Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 6 of The CW's "Nikita," titled "Sideswipe."
This week's "Nikita" left me torn -- while there was a lot to love about the episode (Isaiah Mustafa! Crazy Amanda! Badass Sean!) there were also a few moments that felt jarring at best, and irritating at worst.
Let's start with the good, since a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Isaiah Mustafa was perfectly cast as suave arms dealer Cyrus, the rogue agent with a heart of gold (or maybe bronze, at least). His sly banter with Nikita was perfectly delivered, and I was pleased to see that Amanda didn't succeed in blowing him up, since I always appreciate it when the writers flesh out the supporting cast -- especially since so many nameless redshirts get gunned down with nary a blink on a weekly basis. Hopefully, this means we'll be seeing Mustafa again before too long.
It was fabulous to see Amanda return in all her psychotic glory, and the episodes always seem more potent when she's involved; probably because of the raised emotional stakes for our heroine. At least as far as Nikita is concerned, Amanda is a far bigger threat than Percy ever was, because Amanda was truly responsible for creating the Nikita we see today, while Percy just took all the credit. Thankfully, that vulnerability works both ways, as Nikita demonstrated by daring her former mentor to detonate the bomb that could've killed both her and Cyrus. Amanda may be hiding behind the pretense of teaching Nikita a lesson, but I think that deep down, she knows she can't destroy her greatest creation. It's a twisted love story, but that's a big part of what makes the show so compelling.
I'm not too wild about Amanda's sidekick Anne, however. Her piercings and dark lipstick don't really make up for her lack of personality -- especially in the wake of an antagonist like Roan, who was imbued with so much menace and character, even as a man of few words. Obviously, Amanda needs some muscle (and I appreciate that she's another ass-kicking woman) but the show made such good use of an otherwise expendable agent (Carl) last week in his the emotional scene with Owen, so it's obviously possible for the writers to add dimension to even the smallest role, if due care is taken.
Alex's slow slide into addiction is both compelling and heartbreaking to watch, especially since Michael was trying his best to reach out to her this week. Obviously, the support Alex really craved was from Sean, who brushed her off and probably sent her scurrying right back to the pills, but it's both believable and frustrating that the team would be so consumed with stopping Amanda, the Dirty Thirty and the mole that they're all completely missing the warning signs as Alex unravels. She's not going to admit she has a problem on her own (otherwise she wouldn't be hiding the pills), so she needs to be challenged, but right now everyone is too preoccupied to do it. Hopefully Owen, as a former regimen addict, will be able to call her out on her dangerous behavior, if Michael doesn't first.
The flashback to her time as a recruit with Amanda was a nice touch, too, and perhaps an ominous sign of things to come, as our favorite HBIC advised her to channel her addiction into rage -- advice that Alex demonstrably took this week, as evidenced by her aggressive beatdown of Tariq's thug.
While the Alex/Amanda flashback worked beautifully, one of my major complaints with this episode was its use of flashbacks to emphasize particular lines or actions -- a kind of narrative handholding that "Nikita" usually deftly avoids. I've always admired the show for its ability to tell complex stories without talking down to its audience, but to have Birkhoff's voice ominously repeating "whoever it is, they're in the building right now" as Sonya glanced anxiously around Operations was completely unnecessary, and came across as cheesy -- as did the flashbacks involving Nikita and Cyrus, as Nikita put together his plan. If the story had been referencing something that had occurred in an earlier episode, such reminders would've been forgivable, but this is an audience that's perfectly capable of remembering lines and scenes that happened ten minutes previously, so I hope it's not a trend that continues.
Many of us seemed to suspect that Sonya was the mole, and although the revelation wasn't particularly shocking, Lyndie Greenwood sold the confrontation with Birkhoff spectacularly -- I totally believed her panic and paranoia, even though she should've known better than to try and hide the truth from the team. It's also good that there's another traitor in their midst; Sonya gives the issue some emotional stakes, since we've grown to know and love her, but if the team can root out the other spy amongst the spies, she can still be redeemed. I'm hoping for that outcome, since Birkhoff deserves to catch a break in the romance department.
The only other possible candidate that could have an impact on the audience is Owen, which seems a little too obvious -- although so did Sonya, when you consider that she was basically Amanda's second-in command (though I was pleased that the show went for blackmail as her motive instead of callous betrayal). I don't think the show would take the Owen route unless it transpires that he's a sleeper agent who was brainwashed by Dr. Mars (remember "Falling Ash"?) and isn't aware that he's doing anything. He's too much of a valuable player at this point to waste on a simple double-agent plotline, but any random character that we don't know isn't going to have the same emotional resonance.
I'm still not entirely certain how I feel about "Sideswipe," since there were some notable negatives that broke me out of the narrative, but also a number of excellent character beats that helped balance the scales. Perhaps it simply suffered from the raised expectations that come as a result of a particularly strong run of episodes, which is to the show's credit. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing how the mole arc progresses, whether anyone notices Alex's current struggle, and how Amanda intends to target those closest to Nikita.
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW. The show returns with new episodes from January 18.
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