Femme Fatale Nikita Is Exactly What the CW Needs
By Jennifer K Stuller Posted Sep 10th 2010 08:30AM
Going deep undercover this summer in my own alias, the Ink-Stained Amazon, I snagged a sneak peek at the new 'Nikita' series. My mission: Attend the pilot screening and Q&A to find out what the revamped concept -- an update of the Luc Besson film and subsequent '90s 'La Femme Nikita' TV series -- has to offer.
As most viewers are aware, for the past several years the CW has banked on a lineup of reality shows and sexy nighttime soaps aimed at teenagers and 20-somethings. It's been a while since they had anything that "kicked ass." Now, 'Nikita,' starring Maggie Q as the titular heroine, has the potential to change that.
The gist: Nikita, a former agent and assassin, has been rogue for three years. She escaped the covert government agency and assassin training facility known as Division after they killed her lover, Danny. She wasn't supposed to fall in love. Since this was the same MacGuffin that started 'Alias,' right down to the fiance's name, the lesson learned is: Covert ops ladies, do not hook up with dudes named Daniel.
Nikita has aggressively turned her attention to Division, and girlfriend is going to bring ... them ... down. At first she's written off as a non-issue, but when Nikita thwarts an assassination attempt, taking her out becomes a priority mission. In fact, it's referred to as "a level six emergency." (Oh noes! Not a level six!)
In the meantime, Division has recruited a young woman named Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) whose introduction echoes the familiar Nikita mythos -- young troubled woman commits a crime, her death is staged and she's given a choice: Become an assassin for the government or die for real.
Imagined as part reboot, part revamp and part continuation of the concept of street kid turned unwilling assassin, 'Nikita' is meant to tell the story of what happened to the storied vixen after she left the agency. "None of her life has been hers up to this point," said Silverstein during the Q&A, "and now she's taking control."
Traditional tropes of spy-fi and espionage make this story compelling -- and there is a truly unexpected twist. The acting is solid (Shane West is particularly good as the broody Michael; Q is gorgeous and convincingly lethal), but the dialogue could use some finessing. When Alex makes an attempt to escape the training facility she encounters Amanda (Melinda Clarke) the resident feminine wiles expert, who tells her, in all seriousness, "The more you try to get out, the more you'll find there's another room." I'm positive my husband has since used that line at his office.
Rooms within rooms, the most obvious, non-covert and publicly-destructive backup ever, prison catfights, young assassins salivating at the thought of killing on the government dime, Amanda's creepy makeover room (one wig, four dresses and a makeup kit) and vague references to the Ukrainian sex trade feel like overkill. The concept and franchise have already proven themselves. But pilots are a hard sell, and are often stuffed to the brim with the kinds of things we can expect to see unfold at a slower narrative pace over the entirety of a season. This series, which is clearly striving for seriousness with its dark tone, absolutely has the potential to succeed. Even with a few minor missteps in the first episode, I'm ready to be addicted.
So what did my Comic-Con mission ultimately uncover? 'Nikita' has intrigue, betrayal, subversion, femme fatales and sexy outfits. The characters are compelling -- and an Asian action heroine leading a television series is a laudable step forward for diversity in American popular culture. All in all, the kick-ass women of 'Nikita' have this Amazon looking forward to seeing just what they're capable of.
Jennifer K. Stuller celebrates the action heroines of popular culture in Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Read her blog on Red Room.
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