Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 12 of The CW's "Nikita," entitled, "Sanctuary."
One of my favorite things about "Nikita" is the way it manages to imbue even its dialogue-heavy episodes with a sense of urgency. Aside from the last five minutes and Sean's tussle with Alex on the beach, there wasn't much fighting, and yet, the episode was every bit as tense and engaging as many of the show's more action-packed installments -- if not more so. "Sanctuary" was designed to be an expository episode, positioning all of the chess pieces for what's certain to be an explosive climax come February 3 (don't you hate that we have to wait that long?). But with a cast this talented and confident in what they're doing, many scenes still packed an emotional punch.
There were a number of memorable moments this week. It was poignant to see Alex and Nikita reconnecting, commiserating over the failures of their maternal figures even as they reforged their own bond. Both Maggie Q and Lyndsy Fonseca did beautiful work in the scene, especially when Nikita opened up about Carla -- who we'll probably be hearing more about very soon. I also found Michael's reunion with Birkoff surprisingly touching, and was glad to see Michael and Nikita's long overdue reconciliation -- they have a long road ahead, but it seems as though both of them are back on the same page, and Nikita did the right thing in apologizing for making Michael's decision for him back in London, even if it paid off in the end. I'm curious to see how the writers plan to tie up the Max and Cassandra storyline, since I doubt they'll be killing either of them off.
Mikey, Nikki and Nerd have always had a sweet, but dysfunctional family dynamic, even when they were at odds in Season 1. Along with Alex, they form the show's heart, so it was very satisfying to see all four of them in the same place for once, working as a unit and reminding us that beneath all the guns and punching, this show has always been centered around the concept of belonging and finding a home with the people you love.
Matters were complicated by the arrival of Sean, who had used the tracker he planted in Nikolai's watch to follow Alex to Nikita, and who can fault the gang's masterful interrogation technique of stripping him down to his underwear? I've been tough on Sean as a character in the past, but the show has laid enough breadcrumbs about his sense of conscience and his hesitation to sip the Division Kool-Aid that I think his defection to the light side was narratively earned, even if his relatively quick reform wasn't as visually satisfying as a bit of waterboarding might have been. Nikita pulled out some apt wisdom from Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan in observing, "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends; you talk to your enemies," which almost worked to their advantage. They would've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for that meddling Percy!
I'm sure that some of you sharp-minded viewers probably saw the eleventh-hour Guardian twist coming, but I'm pleased to report that I didn't. No matter how many unexpected turns "Nikita" takes, I'm usually so caught up in the story that I'm not even considering a double-cross until it's happened (they got me with Ryan's faked death that way, if not Katya's). I'm not sure if that makes me a terrible viewer or a perfect one, but I found the final five minutes of the episode to be some of the show's most thrilling to date -- I do love Percy's deliciously devious backup plans, no matter how convenient the timing always ends up being. (Poor Amanda never gets to play with her toys.)
Speaking of Amanda ... If I have one criticism of the episode, it was the revelation that she truly did seem to believe that there was something between her and Percy -- whether it was love or lust --when in actuality, he was simply using her, and never viewed her as his mental equal.
For a show that places such emphasis on the strength and agency of its female characters, I was disappointed that a character as powerful and manipulative as Amanda could be so easily manipulated by a man because of her emotions. I understand that perhaps the writers were attempting to humanize her, to prove that beneath her ice queen exterior, there was some semblance of a soul buried deep, but in emphasizing Percy's superiority, Amanda became just another weak and fragile TV female whose previously unassailable sense of self-worth and confidence was shaken by the realization that she apparently wasn't as desirable as she'd believed. Her obvious hurt at being rebuffed undermined all the kick-ass poise she demonstrated in the previous season's finale and the episodes since, and I think that's a shame.
I want to clarify that I don't think the producers necessarily believe that Percy is smarter than Amanda themselves -- arrogance is Percy's defining characteristic, so it's in keeping with what's been established that he views everyone as inferior to him. But in falling for his mind game, Amanda did become uncharacteristically weak -- and it's the same kind of "weakness" that men criticize all powerful women for: being too emotional, thinking with their heart instead of their head, and being easily swayed because of silly "feelings" instead of logic, when the inference is that no man would ever be so foolish as to be distracted by such trivialities when there's a world to take over. I hope that's not what the writer (in this case, Andrew Colville) intended me to read into the scene, but having had semiotic analysis drilled into me in college, it's hard to ignore such an interpretation. I'd be interested to hear whether any of you had the same concerns, or whether you just thought it was Percy's typical one-upmanship at work.
Though I've devoted a lot of time analyzing those scenes here, I don't want to give the impression that I hated the episode. On the contrary, I thought it was a well-paced and smartly written hour, barring that criticism. It seems as though Amanda now has no choice but to let Percy go, which will open up a whole other can of worms for our heroes. But is it possible that Sen. Pierce can be brought over to Nikita's team too, once she hears her point of view? I'm not so sure, but I'm eager to see how it all plays out. Weigh in below, and join me back here on Feb. 3 for the next new episode.
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.