Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Season Premiere Season - Sometimes vulnerability can be our greatest villain

Nikita: There is the original movie by Luc Besson, starring Anne Parillaud as the title-giving character. The French original just turned 20. There's "Point of No Return", a slightly adapted American version of the original movie, featuring Bridget Fonda as "Nina". And finally, there's "La Femme Nikita", which, whenever I have to state my preference, I rank first. It's unlikely five season run, countless numbers of twists that often led nowhere, remarkable performance by Peta Wilson and Roy Dupuis, who you could never really figure out, not even at the very end, have a special place in my heart. Joel Surnow is even less subtle with his "necessary evil" approach in "24", but "La Femme Nikita" was always layered enough to spare its viewers simple answers to complicated questions.
Now, 20 years after the original film and nine after the final season of "La Femme Nikita" (which ended in 2001, the very year where it might have reached a whole different relevance), there is a sequel, and two episodes into the show, I am completely surprised how interesting it is, despite some obvious flaws. Again, it starts with the tale of the girl who ran with the wrong crowd, ended up in prison for a crime she did not commit, and was offered a new life by a mysterious man with ridiculously grumbly voice (Shane West, channelling The Dark Knight to make up for his lack of a Quebecois accent and so far, sadly, the weakest link, although he would have made a good Birkhoff). The girl in question is Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca, who you might now as Ted's future daughter in "How I Met Your Mother", of all places). Her behaviour matches that of Nikita on her first weeks in Section (just that it's Division now, instead of Section One): she is defiant, rebellious, constantly looking for a way out. Slowly, as the episode progresses, we learn that Nikita (Maggie Q) herself successfully managed to flee Division and is now working to spoil their every plan. There are hints of corruption - instead of the "necessary evil" to preserve liberty and freedom (although, more often than not, Section in the original series acted immoral to preserve itself above all other objectives), Division is working for whoever pays most. I would like to see the corruption of Division to play a bigger role in the future and to be less vague, but we'll see how that will play out. Instead of a radical idealist (Operations), Division is headed by a cold pragmatist (Percy, played by Xander Berkeley, who I haven't made my mind up about yet). Michael isn't happy about that development and only pursues his goal of tracking down and capturing/killing Nikita half-heartedly: the past romance between them, which is at least hinted at, is still providing a strong bond between them, even when they are adversaries (but I am sure that Michael has his very own plans, even if this version of him is considerably less mysterious and unknowable than the original one was).
Two other characters are also taken from the previous versions of the story: Aaron Stanford plays Birkhoff, so far considerably less interesting than Matthew Ferguson's performance in the same role, mostly because this Birkhoff probably isn't going to get as much back-story (Ferguson's, after all, was brought up by Section, his very existence is only about this one job, and there is no outside world for him). He is still the cocky genius who looks down on everybody else, but so far, the quiet vulnerability is completely missing from his character. Melinda Clarke, on the other hand, is pitch-perfect as Division's version of Madeline, called Amanda: who better to play the woman who both shapes the minds of the female trainees ("I'm the one who's going to show you how to embrace your beauty and use it to your advantage") and is the inquisitor who tortures prisoners, than Marissa's mum in "The OC" and the famed Lady Heather, in "CSI" (Melinda Clarke).
The question "Nikita" asks is, can one woman, trained to be the perfect assassin, succeed against a powerful agency like Division. The plot twist at the ending of the first episode actually did surprise me, and the complicated relationship between Nikita and Alex, the girl trained to infiltrate Division by Nikita, is one of the most interesting aspects of the show. Nikita despises Division, and yet, she picked up a girl who is like herself from the street, helped her to become clean, and trained her to bring down Division, forcing her through the same torturous process she hated.
Maggie Q's performance in the role is stunning. I've never really been able to put into words why Peta Wilson does such a great job as Nikita: she portrays this idea so well that every emotion has to remain a secret because otherwise it would make her vulnerable to Section. "La Femme Nikita's" primary concern in its first few seasons was what human beings become who's every move is monitored, who can not trust anything or anybody. This new version of "Nikita" is, at least so far, less complex, and yet, Maggie Q does remarkable things with her material. Nikita IS the perfect assassin, the perfect spy, she was trained by the best and she did manage to escape. At the same time, she is vulnerable because she has put someone she cares for in danger, she still feels protective about Michael to an extent that she endangers her primary objective, bringing down Division, to save his life.
"Nikita", two episodes into its first season, seems to have a lot of potential in a year with plenty of new vaguely spy-themed TV shows.

"Nikita", 2010, starring Maggie Q, Lyndsy Fonseca, Shane West, Aaron Stanford, Xander Berkeley, Melinda Clarke, Ashton Holmes, Tiffany Hines.

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