Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episodes 7 and 8 of The CW's "Nikita," titled "Intersection" and "Aftermath."
Just when you thought "Nikita" couldn't raise the stakes any higher, the show went and pulled a Luke Skywalker on poor Michael.
Admittedly, I was spoiled for that shocking ending (a hazard of the job), but even knowing that it was coming, a large part of me truly couldn't believe that the show would go so far with such a painfully permanent disfigurement -- proof that the series is as bold and unpredictable as ever.
Since life got in the way of last week's recap, I'll cover both "Intersection" and "Aftermath" here, which seems fitting, as the two episodes seem very much like two halves of a whole.
Last week, the looming threat of Amanda not only drove Birkhoff and Sonya to the edge -- risking Sonya's life in an attempt to deactivate her kill chip -- it also saw Alex admitting her relapse to Nikita and the rest of the team, revealed the identity of the second mole, and, oh yeah, pulled off the aforementioned hand amputation. I don't think I caught my breath the entire hour.
Although Michael's impending loss was foreshadowed nicely throughout the episode (Nikita didn't quite say "I have a bad feeling about this," but I'll take any excuse for another "Star Wars" parallel), "Intersection" featured plenty of humor early on to counterbalance the dark turn the story would take. Michael and Alex's supremely awkward fake date was a particular highlight, while Birkhoff once again scored many of the hour's best lines. ("I'm on the leader" -- another "SW" shout-out!)
It seemed as though we were being set up to lose Sonya in "Intersection" (and Birkhoff's cold-open dream sequence almost had me fooled for a hot second), but I was glad we got rid of Amanda's henchwoman Anne instead. While "Nikita" often manages to create three-dimensional and compelling guest roles, Anne has always felt one-note to me, and after she attempted to kill Nikita despite Amanda's orders -- not to mention trapping Michael's hand -- she had to go. (The car flipping stunt was truly incredible, too -- yet another impressively cinematic moment for the show from the incredible stunt team and director Dwight Little.)
In stark contrast to Anne, the Watchman was another fascinating rogue agent; the idea of a spy who can literally disappear, changing his appearance in an eyeblink, was a genius and perfectly executed concept. You'd have thought Division would've invested more time into training others like him, though.
But of course, the main event of the episode -- perhaps even of the series so far -- was the loss of Michael's hand, especially since Nikita was forced to cut it off herself or risk losing her fiance altogether. As Owen pointed out in "Aftermath," it's hard to imagine that anyone else would have the strength to do such a thing to their partner, especially with only seconds to act before the car's gas tank blew.
I think it's fair to say that the show hasn't always known what to do with Michael from a plot standpoint; aside from the gripping Kasim storyline in Season 1 which truly defined the character, and the controversial Cassandra arc in Season 2, he's often existed as Nikita's strong and supportive right hand man (oh, cruel irony), giving the less temperate Nikita and Alex opportunities to go off the rails on various occasions and leaving him to pick up the pieces. While I was surprised (and impressed) that the show took Michael's story to such an extreme, it felt like the right choice, giving Shane West some incredible material to sink his teeth into, and creating another organic conflict with Nikita so that their relationship didn't become stale.
As much as we, as viewers, might be rooting for Michael and Nikita to live happily ever after with no hardship or pain, such bliss doesn't exactly make for interesting TV. A show that is unable to evolve and keeps its characters static is one that is creatively stale, and that's not an issue that the "Nikita" writers have. We all know that Maggie Q and Shane West can excel with such dramatic, gut-wrenching material, and it's good to see Michael being allowed to let loose and fall apart for a change, enabling Nikita to (hopefully) keep him steady by being the anchor for once.
Matters may be complicated by Owen, as we started to see in "Aftermath." I think that all of these characters are -- despite their histories -- honorable, decent people, and that no matter how far Michael pushes Nikita away in his grief, she won't turn to Owen for physical comfort, and Owen won't take advantage of her vulnerability. As Shane West pointed out in our recent interview, it makes sense why Owen would be attracted to Nikita (who wouldn't be?), and even why Nikita would have a bond with Owen, given what Division made them both do, but with Michael reeling from such a profound loss, I'd have a hard time forgiving Nikita for cheating on him (no matter how much of a douchebag he was this week -- albeit for justifiable reasons), and I don't think the writers would go such a predictable route.
The hardest and most fascinating part of the whole incident is that both Michael and Nikita are right; Nikita can't tell Michael how to deal with the loss, and Michael can't blame her for saving his life. It's an obstacle that they truly do need to face together, but with the wound so fresh (literally), it's understandable that both are failing to do so.
Clearly, Nikita is also struggling with her own feelings of guilt: Michael can no longer operate in the field or shoot a weapon accurately, intrinsic parts of his identity that have obviously made him feel secure and self-reliant for years in terms of the job, let alone in protecting the woman he loves. Hell, the guy couldn't even make a fist to punch Owen when he was being provoked. There are no right answers for the situation that Michael and Nikita now find themselves in, but somehow, their love has to be strong enough to overcome this obstacle like so many others.
Thankfully, even though Michael spent much of the episode brooding attractively and feeling sorry for himself, he also proved himself useful back at Ops, saving the day by directing Nikita and Owen in their mission against Liam in a way that Ryan (with zero super-spy experience) never could. Though Michael would clearly rather be in the field to watch Nikita's back himself, he demonstrated his enviable strategic mind and reminded the rest of Division that having perfect aim isn't everything. (Pretty insensitive of the rest of the team to applaud him, though, given the circumstances.)
Nikita and Michael's final fight was heartbreaking in all the ways the show does best -- with Nikita begging Michael to let her in and Michael's pride still too wounded to allow it. Watching him succeed in making a fist only after his confrontation with her was agonizing, as was Nikita's face as she listened to him punching out his anger and grief. Another stunning, sure-to-be-underrated performance from both West and Q.
It's also great to see Owen being brought slowly into the team, even if right now he's there to provide friction in Nikita and Michael's relationship. His methods are the polar opposite of Michael's, but his expertise as a cleaner and Guardian is undoubtedly invaluable, and Devon Sawa always provides a compelling performance, even when Owen's busting Michael's balls. I like seeing the two on the same page more than seeing them at odds, but hopefully as Michael begins walking the road to recovery, they'll both be able to stow the alpha dog routine. I like to think that Owen's confrontation with Michael was his own attempt at helping -- that maybe he thought he would be able to provoke a physical reaction with Michael's robo-hand that would get him back on track, because it seems that he truly wants what's best for Nikita (and by extension, Michael).
I'm also intrigued to see whether Michael's painful situation will mirror Alex's attempts to get clean; Michael seemed adamant that he didn't want to take painkillers to deal with his phantom limb syndrome, while Alex spent most of the episode trying various methods to heal from the effects of her relapse, so the two should have plenty in common over the coming weeks. Hopefully they'll see each other's struggles and be able to relate, instead of withdrawing from the opportunity and burying their pain, as is Michael's MO. Alex had some excellent scenes in both episodes; acting as our heroine's conscience and encouraging her to reassure Michael again, and displaying admirable insight into both her mentors when Ryan came to her for advice about Michael and Nikita's dynamic. All of these characters are so beautifully flawed, but demonstrate again and again why they're so capable and such reliable friends.
It was a pleasure to see two such well-crafted episodes in a row -- and even more so to see those creative efforts reflected in a ratings boost for "Aftermath". Kudos to Michael Brandon Guercio and Carlos Coto for writing such engaging scripts. It seems as though Michael's situation will create plenty of compelling conflict and character growth for a number of our characters over the next few episodes; I can't wait to see where the season takes us next.
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.
What did you think of "Aftermath"? Do you forgive the writers for the loss of Michael's hand, or are you still reeling? Weigh in below!