good.
Nikita’s on the run, because she worries she’s too much of a drag on her family, even though she insists she’s not and even though she was prepared to kill the President for Michael just hours earlier. I don’t buy it, but whatever. The group has to figure out why Amanda and The Shop wanted the President dead and, more interestingly, how they got in her head to make her kill herself. That’s a more interesting question than they know, because The Shop actually has the real President in a cage somewhere, perfectly alive. Oh.
The thing I’m not sure I’m interested in is how this changes the status quo and what it sets up for next season. Nikita has been a hunted lone wolf before. Several times. Constantly, actually. Everybody else is mobilized to try to help her and thanks to Birkhoff’s computer superpowers, it won’t be hard for them to find her whenever the writers decide they’re done with her being a lone wolf. And Amanda’s in league with another reptilian Euro-villain, because she’s always either in league with a reptilian Euro-villain or with Percy, who I’m convinced is still alive somewhere, because there’s no good reason for anybody to really die in the “Nikita” universe.
The last leg of what could have been a good season was, instead, a rushed assortment of cut corners. And if a season in which they knew they had 22 episodes to arc ended up this sloppy, I’m really not so sure I trust the show’s ability to bring home a final season narrative in which they knew they’d only have a limited order, but they hoped it’d be more than six. And I don’t know that there’s anything that was introduced in the finale that couldn’t be resolved in a single episode.
A few other thoughts on the episode:
*** Francois Chau wasn’t especially well used as the doctor whose nanotechology was weaponized. The “Lost” veteran looked concerned and then bled out in harrowing fashion. Boo. Give Pierre Chang more to do!
*** The all-out assault on Division by the remainder of the Dirty Thirty had some exciting moments but it was, once again, a truly cut corner. Birkhoff and Alex and Ryan are about to be overrun and Nikita comes in and destroys a dozen people with a pipe? And those people, who presumably shouldn’t have been killed by a little pipe-whacking, are never mentioned again? The show’s over-reliance on Nikita’s extraordinary fighting ability at the expense of forcing her (or the writers) to be smart has often been a problem.
*** Not even “Revolution” is more afraid of electricity than “Nikita.” Division has always been the most dimly lit government facility this side of certain incarnations of CTU and tonight took us to a science lab without light bulbs and to an Oval Office that shrouded in darkness.
*** Birkhoff has established his fighting bona fides enough times that the show and accompanying musical score shouldn’t be so shocked when he kicks butt. Like when he takes out a nest of agents with a machine gun and says, to nobody, “How you like me now?” Yawn.
*** The White House is not a poorly secured facility. And even if Amanda had people on the inside, I don’t get how the only available suspect photo would be Nikita from the side or why the only description given to the public is “dark-hair, five-foot-seven.” Maggie Q is a distinctive looking woman. Come on.
Anyway, this was just going to be me doing a quick check-in and opening the floor for comments, but then I got wordy. What’d you think of the finale or the season?