Last night I watched the début episode of the new television series Nikita. I’m intrigued how the core concept of this story has persisted and been remade.
Its first incarnation was as a French action film in 1990, also called Nikita, which was written and directed by Luc Besson. The plotline is that Nikita is a young criminal sent to prison. French intelligence fakes her death, takes her to a secret facility and trains her to work as an assassin. After a significant test of her ability she is released into society with a cover story, but she can be activated for any job at any time. Nikita meets a nice guy, falls for him, and this process makes her life as a killer increasingly problematic. The training that builds her confidence and teaches her to negotiate the world, and the tenderness she experiences in her relationship, ultimately make her value life. Eventually a mission goes wrong, and Nikita not only gives up on her vocation as a government assassin, but also leaves her boyfriend.
The story is replicated with only minor changes in the 1993 American remake, Point of No Return (also known as The Assassin). From 1997-2001 the story was reinvented for a TV series called La Femme Nikita.
(The following contains a spoiler for the first episode.)
The 2010 version is set three years after Nikita disappeared from Division, the secret government agency that recruited her. Her focus is to bring down Division and release the other recruits that are being forced into this line of work. She is also secretly working with a new recruit, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), who is inside Division. The agency is run by the bad guy (Percy, played by Xander Berkeley), with a rugged not-so-bad guy (Michael, played by Shane West) and of course the requisite geek (Birkhoff, played by Aaron Stanford). The clues are all in the names of the characters.
There’s no point comparing this version to what has gone before, as it should stand or fall on its own merits. The cast is decent, and Maggie Q is most believable when she’s allowed to act. It’s downright refreshing to have an Asian woman as the lead in an American television show. Her extreme un-muscled skinniness strikes me as implausible for an assassin that needs to flip huge bodyguards and sprint about on high heels, but at least she tackles the role with fervour.
The voice-over in the first two minutes of the first episode was entirely unnecessary, as all the information imparted was re-told in the first half of the episode, and it made me wonder if it was a later addition. Lyndsy Fonseca displays enough spark and spunk in her role to keep my interest. This is pretty familiar territory, however. Since the first Nikita we’ve had a lot of these kinds of television shows, most recently Dark Angel, Alias, and Dollhouse.
This episode didn’t perk my attention until the last 15 minutes. I was unimpressed with the number of times Maggie Q was either in a swim suit or lingerie, or the manner in which she was framed and shot in those instances. It’s inevitable in Hollywood that tough action women must simultaneously be displayed as sexual objects. If this was done in a way that also critiqued this issue I might be happier, but instead we get Nikita lounging around in her massive warehouse apartment wearing only a silk robe and embroidered bra and panties. Because, when you’re on the run from a secret black ops organisation that’s been hunting you for three years you always need to be wearing pretty underwear. You never know when the crosshairs will appear on your forehead after all…
Still, I liked that the show is about Nikita being proactive and attempting to change a system that destroyed her life. When she told Percy she was going to bring Division down it was with the right amount of intensity, and thus far her character displays enough smarts and ability to at least give Division a lot of trouble.
What I’d like to see is more character, better dialogue and a lot of surprises. It could also do with subtext, because without more complexity this series will look increasingly threadbare.
We’ve all seen this formula before, so it’s up to the writer (Craig Silverstein) to display some invention.
At the moment I have reservations about Nikita, but I’m also willing to give a new show time to discover its real strengths and potential.