Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pilot Review: Nikita

Nikita (Thursdays at 9:00 on The CW)

The next few reviews are late entries, because I wasn't sure what to make of just one episode. The first up is Nikita, a reboot of La Femme Nikita (which was itself based on a 1990 French film called... yup, Nikita). It follows a deadly assassin who used to work for a secret branch of the government called Division. She was supposed to be put to death for murdering someone, but Division saved her from that fate and trained to become a spy. Her speciality is being a "ghost," living completely off the map. But a few years after she'd been activated, Nikita fell in love with a civilian. Division had him killed, so she went rogue and has been trying to bring them down ever since.

So that is where the pilot episode picks up: we meet Alex, who is about to face the same fate as Nikita... but then is also saved by Division. So over the next 40 minutes, Alex is thrown into an underground training facility while (what seems like the entirety of) Division hunts down Nikita to stop her from... what, exactly? It's never really made clear what Nikita plans to do that will actually bring down Division. She can't tell anyone. She can't sell her story to the media. Is she just going to kill them all? Then they'll be replaced. Oh, right, she just wants to bring down their leader, Percy, because he's corrupt.

Wait, what? He's corrupt? Isn't the whole damn agency corrupt? That's the whole point! If Division in and of itself weren't corrupt, they wouldn't be a total secret. Whatever, it's a spy show, I'll let it slide.

So basically all of Division - you know, this huge secret spy agency that can basically do whatever they please because they don't officially exist? - gets their panties in a knot because Nikita's being mean to them. So they chase her. But of course she's smarter than them and is always one step ahead! Until she's cornered in an alley and one of the higher-ups at Division has the chance to shoot her and end it all; but she sweets talks him and seduces him with her wiley femininity and runs off.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Nikita is a completely ridiculous show. But as easy as it is to make fun of, it's actually well done. The pilot moved very quickly (almost too quickly, too much was going on) and did an admirable job of setting an interesting groundwork. The action is abundant (and very violent for a show at 9:00), which adds to the great look and feel the show has. Everything's sharp but dark and perfectly moody; this cinematographer deserves a raise. The performances are almost all good as well, with the unfortunate exception of Nikita herself, Maggie Q. She has no emotional depth, which is fine for a lot of Nikita's scenes since she is supposed to be empty on the inside from losing her lover. But in the scenes where she had to play emotionally (like the retelling of her lover's murder, her confrontation with her abusive stepfather), it came across as cold and shallow. We have to want to root for Nikita, but we're not going to root for someone who seems like a stone-cold bitch with no emotional connection to anything. The performances from Lyndsy Fonseca (Alex) and Shane West (Michael, the operative who gets Nikita cornered and then wimps out) are strong enough to cover Maggie Q's shortcomings. Fonseca is the most memorable actor and character on display, and West broods with the best of them.

All in all, it's a fun waste of time. Each episode thus far has been pretty much stand-alone, with a new crime being committed by Division introduced at the start, Nikita interrupting it, Division hunting her down, and Nikita escaping with the help of her mole (a shocking revelation at the pilot's end, and the episode's greatest moment). So each episode is like a short action film, and I can deal with that.

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