Nikita spent a little too much time laying out the changes in its game last week. Thankfully, this week it has the return of Owen (Devon Sawa) to give it a shot in the arm.
We begin the episode in - of all places - Connecticut, where there's an awkward conversation between a guy and his father, before a mysterious man drops off an unmarked package at the window of the guy's ice cream truck. It's got a gun in it, and the resulting phone call brainwashes the poor sap into using that weapon to trying to kill a Senator. His father is not too happy when he's cut down by the security detail.
Some time later, Nikita is brooding in front of Birkhoff's computer when he gets home. She asks him if she can borrow $100,000 to buy the identity of another Oversight member from a political aide. He declines and furthermore suggests that she and Michael start looking for a new residence, until Michael returns and turns on the news for the report about the dead kid. He suggests it's part of a project called P9, which bred assassins with "a super teched-out version of hypnosis," according to Birkhoff.
Michael has a particular chip on his shoulder about P9 because he supervised an operation in 2003 that executed several test subjects and burned the project's compound to the ground. He wants to stay and dig into the developing situation, over Nikita's insistence that they need to go meet the aide. Birkhoff witnesses their argument and tells her that they have until the end of the week to move out.
Amanda also wants to know why P9 has resurfaced, and has to explain it to Sean (and by extension, us). "The hits look like random acts of violence from mentally disturbed individuals. Personally, I found it disgusting," she tells him. He doesn't share her sentiment.
She asks Alex to inquire with Percy about Operation Falling Ash, and calls it "a favor" and herself as Alex's "business partner." Alex is cynical, but Amanda persuades her with a list of people close to her father's killer. She asks Alex to bring her information on any loose ends regarding P9 or the compound fire. She goes down to Percy's cell, and he inquires about her recent injuries and what she's learned from them, before making a list of demands.
Michael and Nikita have arrived at the site of the fire, looking for a safe hidden in the office of the doctor who supervised the project. Instead, they find Owen, who says he was on the strike team that Michael supervised years earlier. He tells them about Dr. Joseph Mars and that he saved the man's life. Cue ominous music.
Owen explains that Percy ordered him to extract Dr. Mars, but in order to cover that up, he also required the execution of everyone else. Mars later went on to invent the Regimen that Owen and all the other Guardians are on. The three of them find the safe only to see that it's empty. Percy tells Alex that Mars has disappeared, but that the data for Operation Falling Ash is in the black box and that he expects Nikita to come to the same conclusion - namely, that the Senator from earlier is still a target and that the sleeper agents will make another attempt on his life.
The Senator's next stop is a black tie fundraiser, which is an excuse for us to appreciate Nikita, Michael and Owen all dressed up. They prowl the room looking for anyone suspicious, and Nikita spots the potential hitman, but she turns out to be mistaken. She takes a glance across the room and sees that Alex has arrived, at the same time that the real sleeper is activated. It's Alex who ends up shoving the Senator out of the way of another assassination attempt.
That night at Birkhoff's house, Owen wants to know where Nikita got her black box, and she tells him that Michael swiped Percy's master drive when he left Division. He tells her that he's better than he was the last time she saw him, and that he plans on destroying the remaining Guardians and Percy. He's practically daring her to stop him, but she doesn't. This is when the sleeper agent wakes up, realizes what she almost did, and freaks out. In the living room, Birkhoff is having his own freakout on Michael, but it's Owen who convinces him to shut up and go away.
Nikita explains to the sleeper agent - a young staffer named Alicia - what happened to her. She shows Alicia a picture of Dr. Mars and she identifies him as Dr. Francis from a rehab clinic that she went to. Alicia tells her about her time at the clinic, which provides Nikita valuable information. The next day she shows up at the mysterious clinic posing as a junkie, while Owen and Michael hang out in a car outside. "You get how lucky you are?" Owen says. "You got out of Division with the woman you love. That's what I used to want for me and Emily." He wants to know why Michael and Nikita are still in the spy game at all, and Michael clearly starts wondering the same thing.
Alicia shares some pizza with Birkhoff, calling the bedroom she was in "kinda depressing." The two are awkwardly social, and he nearly chokes on his beverage when he realizes she's into his hardware. Turns out that she used to work in Information Technology for a big company. He assures her that Nikita and company will "set things straight." Aw, it's geek bonding!
As for Alex, she's being bailed out of a jail cell by Sean, who's irate, calling her "stubborn, stupid and tactically inept." She points out that "you came all the way over here to tell me that." He begrudgingly admits that she saved the Senator's life.
Nikita is still sneaking her way around the clinic, looking at all the unsuspecting victims. More ominous music swells as she enters an empty room and gets caught by the not-so-good-doctor himself, who forces her into a treatment chair. It's one of those twists you probably should have seen coming. With Birkhoff hacking in to give them a little help (and aw, "Shadow-walker" has a fan in Alicia!), Owen and Michael go to rescue her. Mayhem ensues, whether it's Michael and Owen shooting up the hallway, or Nikita using a chair as a weapon. Ladies and gentlemen, in all honesty, I would not want to cross any of these people. I have sat across a table from both Shane West and Maggie Q, and their biceps intimidate me.
Dr. Mars is ticked off at this mass destruction, and decides to activate the P9 program on his newest batch of victims right in front of our heroes. This re-triggers Alicia, who knocks Birkhoff unconscious with a snowglobe. The rest of them basically stand around like confused zombies. When he comes to, Birkhoff is determined to save Alicia. Michael and Nikita hurry to catch up with him, taking Owen's word that he can clear things up at the clinic. That smirk on his face tells us it's going to be a lot more fun than they think it is.
En route to catching up with Birkhoff, Michael and Nikita realize that the Senator was not the intended target, and find their friend and the poor zombie at the house of a judge who sits on the board of the charity the Senator was working with. Birkhoff's very expensive sports car takes a hail of bullets, but Nikita is able to subdue Alicia and stuff her in the back seat of their car. "If you want to be conscious for the car ride home," she warns Birkhoff, "shut up."
They make it back to Birkhoff's place, and he tells Owen that three black boxes are located in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. He's on the road, but not before telling Nikita that one of the things he found on Dr. Mars's computer was a way for him to detox. We haven't seen the last of him.
At Division, Alex is looking at a file photo of the man who ordered her father's murder when Sean walks in and talks about his experience as a Navy SEAL. He tells her how he wasn't able to kill his partner, and so that partner went on to suffer through torture because of it. With that hanging between them, he encourages her to take the shot next time she sees Nikita - as a way of showing her mercy she won't be afforded if she's captured. Wow, maybe the dude has some sort of heart after all.
In the final minutes we learn that Birkhoff has a program that checks incoming news against what's in the black box. Well, that will come in handy. Oh, and Nikita apologizes to Michael for doubting his instinct about P9. That doesn't stop him from finding that fallen snowglobe and thinking about their life on a tropical island somewhere.
So what's that mysterious business arrangement Owen has with Gogol? He's partnered with them to accomplish his own personal mission, but they're not too receptive to his demand that nothing happens to Nikita. He might just be in over his head...but something tells me he'll be able to get out.
"Falling Ash" is a lot more exciting than "Game Change," and I'm going to chalk that up to two things: having moved past all that season-opening exposition, and the return of Devon Sawa. The first part is self-explanatory, but it's the latter that has been paying dividends for a long time now. It's clear that the Nikita writers knew they had something more than they expected when they cast Devon Sawa as Owen, and they've smartly brought him back time and again - but not enough that they overuse him. There's a tendency on shows to rely on too much of a good thing, and we're getting just the right amount of Owen to keep us wanting more. Bravo to Devon for another great guest appearance, and I look forward to seeing him in the future.
Now that we have all the proverbial pieces lined up thanks to "Game Change," we enjoy a lot more action in "Falling Ash." The shootout between Michael and Owen and the clinic baddies was a favorite of mine; as I said last week, I love it when Shane West gets to remind us that Maggie Q isn't the only badass on the scene. The show's called Nikita, but honestly, I'm more impressed by Shane's equally viable combination of brains and brawn, because it's not what I expected two seasons ago. He just keeps getting better and better. He's come a long way from Once & Again, that's for sure, and he and Devon Sawa make a good pair. Plus, these fight scenes aren't pretty TV battles - they're ugly, real brawls where anything is a weapon, just like it would be in real life.
And lastly, I'm very glad to see a little wrinkle in Sean's stoic personality. From the last episode I was worried he would be just a one-dimensional pain in the behind. But with just a few lines, we see that he might actually have a heart - and so I can see where he might actually end up being a good foil to Alex through the season. As far as the plans to make him a love interest, that I'd have to see to believe, but Alex needs someone to bounce off of - the Michael to her Nikita, if you will.
Way to bounce back, Nikita. I'll see you next week.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.