Girl With The Phoenix Tattoo: The Racialicious Roundtable For Nikita 1.1

Hosted by Arturo R. García

We’re baaaaack! And kicking off our look at the season’s new TV offerings – well, the ones that at least promise to highlight POC – with the CW’s Nikita, the latest iteration of Luc Besson’s femme-fatale franchise. In talking about this show awhile back, I expressed some weariness over the backstory for Lyndsy Fonseca’s character, Alex, being recruited specifically for being a pretty white girl. But as you’ll see below, what we’ve gotten so far actually has some more layers than that.

The story plays out more like an update of the Nikita mythos than a straight-up reboot: there’s still the requisite morally-ambiguous Covert Government Agency, and the Conflicted Spy-Runner (Shane West). But the most pleasant surprise of the first episode was seeing that Nikita (Maggie Q) wasn’t around just to give the show a pretty poster, but will actually be treated like an integral part of the story. Indeed, the show makes good use of Q’s Hong Kong action-flick sensibilities, and gives us just enough of her back-story to lend the character some depth. But Nikita’s debut hour actually delivers some more nice touches besides that.

SPOILERS AHEAD

As noted above, while Nikita keeps the familiar trappings from both the original movie and the USA Network show from the late ’90s, giving us two protagonists in Nikita and Alex actually speeds up the story a bit: we get to see both Alex’s welcome to Division’s school of hard knocks and the basics behind Nikita’s going rogue: she’s out for revenge on the program for killing her (apparently really really romantic) fiancee.

For her part, Alex is, as Michael notes in the episode, tailor-made to become her successor: she’s pretty (and, yes, white), has no social ties, and without any real alternatives, after getting nicked during a med heist gone bad. One nice touch was the show actually pacing her transition into Division’s life believably; it’s nice to see a show where the new person isn’t immediately a) the best person in the room or b) getting harangued all over the place. This key detail lets Fonseca play up Alex’s initial confusion and curiosity more ably, and maximizes the first episode’s big reveal, with which the Table and myself kick off our discussion.

NO REALLY, SPOILERS ARE COMING

Best part of the episode for me: the reveal that Alex and Nikita are actually working together. I did not think this show would have the chutzpah to go down that route. That said, how long ‘til they have to shoot at one another?
jen*: Having watched the show with Peta Wilson, back in the day, I was wondering what direction this new show would take.  Obviously there is a finite amount of good ideas out there, and the limit has been reached.  We are now forever doomed to rehash old stories and just give a little twist.  That being said – I’m kinda liking this, so far – I loved that twist.  I think they’ll get 2/3 to 3/4 through the season before they shoot each other/one shoots the other.
Mahsino: I feel like this show could run out of steam very quickly, so they should have kept that twist in their back pocket. Sort of like the Mr. Blue/ Mr. Green storyline from the Hulk (comics, not movie).
Arturo: MAJOR geek points for that pull, Mahsino! And I was also big on the Peta Wilson series; in an odd way, this felt more like a continuation of that canon, rather than a straight-up reboot.
Diana: Being a fan of the original French film, I never got into the Peta Wilson series.  But I was glad to see the twist.  The show may have potential.  We’ll see.
Andrea: I haven’t seen the original flick, the Americanized version with “Single White Female” Fonda, or the TV series, so I’m going to have to judge this on what’s being presented to me by McG (of Charlie’s Angels film fame) and his creative coterie. I think Nikita, as embodied by Maggie Q, is what that Angels flick was supposed to have been: a story about a women kicking the government’s ass, one asshole at a time. What makes this better is that it’s not trying to wrap it in some silly version of girl-power or some other played-out nod to feminism. Nikita is doing her, full stop. And I’m looooooving it.

What are your impressions of each character?
jen*: No one really grabbed me.  I liked the nerd better than Michael, but otherwise there wasn’t enough personality in any character for me.  And the setup actually reminded me a lot of Dollhouse.  Just not as good.
Mahsino: Birkoff was a poor man’s Topher. And Amanda could have definitely benefited from a stereotypical British accent.
Arturo: Agreed on the Dollhouse-ish set-up. But, hey, it’s that Pyro kid from the X-Men flicks!
Diana: I like Shane West.  If they continue to make his character morally ambiguous, it could be interesting.  It’s too early to tell on any of the other characters.
Andrea: Shane West is coming off like a broke-ass Ray Liotta, so color me severely unimpressed. Beyond that, I agree with Diana: none of the other ones are well-formed enough to stick in my head.

And then you have Jaden, the other POC trainee. Got kind of a “Mean Girls” vibe out of her, but hopefully her character will be allowed to start shooting people soon.
Mahsino: At the very least, they should give her a better wig/weave. If I can spot it, there’s something askew.
jen*: That is the same thing I was thinking!  I’m not hair expert but I was like – dadgum, that thing looks fake!  As for her character – it seemed a little forced, to me.
Mahsino: I want to reserve my judgement on the character until I can find out whether this was raceblind casting or not. But yeah jen*, I kept waiting for her to say something like “I will cut you”.
Diana: I thought Jaden was annoying.  I would have slapped the weave off her head.  I have a feeling though that she’ll become the loyal side-kick.
Andrea: If Jaden continues to frequent the same fake-hair wrangler as Hayden Panettiere, then Miss Gurl deserves to be a loyal sidekick. It means that we get to see less of her … whatever that jive thang was sitting on top of her head.

Worst part of the episode: the wedding proposal. On the one hand, I’m glad they established Nikita as a balanced character, but on the other … three months? That’s barely “comfortable farting in bed” territory – or maybe that’s just me –  let alone putting a ring on it.
Mahsino: Had the man never seen an episode of Divorce Court?
jen*: I know it’s the pilot, but I’ve got some questions about all this – a 3 month romance ending with a proposal, and then 3 years to visit the grave?  Guess we’re in for a lot of flashbacks.
Diana: It was consistent with the original story.  They had to give her reason for wanting revenge and presumably she used those three years for planning and plotting.
Andrea: Sounds reasonable to me, Diana. And I’m not going to poo-poo whirlwind romances. Nikita fell in love with her cover … aiight. Love’s goofy like that. Not even mad at her. But I wonder if it’s going to be revealed that Michael himself engineered Daniel’s murder out of jealousy over Nikita.

Open Mic!
Mahsino: My biggest pet peeve of almost all portrayals of women in action roles is that they don’t have enough sense to wear appropriate undergarments. Am I honestly supposed to believe they were sending Alex into training and they couldn’t have spared a sports bra?! And for christ-sake, she needs to put her hair into a damn ponytail- at the very least she’s leaving DNA all over the place.
jen*: Women-in-action are skating dangerously close to MAN-territory.  Therefore, a woman must always wear pretty things, lacy underwear, makeup, and fake hair to ensure everyone knows that even though she can kick butt, she is still a lady.  /snark
Mahsino: Don’t forget heels. She can’t go hoofin’ around all man-like in some sensible shoes.
Arturo: All I’m gonna say is, I much preferred this show to Hellcats. I’m definitely putting in for hazard pay for that one.
Diana: Men wouldn’t watch if she wore a sports bra and sensible shoes.
Arturo: Hellcats had a bunch of sports bras. Still never going near that again.
Diana: Hellcats also had too many midriffs, too many belly rings and too much make-up.
jen*: I love cheerleading – love dance – love gymnastics.  And I can stand a serious amount of cheese to watch cheering – I have watched every Bring It On that has ever been put out there.  [Even the one with The Cheerleader (from Heroes) and Solange. - Even the one after that.]  Hellcats could’ve been so much more.  I actually had to look away from the screen.
Andrea: Having just finished roundtabling another series centering around an annoying blonde white girl, I’m going to take y’all word about Hellcats and not do it to myself.

Photos courtesy of The CW