‘Nikita’ Recap and Review: ‘Canceled’

Nikita

nikita

The end is here. Nikita‘s series finale is upon us, appropriately titled ‘Canceled.’ It’s a good moniker for so many reasons: because it’s the last episode of the show; because within the series, that word is used to mean ‘killed,’ and death is a big part of this plot; and because now it’s understandable why this is Nikita‘s swan song.

Continuing the idea of going back to the beginning that started with the last scene of ‘Bubble’, this episode opens with a flashback to Nikita’s early days at Division, with Amanda giving her a lecture on how “brute force will never be as effective as deception.”

Back in the present time, Nikita and Alex are stopping a Department of Corrections van that has Amanda’s business partner Jones inside. Nikita wants answers from Jones, specifically the names of the other seven members of the mysterious Group, before she blows up the van with him inside as payback for Ryan’s death. When the incident hits the news, everyone else back at home knows exactly who’s responsible.

“She’s just getting started,” Michael states, as we’re treated to cutscenes of our leading ladies dispatching other bad  guys that we’ve never so much as glimpsed before. It’s hard to believe that it takes this discussion for Team Nikita to figure out that terminating the Group would leave more than fifty clones running around unsupervised. None of these folks are dumb; did they just think that all the clones would give up and move to Bermuda? Does nobody remember that this is exactly how we got the Dirty Thirty?

Anyhow, another flashback shows Michael and Amanda discussing Nikita getting into another fight with other agents at Division; Michael recommends that Nikita be canceled, but Amanda disagrees. Michael foreshadows the events of the series by telling Amanda that Nikita could end up destroying Division. And in the present day, he still thinks his soulmate is a loose cannon. “Stop her,” says the random Senator from last week. “Do whatever you have to do.”

While Amanda and Amanda’s Boss have another conversation that ends with him telling her that she’s no longer sitting at the adults’ table, Alex and Nikita have set up a new dive of a hideout, and crash the Group’s emergency meeting in upstate New York. (That’s right, Division was headquartered in New Jersey, and The Group’s home base is just the next state over. Apparently the Northeast is popular with secret organizations.)

Team Nikita climbs back aboard their spiffy airplane with some uninvited Marines, and are pointed in the right direction by the unlikeliest of sources: Amanda, who’s decided to turn on her bosses as revenge for being kicked down the ladder, reminding us of how she turned her back on Percy way back when. Before our heroes can intervene in Nikita’s attack, however, the Marines decide to take control of the mission – because that’s what always happens in TV Land.

Nikita gets the full list of all the clones and is prepared to blast it out to every news outlet, but it’s Birkhoff who stops that from happening. He then changes his mind and enables her to release the list, but by then Alex also agrees that this is a Very Bad Idea, and she and Nikita engage in a completely ill-advised fistfight, which makes them completely ignorant to Amanda’s Boss getting his hands on a gun. Once Nikita shoots him, Alex knocks her unconscious and surrenders to the incoming Marines. No one’s getting a gold star for any of this.

Some time later, Nikita, Alex and Birkhoff are all booked into a supermax prison, where Amanda pays her nemesis a visit to gloat about controlling all of the remaining clones and having located the list. “This is the end,” she insists, but it’s really not, because we’ve got another twenty minutes. So Amanda goes on, talking about how they’re sort of alike, and Nikita lets her finish before she escapes. She then reveals that everything we’ve seen before was staged, with all the bad guys really being taken into custody rather than killed, and the original folks being released from the “replication center” in Pennsylvania. Nikita’s last words to her longtime foe are that they’re leaving Amanda there to talk to herself forever.

At CIA headquarters, Team Nikita is praised by the Senator, who tells them that government forces are working to bring in the remaining doubles, and that they’ve all been pardoned. We then get a final montage of what happens to everyone. Sam is accompanying Alex to a human rights conference, and they’re still an item, as she invites him to dinner afterward. Birkhoff is giving an interview in which he says that he’s “got a girl waiting for me in London,” so Sonya’s apparently still around, even though we didn’t get to see her. And as for Michael and Nikita, they are now married and in Ecuador, where Nikita sees Ryan’s smiling ghost before she decides to go off to fight another good fight.

Like most of Season 4, the series finale of Nikita is a mixed bag. Let’s start by talking about the things it did right: it reunited Nikita and Michael as a bonafide couple, giving them the happy ending that both they and the fans deserved after the show putting so much emphasis on their romantic relationship. It slightly deviated from its formula by allowing Alex’s boyfriend to survive this time. (Really, how could you kill Devon Sawa? He’s been outstanding and he’s as close as the show has to comic relief anymore.) We got an idea of where almost every character was headed next. And the open conclusion is a nice bone to throw, allowing the audience to believe that the characters will keep doing good in the world, even if we’re not going to get to see it.

But there’s so much here that shows that perhaps it was the right time for the series to bow out. Take, for example, the end of Amanda’s storyline; as delightful as Melinda Clarke has been, her character deserved to be killed a long time ago. (In fact, she was supposed to be killed before now.) After all the animosity built up between Amanda and Nikita, their final showdown was fairly brief and pretty unremarkable. They’ve had confrontations in earlier seasons that were more suspenseful. Plus, one can argue that Amanda not being killed was a letdown for the fans. Even if we concede the ‘Nikita’s trying not to be a killer’ idea, after everything Amanda has put the protagonists – and by extension, the audience – through, we’ve been waiting to see her pay for it. Leaving her locked in a room just doesn’t have the same dramatic impact.

As a whole, the writing of ‘Canceled’ leaves something to be desired, too. Amanda may have bought into the ruse, but we as an audience never did. If the point was for us to believe that Nikita was losing her marbles, that’s something that might’ve been better played over the course of a few episodes. It’s hard to really be concerned by her behavior when all we’re seeing is quick cutscenes of her knocking off expendable bad guys. Having Sam and Michael tell her that she’s going too far isn’t enough. Plus, when it comes to the all-important file, Birkhoff seems to change his mind out of the blue. Now, you can say that it was all a bit flimsy because it was all staged, but it being a set-up doesn’t mean it can’t be convincing. A lot of shows have perpetuated very good fakeouts on audiences (see, for example, Traveler with Aaron Stanford and Matt Bomer). This wasn’t one of them.

Then there’s the clone mess. It takes until now for the team to realize that knocking off the Group’s leadership would mean clones running around freely? And it the end, all we hear is that those clones are in the process of being caught? Since the whole season’s revolved around these replacements, the show could’ve thrown us a little more in that department, like perhaps revealing who some of the others were, or showing us some arrests. That would’ve been a little more satisfying than what amounts to “we’re working on it.” Plus, for a character who didn’t get to do too much while he was alive, Ryan Fletcher sure suddenly gets a lot of love now that he’s dead. And what’s with so many secret facilities being somewhere in the Northeast? That’s just a little too convenient.

We don’t mean to tear everything down, of course. For years, this has been a show that surpassed its potential and that’s had an amazing cast from top to bottom. When it’s good, it’s been amazingly good, better than a lot of folks have given it credit for. And having had the pleasure of working with these folks for the run of the series, we can tell you that they are such hard-working, kind and generous people – truly one of our favorite casts to ever have gotten to write about. They’re amazing, not just as actors but as people, too, and they’ve brought us so many good memories, both on and off screen. (Full disclosure: this writer cried after leaving this year’s Nikita Comic-Con press room. That’s how much these ladies and gentlemen have touched my life.)

But that’s why we can’t quite bring ourselves to love this series finale. It’s a microcosm of the show as a whole – great acting and some entertaining bits, but then also the moments where it doesn’t entirely gel. One imagines that if this season had gone more than six episodes, or if there had been a fifth season, there probably would’ve been some retooling involved. As it is, even with the flaws, at least we can leave happy with the knowledge that Team Nikita is alive, well, and still being awesome.

That’s a wrap on Nikita. We here at BFTV would like to extend our congratulations to the entire cast and crew, as well as our thanks for four seasons of your hard work to bring us entertainment we’ve enjoyed covering.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

4 Things We Learned From 4 Seasons Of ‘Nikita’

Nikita

Nikita

Tonight, The CW’s Nikita will sign off for good, and that makes us a little sad. Having covered this series from beginning to end, we’ve gotten to see it go from ‘remake we’re not so sure about’ to ‘that sleeper show more people should be watching.’ And we’ve learned a few things, too. Here are our four takeaways from the four seasons of Nikita – feel free to leave yours in the comments as we prepare to say goodbye.

01) Remakes don’t always have to be mistakes: Granted, there have been many which were short-lived or outright bad (see: NBC’s Knight Rider and Bionic Woman, ABC’s Charlie’s Angels). So you can understand why we cringed when a new Nikita was announced three years ago. And it took us a little while to jump on board. But by the end of season one, this incarnation carved out its own distinct tone and identity separate from its USA predecessor, while still giving more than a few respectful nods to the loyal fans of the original recipe. If you’re going to remake a show, that’s the way to do it.

02) Maggie Q deserves to be a household name: The leading lady of Nikita was hardly an unknown when she signed on (hey, we still remember when she was in Gen-Y Cops with Paul Rudd), but a regular TV role put her on the map for a lot of folks, and deservedly so. In a world where being an action star doesn’t always mean capable acting, Maggie didn’t just bring the physical prowess to be believable as a government-trained assassin, but she also imbued Nikita with a real warmth that made us care about her journey. Even when the writing wasn’t at its best, her portrayal kept us watching. Hopefully, we’ll see her in even bigger roles in the future.

03) Shane West can be an action hero: He wasn’t who we expected to play Michael, but in retrospect, he turned out to be Nikita‘s most underrated player. Watching Michael transition from Division’s top lieutenant to its second-biggest threat was one of the best parts of season one, because of how Shane played him in such a way that we were privy to everything he was thinking and feeling, even if it was just through an expression or an inflection. He’s also proven that he’s capable of holding his own in the show’s high-intensity action scenes, even when they call for him to lose a limb (that has to stop happening). We’re certainly looking at Shane differently after Nikita, and we hope the Hollywood community is, too. He deserves his own show STAT – or at least a guest appearance on Justified.

04) The O.C. will never, ever be the same again: Not after Melinda Clarke left her imprint as the villainous Amanda. She’s so good at being bad that it’s easy to understand why her character has stuck around way longer than she logically should have. In fact, Nikita has done an outstanding job when it comes to casting the opposition. Xander Berkeley was deliciously evil as original bad guy Percy, we’re still upset over the demise of Peter Outerbridge’s Ari Tasarov even though he was in league with Amanda, and who could forget Rob Stewart as the always-creepy Roan? You can even throw in Devon Sawa going to the dark side as Sam Matthews. Of course these folks aren’t terrorists and killers in real life (they’re actually all very nice), but they’ve done a great job of convincing us that they are.

The Nikita series finale, “Canceled,” airs tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on The CW. You can click here to look back through all our Nikita coverage.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Nikita’ Recap and Review: ‘Bubble’

Nikita

nikita

There are just two more episodes of Nikita left, so there’s no time to waste. Unless you’re us, and this week’s episode was preempted a day for The CW’s coverage of the Hollywood Christmas Parade. But never fear, because we’re still recapping it anyway. Especially because  that long-teased death has finally happened.

Our heroes are now unwillingly residing in nice houses on a military base in Virginia, while not-dead Amanda visits her apparent boss (Vincent Ventresca, The Invisible Man) in the middle of his tennis game, and is warned that she cannot incite any “grudge matches” with her longtime rival, and Alex has tracked Sam to France. She’s telling him that she duped him just as he’s jumped by thugs working for the loan shark that he still owes money to. Oh, and Ryan is still paranoid. Maybe because there are still clones.

While various nameless high-ranking officials watch on monitors, the whole of Team Nikita is debriefed not just on recent events, but everything going back to their days with Division. (Birkhoff has clearly had too much coffee.) The guys in suits are understandably not thrilled with what they hear, and afterward, a Senator insists that he needs Nikita to sell the story to the public, no matter how much she wants to move on.

When Nikita eventually agrees to go along with this idea, she finds out that Ryan has requested a meeting with Amanda’s old business partner Mr. Jones, and asking him about that leads her to discover that he’s still obsessing, possibly moreso than before. The next day, as she formally testifies, Alex rescues Sam and then makes out with him, while Amanda is doing more creepy scientific stuff, because she’s really become the ultimate mad scientist.

Ryan eventually gets that meeting with Jones, and essentially tells him that he’s figured out the entire master plan, which is a bit like telling the killer in a movie that you’re going to turn them in to the cops. It’s no surprise at all that Ryan promptly takes a needle to the neck, or that the show follows this up with a sappy moment between Nikita and Michael (who finally gets a last name, Bishop) and an obviously post-sex Alex and Sam, because we need a parade to be rained on later. Cut back to Amanda with Ryan on her table, although we probably shouldn’t snicker when she uses the phrase “a beautiful mind.”

Our favorite perfectly coiffed former CIA analyst isn’t going down without a fight, though, and he puts up a hell of one before deciding he’d rather jump out a window to his death before ending up in Amanda’s clutches. It’s a shame that Noah Bean gets his best scene in the entire series as he’s being killed off. Ryan sticks around long enough for Nikita to emote in the local ER, and then flatlines, never to return.

Alex is notified of Ryan’s death and seeks comfort in Sam, while a now messed-up Amanda has to answer to her boss for his demise, and Nikita tells her new friend the Senator that Amanda is still alive and that bad things are still very much in the works. The Senator tells her to keep quiet for the time being, lest she start a national panic, and so Nikita quietly gets her medal – which she leaves with Ryan’s body – while looking really unhappy about it. As Birkhoff awesomely breaks Michael’s TV, and Sam turns up to say hello, Nikita and Alex decide they’re going to handle business by themselves, although that’s not really likely since it would mean everyone else has nothing to do but shop for another TV. And we go on…

Usually, penultimate episodes are full of buzzworthy stuff, because it’s their function to build up hype to the finale. There’s certainly a lot to talk about here, but not all of it is good. “Bubble” clearly puts the cards on the table for the real final showdown between Nikita and Amanda (and various associates, but really, it’s Amanda), including finally wising up the world to all the stuff that you’d think somebody would’ve noticed by now. The idea of Nikita and Alex starting the show the same way they came in is a nice thematic nod, if nothing else. And hey, Michael has a last name now!

With this being the next-to-last episode of the series, it feels almost wrong to critique it, but unfortunately, we have to. There are quite a few things here that just ring hollow, for a variety of reasons. We brought this up when Alex and Sam’s hookup was foreshadowed episodes ago, but now that it’s happened we’ll revisit the issue: the subplot of Alex and an ill-fated love interest has been done four times now (remember Thom, Nathan and Sean?). Especially since it’s the last season, it’s disappointing to see the same tired subplot again.

The only thing it really does is serve as evidence of Sam’s redemption, though we think that would’ve been more meaningful if he’d ultimately come to that on his own, rather than because of Alex. We are, however, thrilled to see Devon Sawa back on the right side of the line. Somebody needs to sign this guy to another action series immediately, because he’s showed us over four seasons that he can really bring something dynamic to the table.

Then there’s the matter of Ryan’s death. This thing is so mixed up we’re not really sure how to feel about it. On one hand, the sequence leading up to his demise is the best scene that he’s ever had, and the fact that he went out on his own terms rather than just being killed off is a nice twist. However, having him meet with Jones was such obvious foreshadowing that it was laughable. As smart as Ryan is, you’d think he’d know not to tip his entire hand, especially when he’s aware that the terrorist “group” is still very much out there.

We’ve known since the beginning of Season 5 that a major character was going to die, and the fact that it’s Ryan is not really a surprise. He’s expendable because he’s not one of the original team, and honestly, aside from being shot last season and brief moments here and there, he’s pretty much been relegated to delivering exposition. Which is what sticks in our craw about this, too. Noah Bean‘s a wonderful actor, and we’ve been pleading since he became a regular for him to be given more to do. Killing Ryan off just cements his status as the most wasted character on the show.

(But mark our words: more people are going to die. Finales of any kind love to kill people off, and if somebody doesn’t at least get rid of Amanda by the end of the show, it’s going to make our heroes look like dopes.)

“Bubble” is a fair episode in that it moves people into place for the finale, and while we may not agree with the plot developments that happen, at least they’re done reasonably well. Having said that, it also exposes the fact that Nikita has run these particular storylines about as far as they can go. With that in mind, it looks like the perfect time for the show to go out – and let’s hope it finishes like the great, underrated series we love it for being.

The Nikita series finale – appropriately titled “Canceled” – airs next Friday, December 27 at 9 PM ET/PT on The CW. You can click here to check out all of our coverage, including cast and crew interviews.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Nikita’ Recap And Review: ‘Pay-Off’

Nikita

nikita

Nikita‘s final season has been slow to start, but ‘Pay-Off’ promises to do just that, in an at least titular continuation from last week’s episode ‘Set-Up.’ It starts slow with the return of a villain who didn’t need to come back and some references to old episodes we didn’t need, but the final act turns up the heat just in time.

We’re in Pakistan, where one poor soldier gets abducted and left in the back of a van so that yet another clone can take his place. Of course, nobody notices the van. Meanwhile, Air Nikita finally goes to ground nearby, with Ryan in full nervous panic mode. He has reason for that – the plane is promptly invaded by armed smugglers. You’d think that for all the technology on the plane, they’d put better locks on the doors. The smugglers demand ten million dollars, which Alex and Sam have to go fetch from a safe deposit box in Switzerland, while still not getting along. Business as usual, then.

Minions report Alex and Sam’s whereabouts to Amanda, who’s been benched by her business partner due to her “obsession” with Nikita. He thinks that he can persuade Team Nikita to give up their crusade by offering them faked deaths and subsequent new identities. “It’s in my own self-interest,” he tells her. “Trying to kill you was a mistake, but unlike Percy and Amanda, I learn from my mistakes.” That last sentence comes while Amanda is in the room. Burn. But Nikita is only interested in The Shop’s unconditional surrender.

Meanwhile, Michael isn’t happy to spot Ramon (Simon Kassianides from Quantum of Solace), who hasn’t been seen since Season 2’s “Knightfall,” turn up on surveillance footage from an army depot. Ramon’s also pulled a Logan Cale from Dark Angel and he’s no longer paralyzed, courtesy of The Shop. The team decides to find out what he’s up to as Alex takes care of business, moaning about how she’s now relegated to the role of “the banker.” Hey, if this were Monopoly, she wouldn’t be complaining.

Sam sort of, kind of tries to talk to her about her issues regarding Sean’s (Dillon Casey) death during the Division mutiny. He points out that he gets it because of the death of his former fiancee Emily (Bianca Lawson). And then he saves her life for a second time this season.

Cue the movement of a Really Big Missile, courtesy of the soldier clone. Ryan quickly deduces that the RBM is intended for a United States aircraft carrier. So Team Nikita has their Mission of the Week. Michael and Nikita track the RBM into the woods, but one small sound – that appears to come out of nowhere – alerts Ramon, setting off a gun battle between him and Michael. After they discuss deals made with the devil, Michael discovers from Ramon that Nikita’s current predicament is the result of her trying to get his hand back, and then kills Ramon.

He reunites with Nikita, who has recovered the RBM, and they discover that The Shop has found a way to use that one to gain access to all of Pakistan’s missiles. Looking for a way to fix that problem, the team gets a call from Alex, who tells Nikita that the man who tried to kill her revealed that he works for MDK – a private military company. MDK’s Chief Financial Officer is Amanda’s business partner. Suddenly, Ryan’s giant conspiracy wall makes sense!

Suspecting that Sam’s motivations are still not entirely pure, Alex convinces him to head for Paris without her, just so she can see where he actually goes.

Amanda returns to Birkhoff’s father Ronald Peller (Judd Nelson) and orders him to destroy Shadownet, and he apparently cracks Birkhoff’s firewalls in about fifteen seconds. When Birkhoff discovers his father is alive, he’s shocked. But his father sends him an IP address which allows him to pinpoint The Shop’s HQ location as MDK’s office in Dubai.

Nikita, Michael, Birkhoff and Ryan, who finally gets something to do, break their way into the building and confront Amanda’s business partner face-to-face. With a gun pointed square at him, he folds the operation, which Amanda doesn’t agree to. She grabs a gun and starts shooting indiscriminately. Birkhoff reunites with his father, while Michael frees everyone else Amanda has had locked up, including the real President Spencer.

Elsewhere, Nikita has another confrontation with Amanda. Referring to her by her real name, Helen, she urges her to “do the right thing” and stop the missile launch. But Amanda insists that “it’s too late,” forcing Nikita to either use the one missile they have to blow up the building they’re in, or watch the carrier group go down. What follows is the last-minute evacuation drama you’ve seen in countless action movies. “You don’t get to save me, Nikita, but you will kill me,” Amanda says, steadfastly refusing to move while everyone else panics.

The RBM slams into the building, with Nikita knocked unconscious in the resulting rubble, the President confirmed alive, and Amanda’s business partner in a cell…meeting with Amanda, who’s very much alive. We’re told that the Amanda who was just killed was a clone all along, and that the master plan that was just stopped, was just one finger on the evil hand. (This whole speech is like a bad epilogue from an episode of The Twilight Zone.) As much as we’re not surprised because otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to discuss for two more episodes, we can’t help but get a little frustrated, too.

“Pay-Off” doesn’t deliver much of one until the second half of the episode. There’s not much of a reason for Ramon to have been specifically brought back, except to give Michael and Nikita something else to have another deep conversation about. And the references to past events, while nice touches for continuity’s sake, don’t really enhance the story. We don’t need to know that Sam understands what it’s like for Alex to have lost a loved one; if you’ve been watching the show with any regularity, you probably know that already. For the first thirty minutes, this episode unfolds like another Mission of the Week, at the wrong time.

But the second half of this episode is what we’ve been wanting to see for weeks now. Not only do we finally start learning some definitive information about The Shop, but we also see Team Nikita definitively doing something about this threat, rather than just bits and pieces here and there. We’re also beyond thrilled that after three episodes of standing around theorizing, Ryan is finally given a chance to do something else, because as we’ve argued before, Noah Bean is a great actor who should be a bigger part of the game plan.

Yet we’re going to drop a ‘but’ on you here, and it has to do with the last five minutes. The rescues of the President, Birkhoff’s father and everyone else give the audience a “score one for the good guys” feeling, and then that gets snatched away by the reveal that Amanda’s been a clone and that Team Nikita hasn’t realy accomplished that much. Our dissatisfaction with that goes back to a question posed by fans last season: how many times can Amanda get away before Team Nikita starts looking stupid for not being able to stop her? We know that there are still episodes to go, but her faux-death scene was a pretty compelling one, and would’ve been a satisfying way for her to go out. Instead, we have to just shake our heads and go, “Not again.”

Having said that, it will be interesting to see what the writers set up for the final two episodes, now that the real President has been freed and things should start to get back to normal. One would hope that saving the President would give Team Nikita a little more room and resources to work with, so what’s going to be their new challenge? What’s this alleged master plan that’s bigger than the one we’ve been watching unfold since the end of Season 3? And how can that be concluded satisfactorily in two episodes? This ending generates more questions than it solves, but unlike the episodes before it, at least it finally makes some definitive moves, for better or for worse.

Nikita‘s final season continues next Friday at 9 PM ET/PT on The CW.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Nikita’ Recap and Review: ‘Set-Up’

Nikita

nikita

We’ve officially reached the halfway point of the final season of Nikita. So it’s time to start putting some of these irons in the fire. “Set-Up” reveals the backstory of a major character (and it’s about time!), but it doesn’t have that much more to offer.

Picking up where last week’s episode left off, Alex finds herself under interrogation in a CIA safe house in Mumbai. The Agency’s “forensic accountant” (Rose Rollins, from NBC’s short-lived Chase) is another of those ‘look how tough I am’ types. Nikita wants Sam to help rescue Alex, but he balks.

She then realizes Birkhoff is conspicuously absent, and he’s being fairly shifty when she summons him. If that’s not obvious, it definitely is when the episode cuts from that, to Amanda saying “We have a secret weapon, remember?”, back to Birkhoff, who walks off after The Shop falsifies the results of Dead FBI Guy’s DNA test, spoiling Nikita’s plan to expose the clone army. The only thing that’s missing here is a big flashing arrow pointing in his direction.

At least Ryan notices that something is hinky, and he suggests to Michael and Nikita that Birkhoff could also have been cloned. Nikita, she of the bleeding heart, calls him crazy, but reluctantly agrees to help him test his theory. When she goes to faux-confide in our favorite nerd, he confesses that “I’m not Seymour Birkhoff,” and tells her about his childhood. Apparently, at 15, he faked his own death in a sailing accident to avoid being sent to military school by his father – Ronald Peller, the man that Amanda cloned at the NSA. Oh, snap.

Not wanting a repeat of the FBI Guy scenario, Nikita tells Birkhoff that they’re going to save his father (Judd Nelson, yes, that guy from The Breakfast Club). The two of them locate and subdue Peller’s clone, while Alex’s subplot turns into an unsuccessful copy of the interrogation scenes from Zero Dark Thirty. (Eagle-eyed fans will recognize the surveillance photos as two of the promo images used from last season’s “High-Value Target.”) Sonya can’t seem to locate the safehouse Alex is being held in. At least Sam’s had a change of heart, as he shows back up to assist her and Michael with their rescue effort. This means another awesome Michael-Sam team-up.

Nikita’s interrogation of Peller’s clone is overheard by Amanda, who has the real Peller brought in to supply the fake one with the correct answers to her questions. Birkhoff figures this out in about twenty seconds, but Nikita pretends like they don’t know Peller is a clone, so that they can manipulate him. And because this is Nikita, she also suggests that this is a good time for Birkhoff to try and talk to his dad. The nerd slips in a coded message (an insult, no less), which makes his father realize that ‘Shadowalker’ is his son.

Birkhoff then names someone else as the clone to throw Amanda off track, but his father blows the whole thing by piquing her curiosity. She puts the pieces together, realizes what’s happening, and the clone gets into a fistfight with Birkhoff before Nikita shoots him.

Alex makes an attempt to shoot her way out of custody, just before Michael and Sam show up to claim her. Sam and Alex have another awkward moment that Michael mercifully breaks up with a phone call from Ryan. And while Birkhoff thinks his father is dead, in reality, Amanda is preparing to torture him.

Like the episode before it, “Set-Up” is another mixed bag, which is slightly troubling considering it’s also the halfway point of the final season. This is like being at the top of the roller coaster’s hill; we’re waiting for that awesome drop down. And we’re going to be left waiting, at least for another week.

It’s a wonderful thing that Birkhoff finally gets some backstory, considering that just about everyone else has had their turn in that department over four seasons, and Aaron Stanford plays what he’s given very well. But this episode is, for the most part, a Birkhoff backstory episode – which would’ve been fine if this were the middle of season three, but maybe not so much when we’ve only got six episodes to wrap up the entire series. When we should be moving forward, instead we’re looking back.

There are other things that quibble here, too: once again – and this has been a recurring theme, especially over the last two seasons – Nikita’s emotional side gets in the way of the task at hand. We know that she’s a compassionate superspy, but sometimes it gets a bit much. The scene in which she suggests Birkhoff communicate with his father comes off like her encouraging him to settle his daddy issues (the score cue doesn’t help), the week after she decided to unload on Michael while they were in the field. Nikita’s an awesome character, but she seems to have lost the ability to separate personal and professional.

And please, can we not go down the road of a Sam/Alex romance? Alex has already gone through two love interests over the course of four seasons, so it wouldn’t be adding anything new to the show. Plus, both of those guys ended up dead, and Devon Sawa deserves better than that, in our humble opinion.

We’ve got three episodes to go, and right now we’re still essentially in the same place we began season four in – there are clones, Nikita looks like a terrorist, Amanda’s pulling the strings, and everybody else is experiencing collateral damage. Something needs to move this story forward in a major way, and it’s got to happen sooner rather than later.

The final season of Nikita continues next Friday at 9 PM ET/PT on The CW. You can also click here to check out our final season interviews with the cast and creator Craig Silverstein.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Nikita’ Recap and Review: ‘Dead Or Alive’

Nikita

nikita

Nikita this week isn’t without its quirks. Like running a new episode the day after Thanksgiving and scheduling it to start a minute earlier than usual. With Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer as the lead-in. Talk about a tonal shift! And now we’re playing “guess who’s not a clone,” although that’s just one of our problems.

Our titular heroine stumbles into a Bronx animal hospital, passes out, and wakes up aboard the Flying Fortress in front of a very nonplussed Michael. Nikita’s informed that the team is “halfway to DC,” as FBI Guy from last week is blaming her on national television. Ryan knows everything is ultimately Amanda’s fault, and suggests that several high-ranking officials have been switched out for evil doubles. Convinced by his argument, Nikita calls the FBI and publicly outs FBI Guy as a double, referring to him as her new “point of attack.” Ouch.

Meanwhile, Alex is still being held at gunpoint by Sam/Owen, who’s been hunting her so that he, too, can find Amanda. But before he can get anything from her, a horde of nameless bad guys show up, forcing them to work together. Sonya comes to their rescue, shutting down the power grid so that they have cover. And Sam surprises Alex by shooting her in order to take out a thug that would’ve killed her. He follows her back to her place, where he tries to convince her that he doesn’t have to be her enemy, which only sort of works. This might be because Sam’s in debt to some dangerous people.

Amanda gives a pep talk to FBI Guy – who then goes home and has his wife killed and himself wounded – while Ryan correctly deduces that Amanda isn’t working alone, and Nikita once again laments how many people around her have been hurt. As usual, her angst turns to anger, and she suggests that she kill FBI Guy, if only to force the taking of a postmortem DNA sample that will out him as a double.

This means that she has to work with Michael, which isn’t awkward at all. She decides that as they’re preparing for the operation is a good time to have a discussion about their issues. Nikita wants to leave again; Michael thinks she should stay. And then Nikita shoots him with her sniper rifle – so that Birkhoff can make it look like she assassinated FBI Guy. This footage is soon all over the news, faster than a Dave Grohl death hoax. Amanda figures the plan out in all of two seconds, and threatens to kill the real FBI Guy, who she’s got caged up downstairs.

So will Nikita kill one more innocent person in order to go through with stopping a corrupt one who could perpetrate even more crimes? With everyone giving her advice – including the real FBI Guy, who’s willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good – she can’t make up her mind. While she agonizes, Michael pulls the trigger, dropping fake FBI Guy, although Amanda suddenly seems not to mind much, saying that he’d “already outlived his usefulness.” She then follows through on her promise to execute the real one, and Nikita angsts again.

As everyone tries to comfort her – including Alex, just before she’s captured by the CIA, though Sam helps Sonya escape their clutches – Nikita finds out that repairing things with Michael isn’t going to be as easy as one conversation. He tells her that while he’s still there to help her, and to fight the good fight, he is “done fighting” for their personal relationship. Plus, Amanda and her team put Alex in their frame-up crosshairs next, and Birkhoff discovers another double, this one installed in the NSA. However, he claims not to have noticed, and the ominous music is meant to make us doubt our favorite nerd.

We’re now already one-third of the way through Nikita‘s final season, so it’s not as if there’s a lot of time to beat around the bush. This episode specifies that framing Nikita isn’t just about her, but also about giving the United States justification to invade Pakistan; it was pretty much a given that there was a larger plan, but it’s smart of the show to disclose that plan early on, especially since we need to keep things moving along at a fast clip. And bringing Sam/Owen back around to the side of the good guys, albeit possibly only temporarily, is a plus because Devon Sawa is an asset to the show – he needs to be part of the endgame.

And while this may get us some flak from the loyal Mikita fans, we’re going to argue that it’s good that they’re not all warm and fuzzy back together. Frankly, that wouldn’t be very realistic. Even though she clearly regrets leaving him, that doesn’t negate the damage that was done, and it would make Michael look weaker as a character if he just accepted Nikita back like nothing happened. We’ve got no doubt these two will find their way back to each other eventually (or there would be a revolt of a very large portion of the fan base), but the show’s got to earn that happening.

There are a few things that nag here, one of them something that’s frustratingly common to a lot of action-adventure shows – the scenes where characters feel the need to have Important Conversations in the middle of a crucial happening. There’s got to be a better time for Nikita and Michael to bury their proverbial hatchet then as they’re starting an operation. They weren’t in any immediate danger, so why not discuss that afterward? We’ll concede that it probably helps move the story along faster, but it still makes us cringe when personal stuff gets inserted into the least opportune moments.

And it’s kind of head-scratching that Amanda would go through any trouble to coerce Nikita not to kill her man on the inside, if he really had “outlived his usefulness” as she claimed afterward. Considering that her partner said otherwise in the episode’s final scene, this might just have been a line she fed to Nikita to keep her from getting any satisfaction. Whether it is or isn’t, that line still plants doubt that takes away from the sense of accomplishment that should come with Team Nikita knocking off one of the bad guys. Instead, we’re left to wonder if we’ve just watched them essentially spin their wheels for 42 minutes.

But there are pieces here that will definitely be important going forward – the shifting allegiance of Sam, the reveal of Birkhoff’s big secret (which we won’t spoil if you didn’t see the preview for next week’s episode) – and bottom line, that’s what matters. Because of how short this season is, we’re not looking at it on an episode-by-episode basis like any other show. These are six chapters in one final story arc, and this is ultimately an intriguing chapter two.

The final season of Nikita continues next Friday at 9 PM ET/PT on The CW. You can also click here to check out our final season interviews with the cast and creator Craig Silverstein.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Nikita’ Recap and Review: ‘Wanted’

Nikita

Nikita

Here we are: Nikita‘s last stand. It’s the end of the road for both the character and the series. Naturally, that comes with some pretty high expectations.

We find Nikita has been “the most wanted woman in the world” for the last hundred days since the apparent death of President Spencer. When the news compares you to Osama bin Laden, your situation is pretty dire. A local cop attempts to apprehend her in Boston, and he’s all proud of himself until Nikita grabs his partner’s gun, shoots just past his head, and steals their patrol car. That’ll teach you to be smug, dude.

Elsewhere in the world, Amanda is watching the news with interest. She points out that Nikita is very good at holding a grudge, but insists that she’s nothing to worry about. On another channel, Alex – now campaigning against human trafficking – is giving a press conference in India. She’s shut down three of Amanda’s operations in the past few months, and she’s working with Sonya to find the location of The Shop. Sonya is more worried about Nikita having come out of hiding. “She must have a plan, and she’d want us to stick to ours,” Alex tells her.

Having ditched the cop car, Nikita turns up in the office of the talking head who compared her to bin Laden. She wants him to do her a favor. She tells him about another figure acting suspiciously, just like the President before she died. Nikita’s convinced there’s shenanigans going on. Meanwhile, Michael, Ryan and Birkhoff are still looking for her – the latter two aboard their new headquarters on a courier jet in the sky. Nikita is going to need their help sooner rather than later, because she just got played by Amanda.

As the news HQ goes into lockdown and a bevy of law enforcement officials swarm the place, the reporter’s annoying secretary blows Nikita’s cover, forcing her to pull a gun while everyone around her captures the situation on social media. Because that’s what sane people do, is stand around and film on their iPhones rather than try to protect themselves. Birkhoff uses that to his advantage, calling Nikita via all the phones to put her in touch with him and Michael. Once Nikita realizes she’s not alone, she becomes Captain Nikita again and starts issuing orders, much to Birkhoff’s annoyance. He points out to her that everyone’s kind of lost the plot in their attempts to clear her name. “You’re going to wind up in an alley somewhere, alone and dying, unless you stop running and let us help you,” he warns.

Stuck inside the building, Nikita realizes she has to give up control to her team for a little bit. Ryan, who’s still the sharpest looking spy we’ve ever seen, uses this delay to ask her what the hell she was thinking in the first place. As the two theorize, we cut back to Sonya and Alex, the latter of whom’s just been made. She kills several people we don’t need, while somebody else has her in their crosshairs. She recovers a suspicious piece of technology from the scene. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out these two threads are connected.

Michael threatens the FBI boss’s (Alex Carter, from Burn Notice and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) with Photoshop and his trademark glare to give Nikita an escape option. When Michael and his former fiancee are reunited, he doesn’t seem to be that enthused about it, but you really can’t blame him for that, all things considered. (In this moment, it’s also not hard to see how Shane West made People‘s Sexiest Man Alive list this year. The man even makes apathy look good.) As Nikita slips out in the back of the FBI boss’s car, he rants about how he’s going to catch her no matter what, in one of those speeches everybody says. He shoots at her as she drives away, hitting her in the arm. C’mon, Nikita, you didn’t think to take his gun off of him?

Speaking of guns, Sam/Owen makes his return appearance pointing a gun at the back of Alex’s head, so clearly he hasn’t come back to the Rebel Alliance yet. As they stare at each other, a wounded Nikita staggers from her stolen car, the FBI boss tells the reporter he’s ready to listen to him, and then the news HQ blows up, because that’s the way you end an episode. Blow something up and then have a cryptic phone conversation.

“Wanted” is basically a season-opening setpiece. It has to be, because there’s a ton of stuff to be explained: what happened after Nikita allegedly assassinated the President, where everyone has been since then, and what’s going on in all of their heads. That all has to come out now in order to lay the foundation for the next five episodes. As setpieces go, though, this one is an efficient and entertaining one. By the halfway point, the show is back to its familiar rhythms and character interactions.

Another nice aspect is that it doesn’t make everything okay. You can’t expect an audience to believe that the stakes are high if you show your characters having a great time. Granted, with only five more episodes after this, Nikita can’t spend a lot of time letting them recover, but it’s appreciated that the show at least makes an effort to show the fallout.

As any good season premiere does, “Wanted” gives us questions to ask about where the season is headed. How long can that airplane stay in the air? You’d think it will have to go to ground at some point, if only so Aaron Stanford and Noah Bean don’t have to do all their scenes in the same enclosed space. How much of a part is Sam/Owen going to play in the action, especially since his bad-guy arc was already played out through a last part of Season 3? And when – not if, not unless Nikita wants to really cheat its audience – is Amanda going to be put out of everyone else’s misery? There’s a lot to chat about here, and that’s exactly how you want a season to start.

Nikita‘s final season continues next Friday at 9 PM ET/PT on The CW; you can check out our final season interviews with the cast and creator Craig Silverstein by clicking here.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.