‘Nikita’ Review: ‘Covenants’

Plenty of shows boast a deep mythology. But they often hoarde that mythology, doling it out in crumbs for a ravenous audience desperate for anything akin to a healthy bite of new info. ‘Nikita’ doesn’t have that problem. Tonight’s episode, ‘Covenants,’ is one that The CW wants you to believe changes everything. That’s not really true, but just because it’s not a so-called “gamechanger” (a phrase I have grown to increasingly loathe in this day and age of online hyperbole) doesn’t mean it’s not a solid episode. Things don’t really change so much as happen far sooner than any regular television viewer could possibly hope to expect.

That ‘Nikita’ keeps introducing new parameters around which to tell stories could stem from an incessant need to keep things fresh. It also could stem from the writers of the show realizing what seemed at the outset as a good five-year plan actually was much harder to execute in practice. Maybe the rapid narrative pace of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ forced the show to pick up its initially languid pace. I’m not sure that it’s important WHY the show has put the pedal to the storyline metal, but I do know that it’s a far more interesting and compelling show ever since they broke Alex out of the bowels of Division. That’s the kind of milestone that could easily have been pushed out to the season finale for a lazier show, but after dropping that during the last episode of the Fall, the show seems emboldened to share big moments while it’s still on the air instead of waiting to potentially drop them in a future that is, at this point, still hypothetical.

nikita-20110405060240447.jpgThe benefit of such rapid pivot points into new story directions is that newbies can pick up the show and just run with it. A first-time viewer tonight could have picked up the essentials of the story via the show’s weekly overdubbed summary and Michael’s monologue about the purpose of the black boxes. Done and done. The overall plot of ‘Nikita’ isn’t dense so much as lengthy. To put it in terms that will be more familiar to many: think of the black boxes as Horcruxes, and obtaining all of them is the only way that Nikita (and now Michael) can take down Percy. That’s why ‘Covenants’ isn’t really a gamechanger: the game is exactly the same. It’s just that someone’s switched teams.

This works, because Shane West tends to work well 1) with Maggie Q, and 2) when given an emotional reason to back up his Division badassery. The first asset has been limited due to story constraints (the show often labored to get these two would-be adversaries in the same room on a weekly basis), and the second asset only popped up the last time Kasim Tariq appeared in the show back in ‘One Way.’ It’s easy to mock West’s Batman-esque delivery (as both I and the show have in the past), but it’s also difficult to play what’s essentially a middle man. He’s a middle man that can shoot someone dead from 500 yards, but a middle man all the same.

By putting the death of his family squarely at Percy’s feet, Michael now has a purpose that’s been lacking to this point. It aligns him with Nikita under common ground, both on a professional and now romantic level. Perhaps for some the resolution of the cliffhanger from ‘Echoes’ was resolved too quickly for their liking. However, it would have strained credibility to keep Alex alive any longer than this particular foray into St. Petersburg. There’s a time for a leisurely paced drama. ‘Nikita’ can ill-afford that, both in terms of its ratings (on the bubble for a second season) but also in terms of its genre: it’s an action show that was for a few initial months defined by its INACTION. I’ll worry about the show’s ability to sustain its momentum another day. For now, I can tell the show enjoys pushing the narrative car to see how it handles.

Hopefully Michael’s new alliance with Nikita will also pay off dividends for Alex’s storyline as well. If there was a weak spot in tonight’s episode, it lay in her angst over Alex’s relationship with Nathan. Nothing about this particular romantic relationship works, in that it feels like an obstacle laid down by the writers to engender danger rather than an organic part of Alex’s undercover lifestyle. It honestly doesn’t make sense that with all of Division’s resources, they couldn’t find a nice apartment next to an elderly couple rather than a hunky DJ. Lyndsy Fonseca has by and large been the show’s MVP this season. That takes nothing away from the work Maggie Q, but Fonseca carried a lot of the 2010 run of the show, and can do a LOT more than sit around making doe eyes at DJ Generic Dude. She’ll be a valuable asset as Nikita and Michael seek to stop Division’s new plan to sever ties with the United States government altogether and form The People’s Republic of Percy.

Still, a small quibble in an otherwise stellar return. ‘Nikita’ is on quite the roll over the last few episodes, and it’s turned from a guilty pleasure at best to one of the more enjoyable hour-long shows on television. As long as the show keeps its foot away from the brake and firmly on the gas, it should be a wild ride heading into the inaugural season’s final stretch.

What did you think of the return of ‘Nikita’? Happy that Michael is finally working with our titular hero, or does the show’s rapid pace strain credulity? Is Alex’s romance helping her character or hurting it? Sound off below!

One Comment

  1. Steven Timberman
    Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Great to see someone else considering how Nikita fits into all of this “mythology” debate that’s been raging for the last few years. There’s an old AV Club review of an episode for 24 where the author noted that 24 was a “shark show”. i.e. That the show must constantly move forward to survive. Perhaps your line about how the show was playing “narrative janga” is a better analogy, but I’m absolutely enthralled week to week. Nikita is running a clinic on how to plot without artificial obstacles or drama; a lesson many of the so-called “Top Tier” shows could use a refresher course on.

    There are lots of other elements of Nikita I’ve been enjoying too. The writing isn’t quite as dry as other spy thrillers, Percy is pretty much the embodiment of “What if the guy from Dilbert ran an assassination agency?”, and Maggie Q and Lyndsy Fonseca are giving remarkably low-key performances.

    Much as I liked the twist with Kasim, I do wonder if the show isn’t trading in some moral ambiguity for plot expediency. Part of why I liked Gogol so much in earlier episodes was that they were an example of another source of evil outside of Percy. Simply reducing everything to “Percy did it!” gives the show too much of an easy out. Espionage stories should create a messy, chaotic world about damaged people. And Nikita seems to get that - most of the time.