Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 17 of The CW's "Nikita," entitled, "Arising."
This week's "Nikita" was the latest in a string of strong, focused episodes that relentlessly drove the mythology forward with admirable confidence. While "Arising" wasn't quite as narratively satisfying as "Doublecross" or "Rogue," it did feature some much-needed character development, allowing the divisive characters of Cassandra and Max to be removed from the chess board without going the lazy route of simply killing them off and saddling Michael with more emotional trauma.
Something about the Cassandra story did feel like a cop-out, though: At the climax of last week's episode, Alex's discovery that our "Belarus Barbie" (thanks, Birkoff!) was a double-agent for Gogol was given a lot of dramatic weight, which didn't seem to be earned by her actions in "Arising." Though Ari tasked her with going to Moscow for "surveillance," it was made clear that she was being manipulated and had no idea about Ari's plans to assassinate Semak, thus keeping Cassandra's hands clean.
I completely understand the writers' desire to avoid painting the mother of Michael's child as a cut-and-dry villain (which would've been another easy way out), but even though Cassandra lied about being a double agent for Gogol, there was a little too much narrative emphasis placed on making sure she could still be seen as a good person (albeit one who had been tempted into spying when she was young and naive). It lessened the impact of Michael's anger earlier in the episode, since every spy is forced to lie at one point or another to protect their cover, let alone when a child is involved.
I was also surprised that Alex was deprived the satisfaction of killing Semak, although I was impressed that it happened before the finale, clearing the way for Amanda and Ari to make their move on Zetrov. It was a bold choice on the part of the producers to avoid giving Alex -- and, by extension, the audience -- that sense of closure, since she's been driven by vengeance all season, but in some ways, it certainly works to her advantage. Over the course of the series, we've seen that revenge is a dangerous motivator -- one that can easily consume you if you give into it -- and it was fitting that Michael and Nikita so astutely understood Alex's feeling of emptiness when she received the news. In truth, even if Alex had been the one to take Semak's life, she likely would've felt just as empty after pulling the trigger, because even that attempt to balance the scales wouldn't have brought her father back, or returned the past 10 years of her life.
Now, Alex has been forced to reevaluate her sense of purpose, and as she told Katya, "I'm a part of something much bigger. There are people out there who must be stopped, and I want to be a part of that fight." Our girl is all grown up! I loved how assertive she was in turning down Amanda and Ari's offer to take her Zetrov shares, even if it would've been far easier than fighting them, and I hope her confidence continues to grow now that she's saved her mother and no longer has Semak to distract her from the real enemies facing her. I just hope the excellent Sarah Clarke has a chance to return and is given a little more to do, since she's been nothing but a pawn so far.
But the real heart of the episode, and deservedly so, was Nikita. I love that, as Maggie Q has often said, our heroine is above petty jealousy when it comes to Michael's ex. She has always tried to protect Cassandra and Max -- not just because they're a part of Michael's life, but because she knows it's the right thing to do. Maggie Q had some beautiful moments in the episode, from her rapport with Max to her attempts to repair the bullet holes in the hideout they've come to call home, and though she's clearly still riddled with insecurities about Michael abandoning her, she never let those feelings interfere with the mission. It was nice that Michael shared his feelings about Nikita with Cassandra to avoid her getting the wrong idea, but as Maggie Q noted in HuffPost TV's recent interview, though Michael may think Nikita knows exactly how he feels about her, he "[hasn't] just said those really simple things that she needs to hear." That emotional distance is clearly going to come to a head soon.
It was also a pleasure to see Nikita and Michael engaging in some real ass-kicking this week, especially the stunt that saw Nikita wrap her legs around an agent's neck and flip him over (in wrestling, they'd call it a hurricanrana). We've seen a lot of gunplay in recent episodes, but I must admit, the hand-to-hand combat is where the show really excels. I also enjoyed the inherent awesomeness of Nikita flying a plane rigged with explosives and parachuting out just to fake Cassandra and Max's deaths -- the woman is basically a superhero at this point.
Shane West once again did excellent work in dealing with Michael's conflicted feelings over Cassandra and Max; I wish we'd been able to see a little more of their interactions in order to really drive home the emotional resonance, but their understated goodbye was still suitably poignant. As Nikita observed, his sacrifice was the ultimate act of grace -- deciding to truly sever all ties with his son in order to keep him safe, especially after already losing a wife and child, must've been agonizing for him.
I'm glad that Nikita and Michael had a chance to discuss parenthood -- a conversation that seems to have been building all season long. Nikita was absolutely right to argue against taking Max from Cassandra and raising him instead, but not for the reasons she stated. Of course, their world is incredibly dangerous (or as Nikita said with such perfect delivery, "because it's Friday and my life is insane"). And of course, she's nowhere near ready, but her excuse about not being mother material was completely off-base; she's possibly the most maternal figure in the world, protecting everyone in her life and, in her weaker moments, trying to make their decisions for them like any overprotective mother would. Hopefully, she'll come to see that by the end of this season, once she realizes that she's already helped raise an amazing person in Alex.
What did you think of "Arising"? Were you satisfied by Max and Cassandra's exit? Were you surprised that Ari killed Semak? Share your reactions below!
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.