If you’ve watched any of the previous incarnations of La Femme Nikita, prepare to be disappointed by the new CW version, Nikita. No longer is Nikita (Maggie Q) an innocent prisoner, forcibly recruited to do wetwork for an anti-terrorist organization; now she’s a renegade, working to bring down the corrupt leader of the organization and her old allies, who conveniently possess little humanity (it’s enough to make 24 look nuanced). Nikita is just another bland spy drama, an excuse to put women in skimpy outfits—Alias without a heart, Chuck without the sense of humor, and Covert Affairs without the good casting.
Nikita pulls several plotlines from Alias, including the main character’s insurgency following the murder of her civilian fiancée by Division, the shadowy organization she once worked for. All of this is told to us in confusingly edited flashbacks or with bland exposition. For instance, while visiting her foster father, Nikita recaps her life story, and she might as well be speaking directly to the camera. In a later scene, members of Division show up, providing more information about how Nikita’s been off the grid for three years. The rest of the episode plays out similarly: Nikita kidnaps Division’s tech expert, Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford)—just to talk about their past; she crashes a governmental meet-and-greet to threaten Divison’s head honcho, Percy (Xander Berkeley)—in other words, to talk. All this so that Michael (Shane West), the man who trained Nikita, can catch her—and talk some more.
None of the show’s actors are particularly strong, so it’s no surprise that writer Craig Silverstein focuses on exposition rather than emotion. And director Danny Cannon’s piss-poor action sequences aren’t dazzling enough to wake us up. They’re ridiculous too. Real assassins don’t try to kill operatives with spiked chakras when they have pistols with silencers. And they probably wouldn’t make room for Nikita to squeeze past them in a narrow hotel hallway while they’re in the middle of killing someone. That’s something you might find on a spy show that takes itself less seriously, like Chuck.
As the scenes mount up, however, one realizes that Nikita isn’t trying to be serious either—in fact, it’s not trying to be anything. It’s zombie television: mindless for them, mindless for you. At one point, Nikita wades to a wet bar in the middle of a luxury resort’s pool. “This is going to make taking out your bodyguard much harder,” she says in the glib tone of a stereotypical assassin as she snaps her targets neck. She throws his fork at a poolside guard, splashes over to him, picks up his gun, kills another guard with it, then grabs a chair and uses it to somehow deflect bullets and take down the last guard. And it’s all a dream sequence. Why not just watch porn?
Ironically, the most interesting part of Nikita revolves around Alex (Lyndsy Fonesca); her backstory (pulled directly from the original film) and Fonesca’s acting make her more like the previous incarnations of Nikita than this show’s one-note version. Too bad her indoctrination looks as if she’s pledging a sorority; we’re supposed to believe that she’s allowed to putter around on computers and chill with fellow recruits Jaden (Tiffany Hines) and Thom (Ashton Holmes) while being converted into a cold-blooded killer. Only Amanda (Melinda Clarke) manages to convey the necessary coldness of Division, which is also ironic given that she’s the only “new” character on the show (replacing Madeline, La Femme Nikita‘s psych-ops second-in-command).
Even with stronger, sexier legs to stand on, Nikita would have nowhere to go. Percy is a black-and-white villain—unlike Operations, the previous TV incarnation of the role—and lacks the calm menace of a man who can actually justify killing innocent people in the name of the “greater good.” Rather than the compartmentalized killer and shy genius of the first series, Michael and Birkoff are simplified too, reduced to hired gun and sarcastic nerd, respectively. You know exactly where their alliances lie; worse, you know why. As for the show’s one secret, we’re told who Nikita’s mole is right before the credits, and it’s exactly who you think. Only one question remains: How can there possibly be another 12 episodes of this?