Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 22 of The CW's "Nikita," entitled "Crossbow."
May 11 was an excellent day to be a "Nikita" fan -- not only was the show renewed for a 22-episode third season, its latest installment, "Crossbow," proved to be yet another gripping hour, ratcheting up the tension and leaving viewers with a killer cliffhanger to take us into next week's finale.
Since I was on vacation last week, I was unable to review episode 21, "Dead Drop" -- which saw the welcome return of Ryan Fletcher (Noah Bean) and a brief reappearance from Brendan Fehr's Stephen -- I found it to be every bit as compelling as the episodes that preceded it. While I was admittedly dubious about the calculated introduction of Sean Pierce as a love interest for Alex at the beginning of the season, I'm pleased to say that the show has thoroughly sold me on the measured and logical progression of their relationship, and I think Dillon Casey is a worthy and engaging addition to the team. Allowing Casey to play Sean a little looser and quippier than he was in earlier episodes was an inspired choice on the part of the writers, and not just because the actor is so proficient with comedy; Sean's blend of humanity and militaristic nobility is similar, but still distinct from Michael's character, and Alex is long overdue for a man who can keep up with her.
I've made no secret of my love for Ryan Fletcher as a character in the past, both because of his beautiful relationship with Nikita and his unique skillset, and "Dead Drop" and "Crossbow" perfectly illustrated what he can bring to the team without overlapping any of Michael's, Birkhoff 's or Sean's traits. It's a testament to the writing staff and the actors that the show can feature four male characters who could, superficially, all appear to be serving the same narrative function, yet somehow manage to be distinct and three-dimensional, relating to Nikita and Alex in satisfyingly different ways. Some series struggle to flesh out their supporting characters beyond what's necessary to serve a particular plot, but it pleases me a great deal that "Nikita" has found a way to expand beyond its titular character and make every member of its ensemble cast feel truly indispensable -- even the villains.
That being said, I still don't care about Percy's attempts to impress his mystery man as much as I think the show wants me to -- although I am curious about how influential this covert group must be, if they deem manipulating the President of the United States to be small potatoes in the face of their grander schemes.
I'll admit, if the show intended to mine Xander Berkeley's old "24" castmates for the role of the POTUS, I would've been more excited to see Dennis Haysbert in the Oval Office again. Nothing against Cameron Daddo, who made a fine VP, but he doesn't quite have the gravitas one envisions when they think of the President. Or perhaps that's just an unfortunate side-effect of his decision to capitulate to Percy's demands in a very un-presidential manner in "Crossbow." Whatever happened to the Commander-in-Chief party line, "We do not negotiate with terrorists?" Sure, he made the humanitarian choice not to sacrifice thousands of lives, but when dealing with a sociopath wielding a real-life equivalent of the Death Star, placating him with Edward Teller quotes isn't going to suffice for long. After all, how many thousands (or millions) would suffer if the fictional treaty between the Taliban and Afghan government fell apart?
I suppose this is my circuitous way of pointing out that politics aren't really "Nikita's" strong suit. I don't care about the inner-workings of the government or the faceless populace that Percy's threatening to make an example out of, Alderaan style. The show's strength lies in its aforementioned ensemble -- the dysfunctional family of rogues and broken toys that we've come to know and love over the past two years.
It's completely understandable for the writers to want to paint a bigger picture to serve as a grand backdrop for the team's struggles, since the threat of missiles aimed at civilian targets offers real-world stakes for Nikita's missions, but the truth of the matter is -- at least for your humble reviewer -- no stakes could ever be more important than the lives of Nikita, Michael, Alex and the rest of the gang.
Watching the president fret and fuss over Percy's threats stalled the episode's momentum for me, and though it's a minor niggle considering how epic the rest of "Crossbow" was, I do hope that Season 3 won't feel the need to "go big or go home" and involve the government the way that Season 2 occasionally has. It might make sense from a narrative standpoint, but what works on paper doesn't always play out that way in execution, especially in a high-octane action series. I felt the same way about the inclusion of Oversight earlier in the season. Watching politicians play covert games of chess with our characters' lives was acceptable up to a point, but now that the show has tackled the maddening bureaucracy inherent in politics, illustrating the way that those in power are wont to be careless with the lives of their minions and unsuspecting citizens, I hope that next year will see Percy and his delusions of grandeur deposed, and our team allowed time to focus inwards instead.
But enough nitpicking, because when the episode stayed out of the White House, it was breathlessly exhilarating. As "Nikita" has already confidently demonstrated in recent episodes, the show is at its zenith when it focuses on our core characters, and everyone had a satisfying role to play in the scheme. Sean and Alex make a dream team almost as competent as Michael and Nikita, and it's wonderful to see the men and the women saving each other in equal measure, with no-one playing damsel in distress. All of these characters are warriors, and the show never lets us forget how competent and deadly they are, no matter what their insecurities and internal struggles may be.
The Michael and Nikita interactions post-"Wrath" have been particularly satisfying; after months of estrangement, thanks to Cassandra, it's fantastic to see the pair's romantic dynamic in sync with their professional dynamic again. Shane West and Maggie Q have such effortless chemistry, and it's the simple glances and brief touches that really sell the depth of the couple's love for each other. It was such a powerful (yet understated) moment when Nikita admitted to Michael, "I don't want to do the thing where I'm deciding for everybody," illustrating a level of growth and self-awareness that she's spent all season gradually cultivating. She really has discovered the transformative power of grace in recent weeks, and it's a beautiful realization. Shane West, as usual, magnificently portrayed Michael's cool-headed, tactical acumen, as well as how devastatingly quickly he forgets all of his training and logic when Nikita is threatened.
I especially appreciated the unexpected moment when Birkhoff kissed Nikita; it's clearly an urge that Nerd's harbored for many years, and the scene was perfectly played by all three actors -- humorous, but also unexpectedly poignant. Writer Andrew Colville did an excellent job with the character beats in this episode, admirably resisting the urge to overwrite that scene or have Michael react with jealousy (his bemusement was so much sweeter) when it's obvious that Michael and Nikita's relationship is once again solid as a rock. The pop culture references were flying thick and fast again, which I always enjoy, especially Birkhoff's "Phantom Menace" jab.
Another unexpected delight was the reintroduction of Robbie, the Division recruit last seen in Episode 7 of Season 1. His disappearance was a dangling plot thread that had always bothered me, so I was thrilled to see him return, even for such an inauspicious (and short-lived) storyline. I feel like the show could've done more with him, but mostly, I was pleased that the writers hadn't forgotten about him altogether. Most (all?) featured Division agents this season haven't lasted long enough for us to get attached to them, but it's admirable that the writers would choose to favor continuity over convenience in bringing back recruits like Stephen and Robbie when the story allows for it, further reinforcing all of the world-building that was done in Season 1.
While the episode had many notable moments throughout, things really kicked into high gear when the team set out to break into Division. Nikita and Michael's final moments together were pitch-perfect (especially "you scare the crap out of me, but I love you anyway"), and the bloodthirsty part of me loved the moment when one of the sentries unflinchingly broke the other's neck to deactivate his tracker and raise the alarm down in Operations. Since the episode had so many fitting "Star Wars" touches, I couldn't help but notice the echoes of Obi-Wan's infiltration of the Death Star to disable the tractor beam reflected in Nikita's mission to plant the explosive in the server room -- even down to the way she crept around the columns to avoid the
"Crossbow" featured beautiful direction from Danny Cannon, who also directed the first episode of Season 2, in addition to the pilot, "2.0," and "Dark Matter." Nikita's opening dream sequence was gorgeously shot, especially in terms of the desaturated hues in the flashback scenes, and the later shots looking out at Michael and Nikita from inside the entry hatch were artfully framed. I do so love it when a show is firing on all cylinders aesthetically as well as narratively, and I feel like very few series manage to pull off so many well-crafted episodes in succession the way "Nikita" has in the latter half of this season. It's probably because the show eschews the notion of filler episodes the way very few hour=long dramas do these days -- there's never any treading water on "Nikita," it always seems to be determinedly powering ahead towards its goal, something that any addict of serialized TV should appreciate.
I have total faith that next week's finale will cap off the season in typically spectacular fashion, and hope you'll join me in congratulating the cast and crew on the Season 3 pick-up, and thanking The CW for choosing to have faith in the show, despite their competitive new line-up of series. I won't lie that I was braced for the worst even while hoping for the best in terms of "Nikita's" renewal chances; it's rare that intelligent, well-crafted dramas are given a chance on network TV these days (just look at NBC's tragically canceled "Awake" as proof), and rarer still for intelligent action dramas to have any kind of longevity.
We may feel that the network doesn't promote the show as ardently as it should, but with so many buzzworthy pilots in contention, it's to CW president Mark Pedowitz's credit that he's willing to invest more time and money in a show that's as tragically underrated as "Nikita" is. Here's hoping that Season 3 will see "Nikita" and everyone involved in the creation of the show finally receive the recognition they deserve.
What did you think of "Crossbow" and that nail-biting cliffhanger? Do you think Nikita and Michael will be able to take down Division from within? Weigh in below!
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.