Episode 9: Survival Instincts
By: Carlos Uribe
Nikita is a show about a female spy who does missions for a secret, undercover government agency.
A constant background element of the show has always been that the Division agents used to lead their own lives. They had parents, friends, and lovers. When they joined the government agency, they were forced to never contact them again because they're supposed to be dead. The question becomes what would happen if they ever showed back to their old life. This episode decides to answer that when one of the rogue agents kidnaps his ex-wife to try and live a new life with her. She's not excited about this because he had constantly threatened to kill her, had killed a man he thought was sleeping with her, and the first thing he does is shoot her new boyfriend. This new boyfriend is okay because he was luckily wearing a bulletproof vest. This ex-wife has been trying her best to move on but she's being forced to confront her past when it literally grabs her. It's true that the mission weekly this episode turns out to be a bit predictable as there's never any real twist in this story. It's not the plot that really shines but rather what it does with the main characters. This ex-wife is trying to move on with her life after it was ruined by this rogue agent. She's been struggling to be able to put this behind her and face her new reality. This is just how Michael and Nikita are now trying to accept their new status quo ever since Michael's hand was cut off. The episode isn't very subtle about this connection as it practically states it at some points but it was an unexpected approach to take. Considering the subject matter, it would have made sense for the show to use the weekly case to make a character question his past. In fact, it could have done this with Owen's inability to remember his. The episode didn't try to explore this theme but rather work on what the writers have been covering for the last few weeks.
The episode actually deals a lot with Michael's missing hand. Michael is trying to accept that he's not going to be able to be a field agent anymore. His robotic hand makes him too much of a liability as he can't really be an asset. He's going to be stuck running operations back at headquarters. This is a big move for the character as it shows him trying to move on from his old life. The major issue is that he seems to be emotionally leaving Nikita behind as well. He might still care about her but they haven't been able to connect as they used to. She's not giving up on them yet and there's a pretty great scene where she basically asks him to fight for their relationship. Their relationship is in trouble because both are having difficulty moving past what happened. Nikita is trying to have it like it used to be. This is why she still thinks of Michael as her partner until he tells her that he can't. Michael might be accepting his new fate but he's going nowhere with his relationship with Nikita. He still hasn't even been able to go back home. This is an episode that seems to be moving them towards actually dealing with what happened while at the same time resigning Michael to his new status quo. There is a problem at the ending of the episode that might undermine this but we'll get there in a bit. This shake-up in their relationship and even their mission chemistry is leading to some pretty entertaining and even compelling television.
One reason to watch a procedural isn't because the weekly cases (or missions) are spectacular but because two characters share enough chemistry to draw in a viewer. These characters are able to work well with each other in order to solve the weekly problem. This isn't always the case with Nikita because of the changing nature of the show but Michael and Nikita share an undeniable chemistry in the workplace. They're able to improvise well together as they make quite the team. This is shaken up when Owen is made Nikita's new partner. They're able to complete the mission but it comes with hitches as the two have to get to know the moves of the other. It doesn't help that Owen doesn't have any undercover experience which makes it difficult to properly interact with the local civilians. It's fun to see when things go smoothly but it can be just as entertaining when you know how something is supposed to be doing when it isn't going well. It helps to increase the tension. Having Owen come in as the new partner and exposing how Nikita and Michael are able to compliment each other perfectly was a smart move by the writers. That Michael is desperately trying to make Owen more like him speaks a lot about how he still cares about Nikita but also the kind of person that she needs on the field. Owen might be a good cleaner but it's Michael whose a great field agent.
This leads us to the ending. It makes sense that the writers aren't really going to bench Michael. He needs to be on the missions because the show works best when Nikita and him are trying to save the day. The idea is present through the last two episodes that there's technology out there that might allow Michael to be on the field. When it was brought up, I thought it was a cool robotic machine that would bring Michael closer to being a badass cyborg. What the show intends to is maybe actually give Michael his hand back. I understand the temptation of bringing him back to normal but it worries me. If it's not done right then this whole plot would have been worthless. The status quo will be reverted and the only difference is Michael and Niktia are slightly closer. I might be off-base here and the writers are going to have this mean something but introducing the idea that Michael could go back to exactly how he was is troubling in terms of character development and commitment to changing the status quo. This is a show that has proven that it's willing to shake things up permanently. Cutting off Michael's hand only proved that right but giving it back would prove the reputation to be misfounded. I'm not saying it's a bad decision to make but it's one that could backfire if it's not implemented correctly. As good as this show is, I have my doubts.
I'm not sure where that ending is going to take Nikita but Survival Instincts is a solid entry for the show. It could have been better if the weekly plot had been a little more original but the character work it did was pretty good.
This isn't the first Nikita episode to explore an agent's past as there was the time Nikita thought she found her dad or when she reconnected with Carla but both of these times had a connection with Division. Her dad was actually an agent while Carla was the founder. It would be just as interesting to see an agent that is able to go back to their old life without Division's involvement or them actually being welcomed into it.
I don't think we saw Ryan this episode. What-can't the series afford to put all the main protagonists in one episode or does it have to leave at least one out? Or I could be wrong and Ryan was in it but he just didn't do anything important (or memorable).
I would talk about Alex and Sean this episode but...other than their sudden hook-up it didn't go anywhere character-wise. Alex is still lost and Sean...is still trying to keep Alex out of danger? I'm not sure what he's up to.