Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 15 of The CW's Nikita, entitled, "Origins."
It would've been tough to beat last week's action-packed installment of Nikita, which threw so many twists at us it was hard to figure out which way was up and which was down by the end of the hour, but "Origins" proved to be a worthy successor. While the episode -- confidently executed by writer-producer Albert Kim -- didn't pepper the audience with the kind of shocking twists that populated "Rogue," it did provide a fascinating glimpse into Division's checkered past, including the genesis of Amanda and Carla's rivalry. And while we now know that Carla's intentions in creating Division truly were pure, we're also left with more mysteries about Ari Tasarov's true identity -- is he really an American member of the Department of Defense who has simply been embedded with Semak for all these years? And have he and Amanda actually been running a long con since before Carla spotted them together in 1999, back when Ari was calling himself Bill Clay?
As someone who has always loved Amanda's power plays and ruthless ambition, I'm enamored of the idea that she has been using both Percy and Ari to further her own ends over the past decade. I think it's safe to say that both men have been using her in return, but I approve of any TV show actually allowing a female character to be on the same playing field as the men, equally calculating and cold, without letting either of them manipulate her into believing that they actually love her (which was my biggest problem with the way she was written in "Sanctuary"). From the way the other characters -- especially Nikita -- have always reacted to Amanda, it was she, not Percy, who truly struck fear into the hearts of the recruits with her ability to read people and the unpredictability of her actions. Given what we know of them, I don't believe for a moment that she and Ari have been carrying on some grand, star-crossed love affair, just that both characters hold something that the other needs, and that their symbiotic relationship has proved mutually beneficial thus far. Judging by Amanda's reluctance to let Alex die, I have a sneaking suspicion that she would've been perfectly content to sacrifice Ari in favor of her new asset, but we'll have to see if that theory holds water in the coming weeks.
We learned that Carla used to work as a prison counselor, colluding with wardens to fake the deaths of several inmates or helping them transfer to safer prisons to save their lives, and that in 1996, Percy approached her to start working for the government. His intentions didn't seem much more honorable then than they do now, but he sold Carla on the idea that they would be creating "heroes" instead of soldiers, and in her naivety, she bought into his pitch. She apparently wasn't involved in operations, only identifying recruits to save from the system, so as Amanda and Percy started to abuse the model she'd created, Carla remained oblivious -- until Amanda put out a kill order on her, anyway.
Whether or not Nikita was somehow being groomed for Division long before she ran into Carla the first time, as some have speculated, it certainly makes sense that Amanda would want to draw Nikita into Division to confirm that Carla was still alive once Carla's fingerprint turned up in the system, so I liked how elegantly that played out. Sadly, Carla's hatred for Amanda has now made her a liability -- first in her willingness to endanger Alex's life just for the opportunity to expose Amanda and Ari, then in her choice to turn to Percy to take her nemesis down after Nikita admitted that they needed to keep Amanda alive a little longer for Alex's sake. Percy is no more trustworthy than Amanda, and equally determined to take back Division and use it for his own nefarious ends, so that misplaced loyalty is undoubtedly going to backfire on Carla sooner rather than later.
The episode also saw Alex launch her plan to take down Semak -- and she chose to do it in the most spectacular fashion possible, crashing a press conference that Semak was holding to reveal that she was still alive. (Her reference to coming back and announcing that she was Iron Man was an amusing touch, since the curveball she threw at the press was entertainingly similar to Tony Stark's showboating.) Having the eyes of the world on them certainly didn't stop Semak from trying to have Alex killed, albeit in the most surreptitious way possible, by trying to fake an overdose. "Origins" gave Alex a somewhat overdue chance to demonstrate her ass-kicking prowess again, as she managed to navigate her way all the way through the hotel to escape from the basement after dispatching her would-be assassin with the drug he had intended to use on her.
It's ironic that both Percy and Amanda now believe that they share a common enemy with Nikita that might stop the rogue agent from taking them down. Amanda seems to believe -- or at least wants Ari to believe -- that Nikita and Alex will put the pursuit of Semak above their resentment for her, while Percy seems convinced that Nikita's animosity towards Amanda will keep him out of his former student's crosshairs. It's hard to say what Nikita's top priority is; for now, she certainly seems to want to take down Division to prevent Percy from regaining control, but she's also aware that Amanda and Ari could be useful in helping Alex save her mother. It's intriguing that two of the people Nikita loves most -- Carla and Michael -- think that Division can be saved and used in the name of good, while she seems adamant that the whole organization needs to be completely dismantled. I hope the show intends to further explore Michael and Carla's shared vision for the agency and how Nikita's cross-purposes could provide a potential source of friction between them all.
Overall, I found "Origins" to be a compelling, tightly-plotted hour that maintained the momentum established in "Rogue" and continued to fill in more of the blanks about Division's creation in a thoroughly fascinating manner (and nothing was more fascinating than Amanda's retro hair.) What did you think of the episode?
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW. The show will take a two-week hiatus and return on March 9.