What follows is a spoiler-filled pseudo-review, pseudo-analysis, pseudo-love-letter for Nikita season one and two...
When Nikita's second season bowed this past Friday, it did so with one of those rare finales that -- should the show not have been renewed -- would bring closure to not just the season but the series as a whole. By the end of "Homecoming," Nikita had not just completed her mission to bring Division's leader Percy down, but she also pledged to help the Division agents left behind become legitimate patriots, something they thought they were all along.
In pledging this, Nikita realized that the home she'd been longing for all season -- a journey that was comically underscored by her various bases of operations being destroyed -- was in fact Division. During the second season, Nikita had several disappointing encounters with those she considered her parents. One ultimately ended up being a Division agent impersonating her biological father. The second, Nikita's foster mother Carla, was revealed to be the co-founder of Division with Percy. These letdowns ultimately led Nikita back to Percy and Amanda -- two sinister forces in her life, who both insisted, independent of one another, that they were responsible for molding Nikita into the highly skilled operative she became. While the realization that these two evil forces might have had more of a parental role in her life than anyone else -- and that she too "had evil in her" -- might not have been the answer she wanted, it did lead Nikita to the conclusion that if they were her parents, then it followed that Division was her home. And by the closing moments of the season, in the wake of Percy's demise, Division became her home once more. Except instead of her family comprising of Percy and Amanda, it now consisted of the family she had found in Michael, Alex, Sean, Birkhoff and Ryan.
Nikita bears more than a few similarities to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and having such a concentrated arc for the show's lead character is one of the strongest comparisons. Like Buffy, the arc wouldn't hold as much weight if it wasn't for the performance of the show's lead. Maggie Q frequently asserts in interviews how committed she is to preserving the integrity of the show, which, considering it's a genre show on a network predominantly known for Gossip Girl, could be seen as quite a tall order. Her commitment extends from providing weekend martial arts training for the rest of the cast to her onscreen work each episode. Not only does Maggie Q's action movie experience allow for some of the best action sequences of any primetime show on the air at the moment, but she also rises to the occasion during the quieter, character-driven scenes. Maggie Q is able to convincingly make Nikita alternately maternal, strong, damaged and vulnerable, as Sarah Michelle Gellar did with Buffy before her.
Running parallel to Nikita's arc has always been Alex's story. So while Nikita's disappointing encounters with people she considered family led her to forming her own found family, Alex's reunion with her assumed to be dead mother was ultimately short-lived, as she realized she belonged in Nikita's fight against Division.
Alex is a character born in tragedy. After witnessing the death of her parents at a young age and subsequently being sold into sex slavery and becoming a drug addict, Alex should theoretically be one of the darkest, bleakest characters on television right now. Yet she's not. And that's not because Nikita is on a teen-oriented network, where there's a mandate to gloss over that kind of darkness. Nikita has gone to that well enough times before for the audience to know that the show respects Alex's past and isn't making light of it. Instead, creator Craig Silverstein and actress Lyndsy Fonseca have made a very conscious decision to portray Alex as an optimistic, hopeful figure who has suffered a lot but come out of it on the other side. As much was said onscreen when Sean, Alex's love interest, confided to her how much he admired her strength while he was in a drugged up haze. Ultimately, the character of Alex is one of the show's greatest achievements; the little moments where she's not acting like a warrior in Nikita's battle, but as an innocent young adult who was denied a childhood are some of the best written of the series. Alex's happiness at having had the chance to buy an mp3 player in season one and her playful flirtation with Sean towards the end of season two are the best examples of this. Alex's metamorphosis from damaged drug addict to happy and well-adjusted is one of the most sympathetic of the show.
This brings us to another thing the show does well. Relationships. Nikita and Michael's relationship has such a mature and adult foundation to it. While other primetime shows, about supposed adult characters, devote entire seasons to courtships that get derailed by teenage-esque indecision and a low level of emotional maturity by all involved, Nikita and Michael are written like adults. Their relationship doesn't consume the whole show and the one time it looked like a love triangle may form with the introduction of one of Michael's ex, who unbenknownst to him had his child, the story took a decidedly more mature turn. Craig Silverstein presented the story in such a way that it was grounded in the season's main theme of family and home, taking Michael on a journey that allowed him to experience what a conventional family would be like, before ultimately leading him back into Nikita's fold, stronger than ever. And while that arc gave the writers the chance to explore Michael's character more, the arc also worked by reaffirming Nikita's status as a selfless hero. At no point was Nikita going to let her feelings for Michael get in the way of him having a relationship with his kid and she went above and beyond the call of duty to facilitate this for him. And at no point while spending time away from Nikita did Michael lose sight of her safety. This is the way to do a "love triangle." No one was indecisive, selfish or flakey and everyone came out of it as characters you were rooting for. Instead of tearing apart a relationship to the point the viewer wasn't sure why they should be together, it strengthened it to the point that people who may have been apathetic to the pairing before could now understand it. Going forward it seems likely there will be more friction in this relationship, but based on the precedent set in season two, this friction will be about Nikita and Michael's different attitudes towards saving Division and the resolution will likely be just as mature as their relationship has been to this point.
And no discussion of Nikita can be complete without mentioning Xander Berkeley and Melinda Clarke's work as the show's villains Percy and Amanda. At odds for most of season two, their scenes together were some of the most entertaining of the season. There's something about seeing two sociopaths bicker that always makes for good television and this was no exception. Percy died in the finale, defeated by his own hubris and misjudging how much Nikita's hatred of him outweighed her need to save the world -- after all, it was only a few episodes prior where flashbacks revealed Percy telling Nikita she has evil in her. Meanwhile, it was Amanda's compassion towards Nikita that led to her defeat. This is ironic as earlier in the season Percy insisted Amanda was the psychopathic one of the two of them -- yet Percy was the one who was bested by his own narcissistic tendencies, while it was Amanda's humanity that led to her temporary exile. If Amanda's last scene of the season is any indication, it appears humanity isn't something that's going to bother her next season. Throughout season two, Amanda found herself on the losing end of confrontations with Percy, Alex and Nikita and after her fall from grace she looks set to scorch the earth in her wake.
It is for these reasons the prior seasons of Nikita have offered some of the very best hours of network television in the last few years. Nikita is a show that unfortunately took a few episodes of its first season to hit its stride and as a result it's not getting nearly as much critical praise as it should. Those watching, however, know it's more than a genre show on the netlet that brought us Gossip Girl (don't get me wrong, I like Gossip Girl ) and if the last two seasons were any indication of what's to come next year we should be eternally grateful to the CW for the small miracle that was the third season pick-up. After all, who doesn't want to see Melinda Clarke destroy everything in sight?