Series Premiere — Nikita, “Pilot”

Does the world need another iteration of the Nikita story? Absolutely not. Does the world need another television series about the twisty-turny lives of spies? Absolutely not. Do either of those facts keep the CW’s Nikita from being a solidly executed pilot? Absolutely not. Nikita is a fun, surprisingly complex pilot episode that suggests an interesting series to come. I’m not too versed in the Nikita mythology or past iterations aside from parts of episodes of the USA series and bits of the film, but as an individual text, this episode presents lots of intriguing possibilities. Obviously, it’s inherent in a spy series that there will be twists and turns, leaks, moles, etc. but aside from that, there are a few compelling character relationships that should keep things together.

Most notably, I really enjoyed the inclusion of the younger version of Nikita, in Lyndsy’s Fonseca’s Alex. Though Nikita is now out of Division (sup, 24 rip-off!), it wouldn’t exactly work to have her explain the past in voice-over, so it makes a lot of sense to tell that story through the eyes of Alex. And actually, the approach works so well that I didn’t even see the episode’s twist, where it seems Nikita actually trained Alex to get her into Division as…a mole! That’s a substantial twist to pull off in the first episode and perhaps it would have been better to let the story marinate a bit, it does let us know that the series isn’t afraid to pull something like that out.

I remember at some point during upfronts that some critics who had seen the pilot wondered what the series would look like in episode two, but to me, it’s obvious that there’s a nice little procedural element involved where Nikita will continuously use her resources and skills to disrupt various Division operations. Now, I’m not saying that will be enough to sustain 21 more episodes, but I’d watch at least a few more if that was the premise.

The performances here were all solid enough. Maggie Q handles herself very well in all facets, but she is especially suited for the action sequences or the scenes that require her to hold a gun and act tough. In that case, she’s absolutely suited for this role. And despite his awful goatee and general suckiness, I gotta say that Shane West doesn’t totally bite as Michael. Sometimes he’s trying to hard to look tough, but he has a rapport with Maggie Q that should keep that obviously “big” story going in the future.  The cast is filled out by a number of great supporting players, include Xander Berkley more or less playing a slightly more evil version of George Mason from 24, Melinda Clarke in her usual witch role and Aaron Stanford as the smart-ass tech guy. They’re all playing broad types, but at least we take comfort in the fact that the roles are in good hands. I could do without the younger people in training with Alex, however.

Finally, I do feel as if the pilot is almost too stuffed full of events. The episode burns through a lot of beats in 41 minutes, things that could have been held for the second or third episode — the Alex reveal, Nikita showing her hand to Michael and Berkley’s Percy most notably — so that this effort could flesh out more of the background. I understand that future episodes will hopefully go back and fill that in, especially as far as Michael and Nikita are concerned, but there’s always a worry that series won’t actually do that and instead go off of this dialogue-based shorthand that just tells us what happened.

Bullets!:

  • I might just have to keep a tally of all the times the series puts Maggie Q in revealing clothing. In this episode alone, she was in a super tiny bathing suit in one scene and lingerie in another scene; so that’s two! I wonder if the CW realized that it was time to start marketing towards men just a bit?
  • The cinematography is exceptionally dark, shiny and metallic in a way that’s obviously going for some sort of modernized, cheaper 24 look, but it’s not that wonderful. The episode actually looked its best during the outdoor scenes, particularly the poolside dream sequence.
  • Seriously though, who thought Shane West could be tough?
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