Review: Nikita 1×1

Dreadful

Maggie Q as Nikita

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Living. Starts October. Available on iTunes

La Femme Nikita is probably one of the most influential French movies of the last couple of decades or so. It got remade in the US with Bridget Fonda, it span off a TV series with Peta Wilson and now The CW is spinning off another TV series called Nikita. But it’s also influential in other terms: you can look to shows ranging from VR.5 to Covert Affairs to even Buffy to see the descendants of Nikita – the kick-ass heroine who has a potentially romantic relationship with her less action-packed but still strong, emotionally shut down male ‘handler’.

The plot of the original movie, followed by all the other versions, is that a female junkie is arrested committing a robbery. She’s sent to prison and while there is told that the government has taken an interest in her and want her to join their top-secret agency. She agrees and after faking her death, she’s taught not only how to be a spy and fight the bad guys with potentially unethical techniques, she learns how to be a Lady rather than a common street thug. After a while, ‘Nikita’ as they call her decides she wants to leave ‘Division’ and has to escape from her new bosses, helped by the handler who’s grown to love her (‘Michael’).

Now the last TV series, despite the escapism, was clearly for adults: it was masterminded by neo-con Joel Surnow before he went on to co-create 24 and enjoys many of the same attitudes, concepts of how terrorists operate and what our responses should be. There was frequent torture and murder. It was still obviously escapist, and made 24 look realistic in comparison, but it was clearly a show with some real guts.

But the new Nikita is on The CW, which is best known as the home of Smallville, America’s Next Top Model, Gossip Girl, 90210, Privileged, Life Unexpected and a whole variety of teenage/young adult programming (Supernatural being the strange exception).

So how are we going to get teenagers into this? Well, the answer here is that this Nikita instead of recreating the movie carries on a few years later. Nikita, now played by Maggie Q, is still on the run but has now decided to get her revenge on Division. Meanwhile, Division is still recruiting – and guess what: it’s got a whole bunch of new teenage girl recruits.

Plot
When she was a deeply troubled teenager, Nikita (Maggie Q, “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Mission Impossible 3”) was rescued from death row by a secret U.S. agency known only as Division, who faked her execution and told her she was being given a second chance to start a new life and serve her country. What they didn’t tell her was that she was being trained as a spy and assassin. Throughout her grueling training at Division, Nikita never lost her humanity, even falling in love with a civilian. When her fiancé was murdered, Nikita realized she had been betrayed and her dreams shattered by the only people she thought she could trust, so she did what no one else before her had been able to do: she escaped. Now, after three years in hiding, Nikita is seeking retribution and making it clear to her former bosses that she will stop at nothing to expose and destroy their covert operation.

For the time being, however, Division continues to recruit and train other young people, erasing all evidence of their former lives and turning them into cold and efficient killers. One of these new recruits, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca, “Kick-Ass,” “Desperate Housewives”), is a beautiful girl with a violent past and a story not so different from Nikita’s. After her parents were murdered, Alex’s life completely derailed. Haunted by her horrific past, she ended up drug-addicted and homeless until Division “rescued” her and brought her into the fold.

Division’s top authority, Percy (Xander Berkeley, “Kick-Ass,” “24”) spent years being a good government soldier, taking his role as an insider and using it to turn the secret organization into a lucrative spy-for-hire shop. With Nikita gone rogue, Percy will do whatever it takes to destroy her and protect the empire he’s built, and he often turns to his top lieutenant, Michael (Shane West, “ER,” Once and Again”), for help. Michael trained Nikita when she was a recruit and is now faced with the responsibility of tracking down his renegade student. At the same time, Michael is in charge of training Alex, Nikita’s young replacement, along with other recruits, including Thom (Ashton Holmes, “Boston Legal”), who has been at Division for a year and is anxious to prove himself, and Jaden (Tiffany Hines, “Bones”), a beautiful and tough young woman who challenges Alex at every turn.

The recruits all spend part of their training with Amanda (Melinda Clarke, “The O.C.,” “The Vampire Diaries”), a master manipulator who can turn any ugly duckling into a swan and any bleeding heart into a killer. Her use of psychological warfare and strategy is key to Percy’s entire operation. Amanda has only had one failure during her tenure at Division: Nikita, the recruit she was never able to break.

Nikita also left her mark on Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford, “Traveler,” “X-Men: The Last Stand”), the nonconformist computer genius who was caught hacking into the Pentagon’s system from his college dorm room and was recruited into Division at the same time as Nikita. Birkhoff never admits to anyone that he misses his former colleague, and he has managed to hold onto his own rebel spirit, his geek-speak and his slacker dress code.

This is the world of Division that Alex now finds herself facing everyday, and she is just beginning to understand why the legendary Nikita has dedicated herself to taking them down.

“Nikita” is from Warner Bros. Television in association with Wonderland Sound and Vision, with executive producers Craig Silverstein (“Bones,” “K-Ville”), David Levinson (“The Commish”), Danny Cannon (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Chuck”), McG (“Supernatural,” “Chuck,” “The O.C.,” “Charlie’s Angels”), and Peter Johnson (“Supernatural,” “Chuck”).

Is it any good?
It’s actually pretty dreadful. It’s got two things going for: some semi-decent fight scenes and a halfway acceptable ongoing plot. Otherwise, it’s stupid, poorly acted action cobblers that even the target audience of teenage girls should properly turn their noses up at.

Firstly, the show has no edge. It has fight scenes, yes, and it’s all made to look very Bourne Identity. But they’re not very well executed and they lack logic. Nikita’s in a hotel, about to face off against another agent, who has a gun and a knife. Then some civilians walk by. Does the agent kill them? No. Then he gets attacked by someone else. Does he use his gun? No. Instead he uses the knife, and while he’s doing that, Nikita walks by him, pushing a trolley. Does he draw his gun and shoot her? No. Does she draw her gun and shoot him? No.

And it’s all like that – fights that wouldn’t happen and fights that should have happened not happening.

Division is also spectacularly dumb. They have Nikita surrounded with hundreds of agents. Rather than instantly shooting her with tranquillizer darts, injecting her with a poison or just shooting her, Nikita gets enough time to get out her mirror so she can see who’s behind her (because Division boss Percy has just told her she’s surrounded) and then even more time to get out her lipstick.

Dumb.

Then we have the ridiculous teenagers who have been recruited. For a bunch of street kid murderer junkies, they aren’t half Heathers. There’s even the usual – I kid you not – ‘black bitch’ character (©Tyra Banks, America’s Next Top Model) for the new white kid to get put down by and have verbal fights with. Okay, this is for teenagers really, but they have seen action movies. They do know that in the prison lunch scene, the main character is going to be threatened and then distract the other person and use cutlery as a weapon to show they’re really alpha dog. This is a cliche and even teenagers will know it.

Then we have the whole Nikita/Michael situation. Never has there been such a chemistry-free relationship in all the Nikitas there have been. To be fair, Maggie Q, while good at fights and action scenes, is made of wood and couldn’t put emotions into a line of dialogue if her life depended on it, so it’s not Shane West’s fault necessarily. True, he’s not much better, but for a show called Nikita to have such a dull Nikita and a dull Michael? Oh dear.

There is a slight reveal at the end. You’ll have probably guessed it before the end, but I won’t spoil it for you. It’s quite a dumb reveal that makes no sense (spoiler: sure, Nikita knows Division’s tactics, but how could she be sure that that particular girl would get recruited?) but at least it’s a twist and it does indicate that the whole teenage girl side of things isn’t an utter waste of time.

But largely, this was a painful hour of TV viewing, with mind-numbing stupidity, bad acting and terrible clichés sticking their thumbs in your wounds at every possible opportunity. Steer clear of it.




  • IAS

    -Then some civilians walk by. Does the agent kill them? No.
    Because there were children amongst the civillians?
    -Then he gets attacked by someone else. Does he use his gun? No. Instead he uses the knife
    Because he’s saving his bullets for a bigger target?
    -Nikita walks by him, pushing a trolley. Does he draw his gun and shoot her? No.
    Because he’s busy fighting off the other goons?
    -Does she draw her gun and shoot him? No.
    Because he’s distracted and she’d rather not take the risk and waste her time in case other Division goons arrive at the scene?
    -Rather than instantly shooting her with tranquillizer darts, injecting her with a poison or just shooting her
    Because they’re in a public place and don’t want to cause a scene? Because a few minutes ago, the person they work for suspected about their secret espionage activities?
    Also, I don’t mind that you don’t like the show but for heavens sake, go invest your time and money in a thesaurus for crying out loud. There are more words you could’ve used than ‘dumb’.

  • “-Then some civilians walk by. Does the agent kill them? No. Because there were children amongst the civillians?”
    So? We’re talking about a supposedly clandestine organisation that executes people all the time. In which world does that mean not killing children if it means being able to kill your most wanted target, another assassin, who might just shoot you in the head as soon as you holster your gun? Not the real one.
    “Then he gets attacked by someone else. Does he use his gun? No. Instead he uses the knife Because he’s saving his bullets for a bigger target?”
    His target is Nikita. He has no bigger target. And it’s nice that someone who’s life is threatened by two killers decides not to use his gun because he’s on a budget, but realistic? No.
    ” -Nikita walks by him, pushing a trolley. Does he draw his gun and shoot her? No. Because he’s busy fighting off the other goons?”
    And why isn’t he using the gun on the other goon given the civilians have gone? But I refer you to the previous answer
    “-Does she draw her gun and shoot him? No. Because he’s distracted and she’d rather not take the risk and waste her time in case other Division goons arrive at the scene?”
    She can shoot him as she walks by. It’ll take a second. And she knows it’s entirely possible that he might win and chase after her.
    ” -Rather than instantly shooting her with tranquillizer darts, injecting her with a poison or just shooting her
    Because they’re in a public place and don’t want to cause a scene? Because a few minutes ago, the person they work for suspected about their secret espionage activities?”
    Hence, inject with poison. cf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgi_Markov
    “Also, I don’t mind that you don’t like the show but for heavens sake, go invest your time and money in a thesaurus for crying out loud. There are more words you could’ve used than ‘dumb’.”
    Why? Dumb’s a perfectly acceptable Anglo-Saxon word. It’s a dumb show. I could have used stupid, idiotic, moronic, cretinous, or laughably insulting bad but they all eventually mean dumb. Might I refer you to Orwell’s 2nd and 5th rules for writers?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Orwell#Influence_on_language_and_writing

  • IAS

    – In a world where Nikita is shown on broadcast TV and not premium cable.
    – Precisely, his target is Nikita. So why waste his bullets on the 2 goons? Looking at the next scene where he shoots the car, he definitely needed MORE bullets even though he wasted only one on the goon that refused to die.
    – She doesn’t shoot him because her main aim is to get the West African general out of there, NOT to kill the Division dude. So why waste precious time? Also, she could’ve just shot the other 2 Division dudes at the gents earlier on but she didn’t because (a) shooting someone with bullets attracts attention (b) it’ll just make the whole show a mindless shooting spree (c) to some extent, the character of Nikita is someone who only kills when absolutely necessary. Even in life-threatening scenarios she knew she could achieve what she wanted without having to kill (for the dudes in the gents, because she’s stronger and for the dude upstairs, because he’s distracted)
    -She was holding her glass throughout and with years of spy training, she definitely would’ve sensed that they were injecting poison onto her now would she?

  • MediumRob

    “- In a world where Nikita is shown on broadcast TV and not premium cable.”
    This isn’t a reason within the story. If the story is such that you have to ask your audience to pretend to be stupid to accept it – or you simply assume that your audience is stupid – then you should probably rewrite the story.
    “- Precisely, his target is Nikita. So why waste his bullets on the 2 goons? Looking at the next scene where he shoots the car, he definitely needed MORE bullets even though he wasted only one on the goon that refused to die.”
    Because he can’t get to Nikita while they’re there. What’s he going to say when he gets back to HQ?
    Percy: so, Nikita was three feet away from you and you didn’t kill her. Why not?
    Goon: Well, there were these two other guys and I didn’t want to waste my bullets killing them when clearly I want to use them on Nikita because she’s so much more dangerous. So I thought I’d keep fighting them with a knife and save my bullets for later, assuming that I ever see Nikita again and that she doesn’t just kill me while I’m pre-occupied, and let her walk away for now. Rather than shoot them at close range with a 9mm which would probably go through their bodies and into her, say. Or shoot them, then shoot her. Or shoot her, take a bit of a punching from the other guys, then shoot them.
    Percy: Huh…
    “- She doesn’t shoot him because her main aim is to get the West African general out of there, NOT to kill the Division dude. So why waste precious time?”
    Invest 5-10 seconds now, avoid having a fight, being killed, being shot/knifed in the back as I walk past the goon later. Seriously, what would you do if you’re a trained armed, government assassin, there’s another trained armed, government assassin in front of you, he knows you’re there, and you need to go past him. Would you really just walk past him and hope for the best or would you do something other than your cross your fingers and hope nothing bad happens?
    “Also, she could’ve just shot the other 2 Division dudes at the gents earlier on but she didn’t because (a) shooting someone with bullets attracts attention (b) it’ll just make the whole show a mindless shooting spree (c) to some extent, the character of Nikita is someone who only kills when absolutely necessary. Even in life-threatening scenarios she knew she could achieve what she wanted without having to kill (for the dudes in the gents, because she’s stronger and for the dude upstairs, because he’s distracted)
    She leaves her foster dad to be killed by Division. Doesn’t she also kill during robbery to get her teen agent inside? I thought that was the implication of the mask at the end. Also, the idea that 100lb unarmed you knows that you can beat two highly trained, much beefier, armed assassins and that there won’t be any accidents (eg slipping in some water, tripping over, someone getting lucky) is something that only occurs in very silly spy shows (eg Burn Notice).
    “-She was holding her glass throughout and with years of spy training, she definitely would’ve sensed that they were injecting poison onto her now would she? ”
    Sensing it is one thing – I might sense being stabbed by a hypodermic needle, an umbrella, a drawing pin or any other sharp, easily disguisable object but once I’ve been injected, can I do anything about it? No. Percy suspects she’s coming, he knows what she looks like and so does everyone else, so why doesn’t he stop her getting into the party? Why doesn’t he get the numerous waiters and waitresses who work for him (who all have guns) to do a walk-by when they see her (they’re all aware she’s there, before she’s aware they’re there)? That’s all it takes.
    The whole scene is a dramatic cliche (the dangerous confrontation with the enemy in the midst of his lair). That’s why it’s there – to show the skills of Nikita and the majesty of her enemy. Unfortunately, because of the way the scene then plays out, the enemy is resultingly implied to be stupid and Nikita shown to be not very good at her (former) job.
    But your argument seems to be that despite this being a TV show about a trained killer taking her fight back to the trained killers who trained her and trying to stop them
    a) the show shouldn’t have anything too graphic or ‘real’
    b) it shouldn’t have too much shooting in it
    c) the heroine is against killing, even when someone else is trying to kill her and she’s trying to save lives (although she’s clearly not against setting off car bombs outside houses that could clearly kill any number of passing civilians.
    I can’t help but feel, looking at that list, that there appears to be a clash between subject matter, network and execution. That’s why – along with various other reasons – it’s not a good show.

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