Nikita 1.03 “Kill Jill” Recap

Whoever comes up with these Nikita episode titles is having too much fun, I think. Are they all going to be this tongue-in-cheek?

Slightly amusing title aside, this is the episode I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been sitting on the fence with Nikita, seeing flashes of possibility mixed in with moments of disappointment and the beginnings of a formulaic structure. However, I couldn’t be convinced to give up just yet, not when I’d seen some possibility in “2.o” and when this episode featured a great guest star in Eli Stone‘s underrated Julie Gonzalo. The tools of a great hour were certainly on the table. This episode, I told myself, would be the true test of how good Nikita may or may not be.

So let’s find out, shall we?

Division is on the hunt for Jill Morelli (Gonzalo), who’s got inside scoop on one of their operations and that puts her on their radar. Percy dispatches a team to abduct her. Meanwhile, Alex and Jaden still don’t like each other, as evidenced by the fact that they get into another fight. In actuality, Alex is just beating up Jaden to get close enough to the ops center to give information on the new operation to Nikita. (Wisely, CW has moved the opening credits to the actual opening of the show.) Jill, meanwhile, is in a reasonably abandoned parking garage at night with her editor, which is the equivalent of begging to be abducted. Her editor is soon shot in front of her; Division plans to frame her for his murder unless she gives them what she has on them. Smart plan, if Nikita wasn’t in front of them with a big shotgun. She rescues an unconscious Jill from the back of the big black van and here we go again.

Percy is playing a visit to the head of the airline whose plane crash was at the heart of the Division cleanup operation. He is not happy that there’s a video of everything that happened out there. Percy tells him to keep his mouth shut in the future, because of course in his narrow mind there’s no way there could be a leak in Division.

Birkoff and Michael, meanwhile, are busy trying to hunt down Jill and Nikita by association. Michael still has that permanently annoyed look on his face (and the same wardrobe) as teams raid Jill’s apartment and a false APB is put out for her. Of course, she’s not there. She’s at Nikita’s place, telling our heroine everything that she knows about an enigmatic source that claims to have said video but wants a ton of money for it. Nikita’s plan is to make sure Jill meets with her source at any cost, even if she has to break into an office and use Jill’s bugged phone to do it.

Percy and Michael have their obligatory conversation about Nikita messing up their missions and Percy actually entertains the idea of a mole. This is a vast improvement over the last two times they’ve had this discussion. Birkhoff swears up and down it’s not a data leak, which only makes both of them look at him with a new suspicion (and/or not having any clue what all the technical stuff he’s spouting off actually means). They drag him down for a not-so-friendly chat with Amanda. I’d be scared about this if the previous episode had actually let us see Amanda in action; however, with what she can do not established with that golden opportunity in “2.0,” it seems more like a hollow threat.

Jill and Nikita get on the phone with her source, trying to negotiate with him. He tells them that the plane was carrying the motherload of cocaine, and sets up a meeting for the following day. At the same time, Michael and another pair of big black SUV’s full of nondescript bad guys close in. They get nowhere, and Michael’s idea is to borrow the recruits to use as extra hands to go through all the intelligence gotten from Jill’s apartment and other places. This means Jaden, Alex and Thom are all stuck with each other again, in Thom’s attempt to save Jaden and Alex’s lives by making them look good in said “training exercise.” Jaden is not impressed. Michael doesn’t care. At this point, neither do I, because none of them are particularly interesting to watch, but at least they’re doing something productive.

Amanda and Birkhoff do not have a friendly chat. She accuses him of having an attraction to Nikita. He accuses her of failing to train Nikita properly enough to keep her from going rogue. This proves to be a bad move, as he earns himself a body cavity search for that. I remain unintimidated by whatever Amanda can allegedly do, as once again, all we see is her alluding to horrible possibilities. It still feels to me like Melinda Clarke is channeling her CSI character in a different environment.

Nikita and Jill’s excellent adventure isn’t going well, either, as Nikita knocks out a cop that recognizes Jill at a diner and they’re on the run yet again. Michael and Percy get this information not long after, en route to a meeting with Amanda where they find out Nikita put a wireless transmitter in one of Birkhoff’s teeth when he was passed out in the pilot. That amuses Michael to no end for some reason. (Hey, Shane West gets to crack a smile for once. That’s nice to see.) You can guess what happens next, though mercifully not on screen. I gather it’s supposed to be funny given the tone of the score, but I really don’t find the idea of forced dental surgery to be a comedic subplot.

At least he gets back to his job in time to be there when Michael pulls Alex into the operations room. She’s deduced where Jill met her source from a pair of movie ticket stubs, and given him the idea of accessing the theater’s security cameras. Birkoff is easily able to identify the source – first with the security cameras and then with the guy’s credit card information – and Alex realizes that she’s put Nikita’s counter-operation in danger. She tries to volunteer for the mission, but Michael won’t have it (unsurprising, considering what she went through last week).

When the source fails to show up for the meeting, Nikita sets off to track him herself. They manage to get to his apartment, and are able to view the video of the plane crash and some very incriminating evidence after the fact. Of course, it’s right after that when Division closes in on them. Michael has dropped by with a few of his friends. The moment that the source runs outside, he’s shot and killed, drawing the attention of the cops (guess whose fault that is?). While Nikita orders Jill to copy the movie to her flash drive and surrender to the police in order to be protected from whatever might follow, Michael has to figure out what to do with the extra attention. You almost sort of understand his frustration (just look at the bags under his eyes; has he not slept in days?).

The Division team enters the house, but of course we know Nikita will make short work of all the guys that don’t actually have names. The only part of this viewers care about is the inevitable showdown between Michael and Nikita. Their confrontations so far have been full of talking and not much action, but not this time. After she puts a gun to his head, they engage in a full-blown, property-destroying, bruise-inducing fight. It’s not a stunt sequence on the level of those in Human Target, but it’s still fun to watch, and exactly what I’ve been waiting for after the previous two episodes. She leaves him on the ground before she disappears, but both of them are obviously worse for wear. Now we can only hope said injuries don’t somehow heal themselves before next episode (how’s that shoulder holding up, Michael?).

We learn in the aftermath that Jill has broken the story and the airline CEO has been arrested, much to Percy’s displeasure yet again. Surprisingly, she is still stupid enough to walk through a parking garage alone…which is how she runs into Nikita again. Nikita warns her that to keep digging into Division would only put her life at risk again, but we get the sense that the door may be open for Jill to be used for Nikita’s own ends someday. Meanwhile, Michael can just glare and get used to the massive bruise on his face. Perhaps it’s finally sinking in that there’s no talking Nikita out of her vendetta, and that they’re always going to be on opposite sides. Or are they?

After watching the whole hour, I can’t say that all my concerns about Nikita have been assuaged. While the formula from the previous two episodes was definitely deviated from here (and the bug in Birkhoff’s molar was a twist I didn’t see coming), there are still issues with the series that preclude me from getting too excited about it. I hate to say it, but Julie Gonzalo just didn’t impress me here the way she did on Eli Stone, and so I wasn’t as invested in her as I remember being with that show. I still don’t feel the same gravity of character with the new heads of Division that I did with those in the Canadian series, but I’m starting to wonder if that will always be the case as long as the writing doesn’t provide them opportunities. I want to be scared by these people, want to hate them and root for their demise, but I just can’t yet.

Speaking of having less to work with, Shane West gets less this week than he did last week; aside from the spectacular fight sequence, there’s little here that continues to develop Michael’s inner conflict, which is the strongest point of his character. I almost prefer “2.0” to this episode because there was more character development to be had while the bullets were flying. Not so much in this hour. If there was a saving grace, it’s that West can do more with a look or a gesture than a lot of actors, so he managed to squeeze in a moment or two regardless. I’m more excited for next week, when we get more backstory, and – if the previews are to be believed – some hint of a Michael/Nikita romance. I had wondered if the producers were going to work that angle into this incarnation, and the answer is apparently yes – or there’s some shifty promo editing involved. Also, maybe next week we can get Shane West a bigger wardrobe? Yet again, he’s wearing an outfit I swear we’ve seen him wear before, and we’re only three episodes in.

Every week, however, I learn a little more about what makes this show tick. I had forgotten until now that Craig Silverstein, the executive producer of this show, also created a show called Standoff for FOX in 2006. I liked that show, if only because it gave a lead TV role to the underrated Ron Livingston. Yet I see some of the same foibles in Nikita that also doomed Standoff. While both shows revolve around two good actors with some chemistry (Livingston and Rosemarie Dewitt, now Maggie Q and Shane West), the core relationships are also time-sensitive. In Standoff, the subplot of the main characters’ relationship became tiresome over time; I wonder how Nikita‘s core relationship (or lack thereof) will unfold. Unlike Standoff, Nikita doesn’t have a Gina Torres or Michael Cudlitz to support the two leads; the closest it has is Aaron Stanford, who gives a valiant effort but is relegated mostly to being behind a keyboard. At least with Nikita there is the potential for a lot more action than with Standoff; however, that’s not going to be a substitute for good character development and plot.

Another question is how Nikita will perform now that it’s going up against Fringe. Last week, its competition was pretty poor – The Real Housewives of D.C. was probably the best example. However, now it’s going up against a proven series that gets a lot of attention. I hope that Nikita doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. While this was another episode that left me seeing pros and cons, it was still enough to keep me hanging on until next week. My hope is that once we get some backstory, and more history develops, these characters will become compelling and then we can get to the real action. Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I’m also not ready to let go of Michael and Nikita just yet.

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