Xander Berkeley of "Nikita"
Credit: The CW
Although Friday is generally considered to be the place cult favorite TV shows go to die, the shift to Friday night may be the nicest thing The CW ever did to "Nikita
"Nikita" hasn't *wildly* succeeded on Fridays, but it has delivered a reliable and steady number for The CW despite no lead-in and only a tiny available audience. No longer dealing with the pressure that comes from jettisoning a third (or more) of its "Vampire Diaries" lead-in, "Nikita" has combined with "Supernatural" to do the yeomen's work of keeping the lights on for The CW on Friday nights, generally getting a big DVR boost to boot.
On a purely selfish level, the shift to Fridays puts "Nikita" in a place where I can afford the DVR space to record every episode. Last season, my viewership was a catch-as-catch-can hodgepodge of screeners, repeats and fan convention sneaks that ultimately added up to my seeing maybe three-quarters of the episodes. This season? I've watched every episode, though it sometimes takes a week or two (or more) to get to them.
Normally on Friday nights, I'm finishing up my "Survivor" exit interviews and "Nikita" gets pushed way to the backburner, but due to Wednesday's lack of "Survivor" elimination, I thought this would be a good week to check in on "Nikita" in blog form, if only so that the Mikita cultists can get outraged at me for daring to suggest that Shane West's Michael is a growling bore.
"Survivor" picked a good week not to give me a castoff to interview, since "London Calling" was a fairly meaty episode of "Nikita," culminating in the sort of emotional cliffhanger that's sure to be causing palpitations aplenty within the Mikita community.
[STOP THROWING THINGS AT ME... Shane West's perpetually furrowed brow is awesome! I swear!]
A few thoughts on Friday's episode, but mostly thoughts on the shape of the season as a whole, after the break... [Yes, that means spoilers if you haven't seen Friday's episode...]
First off, who was relieved that Nikita finally told Michael last week that Cassandra's son Max was actually his. That's the sort of secret that more than a few shows would drag out over a half-a-season or even a season, exactly long enough for Michael to have a genuine reason for annoyance at discovering Nikita's concealment. Instead, Michael furrowed his brow at learning the news, but he didn't pretend that Nikita had committed a crime. Instead, he hopped the next flight for Aerial Shots of London and a Couple Toronto Neighborhoods That Don't Resemble London In the Slightest to see his son.
Other than the shoddy Toronto-for-London substitution, there were some very good reasons to go to London.
The first scene with Michael and Max sharing a cookie while watching TV probably made at least 75 percent of the "Nikita" audience go "Awwww..." The softening of Michael has been one of the very best things about the show's transition last spring and into this season, with Mikita fans finally getting what they desired. When he was with Division, Michael was a pill. He was always grouchy and snarly and West's performance was fairly one-note. Now that he has the ability to play something other than constipated intensity, West has become a good deal better and his chemistry with Maggie Q has become a good deal better. The overall show definitely hasn't suffered from bringing them together, providing the latest reminder that any TV critic who refers to "The 'Moonlighting' Curse" should be paddled. It's not that the new structure of "Nikita" has been flawless, but none of the problems have stemmed from the elimination of the will-they/won't-they tension between Michael and Nikita.
Of course, the end of Friday's episode suggested that it won't all be smooth sailing for Michael and Nikita, which seems fair given how incident-free things between them have been all season. We concluded with Nikita correctly recognizing that Michael was never going to be satisfied with knowing he had a son and not seeing him, but also recognizing that Michael having contact with his son would put everybody in danger. She walked away, trying as best Maggie Q can try to cry, leaving Michael with his brow furrowed with intensity. What's next for them? I don't know.
But I'm be perfectly satisfied if whatever the future holds also includes a healthy dose of Helena Mattsson's Cassandra. Leaving aside that Mattsson is rather attractive, the character also got an extra boost courtesy of the shocking (or "shocking-ish") news that Cassandra wasn't a Belarusian asset at all, but rather a full-fledged MI6 agent, complete with near-Nikita-level fight training. As far as I'm concerned, Cassandra is welcome to tag along on any future missions, but I assume that Team Mikita views her as a threat and collectively hates her now. Oh well.
The A-story was definitely the standout in this episode and that's been the case for most of the season, or at least for recent weeks.
When we picked up in September, Alex seemed possibly irreparably damaged and it was possible to question her allegiances. Lately that hasn't been the case. Instead, she's been going about her plan to get revenge on Sergei Semak so slowly it makes Emily Thorne look ruthless and efficient. Lyndsy Fonseca is probably my favorite part of the show, so I like it when she gets to do things. In this episode? She spent half of her time doing wire transfers for Percy in order to get a pile of revenge money. And then she briefly fought off the awkward advances of Sean Pierce.
Can we talk about how *not* to introduce new characters? I don't think it's Dillon Casey's fault, but Sean has added absolutely nothing this season. I get that he's the representative of the season's emerging Big Bad, Oversight and that his mom is a big deal and that he even has begun to have a confusing crisis of conscience, but he hasn't been written interestingly and he hasn't yielded any interesting friction with any of the other characters. So tonight when he decided to use Nikita's love for Alex against her by starting to seduce Alex, it only felt wooden and uncomfortable.
Speaking of Oversight, "Nikita" has had the same problem with Nefarious Adversarial Agencies that has often plagued "Chuck." When Oversight begins putting the screws to Division, it's just one group of white folks in suits threatening another group of white folks in suits. Throw Gogol into the mix and you just get a lot of sameness, albeit sometimes sameness with hammy Russian accents.
I'm gonna do better with my additional thoughts on the season if I just start bullet-pointing it...
Some loose thoughts:
*** Episodes with Aaron Stanford's Birkhoff work better than episodes without Birkhoff. He's resourceful and he's funny and "Nikita" is often a show that's funny-starved. I felt bad for Birkhoff when his safe-house got blown to bits a couple weeks ago, and not just because of all of the technology and high-priced booze went up in flames.
*** Speaking of that shoot-out at the safe-house, it brings me to the two types of "Nikita" action scenes: There are the scenes in which accented bad guys and our heroes basically just run around shooting machine guns like maniacs, spraying bullets everywhere, but never hitting anybody of note. Those scenes invariably end with a tank of something flammable going "Boom" and our heroes limping away, but not limping two scenes later. I hate those scenes. In tonight's episode, the shootout on the cliff would be a fine example of the phenomenon. But then you also have the good "Nikita" fight scenes, which I think of as anything that lets Maggie Q work at close range. Like the fight in the Russian nightclub that included Nikita flip-running on the ceiling? That was great. I understand completely that the choreography and filming on a hand-to-hand fighting scene is many times more complicated than machine gun madness. But I've got my preference.
*** What's the shelf-life for Percy's stint as Hannibal Lecter? I don't mind the scenes in his Super-Max cell, because any time you get Xander Berkeley going head-to-head with Melinda Clarke, that's good drama, as far as I'm concerned. But is this really the best use we can get out of Berkeley on this show? I think not. I'm assuming that Percy's message to the unknown person on the outside -- "Secondary Protocol Activated" -- is going to set up a breakout fairly soon.
*** Once Percy gets out and Oversight becomes more annoying, I think we're building towards some sort of The Enemies of my Enemies are my Friends uneasy alliance between Amanda, Alex and Nikita, but we probably won't get to see that until the spring.
*** It didn't happen tonight, but too much of this season has been driven by those key moments in every episode where Alex and Nikita come head to head and you're all "Who's gonna try to stop whom?" in exactly the same way Michael and Nikita kept spotting each other across rooms or in subway stations in Season One.
*** I wish we could have gotten more time with David Keith as Nikita's not-father. I like David Keith and that arc could have been stretched over two or three episodes. And we don't really believe her real father is dead just because David Keith said so, do we? When they cast her real dad, might I suggest Keith David?
In general, I think I've liked the start of the second season of "Nikita" more than I liked the start of the first season, but I think I preferred the twists and turns that ended last spring. Perhaps because of Alex's increasing lax storyline, episodes haven't been cohering and escalating as much as I'd like. But with the fall finale only a few weeks away, I assume we're heading toward something big.
So that's me...
How are you liking Season 2 of "Nikita"? And what'd you think of Friday's episode?