by Za’chary Westbrook
4 out of 5
I will give his to the CW, that they have perfected a special kind of awful that succeeds in being a guilty pleasure without actually making you kind of a bad person for watching (unlike Jersey Shore or The Real Whatever of Inconsequential). Nikita is B-grade espionage thrills, no question. But it’s dedicatedly B-grade, you kind of have to love it. It’s not ignorant of it’s low-thrill factor, it just doesn’t care. The action sequences are okay, with the fight scenes knowing how to use the cameras to supplement the choreography, yet there’s a conspicuous lack of car chases and Maggie Q is attractive without ever being really sexy (unless you’re really into women doing karate).
In Free, Nikita’s protégé Alex is graduating from underground spy camp to apartment dwelling agent. There’s some token angst over the death of Thom, Alex’s fellow Division recruit who figured out she was a mole, but just enough. These are spies, we aren’t tuning in to watch them have emotions. However, in Alex’s case we kind of need some nod to her having feelings because she’s a) a rookie and b) a double agent. Some internal conflict keeps that as realistic as anything else in the show.
There is a subplot involving a tracking chip which may have a kill switch, but it gets buried pretty early on. It may become a thing later, but I sort of doubt it. More of the plot focuses on Alex adjusting to living in the real world again, which succeeds in being interesting through its minimalism. The ultra spy world of Division is a vague stand-in for University (or High School, as this is the CW) and Alex being sent out into the real world has a very relatable set of fears attached to it for the target audience.
There’s a cute boy across the hall (who I suspect will turn out to be a Division asset, later) and a debacle at a house party. There’s a throw-away gag about Alex grocery shopping and a few flashbacks to her and her father doing wilderness survival training back in… Russia? Maybe?
On Nikita’s side, she needs Division hacker Birkhoff to give her the password to his laptop so she can do a thing that is very important. Something about Alex’s chip, probably. Using new buddy Ryan to bring Birkhoff in, she gets the info right as Michael arrives and escapes in a flurry of beating up security guards. Good times.
This episode was a bridging episode. In a low action series like this, a change of set pieces can’t just happen. If this was Alias (of even Chuck), the episode could have opened with Sydney/Bartowski in an unfamiliar apartment doing five minutes worth of morning routine followed by someone at work going “How are the new digs?” That’s it. Nikita, however, hinges a lot of its tension on how Alex doesn’t really know what she’s doing. This means taking change a bit slower.
Also, because it’s so low on action, coming back from a break with more traditional spy action would be a bit of a jolt. This show takes three episodes to build up to real spy action, and that’s okay. This was a well-paced episode, developing the change of status for our characters which will get lip-serviced in the future, but be largely inconsequential. Again, it’s okay. This is a relaxed spy show because, why not?
The one little hole I’ll point out is at the end. After Nikita tells Alex her chip’s signal has been rerouted, allowing Nikita to control where Division thinks Alex is, we cut to Michael seeing Alex in her apartment, while Alex is really hitting a club with her new neighbor. Here’s the thing: Alex now has a Division credit card (something they used to track Birkhoff retroactively earlier in the episode). So, if Alex actually uses the card (her sole form of legal tender) at the club, won’t Division immediately know something is wrong with her chip? Okay, maybe Alex hit an ATM before Nikita locked the signal in her apartment, but how is… nevermind.