Episode 17: Masks
By: Carlos Uribe
Nikita is a show about a female spy who does missions for a secret, undercover government agency.
I don't know about anyone else but I'm really excited to see where Nikita is going to go next. That cliff-hanger ending was one of the best this show has done as it completely ramped up the narrative momentum. Consider the ending: Nikita has been captured by Amanda, Alex has lost control of the mutiny, the mutiny takes over Division, and traitor Owen is stuck inside the facility. The only piece missing to make this the worst possible scenario was the immediate threat of the navy seals or marines. Only the indirect threat does exist in case the President hears about this coup or Danforth's death sets forth the motion to wipe them out. It's nice to see things picking up as we head towards the end of the season. What's best is that getting to that ending largely made a lot of sense. The writers are cheating a bit when it comes to creating motives for Alex and Owen but it largely makes it work within the show's universe. I had problems with last week's episode due to Alex's agency but this episode manages to actually address them. Masks is an episode with an exciting finish but everything that led up to it was pretty great material. The action was as solid as ever, the twists were well executed, and the plots were written well. I would actually go ahead and state that Masks is one of the best episodes this season and maybe even amongst the show.
The question of who we really are comes up in this episode. Do we really know who these characters are? For the most part, we know them after Division has touched their lives. The only characters to really be introduced into Division towards the course of the show are Sean and Ryan. Ryan discovered the organization as an analyst while Sean was put in by his mother to oversee it. He's now been recruited it into it but he started outside of it. It's true we know a lot of who they used to be. Nikita was a drug addict who didn't believe she was special. Birkoff was a computer hacker whose skills got him recruiting into the program. Michael was a soldier who had a family until they got blown up by a terrorist. Alex has had a complicated history that had been revealed over the first season. The one character whose past has remained a complete history is Owen. He couldn't remember who he was. He's been a happy follower but it turns out that was due to the brain work done on him by Amanda. He remembered who he is this episode and in doing so he stops being such a loyal soldier. He used to be Sam. He was in the armed forces but he was abusing his post to smuggle drugs. When his friends tried to cut him out, he took them out. He got recruited by Division as they saved his life. They needed a cold-blooded killer like him but they removed his memories. In doing so, they removed his natural leadership skills and turned him into the guardian they needed.
This is basically all a justification for the writers to turn Owen from a trusted ally into a formidable opponent. He's not interested in being weak-minded Owen anymore but in ruthless Sam. His first action is to trick Nikita and the rest of Division to giving him the address of the one friend he failed to kill. He finished the job and betrayed Nikita. It's a shocking moment but it's ruined because the previews for the episode had ruined it. I hate it when marketing feels the need to spoil plot points but this is what the episode is really about so it makes sense that they were forced to. The surprising part is where he actually succeeds in taking down Nikita and handing her over to Amanda. He finds out that Amanda is not very good at being frugal so he has to go back into Division to retrieve the black box. They don't know he's a traitor but it doesn't matter. Once they figure out that he's after the black box, the mutiny happens. He's stuck inside Division for now but the pressure if for him. If he fails, he doesn't get handsomely rewarded. There are currently three players in the mutiny of Division: Alex, the people involved in the mutiny, and the people loyal to it. He's simply a fourth player to an already complicated situation.
As for Alex, her backbone does stem from a place of character after all. Amanda messed with her mind but in a smart way that made Larissa matter. It turns out that Larissa was never real to begin with. She was a hallucination implanted in Alex's mind. When they would fail to save this imaginary person, Alex would feel survivor's guilt for having lived when nobody else would. The person she would blame is the person who represents power and authority to her: Nikita. The show calls this transference as it uses Alex's survivor’s guilt as a powerful motivator for the character. We got a hint of this when she shot Ryan but now I'm able to understand what happened. To Alex, what happened with Larissa was real. So the events did change her. Amanda might have been the one who influenced this character growth but her agency is real. I'm hoping that once Alex is able to fight back Amanda's mind game that she's able to retain her spine. The idea of who we are comes up with Alex. She's not just a survivor but she's a good person. It's this inherent goodness that's driving her desire to get people out of Division. Amanda is actually depending on this for her plan to work. This is why it's so dangerous that she has lost control of the mutiny. The members now want to kill anyone who refuses to join them which leaves Alex horrified.
Masks is a pretty fantastic episode of Nikita. The main plot was strong throughout. Owen's sudden betrayal of Nikita is a bit too conveniently written but it makes sense as it introduces us to who he is. There's no doubt that the person we know will bleed into him and he'll join the side of our heroes again but he does make a fun villain. The Alex story is salvaged since the whole idea of transference is able to keep some agency with the character. What makes this episode so exiting is actually the ending because the cliff-hanger is executed just about perfectly.