Nikita: Checking In On Season 3... and Michael's Hands-off Approach

By Cory Barker

Feb 02, 2013

Nikita S03E09: “Survival Instincts”

I don’t like to use the word "underrated" when talking about television shows. There's a lot of television—in fact, most of it—that doesn’t get covered by web sites like this one and that doesn’t get any substantive awards love. In that conceptualization, almost everything is underrated. And with the ever-frustrating Nielsen system, most shows are also literally under-rated. But we live in a time when all shows—even those not covered regularly by critics or popular according to an antiquated ratings system—can enjoy rabid fandoms in their teeny-tiny corners of the internet.

Nikita is not underrated. It is under-viewed by audiences who would almost certainly love it if they weren't scared off by The CW brand, and the show is maybe a little undervalued by the critical community. But above almost all things, Nikita is a show that knows its own identity. That identity might not be greatly appealing to a wide swath of viewers, but the show has a consistent rhythm, style, tone, and characterization that is satisfying and yet, can also be a little stale.

What I’ve always admired about Nikita is its ability to present the façade of change without changing much at all. The writers know how to move on from big storylines before they overstay their welcome, a skill they showed off way back in the first half of Season 1. The show’s second season was a bit of a mess at times, but by the end of it, Nikita wanted us to see that EVERYTHING HAD CHANGED. Of course, it hadn’t because this is procedural television—so Evil Percy is gone, but Evil Amanda is still on the loose, doing the same exact things Percy did last year. Nikita, Michael, Alex, and now Owen are all working for Ryan to clean up and then put down Division, but they’re still dealing with rogue Division agents (amazingly named the Dirty Thirty).

I say all this not to knock the show, because I think it's what makes the show very watchable. At its core, Nikita is a procedural spy series where Maggie Q beats people up and looks good doing it, week in and week out. Yet, the writers have done just enough every season to shift the perspective and re-configure character relationships ever so slightly so that while individual episodes can bore (especially when they get stuck in the “shootout at an abandoned industrial park that wastes 13,000 bullets” set piece rut), the larger stories are always moving forward.

The big success of this season has been the show’s ability to take a big deep breath and consider what all the running, scheming, shooting, and killing means for these characters. After so many years of trying to take down Division, how does Nikita feel about working with them? Does she really believe this version of a big repressive force is any different than all the versions that came before? And is a stable, “real” life possible? These aren’t particularly novel questions to be asking, but they fit the show’s world very well because so much of the first two seasons were built on quickly moving plot that there were rarely opportunities to stop and breathe—for the characters or for us.

This week’s episode found the show right in the middle of some compelling interpersonal conflicts between major characters, most of whom are dealing with one tragedy or another. Nikita and Michael are still trying to rediscover their rhythm in the aftermath of an accident that forced Nikita to cut off Michael’s right hand to save his life, and the darkest and broodiest of the show’s dark and broody men, Owen, is now around to make Michael feel inadequate. Alex is pushing to recover from her relapse into addiction so she can return to the field, while her jilted lover Sean struggles to balance his concern that Division is a supremely dangerous and toxic environment (duh) with his desire to put the night moves on Alex.

Again, simple conflicts, executed in a straightforward fashion, with the occasional hard-to-swallow moment (we’ll come back to that in a second). What “Survival Instincts” proves is that although individual members of Nikita’s ensemble aren’t Emmy-worthy, they all work together really well and have a great grasp on their characters. I understand the reasons why a small group of people love this show and these people. The show has found a way to really establish bonds between all of the lead characters despite the dysfunctional world they exist in, even the tech support dweeb Birkhoff and outsider/big-time killer Owen. So, by the time this episode asked us to buy that Owen, the man who killed Nikita’s previous fiancé, cares for her just as much as Michael does, Devon Sawa and Q made it work. It’s in the nature of the show that characters will lie to one another, but Owen tried to have honest conversations with both Michael and Nikita about what makes their relationship work and how he’s not there to disrupt, only to support.

The same can be said for this episode’s (and really this season’s) treatment of Nikita and Michael’s relationship. Before his injury, the show kept pushing them to answer some of the questions I mentioned earlier. Nikita’s our hero, but her tendency to doggedly pursue certain people or injustices makes her blind to the lines between right and wrong. She thought that this new Division would be better, but time and again this season, including in last night’s episode, she's run up against a member of the Dirty Thirty who simply can’t be reasoned with; so, she’s killing again, just as Percy sent Division to kill her. The distinctions aren’t so clear.

This all rubs up against Nikita’s admittedly warped and idealist notion that she and Michael can be happy in a traditional fashion. They’ve both already lost spouses because of this life, and although they get a kick out of what they do, Nikita’s pursuit of Amanda indirectly led to Michael losing his hand. Yeah, she saved his life, but the fact that she chopped off the appendage in an instant doesn’t quite sit well with Michael. So, he’s unwilling to go back into the field and even more unwilling to talk out his problems with his future wife.

Alex’s recovery is much less compelling, but the show hasn’t quite known what to do with Lyndsy Fonseca for a while now. It’s nice for Nikita to remind us of the dark places these characters get pulled out of to work for Division, but when Alex was injured, she was still going on missions, and when she’s supposed to be in recovery, she’s still playing a big part in missions. Little has changed, which feels like a problem if this is a story about getting back on the horse.

What an episode like “Survival Instincts” illustrates is that in its third season, Nikita has wrangled and refined its different storytelling approaches. The season’s emphasis on interpersonal conflict helps make that part of the show the best it has been since the middle of Season 1, the Dirty Thirty thread means that even weekly standalone cases have a larger purpose, and the larger arc isn’t nearly as convoluted as it tended to be last year. The show isn’t as quite as twisty as it was in Season 1, or ambitious as it was in Season 2, but at this point, Nikita has found its strengths and is highlighting them in the proper ways.


– Okay, so let’s talk about Michael’s hand. If you saw the preview for next week, it looks like they’re going to try to RE-GROW it. There have been a few moments this season where the show stepped little too far away from reality (the most notable being the dumb Mission: Impossible-style skin mask in “The Sword’s Edge”) for my liking. Nikita has always been ridiculous (I mean, have you seen the number of bullets people waste?), but these sort of things undercut its established rules. And I hope they don’t turn the hand into a MacGuffin; it’s an interesting, somewhat bold choice to cripple your co-lead. Stick with it, show.

– Although none of these characters are technically new, the show’s gotten a lot more crowded in Season 3, with Sawa and Noah Bean both joining up as regulars. It’s certainly different to go from the first and second season’s emphasis on Nikita or Nikita and Michael to this six- or seven-person operation.

– I appreciated this episode’s half-cooked Law & Order-like scenes with Owen and Nikita out in the field, mediocre raincoats and pantsuits and all.

How do you feel about this season of Nikita so far? And how much do you love Michael’s Terminator hand?

  • Comments (126)
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  • CoryBarker1 Staff Feb 04, 2013

    Thanks for the comments guys and gals!

  • JasonSeeber Feb 04, 2013

    Three words: Jumped the shark!

  • sunnysfunny Feb 05, 2013

    One word: No

  • JasonSeeber Mar 13, 2013


  • klotensen Feb 04, 2013

    Not happened in this episode, I thought it was a nice nasty twist to give Michael control over his hand with the emotional angle of self-hatred. There is even the possibility(far stretched I know) that in the long run he can become a villain. Be as it may, self-hatred is the most potent poison for any relationship I think, so if the grow-hand doesn't work M + N is history. Wich is right now alright with me because Michael needs to stop bitchin' and Nikita and Owen have a stronger chemistry.

  • JohnSmith25 Feb 06, 2013

    I think they have destroyed Micheal character personally.

  • wildkitty Feb 04, 2013

    I know i will probably be bitched at for saying this!LOL! But if this were LFN,they would have already hooked up Nikita & Owen and had a Micheal/Nikita/Owen triangle with the 3 of them doing under cover missions together!LOL

  • CoryBarker1 Staff Feb 04, 2013

    So is that good or bad that this show hasn't gone down that route?

  • wildkitty Feb 05, 2013

    I think that would make it more interesting if they went down that road.Plus i think they should keep Micheal handicap because it makes him a little more interesting.So i would have to say it is bad that they have not gone down that road yet.

  • KateSullivan Feb 04, 2013

    I like this show and it is pleasant Friday night mindless entertainment (I will really appreciate it when Grimm comes back on because it is sort of night of TV, but of course, Merlin is done by the time Grimm comes back I think). I do agree that the show has no idea what to do with Alex now and I almost feel like the drug addiction storyline was just to give her something to do that wasn't strict romance with Sean. I did think that was a funny scene in the woods where Nikita suddenly realized...wait, these two don't know each other and introduced them. I doubt they will follow up on this too much, but Sean would be useful to the guys too since his military training gives him something to bond with Michael over, his observance of his mother gives him something to talk to Ryan about, and he kind of is an easy going guy to talk to Owen about. I have no idea what he might have in common with Berkoff other than they like to leave the implication that if Alex hadn't had the crap happen to her, she likely would have been a big nerd.

  • wildkitty Feb 04, 2013

    I was a fan of La Femme Nikita and started watching this show because of that.I liked S1 the best but it just went down hill from there.First of all the actors are not as good as the actors from LFN and don't have the same chemistry either.Secondly the s/l's they do on this show are just stupid,especially this crap with Micheal's bionic hand.It is like they only care about how to get from one stunt /action scene to the next and not the quality of the writing or acting .And finally i think people don't watch because they just don't like the show and NOT because they don't like The CW network or because of the timeslot.When a show is really good and people really like it,they watch it no matter what network/day it is on.

  • ReneeQuintero Feb 04, 2013

    thanks cory..i love the show and really mirror my sentiment..

  • headclub Feb 04, 2013

    I concur.

  • sunnysfunny Feb 04, 2013

    Thanks for reviewing Cory!

    This season is all right, but I still look forward to it every week! "It's an interesting, somewhat bold choice to cripple your co-lead. Stick with it, show." Agreed!

  • headclub Feb 04, 2013

    Seriously.... I hope it's not like on Fringe when Peter became an Observer for a grand total of 5 anti-climactic!

  • KayceTeo Feb 04, 2013

    Thanks for reviewing! I love this show cus I think the writers are very clear on the motivations of the characters and why they do what they do. Personally, I think this season is moving a little slow.. I hope it picks up soon. But then again, Nikita is an amazing show when you watch all the episodes back to back. Can't what to see what the writers have in store for us!

  • chris17blue Feb 04, 2013

    I love OWEN/SEAN , I'm so happy they are still on the show. I still have hope for Nikita + Owen relationship to happen. I'd like them to be more than friends. I did like Ryan, but now not so much...

    I'm a bit surprised by your comments about Season 2. Personally I enjoyed Season 2 the best. It wasn't serialized/mission by mission episode kind of thing. I liked that every episode was different, and it felt new and exciting. I just couldn't get enough...

    But they are doing Season 3, the way it was done in Season 1. So I'm a bit dissapointed by the writing. I still like the show but t's just not as good as it was before.

  • sunnysfunny Feb 04, 2013

    I liked Season 2 as well. There was more plot continuity.

  • CoryBarker1 Staff Feb 04, 2013

    I liked season two. I just think, at times, it got a little messy. It's sometimes hard to track everyone's allegiances and who has what SUPER IMPORTANT device. They've scaled that back this year, which is good.

  • jaden84 Feb 04, 2013

    Nikita is a great show. Really don't care about the negative things people say about the show. I just wish the CW would move it from Fridays.

  • headclub Feb 04, 2013

    Yeah, this is the best show no one is talking about...thanks for giving its some much deserved attention Corey

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