If you’re a Nikita fan, chances are you’ve already seen your Twitter blow up with the news that The CW has ordered the freshman spy series undergo some network retooling. There’s already a laundry list of requests, including more humor, new characters, and a new love interest for Nikita. I may not be the biggest fan of the series, but even I can see that this announcement has the potential for disaster. In an effort to support the show’s fanbase in preserving the show we’ve come to embrace, I present to you ten reasons that I appreciate Nikita the way it is, and believe The CW should not try and fix what isn’t broken.
10.) Network intervention usually doesn’t end well.
This one’s not so much about this particular case as it is speaking from experience. Lots of experience. Television history is filled with stories of networks making demands regarding shows, and those shows never being the same again. I’ve heard plenty of stories of series brass battling networks, but rarely do I hear one where the producers say, “We’re glad the network came in and told us what to do.” In some extreme cases, it’s practically blackmail. I’m thinking way, way back to the early days of Law & Order, where Dick Wolf was told after season two that either he added women to his cast or the show would be cancelled. One of television’s great drama series could have been cut short after two years just because the network thought it needed estrogen. No offense to the show’s female leads, but I just don’t like the idea that quality series can be forcibly tinkered with.
9.) Nikita is an actual strong female lead, and not just someone pretending to be one.
As far back as I can remember, the phrase “strong female lead” has been one of the most popular around television. Everyone wants one, and a fair amount of them aren’t very good. There’s a difference between what is a strong female lead character, and what people think is a strong female lead character. While a lot of female characters on TV have to show you that they’re tough, but inevitably aren’t, or get bogged down in cliche subplots that make them tiresome, Nikita (Maggie Q) is refreshingly a three-dimensional woman. She doesn’t need a man to get by or to be happy, yet that also doesn’t mean she can’t be in love. Yet at the same time we’re not subjected to her making obvious eyes at a one-dimensional love interest (more on that later). She can hold her own without the writers feeling the need to show you repeatedly how cool, violent or witty she is. The show is called Nikita because she is the center of the story, and she proves that she belongs there. Female protagonists, please take note.
8.) Xander Berkeley.
Words cannot express how awesome Xander Berkeley is. (For starters, he’s named Xander.) He is one of the best character actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and I always get excited when he’s in something. I’ve followed his career ever since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (he was John Connor’s foster father), and seen him give great performances in 24, CSI, The X-Files, Gattaca, Standoff, Karen Sisco…it seems like he’s been in everything, and deservedly so. He’s amazing. While his Percy isn’t on the same level yet as Eugene Robert Glazer’s Operations, the writers finally let Berkeley cut loose in the most recent episode, “The Guardian.” We saw hints of true evil in his public argument with Michael (Shane West) and his attempt to kill Owen (Devon Sawa) and Nikita. He’s just now getting the chance to show what kind of a real villain he can be. He might not be Operations, but casting Berkeley in a regular role is a coup for any series.
7) The show is just now finding its stride.
In my opinion, Nikita took awhile to warm up; it wasn’t until “Rough Trade” that I actually started to care about the show and become interested in watching it every week. That was one episode ago. While we know they’ve filmed more episodes than we’ve seen, it still seems unwise to start messing with a show that’s finally found itself. Regardless of how many episodes are “in the can,” we’re still in the first season, and in a fall season with no clear breakout hits, Nikita has been holding its own. CW has been great about promoting it and letting it run uninterrupted, which has also helped build an audience. Let it continue to gain momentum and play out what it’s already established; that’s what got us all hooked to begin with.
No doubt, the show’s writers and the network promos are going to tease us with not only the “will they or won’t they?” but also the “did they or didn’t they?” of this relationship until the end of time. It would really shock me if we got a clear answer regarding what’s up with Michael and Nikita before the end of the season, if that. Personally, I don’t care if they were together or not, or if they get together or not (not that I’m against it either) but I can’t deny that I’m curious. Although we’ve been down this road with La Femme Nikita, the history between Michael and Nikita is something that obviously impacts how they deal with each other in the present, and that makes me want to know more about it. As long as their interactions continue to be written well and don’t turn either of them into lovesick puppies, the dynamic between these two – whatever it is – is going to remain interesting to watch. There’s no need to introduce anyone to complicate or muddle it (and that includes Alex, a point I can’t emphasize enough).
Besides, the show has not only already put that in play, but shown us a Nikita still grieving over the death of fiance Daniel Monroe. How rude would it be for them to develop those concepts and then yank the rug out from under them by having Nikita falling for or into bed with someone else? (I love how grief on TV only seems to last as long as it’s convenient.) It would be a huge slap in the face to promote the Michael and Nikita tension and then say, “Oh, well now we’re not going to go that route.” Even if the new relationship were to merely be a roadblock, it would still be more annoying than anything else (Bones and its string of love interests for Booth that never stick come to mind). It’s not appropriate to throw a wrench in the show’s central dynamic.
We now know that Michael became Percy’s number-two man at Division because Percy saved his life. Percy says that one of the things he’s always liked about Michael is that he knows not to ask too many questions (Michael even says he assumes Percy has his reasons). Yet as Michael continues to feel the strain, his relationship with his boss is beginning to crack. From the first episode, we’ve seen them argue about their differing opinions regarding how to handle situations (mostly Nikita), something which became a plot staple. In “Rough Trade,” we got the hint that Percy may be starting to suspect that Michael is no longer a good soldier, and in “The Guardian” they had their first major argument. These two are going to continue to have friction, and undoubtedly, are going to have it out. With two talented actors in Shane West and Xander Berkeley, I know that when they do finally reach the breaking point, it’s going to be a spectacular confrontation.
4) At least when it doesn’t work, it’s still worth watching.
Nikita is not a perfect show. There have been quite a few things that I haven’t cared for, or at the very least, poked fun at. (Shane West’s limited wardrobe is now a recurring joke in all my recaps.) Yet even when I dislike something, I at least get some enjoyment out of appreciating how it doesn’t work. I almost take a sort of glee now in seeing that Shane is still wearing the same four shirts. There’s a scene (and a promo photo) in which a very out of place paint bucket is clearly visible. I laughed at the fact that Michael actually took the time to have lunch in “Rough Trade.” You wouldn’t see that on most other shows. Not to mention, what kind of weird hobbies does Nikita have to build a containment box in her apartment? There are gaffes and quirks throughout the show, but rather than make me slam my head into the keys in frustration, at least I can enjoy them.
3) There’s no need to introduce new characters when there’s a whole handful of recruits that we don’t even know yet.
The news stories about these network-mandated changes reference new characters. Plural. To which I just shake my head. Nikita has, as of yet, failed to develop any of the Division recruits into interesting characters (although I admit that my attention goes more to their superiors anyway). Jaden (Tiffany Hines) is an obvious rival to Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), though we don’t really see more in her than that petty grudge she carries almost constantly. Thom (Ashton Holmes) only exists as someone for Alex and Jaden to fight over, at least so far. Even Alex sometimes seems less interesting. Not to mention we know there’s another dozen recruits at least who are nameless extras wandering around. It’s just sloppy to throw in new characters when there’s a whole group of existing ones who are just crying out to be properly utilized.
I can hear people laughing at me for this now, since I was overly critical of him early on in the series, but as I’ve said before, Shane West is Nikita‘s secret weapon. His Michael has the most compelling arc on the series; he’s been the glue and as he comes undone, so does everyone and everything around him. The pressure on Michael continues to build, as he finds himself questioning not just people he thought he knew, but second-guessing himself. Refreshingly, that arc doesn’t revolve around Nikita; it’s hinted at in “Rough Trade” that he’s been a disgruntled employee of Division for at least the last few years. That’s a lot of inner conflict that can’t be serviced in the series, so thankfully, the producers cast Shane West, who can show everything without a line of dialogue. He’s already perfected the “I hate my job and I’m getting too old for this” glower that we get from Michael every episode.
There is, of course, a faction of people who compare West to Roy Dupuis, and to them I can only say something that took me a long time to learn: there’s no comparison, because West’s Michael is an entirely different character than Dupuis played. They’re really only similar in name and perhaps a few other details. For one, this Michael has a sense of humor; Shane himself has said he’s probably managed more smiles in the series so far (which I can still count on one hand) than Dupuis may have in the entire original TV series. This is to say nothing of his banter with Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford). This Michael is also more emotional, and imbued with more of a soul. With all that’s going on in his head, it’s great to see the character be able to display that and make us feel it as well, instead of being consistently stoic. I watched five seasons of that and I don’t need to see it again. Shane let slip at NYCC that in episode 1.09 (only three episodes away!), we’ll see Michael’s backstory and get to see him genuinely happy. I can’t wait. It’s that emotion that’s made me embrace him, and I will gladly apologize to Shane West for being wrong about him. He’s made Michael worth not just getting to know, but cheering for. (Two words: sniper rifle.)
1) It’s not a traditional CW series.
Whether you liked it or not, fans and critics alike could appreciate that Nikita is not a typical series like you’d find on the teen-oriented CW. It’s darker, grittier and edgier. In fact, that was one of the big selling points of the series when it was promoted, so to hear that the network wants it to “lighten” makes me twitch at the apparent hypocrisy. The unique feel of the series was what interested so many people, myself included; I have no real interest in any of the other CW shows, but Nikita I felt might be different. Sure, it still lacks the edge of the original series, but I was grateful that it was reasonably dark and serious. The material warrants that it be so. There’s some humor now and then, but this is a drama with heavy subject matter. I have no interest in watching, as the fans have already joked, a spy version of Gossip Girl. Trying to fit Nikita into the CW mold would obviously destroy what made it stand out in the first place.
Now, these are only my top ten favorite things about Nikita. I could probably put a few more on this list, and I know that fans will add some of their own, or disagree on some level, so please don’t leave me snarky comments telling me I’m an idiot for leaving something off or adding something you dislike. The point is that there’s obviously a fan base out there for Nikita, and I’m sure that each and every one of you can come up with a list of ten things you love about the show as it is – so why mess with success?
This is not an indictment of The CW. There are some people at the network that love the show as it is; I routinely have conversations with the show publicist about how the show continues to grow on me. Rather, I hope that this article shows how great Nikita has gotten, and why it deserves to be allowed to build on that success on its own terms.
In the process of covering this developing story, I went and read comments at some of the other websites that also have articles posted regarding it, and the majority of them were negative (even the one positive one I saw was more in the middle than anything else). Obviously, there are a lot of fans out there just as bewildered as I am. Many of them are upset. To which I can only say to you: comment. Make your voices heard. It might not change anything in the end, but people do read these articles, and then they’ll be able to see that you love Nikita for what it is, and not what The CW wants it to be.
I’ll see you next week when we discuss the all-new episode 1.06, “Resistance.” (Remember, tonight is a rerun of the pilot.) Until then, Nikita fans, keep on supporting your show. It’s more than worthy of the attention.
Want to show your love for the show? Or vent about this surprise development? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments below.