If the third time’s the charm, what does that make the fourth time around – old hat? The latest iteration of Nikita (a.k.a. La Femme Nikita) takes the form of NIKITA on The CW. And while it is one heckuva sleek and sexy form, we’ve seen all before – and some of it (much) better.
The basic skeleton of the story remains the same as French writer/director Luc Besson created for the silver screen in 1990’s Nikita: A drug-addicted street kid (Anne Parillaud) is arrested for killing a police officer and sentenced to death. But a secret government agency sees something in the amoral girl, fakes her death and spirits her to a secret facility where she is instructed in everything from how to kill with her bare hands to which fork to use at a dinner party. Then she sent out on missions as a covert assassin codenamed Nikita. She falls in love with her cover and the man is executed by her government handlers, causing Nikita to rebel and escape. With a few variations, those events play out in the 1993 American remake Point of No Return (which inexplicably designated Bridget Fonda’s assassin “Nina”) and the TV series LA FEMME NIKITA, which ran for five seasons on USA and posited that Peta Wilson’s Nikita was wrongly accused of killing the cop.
In the newest version of the story, Maggie Q (Mission: Impossible III; Live Free or Die Hard) plays Nikita three years after escaping from Division – in other words, this series picks up where the other versions left off. Nikita is now ready to act on her vow to take down Division. But the material still manages to feel familiar because the series introduces a new girl, Alex, played by Lyndsy Fonseca (ex-Colleen, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS), who was arrested for robbery (and possibly shooting a cop, but the storytelling was too muddled to be sure) and recruited into division using a faked jailhouse suicide as a cover story. The way Alex’s story parallels Nikita’s so closely makes the series feel like “NIKITA LITE,” because it appears to be going through the motions, hitting the classic story points by rote. (There was even another hit/chase through a hotel, but thankfully it avoided the kitchen).
One classic element that absolutely does not work in this version is the character Michael. Michael is supposed to be the baddest of the bad boys in Division, the No. 1 field operative and right-hand man to the officious boss, Percy (Xander Berkeley). However, as played by Shane West (ER), this incarnation of Michael “reads” to young to be a believable as a seasoned, jaded killer, let alone a love interest for Nikita. When he dismisses Nikita as a “kid,” it’s…just laughable. “Learn how to serve your country instead of just yourself,” Michael sneered at Alex – who actually looks like she might be able to take him. It is totally not Shane’s fault, but he is just not menacing. He tries to speak his lines in a gravelly growl, but it just comes off as Robin attempting to imitate Batman. During one scene in which he was meant to look like a badass in long black duster, the shiny coat appeared to be wearing him. I can understand why West was cast: the-powers-that-be must have figured he would come across as just menacing enough to thrill The CW’s target demographic of 13-year-old girls without scaring them.
When Nikita resurfaces in this pilot and sends Division the message “It ends now,” Percy dispatches Michael to…er, dispatch Nikita. “Hunt her down, and confirm the kill this time,” he orders. But Nikita is too smart for that, and she’s down running. She takes the fight to Division, at one point kidnapping her old friend Birkoff (Aaron Stanford; Pyro from the X-Men movies) and forcing him to assist her. “You’re gonna have to kill your way through a whole lot of people you know,” he warned her. She warned Percy that she was going to hit Division where it hurt by going after his funding. I understand that Percy has to put up a front for his employees, but why would he scoff at Nikita as “street trash,” when it was his Division that turned her into an unstoppable killing machine? And why would he continue to insist that all operations continue as planned when he knows Nikita, the best agent ever (sorry, Michael) is coming to ruin Division? If anyone knows her capabilities, it must be Percy. And taking down Division will not be easy; Percy has evidence of Division’s bad deeds squirreled away all over the globe as a personal insurance policy.
The most successful recast – aside from Maggie Q, who is really great as the coolly efficient, almost bloodless Nikita – is Melinda Clarke (ex-Julie, THE O.C.; ex-Faith, DAYS OF OUR LIVES) as Amanda, Division’s psychologist (“Home is wherever you stop running,” she told Alex.) and resident etiquette instructor. Clarke slips effortlessly into Anne Bancroft’s designer heels from the Point of No Return incarnation. I’m withholding judgment on Fonseca as Alex. I like what I’ve seen so far, but she hasn’t had to do much except surly and throw food. The revelation that Alex is secretly working with Nikita came as a real surprise, but in retrospect makes perfect sense. What better way to tear down a covert agency than from the inside, with a mole?
NIKITA has a lot of potential (most of it so far unrealized), and so I am willing to give it a few weeks to find its feet before I decide whether to put a bullet in its brain.