The original La Femme Nikita TV series developed such a rabid cult following that when it was initially cancelled, the furor and uproar it caused led to a shortened fifth season renewal. The fifth season was, of course, terrible and quietly I’m sure, people would have been happier if they left it at four. It is however, this passionate fanbase that still drives the lore of the series today. Fuelled in part by the show’s characters and the many twists they took throughout its run. Created by 24’s Joel Surnow, it’s easy to see in retrospect that it was the template to many of 24’s story arcs. Much of the cinematography, editing and action sequences perfected by the latter can be seen in their infancy through La Femme Nikita. It was a daring show driven by Peta Wilson and Roy Dupuis’ chemistry and mystery, characters whose complex layers and allegiances tested viewers expectations. It looks and feels dated today, thanks in part to the quick-cut editing that has become the norm for action-based series, but it was on the forefront of a landscape that would later be dominated by the 24s and Alias’ of contemporary television.
Nikita, The CW’s latest series reboot is a surprise in itself as it traverses the busy spy-charged schedule of prime time. Taking elements from both the original French film of the same name, the American remake and the Canadian series, Nikita is the dark-toned, sexualized modernization of an already modern concept. The introduction we get to the series is a smart combination of the both the film and the original series, convoluting the premise enough to leave viewers with a sense of intrigue as the pilot wraps. There is familiarity; a teenage girl is arrested and jailed by police only to have her death faked by a rogue government organization (Division) that recruits them as assassins. Alex (played by Lyndsy Fonseca) is initially recruited as the series opens, and we expect her to play out the part, but we soon discover that she is holding more cards than the viewers are led to believe. It is a unique twist that sets this update apart- all the more so as we are soon graced by the presence of the new Nikita, Maggie Q. Unlike previous adaptations, Nikita is on the outside of Division, an ex-agent returning to the fold driven to destroy the organization from within. It is a smarter premise, and gives Q her opportunity to display all her spectacular femininity and serious face-kicking vengeance with style.
For any red-blooded male, there is no additional enticement required other than Maggie Q herself (superlatives have been exhausted trying to properly exemplify her magnetism). However, it isn’t just an explosion of sexuality that drives this show. She shows vulnerability, humor, and a brokenness that cannot always be hidden beneath her poised rage and determination. She is as ruthless as she is beautiful and never has a Nikita been this captivating (no disrespect to Peta Wilson of course). We see through the first few episodes that there is a compassionate side to her, and while it is in retrospect a result of what has happened to her through a troubled childhood and time as a Division agent, her nurturing of Alex demonstrates humanity within her character.
The series is still in its infancy but a weakness of the early episodes is rather unfortunately the character of Michael. Played by Dupuis in the original, there was a sense of mystery about him. Rarely spoken and oft brooding, his actions louder than words were the trademark of his character’s distinct appeal. Shane West tackles the role and while he is sound in the acting department, he lacks the enigmatic qualities seen in Dupuis. It is however, still too early to tell how this character develops, but while he isn’t as interesting as the original Michael, there is a great deal more realism to his persona (one that unfolds as the pilot ends). Television veterans Melinda Clarke (The OC, CSI) and Xander Berkeley (24) round out Division’s pointy end and both do their villainous jobs with admiration. Both exhibit a kind of “more than they’re letting on” aura that will surely come to light as the series progresses.
Nikita is cinematically slick; an artful precision to its settings adapts the sometimes-unbelievable premise to a more believable reality. In a world of filled with spies, detectives, rogue agents and one-line crime scene investigators, there is certainly room for an entire division of secret agents that even the CIA can’t control. The new series is produced by Craig Silverstein, Danny Cannon and McG, the latter whom can surely be attributed for the glossier action sequences and bigger budget feel. It’s removed from the original in many respects and could do what Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse couldn’t; thrust a strong but fragile, complicated female lead character into territory usually reserved for the Jack Bauer’s of the small screen.
Until the season unfolds and we understand the depths in which both Nikita and Alex function at, intrigue, intelligent writing and good character chemistry (and Maggie Q) do more than its share to propel this series to the “ones to watch” list. Good enough that even fans of the original may like it.