, the CW Network has developed another resounding hit on its roster of solid dramatic series that do a nice job of grabbing viewers from a variety of demographics. With season two starting in late September 2011, this slick package of the 22 episodes of season one is a great way of diving into a show that's among the best looking, most tightly produced, and intensely cinematic on the small screen. The title and the premise both come from the 1990 French feature film and early style-setter from writer-director Luc Besson, La Femme Nikita
. The character of Nikita was a beautiful, troubled young criminal who was essentially abducted from prison and inducted into covert intelligence to become a sleeper assassin used at the will and the whim of the government. There was an American remake in 1993, Point of No Return
, starring Bridget Fonda, then a TV adaptation in 1997 that used the original French title and ran for just over four seasons on the USA Network. This reworking maintains the basic premise of a black ops organization that has largely gone rogue from US government control, with the title character of a dangerous, sexy assassin having escaped its clutches and gone rogue herself. After six years as its most expert operative, this Nikita (Maggie Q, who is very
dangerous and very
sexy) uses all her training and black ops wiles to destroy the unit known only as Division. Division is run from a high-tech bunker by the evil, calculating Percy (a steely-eyed Xander Berkeley) as a kind of top-secret consulting firm for the high-paying interests of those in need of murder, protection, or other sundry cleanup or coverup services. It employs a stable of young, buffed, highly trained male and female "recruits" who, like Nikita, have been plucked from prison and indentured to lives dedicated to Division's devious details. But the pilot episode reveals that Division's latest recruit, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), is Nikita's mole, and she runs Alex from the outside, getting intel on Division's nefarious operations in her effort to bring it all down. The depth of Nikita's (and Alex's) malice toward Division is revealed over the course of the season, along with her ambivalence toward Percy's lieutenant, Michael (Shane West). Their cat-and-mouse includes a fair amount of personal heat within the missions that Nikita tries to disrupt, especially the one that becomes Division's top priority: eliminate Nikita. Michael has his own mixed feelings for his former protégé, and even as the intrigue among Michael, Nikita, Alex, and the other assorted characters both within and without Division becomes more elaborate, it's clear that there's a lot of gray for everyone. Except Percy, that is, who remains deliciously black throughout. The final episodes set up a suspenseful scenario of character maneuvering, compromised loyalties, and convoluted conspiracies that bodes very well for a new season.
Every installment of Nikita is paced and plotted like a mini thriller, with production values and heavily styled good looks to match. As series creator Craig Silverstein and many other behind-the-scenes contributors confirm in the extensive supplemental materials, incredible attention is given to the details of art direction, design, wardrobe, cinematography, scoring, etc. in order to make what are essentially mini action movies. And action is definitely a key word. There is gunplay aplenty, with a level of physical violence that's about as powerful as anything on TV these days. But all of it is expertly staged and carefully motivated to serve the needs of brainy, quick-witted scripts. Maggie Q certainly has the background chops to bring integrity and authenticity to her smooth martial arts moves; that's really her chopping and shooting up there. She is eminently appealing not only for her beauty and grace, but also her soulful stare. Silverstein admits that the CW Network was looking for a shoehorn series to capture not just action fans, and they all thought the Nikita brand could be adapted into a version of something like Alias. It makes sense with all the secret agent stuff going on and with Maggie Q making herself a rousing antidote for Jennifer Garner fans. But she's also uniquely Nikita as she guides an exciting show that gives equal weight to brain and brawn with a precise combination of restraint and exuberance. --Ted Fry