In putting together a midseason review for Nikita season three, I’m still struggling over the math. How does six episodes in a 23 episode season constitute midseason? It’s just getting started and we’re still staring at a whole lot of story. Ah well, six is all I have to work with and they’re worthy of analysis, so here’s my thoughts.
No doubt about it, the dominant theme in the first six episodes is “Welcome to the New Division - The Better Place to Be.” There are some adjustments. Kill chips no longer kill, just inflict a bit of agony, Ryan Fletcher has gone from boy scout to a jerk who is in way over his head, a few are back to killing for revenge since they're still pissed over the old Division, Alex is an addict again, and Amanda is the same cold bitch with a new do. Oh, and Nikita and Michael are engaged. That’s nice.
No, actually, I love the engagement. The scene in the season opener when Michael was being rescued from captors, only to go back after them because he had to fetch the engagement ring they stole, is the best damn moment of this season so far, perhaps the series. Since then, you really wish he and Nikita went to Monte Carlo or Vegas or Niagara Falls (hey, it’s near Toronto since this show is budget conscious) and eloped. Long engagements don’t seem like their style. After all, they are in a line of work where they could die tomorrow. Or after lunch.
All that’s a quibble though. Nikita has always done a perfect balance of the character development and the action, and season three is continuing in that stride very well. If something seems off to you with this new Division, that there isn’t that familiar feeling of teamwork or warm fuzzies, that’s because something is off with this new Division. Other than the fact that Ryan Fletcher is not a psychopath (not yet anyway) I really don’t know the difference between the old and new Division. That’s exactly the point they’re trying to make. It all seems wrong to Nikita, and it’s her uneasiness that sells the setup. She’s also responding to turmoil within her team, those she grew to rely on and trust last season after overcoming some major trust issues. They’re having problems as well and this is not one happy family.
Since Michael is her fiancée now, notions of having a regular life are popping into Nikita’s head. Heck, she’s even taking Yoga. Alex, because she’s come out as a heiress and is in a new relationship herself, is really out of sorts with this whole new world. Owen is having his own doubts (as well as other issues) and Nikita can’t help but connect her own doubts with his. Owen is forming a nice connection with Alex though, and that makes you wonder if that will go beyond mutual respect. Birkhoff, well, he’s still Birkhoff in that he’s kicking technical ass and struggling with authority, except this time he has some relationship trouble.
Nikita’s foes are different too. The Dirty Thirty, aka the set of old rogue Division agents out in the field that aren’t so eager to come back and be part of the new team, are in the same shoes Nikita herself wore for the last couple of years. Convincing them to follow the new plan has not only been difficult, it’s stirred up a lot of feelings in Nikita about sense of purpose. She really doesn’t know what she’s fighting for anymore. She wants to believe, but she just can’t. Ryan hiding things about Division’s true status and lying to the team, much like Percy did, isn’t adding to her comfort level.
Then there’s Amanda, who’s proving to be a whole other problem. Amanda’s vengeance has gone a bit twisted, and her motives go far beyond killing people. That became abundantly clear in the most recent episode when Nikita called Amanda’s bluff about setting off the bomb that would have killed her and Cyrus. Amanda wants to inflict enormous amounts of pain and suffering, and she’s gotten a tad obsessive about it. Ari, her rogue killer agent lover, is even noticing she’s gone off the rails. That will probably be the conflict that shapes the rest of the season, and will likely be the kick that gets the team to come together. Perhaps it will also deliver that sense of purpose that everyone seems to be lacking these days. After all, they’re promising… (You thought I’d give away the spoilers?)
A Few Nitpicks
This could be just me, but this new Division has taken more of a 24 CTU feel. It does make me wonder if show creator Craig Silverstein was asked to change his strategy from the original Alias approach to 24 since the network is straying from its girl power ways to a broader demographic. This counter intelligence agency that doesn’t officially exist is being threatened by the President (like that never happened on 24), and it’s become a full fledged operation of field agents with their fancy gadgets and high tech surveillance in synch with the staff at home base, racing against the clock in many aspects to pull off the dicey and tightly planned missions. This is a big departure from the “lone wolf on a mission” aspect in the first season and the rogue agents on the run twist of season two. In some ways the new scheme has worked, like in “The Sword’s Edge” when they had to take out the rogue agent who went and messed everything up by becoming the president of Uzbekistan. It also worked extremely well in the season opener, “3.0.” In the most recent episode, “Sideswipe,” the concept seemed a bit tired. Come to think of it, wasn’t Jack Bauer a heroin addict too?
Anyway, my biggest criticism of season one is there were too many scenes in Division. My biggest criticism of season three, there are too many scenes in Division. The place is dark, cold, unattractive, and a terrible setting for an action spy drama. Not that I expected Ryan Fletcher to come in with interior decorators and give the place more of a warm glow, but I liked the lofts, the modern and airy safe houses on the beach, the tropical locales, and street shots of Toronto made to look like Russia or Yemen. The location shots are still there but in lesser quantity. Couldn’t Division have gotten at least some office space with windows? Pretend they were a law firm or something?
You know what else happened in 24 a lot? There were always moles. It got to the point that when the grand reveal was made you'd flatly say, “Oh gee, color me surprised.” That was my reaction about Sonya. Sure, they made it obvious, but couldn’t it have happened with a character which we were more emotionally invested? I like Sonya, but I’m not screaming to the high Heavens, “WHY????” Birkhoff can always find a new girlfriend. We’ll see how this all plays out, but I have Sonya in the death pool, and I predict her swim is coming soon. There’s a promise of another mole as well, but I’m just not into it so far.
Regardless of what Division is mirroring these days, the main story continues to circle around the two female leads, Nikita and Alex. On top of everything else, Nikita still feels like she must be the protector of everyone. This is very evident by her connection to many of those in the Dirty Thirty, who can’t believe she’s selling out like this and have given her huge guilt trips. I was especially drawn to her connections with Cyrus (“Sideswipe”) and Mia (“True Believer”). Plus Cyrus didn’t die, so new friend! The fact that after everything she can still keep her compassion for others is what makes her character truly extraordinary in these often cynical times in television today.
Alex’s story is the one that’s played out more so far. Alex is torn between her commitment to Nikita and Sean’s pleas that she give up this spy life. She’s attracted to both sides, and that struggle is ripping her apart. After being shot, she tried to avoid painkillers, but both the inner emotional conflict and physical pain was too great. Now she’s spiraling, but it’s going to take more than Michael trying to reach out to her to help. I really think in the end it’ll be Nikita that gets through, just like before, even if Amanda is distracting her from the warning signs. The question is, how much farther does Alex go down before going back up? Bravo to Lyndsy Fonseca for giving Alex such amazing emotional depth this season.
As for Nikita, there’s a lot to come. Amanda knows Nikita’s weakness is her concern for those around her, so how that all plays out could get very nasty. Craig Silverstein and team have always managed to surprise us and there is so much that can happen in 17 episodes. BTW, if I had to pick out of the six episodes so far which is my favorite, I’m going with the season opener, “3.0.” That’s the only one that had me engrossed and thoroughly entertained from beginning to end, but like I said before, they’re just getting started.
Well done so far Team Nikita, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of the season. Perhaps I’ll end up doing another midseason review at the actual midseason mark. Everything should be firing on full throttle by then.
Nikita returns on January 18th at 8pm on The CW.