I don’t have much of a history with the Nikita story, which began with the original 1990 French film and has since rolled into a few film and TV adaptations, but whose femme fatale themes can also be traced back far earlier.
So I hope you’ll forgive my mythological blind spots as I attempt to critique this newest retelling of Nikita’s tale on its own merits–a method that actually seems appropriate, since I expect that is how most of the young CW audience will judge the series when it premieres tonight at 9pm after The Vampire Diaries.
It’s also how the show itself seems to want to be judged–not as the latest in a series of repetitive remakes, but as a distinct reimagining with its own plot, players and timeline.
As such, Nikita succeeds in doing what so many shows hope (and often fail) to do: Evoking the familiar and making it fresh. With a few distinct twists to keep the sexy teen-loving CW viewership happy, of course–starting with sleek star Maggie Q, who first struts onto the screen in an unforgettable red bikini that looks just as flawless as she breaks necks and outruns hit men. That’ll get the kids’ attention.
The series begins three years after Nikita’s assassin adventures have ended, and six after she was first recruited by Division, a covert government agency that specializes in training and employing young men and women in the arts of murder, seduction and other requisite spy skills. After Division discovered Nikita’s inconvenient attachment to her fiance Daniel, they had him killed, and she went rogue. Alias fans are sure to get flashbacks, but Nikita keeps her grief within a colder, thicker shell than Sydney Bristow did. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse, for the character and the series, is up to you.
Now she’s back on Division’s radar, looking for vengeance on a large scale: To both kill Daniel’s murderers and take down Division, headed up by the hard-nosed Percy (Xander Berkeley) and his lackey Michael (Shane West), who’s eager to prove himself by taking down Nikita once and for all–even though he used to be in love with her. How inconvenient.
West manages a combination of charisma and vulnerability as Division’s resident recruiter and assassin handler, but he’s hardly a villain yet. We’ll have to wait and see if he can manage to intimidate and fight with as much authority as Q does in the pilot. At one point, Nikita’s informed that, to destroy Division, she’ll have to kill her way through “an endless amount of people.” But in the first hour, her scariest adversary is Division’s in-house assassin, who looks more like Steve Jobs than Steven Seagal. The Division recruits look like veritable babies against Nikita in combat, lithe and lean as she is. They’ll have to make her job a bit harder next time if we’re to feel any real suspense in these action scenes.
Nikita’s other goal in destroying Division is to keep the immoral entity from abducting more lost young souls and forcing them to do unspeakable things in the name of country. We’re years past seeing Nikita go from troubled foster kid to solemn trained killer, but it’s just that transformation that we get to see play out with the show’s other young star, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), a beautiful young Ukranian immigrant just starting her journey within the confines of Division, where she’ll train under the seductive tutelage of Amanda (Melinda Clarke) in beauty and manners to mask her new killing skills. But Alex serves a larger purpose than just Nikita’s own origin story. Therein lies the pilot’s best twist.
Nikita is definitely a CW show. From the “lunch room hazing” introduction that Alex gets to her new surroundings, to the completely bloodless slashing of throats in one of the fighting scenes, to Nikita’s Bond-esque explosive-disguised-as-a-lipstick, the show often dips into almost laughable unreality.
Almost. And that’s also part of the fun. Even as Q carries it with a deep, brooding elegance, Nikita‘s not too dark. Though it could manage to get a little badder in the “Big Bad” department. We need to see our heroes go through Hell before we can fully root for them to triumph.
Nikita premieres tonight at 9pm on the CW.
(Image courtesy of the CW)