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Lethal Weapon of Mass Destruction: An Advance Review of the CW's Nikita

The only way that you could have missed the provocative and eye-catching ads for the CW's Nikita, premiering night, is if you are perhaps visually-impaired. The red-hued promotional campaign, featuring series lead Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard) have been ubiquitous of late, popping up on mall food court tables, billboards, and bus sides for months now.

The wait, however, is over now. Tonight brings the series premiere of Nikita, the latest in a line of adaptations of Luc Besson's landmark 1990 film La Femme Nikita, which starred Anne Parillaud as the titular character, a government-trained assassin from, uh, humble origins who finds herself transformed into a cold-blooded killer. The film was then adapted into Bridget Fonda vehicle Point of No Return before being resurrected as the Peta Wilson-led USA action series La Femme Nikita and going on to influence ABC's Alias... and now it's been revamped again as CW's high-flying action-thriller Nikita, which seems to take some of its cues from Alias.

Unlike before, the start of this Nikita-based project isn't a drugged-up Nikita being discovered by Division and trained in the deadly ways of the femme fatale assassin. (That role falls to a new recruit.) Here, Maggie Q's Nikita has already been through the ringer, already been instructed in the womanly ways as well as those of the gun, and has gone rogue. Like Alias' Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), she has learned too well that her employers are not what they appear to be and that they are willing to do everything in their power to keep their grasp on her, including murdering her fiance, who--like Sydney's in Alias--is also named Danny.

The murder of her beloved sends Nikita on a quest of vengeance as she looks for a way to hurt Division as badly as they've hurt her, an eye for an eye, a massive explosion and dozens of casualties for the one that she's lost. However, inside Division, her handlers have found a potential replacement for their lost Nikita in Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), a troubled girl with a background similar to Nikita's. Caught in an armed robbery gone horribly awry, she is taken by Division and undergoes training to make her a deadly assassin.

Which creates a dual focus for the series to explore, as Alex functions as the audience's entrypoint to the story, a sarcastic and brutal ingenue who finds herself navigating the complex and deadly waters of Division, and Nikita works to take down Division from the outside, turning up when Division's nefarious Percy (Xander Berkeley) least expects it in order to make them pay.

On some levels, the overall conceit reminded me somewhat of Season One of FOX's short-lived Joss Whedon drama series Dollhouse, revolving as it did around an organization that uses people as living weapons that is largely undone by internal and external aggressors. Hell, the trainees--Fonseca's Alex, Ashton Holmes' Thom, and Tiffany Hines' Jaden--wear drab clothes similar to the ones the Actives wore on Dollhouse.

It's also a conceit that makes me wonder just what Season Two of this series would look like. With Nikita on the outside--despite her being the titular character--would the entire series' run focus on her efforts to take down Division and free the other recruits? Will she find a potential ally in the deeply conflicted Division operative Michael (Shane West), with whom she shares some crucial backstory? Just how long can this overarching plot wend its way through the storyline before it becomes difficult to maintain and still have a basis in some semblance of reality?

Which isn't to say that Nikita isn't a fun, if somewhat mindless, diversion, because it is. Maggie Q is a sensational lead and she effortlessly slips into the role of a calculated killer and career strategist, a trained agent bristling against what's been done to her but using those very skills to topple her former keepers.

Maggie Q gets to wear slinky outfits, strut in a bikini in the pilot episode, and use her considerable martial arts background to kick some bad guy ass, engaging in a number of stunts that she did on her own. The action sequences are particularly strong and showcase Maggie's talents in a number of different environments. (I only wish that they had been able to film the pilot script's death-defying leap off of an infinity pool, a wicked visual that demonstrated the extreme risks Nikita is willing to take.)

There's additionally a nice balance between Maggie Q and her co-star Lyndsy Fonseca (as well as a taut chemistry between the former and West), who seems to fulfill the role of a young Nikita in the story: the newbie going through the ropes of training and being tested at every turn by the operatives of the Division, including psychologist Amanda (Melinda Clarke).

A twist at the very end of the series premiere can be easily seen from a mile away, but still sets up an intriguing direction for the first season, albeit one that also makes me reiterate the above questions at the same time. Still, Maggie Q is genuinely a pleasure to watch and there's an energy and boldness that the pilot exhibits that makes it a fun--if dark--alternative on Thursday evenings. Whether it will be able to win an audience that's already gripped by strange goings-on over on FOX with Fringe in the same timeslot remains to be seen.

However, one thing is for certain: this Nikita has some definite potential, as long as it doesn't fall into certain traps along the way, pitfalls that an operative like Nikita herself should have planned for in advance.

Nikita premieres tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on the CW.


MyTBoosh said…
There's such an overabundance of spy shows right now (and the Nikita storyline has been done so many times) that it will have to be pretty stellar to keep me interested. I'm sure the spectacular Maggie Q will do an excellent job but don't know if the story will be able to sustain itself, especially from what you said about the plot.
Anonymous said…
I'm tired of reboots, remakes, and spy shows. What I'm even more tired of, however, are emaciated action heroines. It's impossible to suspend disbelief when Ms. Anorexia is able to easily pummel someone built like a linebacker. I don't expect to see bodybuilders filling these roles, but can they at least start casting actresses with healthy, athletic physiques?

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