Now that I’m past that, the second episode of the CW’s new spy drama follows the pattern of the first (and maybe the series?) as Division gets a new mission and Nikita tries to stop them from completing it. This time, Percy and Michael are supposed to take a Slavic leader wanted for war crimes into protective custody, while Nikita would like to see him with a hole in the head. What neither side counts on is the presence of mercenaries with their own agenda.
In case you missed last week, we open with a monologue that explains everything, which is what passes for the show’s opening sequence. I figured there’d be a cool theme song to groove to. Oh, well. Nikita is meeting with a guy named Trevor, who has lots and lots of guns, so she can buy some of them to continue her rogue operations. Instead, Trevor has decided to sell her out. She decides to let him live, but only because she has other, more important people to kill. Cut to a protest over said Slavic leader’s release, into which Michael has waded to be the guy’s personal escort. He’s not even able to get the guy away from the building before the mercenaries waiting outside notice they’ve been duped. Someone messed that up bigtime.
Birkhoff gets stuck training the newbies, presumably punishment for his getting kidnapped the previous week. Aaron Stanford is pretty great when he’s in hysterics. He’s not fond of Alex, and makes her stay after class. This scene has nothing to do with anything later on, but it gives me a new respect for Stanford’s unintentional comedic ability.
Michael – sans sling, so that shoulder must have healed pretty fast – is on edge about the mission, convinced that War Criminal is Nikita’s next target. As usual, Percy thinks Michael’s instincts aren’t enough (which makes me wonder how he moved Michael so far up the food chain, if he doubts him all the time), but lo and behold, Alex is passing information on to Nikita as they speak. Michael gets to glower and fix his suit in the corner while Percy negotiates with War Criminal over where he stashed enough uranium to build a really nice bomb, presumably the price of his protection and return to power. Michael points out that five years ago, Division would have taken out War Criminal themselves, but Percy says he’s more like a client to shore up the operation’s budget cuts, and further suggests Michael bring in Alex. Cue Michael’s unimpressed face while Nikita and Alex discuss their plan – or Nikita tries to make one and Alex’s ego gets in the way. Michael is starting to remind me of 24‘s Jack Bauer: he tells everyone things, no one listens and he’s inevitably right. This is a little bit funny, considering Xander Berkeley was one of those people who didn’t listen to Jack Bauer (he played George Mason in the first two seasons of 24), but it also could have the potential to get aggravating.
Cue flashback to a year ago. Alex is obviously strung out of her mind and looking for her boyfriend slash dealer to get her next fic. He takes her money and attempts to rape her. Into this walks none other than Nikita, who makes short work of the lowlife, then knocks out Alex when she tries to shoot her. Now we know how the two of them met, though it only prompts more questions.
Surprisingly, we don’t get main credits until fifteen minutes into the show, when Alex is blowing her way through weapons training and Jaden wants to beat her up over it. Michael turns up to tell Alex about her new assignment. He’s still wearing the same shirt I think he was wearing in the pilot. Did they not give Shane West a wardrobe? Anyway, we cut back to the flashback timeline, where Nikita has Alex in a box in her apartment, which she apparently built herself (wow, this woman has some strange hobbies), to help the girl detox. It’s really very creepy, even though we know Nikita has good intentions and plenty of empathy given her own previous addiction. Cut from that to Alex being escorted in to meet War Criminal, who thinks she’s a hooker. We get one more shot to see that Michael is kind of starting to loathe his job.
Thankfully, Alex calls Nikita, who comes bolting to her aid, bringing the sniper rifle she picked up at the beginning of the episode. While Alex stalls with inane conversation, Nikita is getting ready to blow War Criminal’s head off, and Alex conveniently opens the window as if she knows the plan (even though they never discussed it in their phone conversation). However, a struggle ensues and Nikita can’t get a clean shot. It’s in waiting for one that she sees the mercs arrive. They’re out to get the uranium to sell on the open market, and they start shooting at the same time Michael goes into the bedroom and decks War Criminal for beating up on Alex. Nikita saves Michael’s life from one of the mercs, but he has little time to be shocked as they make off with War Criminal before either he or Nikita can do anything about it.
Back at Division, Percy questions Alex about what she saw, and Michael points out that she was drunk and getting slapped around at the time. Meanwhile, one of the mercs is being interrogated about Nikita, so we get the discussion between the two men over whether or not Nikita was working with them. Guess who’s on which side?
More flashbacks ensue, but at least Alex is out of the box and Nikita’s buying her clothes. Alex just sees her as yet another person who’s going to harm her, and Nikita admits that she saw herself in the young woman. They’re not so far removed.
Amanda is brought in to make the merc talk – just as her counterpart in the Canadian series would have done, but unfortunately off-screen, leaving us to wonder if Melinda Clarke can scare a man as well as Alberta Watson could. Afterward, she tells Michael that the mercs knew about the nuclear material. Meanwhile, Birkhoff has traced the bullet from the hotel back to Victor, so Victor gets a not-so-friendly visit from Michael, during which Michael gets a convenient call from Nikita. He growls at her a bit, but it’s just annoyed posturing before he brings her up to speed on the mercenaries and what they want. Then they argue about what Percy will and will not admit if Nikita tries to stop him – the same argument they had in the alleyway in the pilot, with the same result.
Another flashback sees Alex muttering things in her sleep while Nikita looks on. It’s obvious she’s having a nightmare and Nikita calms her. Back in the present day, Alex is passing her information about the female merc she saw at the hotel, just seconds before Jaden decides to walk in and attack her. Fearing she’ll be found out, Alex throws a stool at the computer she was using, destroying it before she’s pulled away. I still don’t buy any of these trainees as anything more than petulant kids who wandered into the wrong show.
Both Nikita and Division are able to identify the female merc, whose name is Hannah, and plan to use her to further their own ends. While Michael wants to do things by procedure, Nikita is calling 911 to report the merc van as stolen and use the cops to her advantage. They’d all better hurry, because in said van, the mercs are torturing War Criminal for both information and the sheer enjoyment of it.
Nikita and Michael (who’s had a wardrobe change!) track War Criminal to a subway station, where he’s being forced to show the mercs where he stashed the GPS that will lead them to the uranium. Nikita turns up first and steals the bag with the GPS inside. A shootout ensues once Michael and the Division thugs arrive. No one ever seems to run out of ammunition on TV. However, Michael shoots Hannah and roughs up War Criminal to get the GPS, which sends him chasing after Nikita (again). He has a chance to shoot her (again), but doesn’t. She throws the GPS onto the tracks and it’s crushed by the oncoming train while she escapes. The “oh god, I hate my life” look on Shane West’s face is absolutely priceless. Michael then has to break all this news to Percy while waiting for the inevitable arrival of the FBI, and Nikita gets what she wants – at Percy’s direction, now that he’s of no use to them, Michael blows War Criminal’s head off.
Meanwhile, for their little fight, Alex and Jaden get two weeks to shape up or be killed off. This dampens Alex’s sincerity when she thanks Michael for saving her life. Cue mournful music as we see Nikita also saved Alex’s life a year ago, after searching for her for two years. She knows who killed Alex’s parents (was it her?). Will she end up being played between the two at some point?
The second episode of Nikita shows some improvement from the pilot, as I can at least see a lot more story potential here than I did initially. However, I also see the same flaws that I did with the pilot. I’ll admit that Shane West is growing on me; while I still say he doesn’t have the intensity that Roy Dupuis did (and that he needs more than two outfits), he’s dug into the character and made Michael his own. I don’t recall ever seeing Dupuis’ version of Michael this outwardly conflicted about his loyalties. Just a glance or a gesture from West betrays the things going on in his character’s head. The original Michael never really doubted the purpose of Section; his conflict came from his love of Nikita, and her desire to escape, not his. With the way West is taking the character, we know that he, too, either believes or is beginning to believe that his boss is a maniac, while also trying to keep sight of the larger picture. West is giving us a guy to root for in a Michael that slugs the bad guy and later gives him a much deserved execution. The question with Shane West is one that I still have from the word “go”: I’d love to root for him as the hero, but I can’t quite see the “bad guy” side of him that he’s technically on. It begs the question of whether or not Michael will ultimately betray Division. That would seem the more natural course, but then would it derail the show? I’m just not sure West can play on the side of the villains for very long.
Not to mention that the second episode goes through some of the same paces that the pilot did. Xander Berkeley’s Percy is still more smarmy than scary, and the writers waste a perfect opportunity to let us see some menace in Melinda Clarke; I remain unintimidated by either of them, leaving the show without a truly deserving villain. I’ve embraced Michael and Nikita; I want someone I can hate with equal passion. Meanwhile, Michael and Nikita have the same argument over Percy, have another standoff at gunpoint, and Michael nearly shoots her before she runs off…again. It’s the same confrontation that we saw last week, just in a different location. It was compelling once, but now, it’s just the same old song.
As Nikita shows glimmers of hope, it also shows a shelf life. The things that are intriguing, such as Michael’s conflicted loyalties or his arguing with Percy, can only go for so long before they have to come to an end or otherwise stretch plausibility. The show also seems to run on the same track so far (Division has an operation, Nikita tries to foil it, Michael warns Percy about that, Percy ignores him, Michael and Nikita confront each other during the operation before she gets away) each episode, which could get formulaic in a hurry. It’s as if the show is counting down as it’s begun. At least, however, it’s started to look up.
Since my review of the pilot, I’ve found out a little more about what’s gone into this show, and it’s helped me put things into a little better perspective. At the Paley Center’s CW Fall Preview Party, creator Craig Silverstein told us that the show was inspired by Alias, which doesn’t surprise me, because Alias was another high-gloss spy series that sometimes went into head-scratching territory. Another show that’s been called similar to Alias is USA’s Covert Affairs, and I feel the same way about Nikita that I do about that series: while there are people I like in it, I just can’t seem to get excited about the show itself. However, next week’s episode has a further chance to improve since it’s guest-starring Julie Gonzalo (who was great on ABC’s late, lamented Eli Stone), so I can’t turn it off just yet. Besides, it still beats watching The Real Housewives of D.C.