Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 19 of The CW's "Nikita," entitled "Wrath."
I said most of what I wanted to say about this week's phenomenal episode of "Nikita" in my earlier preview, but since I'm eager to hear your thoughts on the episode and feel that there are some stand-out moments worthy of closer examination, I couldn't resist writing a quick review-cap too.
Aside from how impressed I am that Albert Kim's script and Jeffrey Hunt's direction steered clear of anything exploitative, what really stood out for me in this hour were Nikita's growth as a character and Maggie Q's gripping performance throughout the episode. This season has seen Nikita struggling weekly with the concept of past sins, utilizing pitch-perfect flashbacks to provide deeper insight into who Nikita used to be and how she became the woman she is today.
As with the fascinating (and strangely poignant) scenes between Nikita and Amanda in "Power," this week's episode showed us new sides of our heroine thanks to her past interactions with Percy. (It also made me realize how much I've missed seeing Xander Berkeley strutting around in his power-suits -- absence makes the heart grow fonder.) Instead of humanizing both characters, as "Power" did, Nikita's conversations with Percy brought out the pair's dark sides, proving that Percy is still the most dangerous monster of all, simply because he doesn't view himself as one.
Every person has the capacity for evil inside them, darker impulses that they fight to resist, and what sets Nikita apart from the Percys and Amandas of the world is that she, at least, recognizes that her actions are harmful. I don't blame her for wanting to show Brandt that "there are women out there who can hurt him too," since it's undeniable that the vicious arms-dealer was a monster in his own right. But it was Percy who forced her to use her body to get close to Brandt in the first place, presenting the assignment as only "distasteful," instead of recognizing the monstrous things he forces Division's agents to do under the pretense of protecting the country -- and that's a far more grievous sin.
As I said in my preview piece, Q's devastating performance is award-worthy by any standards, and I was impressed by the myriad emotional beats she hit. From her playful camaraderie with Alex at the top of the hour to the seething, flinty-eyed demon she became when taunting Brandt, the actress demonstrated stunning range throughout the episode. I loved that even when Nikita was bound and ostensibly at Brandt's mercy, she still had the psychological upper hand, goading him until the arms-dealer looked truly terrified of her, as if her restraints no longer had any bearing on who held the power in the room. Rick Ravanello did an excellent job of conveying Brandt's anger, frustration and eventual intimidation in an understated and believable way, especially in a role that could easily have crossed over into cartoonish, scenery-chewing villainy in the wrong hands.
When I spoke to Q last month, she hinted that Nikita's confrontation with Michael about the shortcomings of their relationship would not be pretty, but as gut-wrenching as it was to see an emotionally drained Nikita lashing out at her lover, I agree with Michael that it was an entirely necessary, and long-overdue, reaction. Nikita has spent most of the season trying to ignore her insecurities and hurt over Michael choosing to be with Max (and by extension, Cassandra) instead of her, but buried feelings have a nasty habit of resurfacing. The couple's raw, unflinching conversations in "Wrath" were exactly what was needed to get them back on the same page. As Birkhoff pointed out, it was time for the pair to start taking grown-up steps instead of baby steps, and to really confront the issues of their relationship if they were to have any hope of moving forward.
Michael's simple observation, "I know it's not because you don't love me; it's because you don't love yourself," cut right to the core of who Nikita is, an insight that proves just how perfect the pair are for each other. I was relieved that Kim avoided any of the trite, default clichés that could've seen Michael promising to "love her enough for the both of them," as his simple promise that he would teach her how to love herself proved far more emotionally resonant.
As we head towards the finale, it's heartening to see the stakes being raised every week. While it's a shame to see Alberta Watson go, Madeline Pierce's death was a necessary catalyst for the chaos to come, giving the mission some emotional momentum in the early going, especially for Sean. Dillon Casey did a great job with his character's restrained grief and newfound resolve, and it allowed further evolution in the long-simmering chemistry between Sean and Alex. The episode was so expertly crafted, I didn't even miss Amanda, although I'm eager to see what she and Ari are up to now that their resources are drained.
As with all great shows, "Wrath" gave us sharply-observed insight, not only into our characters and the morally ambiguous world they inhabit, but also into the human condition as a whole. I'm sure many viewers can relate to Nikita's struggle with self-acceptance (although I hope not for the same reasons), and the fear that past mistakes might make us somehow unworthy of love or happiness. In offering a light at the end of the tunnel for even a character as damaged and wounded as Nikita, the show reminds us that there are infinite possibilities for redemption and hope, whether we think we deserve it or not. TV at its finest.
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.