4. Rough Trade
We all have the odd pesky skeleton in the closet, some never quite forgotten past indiscretion that we would jump at the chance to retrospectively atone for.
For me, it would possibly be never telling Ben Phillips that Alex Camm had secretly shat in his lunchbox in year 6. I kept the information to myself, with every fibre that was decent within me begging me to tell the poor, undeserving wretch, while smaller, louder, more persuasive figments of my conscience calmly convinced me that we would actually quite like to see what happened. Needless to say, you could hear poor Ben’s wails from the next building come lunch time, and he hasn’t been able to so much as look at a Dairylea Dunker ever since.
Guilt eats away at us from the inside over time, but then, we all have our crosses to bear.
The theme of confronting one’s past runs through our main character’s arcs in this week’s Nikita, and in doing so provides, once again, the best episode so far. Normally, as mentioned in previous reviews, flashbacks in TV shows can easily be detrimental to the narrative the series it attempting to pursue, and in the worst cases, can render entire episodes of some shows utterly redundant. Nikita‘s unabashed use of flashbacks continues unabated this week, but it is with restrained relief that they remain relevant and, most importantly of all, interesting.
The episode didn’t begin well, though. In fact, when Nikita met Lisa Han in the park you could actually see the sawdust fly as they pelted each other with solid blocks of verbal mahogany. Lisa didn’t seem too shaken up meeting the woman who wormed her way into her family and soullessly killed her husband six years ago, simply wobbling her bottom lip slightly in response to this fairly massive life event.
Similarly, when Susanne Sutchy’s fashionista was accosted by Nikita in the middle of her place of work she didn’t raise her voice at all to possibly notify one of the multitude of minions running around literally six feet away. Whaa?
Another unlikely moment arrived courtesy of Alex, when she suddenly ducked out of a training session to ‘go to the computer room’, conveniently at exactly the same moment as several of Division’s agents visibly began to mobilise for an operation. An unlikely move for someone who has spent months organising and carrying out an incredibly dangerous infiltration. She may as well have stood up, screamed “I’m a double agent!” and dropped trou to reveal the word ‘Mole’ written across her arse cheeks in permanent marker.
While we’re on the subject, is it becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that Birkhoff can hack into any camera and supply the feed with real-time subtitles, without having the wherewithal to detect Alex and Nikita’s digital tête-à-têtes? Just saying.
Nevertheless, these niggles aside, the episode still managed to hold together exceptionally well, providing an extremely solid story in and of itself. Nikita’s flashbacks served the dual purpose of providing essential background exposition for Nikita’s return to the subject of her first activation, while also showing us the first steps in Nikita’s creeping doubt in and eventual betrayal of Division.
This is a time in Nikita’s past that we know little about (Alex’s experiences have provided the only idea we have about Nikita’s early days in Division) and insights into her motivations for absconding will be welcome in future episodes, as here we see her smiling, naive and nervous, sides to her character we have not seen until now. The flashbacks had resonance, and were mercifully free of padding out the running time irrelevance.
The story of Victor Han’s Machiavellian double-crossing was a good one, providing a twist that this reviewer absolutely did not see coming, although this reviewer is also something of an idiot. It also provided the action sequence of the series so far in the sweatshop, as Maggie Q dished out the pain to faceless goons in true Hong Kong style.
Maggie Q, while a great actress, has certain physical skills that the show needs to exploit as much as possible, in many more fights of equal quality to this one. The old conceit of igniting petrol with a bullet made an appearance, though, and it would be appreciated if anyone could let us know if this is as impossible in real life as common sense and a rudimentary grasp of pyrophysics suggests that it actually is.
Nikita’s eventual Poison Ivy gamble did rest on the bold assumption that Victor would go in for the smooch, and if this was her Plan A, her Plan B must have been an absolute shambles, as this one had quite a few uncontrollable variables. Unless she wears poisoned lipstick at all times, that is, but that would surely be rather impractical.
Nikita’s showdown with Victor did at least allow Michael’s ambivalence in his loyalties to come to the fore as he, yet again, neglected to take Nikita out when he had the chance, and we are now beginning to get an idea of why a stand-up chap like him shows such devotion to the dastardly organisation he works for.
We are given the impression Percy saved his life in a different sense than he did with the rest of the recruits, and the unlikely relationship between these two is certainly an interesting one. Still, Michael’s odious posturing with a sniper rifle and sock down the pants action man pose was almost laughable, and made me leave sore, red welts on my forehead because I slapped it so hard.
Still, Alex’s character also got a bit of fleshing out this week and her flashback showed us glimpses of a childhood trauma that she thinks she managed to keep from the increasingly creepy Amanda.
An acute claustrophobia caused by a routine training exercise brought her hidden vulnerabilities to the surface, giving Lyndsy Fonseca a chance to flex her acting chops as Alex and, it has to be said, she knocked it right out of the park this week. Her hysterical outbursts could easily have been downright cringe worthy with a lesser actress trying to portray them, but Fonseca never had me doubting it for a moment.
Amanda’s tough love approach is undoubtedly effective, leading Alex to admit her past as a sex slave, but we are left wondering why Alex chose to fabricate her traumatic memory instead of coming clean, as perhaps this part of her life could provide indications of her double existence.
We didn’t see much of Birkhoff this week, but Xander Berkeley was much more prominent than in the last couple of episodes, and Percy actually managed to justify his collusion with the Red Circle Triad completely logically, which is a welcome change to his previous motivations of greed and innate evil. The most interesting villains exist as a shade of grey, and while we probably won’t get another Benjamin Linus here, Percy is arguably the character who needs fleshing out the most, as we have very little idea of who he actually is and what he has to lose.
So, we have still yet to have a duff episode of Nikita, and the high water mark has been raised again. I, for one, am certainly looking forward to next week.
Read our review of episode 3, Kill Jill, here.