More than halfway through "Pay-Off," I started thinking to myself that the episode title was kind of odd. Last week's episode, "Set-Up," seemed to deliver more interesting character moments and even a little action. But the first half of this one was a bit slow; I was prepared to make "You call this a pay-off?" jokes in this review. And then all hell sort of broke loose, Nikita and "Amanda" had their big showdown, Birkhoff launched a missile from his laptop, Mr. Jones got arrested, and let's just say that "Pay-Off" ultimately lived up to its name.
The show made a smart choice by burning through the Pakistan vs. United States nuclear war story as quickly as possible. Although I think that backdrop gave the first part of this season more weight as Nikita and Amanda maneuvered around one another, the fact of the matter is that Nikita doesn't have the budget to do any real justice to that kind of story. It wasn't much of a surprise that Amanda and Jones' plan involved planting a double within Pakistan to help start World War III, but it was an effective way to advance the plot without too many additional machinations. The sequence with Nikita and Amanda working to stop the nuke and prevent any undue war from happening was fine as far as Nikita's typical "people shoot at each other" sequences go.
But ultimately, this IS a story about Nikita and Amanda, so actually starting a global conflict—one that, again, can't really be shown—isn't worthwhile. It only really exists on the show to get these two women into a room together. As such, staging what initially looked like the season/series' endgame in this episode made a lot of sense. With Alex and Sam's help, Ryan realized that the mysterious Mr. Jones had top-lined a military contractor, and thus would benefit from any warring action between Pakistan and the U.S. Throw in some help from Birkhoff's dad, and suddenly the heroes were knocking down the villains' door. And we got what we wanted: another showdown between two strong women with a whole lot of history between them. You knew sh*it was serious when Nikita started to refer to Amanda as Helen in hopes of getting her to halt the plan to attack the United States. Those scenes nicely made it appear as if there were no substantive options for Nikita or Amanda. The former wasn't just going to let Amanda go, and the latter wasn't simply going to give up after everything she's done to get to where she is. But hey, there's always a third option, and in this case, that third option involved Birkhoff pointing the warhead at the building everyone was standing in at the time. You know, your typical third option stuff.
Clearly, there are still two episodes left in the season, so I knew something was afoot once the building went boom and Amanda was "dead." People survive explosions on this show all the time, like the flashback we saw earlier in this episode proved (well, and I guess Nikita surviving the big one offered some evidence on that front as well). And of course, something was up because this was Mr. Jones' big plan: Convince the world that all is well, that the president is alive, that the contractor MGK is done, and that the threat level is no longer at midnight. And duh, Amanda didn't die because she was never in that room, trying to blow up the world. Hey, if you're going to start making highly advanced doubles of people to rule and/or end the world, you're definitely going to make a double of yourself, right?
So the HIGH STAKES are gone—for now, at least—and things have reset a bit. It was kind of silly that the show tried to convince us that Nikita would actually believe Amanda's death, considering she knows Amanda better than anyone AND the whole team knows that they've been dealing with doubles for days/weeks. I'd love to see some of these characters happy, particularly Nikita and Michael, but I don't want to see temporary happiness at the cost of their intelligence. Nikita's not just going to shut it all down. But we still don't know what Amanda and Jones' true plan is. Fortunately, it's likely to be a little more intimate and personal between the characters who need to have problems just like that.
So, "Pay-Off" ended up being quite exciting. But in the end, it was still kind of a set-up episode. With only two episodes left in the series, things are probably only going to get worse before they really get better—if they do get better at all. Like "Amanda" said, chances aren't good that either she or Nikita will end up a winner, or happy.
– The early portion of the episode tried pretty hard to draw some kind of tension out of the lingering Nikita-Michael issues thanks to the random return of Ramon, a character I had honestly forgotten about and who didn't make much of an impression here. There simply hasn't been enough time to develop anything substantive between them as far as angst goes. We knew they were getting back together. I'm glad they are now.
– Birkhoff and his father had a nice little reunion before the building blew up. I like that the show underplayed it and didn't turn it into some kind of major scene, waterworks and all. Thought it's not like they had a great relationship before Amanda kidnapped Papa Penner.
– I really like both Alex and Sam as characters, but their story was kind of a drag here. It certainly didn't help the first half of the episode be more entertaining. It will surely coalesce into the primary plot as soon as next week, but zzzz.
– AMAZING shot of the plane landing. And by amazing, I mean hilariously bad. This poor show's budget.
What'd you folks think of this one? What do you think Amanda and Jones' real plan is?
AIRED ON 12/27/2013
Season 4 : Episode 6