Owen Elliot was sorely missed in last week’s episode of Nikita, but never fear because Devon Sawa is back in “Masks” and his character is even more of a badass than before – after the show runs him through the wringer, that is.
Yet there’s some unfinished business to take care of first. After a certain someone was shot previously, an enraged Nikita is on the warpath, interrogating rogue agent Rachel as the other woman takes the fall for Alex pulling the trigger. Watching the conversation alongside Sean, Alex still sounds like a little bit of a disaffected robot. Not that Sean notices.
All of this is interrupted by the announcement that the thorn in Division’s side turned unwilling ally, Commander Evan Danforth, is dead. Nikita immediately fingers Amanda as the guilty party, and phones Owen – whose job it was to keep an eye on Danforth – to find out what exactly happened. “We dropped the ball on surveillance,” she declares, but Owen doesn’t seem to be too offended by this statement. He’s sent by Michael to clean Danforth’s apartment of all its Division bugs, as Michael is now acting boss of Division while Ryan continues to spend time in Medical.
When Owen gets to Danforth’s apartment, he gets injected with a mild paralytic agent and there’s Amanda, who declares the former cleaner “far more valuable alive.” She also refers to him by his real name, Sam. That’s the cue for a flashback to our hero’s apparent military days, which did not go well. When Owen comes to, Amanda is gone but Nikita is there, asking him if he’s okay. He proceeds to rattle off facts about his former life as Delta Force operator Sam Matthews, declaring “I remember.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have just opened Pandora’s Box.
Owen recounts what happened once he gets back to Division, and has a further heart-to-heart with Nikita, telling her that “flashes” of his past are coming back after his encounter with Amanda. Nikita wants to know what Amanda is up to. Speaking of being up to something, somewhere else in the building, Alex is meeting with the rest of her mutineers, and declares that she’ll “handle Birkhoff” so that they can do something about their trackers.
Birkhoff is meeting with Nikita and Owen, trying to dig up information on Owen’s former military unit. Owen tells them that the other members of his unit were smuggling heroin, he caught them, and then was shot. “I killed them all,” he explains. “Amanda was right. I killed all my friends.” Only one person survived: a Corporal Scott Atkins, who’s now in Baltimore. Road trip!
After some needling from Alex, Michael addresses the entirety of Division, telling them that Danforth’s death “changes nothing” and that “everything is under control. We just need to focus and keep doing our jobs.” Apparently that’s not what Alex was hoping for, because she makes her unimpressed face again.
She then goes to chat up Birkhoff, expressing a desire to leave Division. “Every mission leads to another. Every secret leads to ten more. Ryan’s in a coma, and for what?” she questions. Seeming to get where she’s coming from, Birkhoff admits that he asked Sonya to leave Division with him, but that his girlfriend declined. Before Alex can make her pitch to him, Sean walks in and effectively ends the conversation.
Owen and Nikita pay a visit to Scott Atkins, who really isn’t holding up well. His day gets worse when Owen pulls out a gun and shoots him in the forehead, before turning on Nikita. She comes to while Owen is in the process of disposing of Atkins’ body, and tells him that “Something’s happened to you.” As Owen would say if he were Owen, thank you, Captain Obvious.
When she offers to help fix the situation, he tells her that there’s nothing to fix. He says that he was, in fact, the leader of the aforementioned heroin-smuggling operation, and when his colleagues tried to cut him out, he cut most of them down before Atkins shot him in the back. He then gets back in contact with Amanda, wanting to arrange a meeting. “You know I’d come with what you want,” he tells her before injecting Nikita, knocking her unconscious.
Back at Division, Michael tries a much more calm interview with Rachel, trying to convince her that the people she’s working with will be fine if she reveals their identities. When she doesn’t want to take the easy way out, he goes for the hard way: telling her that the mutiny will end with Division coming after them and killing all of them. Meanwhile, Alex insists to one of her followers that she’ll get everyone out safely. Someone’s wrong, and it’s probably not Michael.
At their meeting, Owen isn’t satisfied with the amount of money Amanda gives him for Nikita, and clamps his hand around her throat. Amanda talks her way out of being killed by suggesting that he get his hands on the black box that’s at Division, and sell it to some of her contacts for a lot more than the fifty thousand dollars she has left. Placated by this idea, Owen leaves a still out of it Nikita in the trunk of a car. He then calls Division, pretending to still be Owen, telling Michael that Amanda has Nikita and injuring himself to support his cover story of an ambush. This, of course, sends Michael to the rescue and conveniently leaves Alex in charge of Division.
Amanda smugly tells Nikita that as she predicted, Alex has turned against her, “with a little help from me, of course.” This is the show’s cue to show Alex doing sneaky things with her newfound power at Division. Amanda details exactly how she turned Alex into a would-be mutineer. “She will sacrifice everything,” Amanda declares ominously, while Sean watches Alex worriedly. This entire sequence is just full of obvious hints. The two start having another one of their conversations about their differing methodologies.
Owen returns to Division, and immediately starts sticking out like a sore thumb. He tells Birkhoff that he thinks Amanda might be making a play for the black box, and even suggests she might have a mole. Birkhoff tells Owen that the box is in Ryan’s safe with a biometric lock, and before he finishes the sentence, Owen is gone, grabbing a comatose Ryan’s thumbprint in medical.
The tech whiz has something else to worry about, though, telling Sean that he thinks someone was on his station in his absence. Sean appears to be contemplating this, and then introduces Alex to the nearest wall. Once again, he tells her she’s been different, and calls her out for using her command clearance at Birkhoff’s station. He realizes that she’s the leader of the mutiny, and her response is to ask him to help her. When he’s disinterested, he’s confronted by the whole army she has behind her, like a horde of arriving zombies in a horror movie, while an impassive Alex watches from behind him. She only springs into action when one of her minions aims a gun at her boyfriend, convincing the mutineers that it was Sean in charge of Division, not her, and that he’s on their side. Sean, for his part, learns to lie very quickly.
Sean’s safety isn’t the biggest problem in this situation, however. A disgruntled Rachel tells Alex that the rest of the mutineers have decied to “take Ops,” over Alex’s protests that their new plan would just result in a bloodbath. Yes, Alex, you’ve created a huge monster.
Owen gets the black box out of Ryan’s safe, but finds himself confronted by Michael, who’s spoken to Birkhoff and to the security guards outside Ryan’s recovery room, and completely sussed him out. Owen’s response to being fingered is to start an all-out brawl that only ends when both men are confronted by a bunch of armed mutineers. Rachel’s now appointed herself in charge of the mutiny, and she and the rest of her mini-army take over Operations, complete with ominous speech from Rachel. At least Owen calls Amanda, so that Amanda and Nikita know what’s happening. “So it begins,” a gloating Amanda tells a horrified Nikita.
“Masks” is a great episode for Devon Sawa. Nikita fans have known from his first episode that Devon is one of the show’s best assets when it comes to its action sequences – possibly second only to Maggie Q in that department. What’s slipped more under the radar is that he’s also a really good actor, too. He’s proven himself eminently watchable as the wisecracking, somewhat lost Owen Elliot that deservedly earned regular status this season, and yet there’s something honestly creepy and disturbing about his portrayal of Sam Matthews, too. The audience can really see how exactly Sam fell prey to Amanda’s machinations all those years ago.
Having said that, the B-story about the developing mutiny remains as heavy-handed as it was last week and the week before that. Even though Alex has similarly had her mind tampered with by Amanda, the writing – and to an extent the delivery of that writing – makes her come across as flat. Things like her speaking in awkward sentences and looking around nervously before she does something are giant red flags to the audience, which in turn makes the other characters come off weaker for not picking up on these clues. Saying she seems different and they’re worried doesn’t count. At least Sean finally wises up this week – but even that’s fairly obvious, given his relationship with Alex. If he wasn’t the first person to figure it out, he’d look pretty ignorant.
It’s no surprise that Rachel turns the tables on Alex, because her attitude has been well established from the moment the character was introduced, and when she does, it lacks any punch because it doesn’t seem to faze Alex in any major way. It would have been a much stronger play to have Alex change in more subtle ways, or like Owen, at least be fairly decent at covering it (because his plot to get the black box is also pretty obvious from the moment Birkhoff tells him exactly how to do it). Just because she’s been programmed (for lack of a better word) doesn’t mean she can’t be affected by what’s happening around her – and that would also give Lyndsy Fonseca, who’s a fine actress, much more to play.
The one way this mutiny plot can pay off now is if the actual mutiny itself is a real game-changer. Let’s see real changes happen, real damage done – physical or even emotional – and maybe even a few bodies fall. (Rachel’s chances of survival don’t look great at the moment.) If the series is going to introduce this as a plot twist, let’s really turn the place upside down. If played right, it would seem to be an obvious setup to lead into a fourth season – and if for some reason this underrated show doesn’t make it to season four, it would be a fantastic way to go out. Yet that all depends on how it’s executed.
That’s the silver lining: even when it doesn’t work, Nikita has always been an ambitious show. It might make its name on its action sequences, but it’s got a lot of guts, too. Now let’s see what leap it takes next.