22 December 2013


La Femme Nikita - Nikita (S01E01) (Recap)

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on December 22, 2013
There is one show that I return to again and again, at least every two years. It is the cult classic La Femme Nikita (1997-2001). I am deeply in love with this show, have been ever since I first watched it, and will be until my last dying breath. On my current re-watch - brought on by my severe disappointment over most of 2013's KDrama - I have realized that nobody seems to have ever properly recapped this drama. Meaning: with screencaps and gifs and a whole lot of squees. But oh man, does this show deserve to be recapped (even though or really because it isn't KDrama)! And oh man, I will so do it. Let's see how far I'll get!
La Femme Nikita is based on Luc Bessons film of the same name, at least in its fundamentals (=the basic characters). It is a dark and paranoid spy drama with a noir touch, centered on Nikita (played by the incredibly beautiful and incredibly kick-ass Peta Wilson), who is framed for murder and then taken from a lifetime of prison to work for Section One. Section One is a top-top-top secret and very shady anti-terrorist organization, whose deeds often (or even always?) seem brutal, immoral, or outright evil. Here, Nikita is trained by Michael (played by the incredibly handsome and incredibly cool Roy Dupuis), a mysterious, emotionally damaged, cruel, sad, pitiful, but oh-so-hawt super agent. Their on-off and hot-cold love affair and her struggles against the evil that wants to take her soul is the golden thread running through five awesome seasons, often keeping us breathless and craving for more. This couple? They patented on-screen chemistry. Hot-damn, they're the best there ever was...

Nikita (Pilot) 1x01

A young, dishevelled, seemingly homeless woman (Nikita) wanders the streets, sometimes eating (i.e. a pizza three times the size of her head), sometimes stealing, sometimes begging. In a dark alley, she happens across a crime ... a man is holding up a bloody knife that he has just stuck into his victim, a policeman, who is lying on the ground. The criminal runs, the woman tackles him, they fight ... she ends up holding the bloody knife. At that moment, the police arrive and arrest her. We hear a distorted voice reading the conviction: I am sentencing you to life in prison without the possibility for parole. The woman screams and shouts: I didn't kill anyone!
And we're in a white, sterile looking cell. Nikita is lying on a bed, restrained ... but somebody unlocks the shackles around her hands. "Good morning", he says. Nikita bolts off the bed, presses her back against the white wall. She is very frightened and very confused, but the man (Michael!) speaks to her in a calm voice, telling her she is no longer in prison. The world thinks she is dead: she committed suicide in prison. And he shows her pictures of her funeral. "We've decided to give you another chance", he says. She attacks him from behind, but hey, this is Michael. You gotta learn a few more tricks to beat him, girl. And thus, the two year training begins.

After the opening credits, we get the first tour of Section One's underground facility. We will spend a lot of time here together, folks, so take a good look! Michael is taking Nikita to see Madeline (Alberta Watson), her "new mother", as he puts it. "So what are you", Nikita retors, "my father?" Michael smiles. Now, La Femme Nikita experts know that Michael hardly ever smiles. So ... this smile is either a Pilot-"mistake" (i.e., characters are not yet fully developed) or Michael just plays charming. You never know with him.
Nikita enters a kind of dungeon-room ... this is Madeline's lair. Madeline, as we will find out, is the second-in-command, chief tactician, and psychologist for Section One. She is ice-cold and often extremely brutal. Thank you, show, for giving us such strong female characters, there just aren't enough of them around. Nikita is checking everything out, while she is watched from above. "They seem to think you have potential", a voice says and Madeline comes down the stairs, elegant and aloof. And she tells Nikita that she can learn to shoot guns and to fight - but there is no weapon as powerful as her femininity. And oh dear, I am girl-crushing so hard on Peta Wilson. Whoever cast her in this role was a genius.
Her training is shown to us in a series of (brief) scenes (many of them quite funny), and then, two years later, Michael goes to see Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer) in his "command center", which is an elevated glassbox, from which the Boss-Boss can oversee the main hall of Section One. Operations is the head of Section One and a terrible monster. Get ready to hate him with a vengeance.
Operations shows Michael a video clip of a man he instantly recognizes: Van Vactor. He is a bad guy, a terrorist, who is trying to forge an alliance of terrorists against Section One. Operations orders Michael to steal an itinerary so that they known where to intercept the guy.

Michael is already leaving, but Operations has another thing to say: that woman Nikita? He has been watching her. She "lacks discipline". Michael seems slightly uncomfortable at this remark, and he says: she needs a little more time. But Operations will not have it: It has been two years, and he know the rules. "We start making exceptions, we're no better than the CIA - cancel her". Michael thinks that would be a mistake, but Operations just says "It would be a mistake to become emotionally attached to the material." And he tells Michael (who denies anything of the sort, of course) that her failure will be his failure. He just linked Nikita's faith to Michael's.
Michael goes to Nikita (she is doing some martial arts training) and tells her to dress up prettily ... they are going out to dinner. She is confused by his advances and reacts warily (rightfully so! Be careful, woman!), but he smiles sweetly and says that she has earned it. In the restaurant, she is so happy. It is absolutely heart-breaking ... he gives her a present, and she is just like a little girl under the Christmas Tree as she unwraps it.
Inside is a wooden box. She closes her eyes before opening it, to make the surprise even bigger. And ... it is ... a gun. All the joy disappears in an instance from her face as she realizes what that means.
Michael simply starts telling her what to do in a low voice: there's a man behind him who has a PDA in a briefcase. She is to get it. And he tells her how to get out (through the window in the toilet). There, in the alley, she will be met by a car. But she only has 5 minutes. If she takes longer, the car will be gone ... and she will be stranded. She is starting to freak out, but he just takes a last sip of wine, repeats "5 minutes" and adds to wait until he is gone, if she doesn't mind. Oh man, he is such a bastard.
Nikita is crying now. But then, almost mechanically, she starts assembling the weapon, approaches the man, and gets the PDA by shooting the lock of the briefcase. She flees as instructed. But the window in the toilet .... opens onto a brick wall. It's a trap.
She runs back up the stairs, but people start shooting at her as soon as she open the door - the exit through the front door is barred. She tries the kitchen, but doesn't get very far before they discover her and open fire again. If I remember correctly, this is all in the Besson film? Anyway, she returns fire until she sees them readying the bigger caliber (some kind of rocket propelled grenade thing), which prompts her to jump into the garbage duct, slide down the chute, and land in a garbage container.
She limps to the pick up point (she has gotten rid of her high heels during the shooting) - sirens are blaring in the distance, coming closer - and almost falls into the car (a black limo!), right onto Michael's lap. She scrambles away from him as fast and as far as possible. He signals the driver to leave. Nikita asks whether he knew, and of course he did ... the non-existent window was a test, to see whether she could improvise. She throws the stolen PDA at him, hurt that he didn't tell her this was a job, making her believe they were going out to dinner together. But he teaches her that "no matter what state of mind you're in, you have to be able to perform"
Nikita: "You're sick. You don't want a person. You want a machine. I can't do that."
Michael: "You just did."
The car stops after a while and he tells her to get out, but she is through with trusting him. She will not get out until he tells her what they are doing here. "Nikita, please", he says in his usual low voice ... and wins. He almost always wins, the bastard. He takes her to an apartment. It's hers, he says to the confused woman. She is to tell no one what she is and what she does. She is to say she is between jobs if anyone asks. And then, Michael gets really close to her ... and she is smiling again. Have you learned nothing, gurl?! But he just stepped in to take his jacket back, which he must have put over her shoulders ... and he tells her that her code name is "Josephine". She is to wait until she is activated - it could be a day, a week, a month ... there is not telling. She looks so vulnerable and lost, the poor thing ... and those terrible bangs over her eyes must have annoyed the hell out of her. 
Oh yeah. Girl knows what to do with a corporate credit card. She now owns about thirty sunglasses. And she makes fish shaped coat hangers out of colored wire. Somebody knocks on the door. Nikita prepares for the worst, readying some wire to serve as possible weapon ... but a look through the spyhole reveals a girl with a huge plant in the hallway outside. It is a neighbor ... Carla (Anais Granofsky). She lives across the hall (and is a carpenter). Nikita is rather rude at first, but then, her need for human connections gets the better of her and she invites her in. They chat amiably when the phone rings. It is Michael and he just says one word: "Josephine". It's a mission.
Section One operatives (including Madeline ... she rarely goes out) are in a hotel. Nikita is told to take off her clothes (in front of everyone). Walter (Don Francks), the oldest operative in Section One and Head of Munitions, explains an exploding lip stick gadget to her (while she is still bare breasted). Michael is lurking around in the background and then explains the mission. They are here to get Van Vactor. Madeline wires and dresses Nikita as housekeeper. With camera glasses.
Nikita is to place the explosive device onto a door in the adjacent room to Van Vactor's. She succeeds, but then, another hotel employee enters the room she is in. He looks like a bell boy and approaches her, but she freaks and pulls her gun. Michael orders her to shoot him. He is one of the bad guys. Nikita doesn't. Michael repeats his command, to shoot him now. She still doesn't. And the bad guy pulls out a device from his pocket and sets off an alarm. Nikita knocks him over and flees. Mission abort! A total fail.
Back at Section One, Michael tells her in a deadly voice that mistakes are not an option. But Nikita just states that she cannot do it ... she cannot pull the trigger. She is not who they think she is: she never killed anyone.
Nikita: "I am not a killer".
Michael: "The moment I believe that, Nikita .... you are cancelled".
Yeah, shit. Believe me when I say this woman is constantly on the verge of being cancelled, from here on out.
Thankfully, there is a new Van Vactor sighting! He is on his way to the airport. Operations orders an interception. Section One stages a car accident, the road is completely blocked. Van Vactor gets out of the car, but he gets suspicious (it isn't all clear why ... looks pretty real to me!) and yells that it is a trap. The Section One operatives, Nikita is one of them, open fire, but Van Vactor grabs an innocent bystander and gets away, into a sort of garage, and further down, into some tunnels.

Nikita and another (nameless) Operative follow. Michael and Birkhoff (Matthew Ferguson), Section One's head of Comm, loose contact with them because they are too far underground. It's pretty spooky down there... Nikita's buddy is grabbed by one of Van Vactor's men. She drops her gun and is seized as well. Van Vactor is surprised to see a new face. And because he is a total dick, he shoots the man operative twice, looking for a reaction in Nikita. But the only reaction he gets is a smile and a super charming "Go to hell".
Van Vactor isn't pleased and she finds herself with a knife at her throat, ready to cut. But Michael to the rescue! A bullet takes down Nikita's assailant, Nikita takes down the rest and frees the other operative. Van Vactor stands there, looking really dumb. Nikita aims her gun at him. Michael asks: "Are you okay?" And Nikita .... slowly moves the gun to point at Michael. Come one, woman, he wasn't that bad to you, was he? Oh wait ... he was.  Nikita shoots, Michael jerks.
But of course, she wasn't aiming for Michael ... there was a bad guy right behind him. Now dead. Nikita slowly walks over to the person she just killed. She closes her eyes, nods slightly, and lets her gun fall to the floor.
Nikita is in her apartment, remembering her past. She looks at the photo of her grave and then sets it on fire on one of the many candles she has lit. She watches it burn, crying a very little. The phone starts ringing. And Michael says: "Josephine".


The pilot really isn't indicative for the awesomeness this show delivers in almost every episode. The trademark Nikita-feel isn't quite there yet - though the music rocked from minute one and the cinematography is dark and gritty - be it because the pilot follows the original movie for quite a bit (leaving less creative room for the writers), or because the actors weren't entirely in character yet. Nikita is a bit too vulnerable and dumbfounded in the restaurant scene and Michael isn't quite stonefaced enough yet. Those are minor quibbles, though.
Roy Dupuis' slight (Canadian) French accent - it really is VERY slight - is about the sexiest thing ever (he says both "Josephine" and "Nikita" in ways that send shivers down my spine) and the few out-of-character smiles aside, the portrayal of Michael as a master manipulator is already so.friggin.good. At this point, we are already left wondering what is going on in his head when he looks at her as he does. We have learned that he is perfectly capable of being extremely cruel: he charms her in the restaurant and then hands her the "gift" just as she says she is finally happy, then leaves her completely alone and gives her wrong information about the escape route. Yikes.
But he also saves her life. And this is the puzzle here. Why? Operations has ordered him to cancel the woman. He is going against Section One orders, and when Michael does that, it means something big. But what?
Nikita's forced transformation into a cold killer spy has definitely gone wrong - and that's a big problem. Michael makes it more than clear: either she performs, or she is dead. Is her will to live stronger than her reluctance to kill? We will see. When she actually does kill, it is to save Michael's life. He is her trainer and mentor and it does seem that she isn't immune against his vile charms. Was it instinct, comraderie or ... something more? She is careful at first, but too ready to trust ... that is just her nature. She is full of life and full of compassion - the exact opposite to what Section One stands for. Who will survive the epic struggle?

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