Earlier this season, I praised Nikita for its ability to present the façade of change while still relying on the same kinds of stories and rhythms. In that review, I argued that the show's stable instability was a testament to a cast comfortable in their own roles and with one another. Although I wouldn't take back those assertions, the second half of this third season has been a little different than previous runs, as the serialized stories kicked in earlier than they did in the past, and more fantastical elements—I don't think we can call them full "sci-fi"—gained prominence alongside the typical espionage and global cabals.
Frankly, I'm not sure it all worked. We've always known that Amanda's psychological manipulation was one of the driving factors behind Division's success, just as we've known that some characters (notably Owen) cannot remember everything from their past. However, this season made a big attempt to convince us that Amanda's tactics extended beyond advanced interrogation, socialization, and manipulation; she has machinery that literally allows her to get inside people's heads, poke around, and substantially alter memories. This technology turned Alex into a loose cannon in the middle section of the season, restored Owen's psychotic original identity, and helped Nikita understand how deranged and broken Amanda truly is. At times, Amanda's mind-altering tech bothered me to no end this season. It permitted the show to build her up as an even more impressive and dangerous foil for Nikita and the team, but it also felt like an easy device to disrupt the narrative at the writers' behest. Her manipulation of Alex and Owen drove a lot of the story and Nikita's faux-flashback into Amanda's life in 'Broke Home" bordered on silly, despite some fascinating details. Whether or not the technology is believable does not totally matter to me. Of course Amanda's gadgets are pretty ridiculous. What I am more concerned with was how often Amanda seemed a half-dozen steps ahead of everyone else, almost omnipresent The tech definitely aided in this feeling.
However, where Amanda's terrorizing of Nikita and company worked was on a character level. Once you move past how silly this show can be, the deep-seeded tension and emotional tumult between some of these people very compelling. Whereas Percy's reign of terror felt more personal to Michael, Amanda's continued existence on this planet cuts at Nikita (and to a lesser extent, Alex) like no other. Even without the fancy technology, Amanda has inserted herself so deeply into Nikita's mind for so long that there is never a moment where the two underestimate one another, yet they cannot quite figure out how to defeat the other either. What has helped this feud boil for an entire season (and really, longer) is the strong performances from Maggie Q and Melinda Clarke. There is something to be said for a show that is willing to make two petite women the most deadly and powerful individuals on the planet, and both actors did great work through the season. Maggie Q has been especially good this year as Nikita struggled with the decision to keep Division open and then slowly fell deeper into her typical rhythms of one mission after another.
In a lot of ways, then, "Til Death Do Us Part" felt like a microcosm of the season as a whole. On one hand, the primary narrative of this episode was built on a series of complete absurdities. From the deadly nanotoxin lacing the bone in Michael's BRAND NEW HUMAN ARM (okay, show) and Nikita's one-woman crusade to kill the President in the Oval Office and complete the mission given to her by Amanda to the seemingly never-ending band of goons on Amanda and The Group's payroll and the President switcharoo, this episode had a string of mostly ludicrous stories that only seemed to get more ludicrous as it proceeded. Yet, in the middle of that nonsense, the character tensions felt believable and aligned with the kind of work the show usually offers. Although Amanda was still the primary antagonist here, the real issues were between Nikita and Michael. As the season progressed, it really felt like Nikita and Michael were growing apart without actually separating at all. While Michael seemingly grew more comfortable with the idea that this life could be over, Nikita has really yet to do so. She might have been resistant to Division 2.0, but she grew lost in the grind of missions and revenge quickly. Michael tried to pull her back a few times throughout the season, but the hatred for Amanda is simply too strong, as is Nikita's fundamental nature to keep pushing forward, to keep fighting.
That all unsurprisingly came to a head here across a number of scenes. Amanda's plan was too controlled and convenient, but it put Michael in danger and forced Nikita to take rash action. She could not tell Michael about her suicide mission to the Oval Office, but when it comes to light, they shared a nice scene where their fundamental characteristics drive the action: There is nothing she will not do to keep him alive, especially all they have been through this year, and his sense of duty and patriotism refuses to allow her to kill the President simply to keep himself alive. Later when Alex's grand plan to save Michael involving killing him so the nanotoxin dies started to go wrong, Nikita basically talked Michael back to life with desperate, moving epithets about their past and their future. The problem is, as we saw in the final sequence, is that Nikita does not totally believe in a future with Michael--at least not yet. Though everyone in the team pledges to help Nikita clear her name for the "President's" "assassination" and stop Amanda, she finally realizes that Amanda is just going to keep coming for those that she cares about. The war between she and Amanda is way too personal for more people not to get killed and Michael's close call here was the final straw for Nikita. Thus, she makes a run for it, leaving the engagement ring and ditching her phone.
This series of scenes was simple, but effective and logical. Although characters often lie and double-cross one another on shows like this, I bought that Nikita truly felt that she had to go off the grid to fight Amanda and keep everyone else safe and the two previous scenes with Michael helped established that. Shane West was fine, but Maggie Q really brought it in this episode (as she has all season). The weight of dealing with Amanda is visible on her; there was an interesting mix of determination and heartbreak on display that Maggie played well, especially in the last portion of the episode. There is no doubt that the two will eventually reunite, but this temporary break-up (if you can even call it that) worked because it remained true to these people and flowed nicely from the story the show has been telling throughout the third season. Furthermore, it smartly brings the show full-circle for the final short run of episodes: Nikita is on her own, gearing up to take on a massive conspiracy that threatens to take everything from her. Despite some issues then, this season and this finale got deeper into the core of the show and the lead character. That ultimately makes Season 3 a success in my mind.
NOTES FROM THE BLACKBOX
– Goodbye, Division set. I' happy that the show is freed from that location and hopefully with the shorter episode order next year, production will have more money to film in locations that aren't docks or warehouses. The explosions looked good, too.
– Despite having what is likely a very limited budget, Nikita does a great job staging and executing its fight sequences. The gun battles can be exhausting, because few people ever feel truly in danger, but the sequence with Birkhoff, Alex, and Ryan fighting off members of the Dirty 30 before Nikita arrived to save them reached a high level of intensity that few shows on broadcast can match.
– Alex had a weird journey this season, which is basically par for the course at this point. Her Amanda-enabled mutiny at Division went pretty poorly and cost Sean his life, but after that, the show sidelined her again and she didn't have much to do in the finale. She's going to take on a humanitarian role, but it remains to be seen what changes, if any, that will bring for the character. I would think she would want revenge on Amanda as well.
– Really, the less said about how Amanda did everything she did this season, or how Michael regained his hand, the better. The role of constant surveillance in this show is staggering, yet the villains never choose to simply execute the main heroes like they presumably could. It can be frustrating.
– Sonya let her hair down! Biggest surprise of the finale.
– No Owen/Sam, which made sense for how the episode progressed. Devon Sawa was good this season, though, and I await his return in the final run.
– Only six episodes for the final season. It would've been nice to get maybe eight or 10, but this means there will not be any procedural waffling happening at the beginning of Season 4. WB really likes urging networks to let their shows end properly (Fringe, Chuck, even Gossip Girl).
– Since we only checked in with the show a few times this year, I would like to hear your favorite moments, and whether any of the more heightened science-y things bothered you at all.