Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 18 of The CW's "Nikita," entitled "Power."
When a show is as consistently compelling as "Nikita," it's easy to take each well-crafted episode for granted, but "Power" once again upped the ante for all our characters without wasting a minute on meaningless filler material. In my mind, it's one of the biggest injustices in primetime that as the show grows steadily stronger, the ratings seem to slip lower.
I'm not sure if it's purely because The CW fails to promote the series with billboards and posters as well as on-air ads (as it's reluctant to do with anything that's not a freshman series or "The Vampire Diaries"), or simply because the serialized nature of the show is daunting to newcomers. I can only urge fans to take note of the advertisers who buy time during "Nikita's" hour and contact them in support of their products in exchange for their support of "Nikita," or introduce friends to the series via Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. It would be a travesty of style over substance if some of the network's more vapid fare was renewed over this scrappy spy drama next season.
Anyway, I'll step off my soapbox and get to the episode itself, which saw plenty of development in all of our intersecting storylines this week. Alex managed to conspire with an old family friend -- and Nikita -- to oust Ari from both Gogol and Zetrov before he could assume control of her father's company, while Percy used the momentary distraction to concurrently oust Amanda from Division. Now, Amanda and Ari are on the run with a black box and a sudden lack of allies, while Nikita seems to be in a better place emotionally after facing down Amanda and letting her live.
While Michael and Birkoff were on back-up duty again (although I appreciated the intimacy between Michael and Nikita that's been missing for a few episodes), Alex had a chance to shine this week, too. Though she was mostly tasked with distracting Ari, it was clear that the opportunity to face him and the board was cathartic for her, especially since she was denied the opportunity to kill Semak. Lyndsy Fonseca imbued Alex with a steely resolve and her assertiveness when facing down Ari and branding him a "dog" was completely convincing. It's nice to see all three of our female leads given such excellent, character-driven material to play with.
Nikita and Amanda's story was beautifully drawn in "Power" (perhaps they should've renamed the episode "Girl Power"), utilizing flashbacks to delve deeper into the pair's early relationship. We saw Amanda grooming Nikita to be the poised and powerful assassin we now know and love, and it was a pleasure to see the two women unguarded with each other, proving that once upon a time, the two could actually laugh and take off their masks around one another. Though Carla saved Nikita from her addiction and gave her that first safe house, in many ways, Amanda is just as much of a maternal figure for our heroine. She may have taught Nikita a lot of the wrong lessons, but her impact on the spy's life is undeniable.
This episode humanized and redefined Amanda in a way that her relationships -- real or faked -- with Percy and Ari never could; this was a woman relating to another woman, imparting all the tricks used to manipulate men and all the methods Amanda has always utilized to hide her own weaknesses. But unlike previous encounters with Percy, where he has seemingly got the better of her by playing on her emotions, this resonated in a more realistic way, and Amanda was wounded enough to admit to Nikita, "You broke my heart." She had two opportunities to kill Nikita this week, and both times, failed to finish the job, because somewhere deep down, Amanda does love Nikita. There's a very thin line between love and hate, and I think that's something that both Amanda and Nikita have been struggling with since Nikita escaped Division.
One scene, in particular, so wonderfully summed up both characters that I had to go back and transcribe it; what writer Carlos Coto managed to encapsulate in these few lines speaks volumes about who Nikita and Amanda are as people.
Amanda: Why are you doing this, Nikita? I didn't kill Daniel, I didn't kill Ryan.
Nikita: I'm so grateful.
Amanda: You should be on your knees. I saved your life -- when you came to me, you were nothing, a foster kid tossed by the system. I made you better, I made you amazing -- and what did you do to repay me? You broke my heart.
Nikita: You think you gave me some kind of gift? You took a messed up girl and you made her a broken woman. You told me I was beautiful, you told me I was special--
Amanda: You were.
Nikita: You lied. You took me from one hellhole and you put me in another. You dressed me up all pretty and served me up to them, just like my foster mother did. I broke your heart? You broke mine.
Melinda Clarke and Maggie Q knocked it out of the park in all of their scenes together, but this one in particular demonstrated so many layers of love and anger and guilt and betrayal that it's worth rewatching several times just to pick up on all the nuances. Nikita has always felt unworthy and broken, haunted by her past mistakes and the way in which Division quite literally whored her out for her country, and her comparison between Amanda and her foster mother hints at a truly chilling past. It's easy to forget just how damaged these characters are, how Nikita and Alex are both victims of sexual abuse and drug addiction, but when the show circles back to those issues, I'm glad that it doesn't shy away from them, or the pain those experiences have inflicted.
Perhaps my favorite lines, and those that best epitomize Nikita's character, were her parting words to Amanda: "You wanna know the difference between you and me? You see a moment of weakness and I see a moment of strength." To Nikita, Amanda's moment of hesitation was a sign that the "real" Amanda, the one she keeps locked away, is still buried beneath the mask -- that Amanda is still capable of goodness and, more importantly, grace.
Amanda insisted that she was being weak when she failed to kill Nikita, and reiterated that in the bitter way she delivered her last line of the episode, "I let her live." Nikita, on the other hand, knows -- from both her own experience and from watching Michael say goodbye to Max last week -- that letting someone go can be the greatest act of grace a person can accomplish. Q's delivery of "I let her live," was far more hopeful, more proud, because she finally has her definition of grace. She now seems to realize that she's no longer broken, despite the horrors she's endured; that she's still able to feel love and, perhaps more tellingly, so is Amanda.
What did you think of Nikita and Amanda's showdown? Did you enjoy the flashbacks? Share your reactions below.
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW. The show now takes a three-week break and will return with a new episode on April 20.