This week's Nikita is a high and a low. Shane West can still turn in a performance like nobody's business - even if it's in another formulaic episode filled with plot concerns.
Apparently Michael shares my affinity for pina coladas. I approve. But wait, who's this blonde woman he's with? That's Cassandra Ovechkin (Helena Mattsson). Relax, kids - this was six years ago. And she's the First Lady of Belarus, and up until two seconds ago she thought that he was a cultural attache named Jonathan she was bedding, not an agent there to kill her husband.
While Michael's operation succeeded, Division replaced him with a double who's gone even more nuts, declaring martial law - and now Michael feels responsible for Cassandra's well-being. Needless to say, Nikita is immediately suspicious of her even as Michael walks off determined to rescue her. Things get really uncomfortable between Michael and Nikita, because she reminds him that he knew "every single time" she had to get romantically involved with somebody. He insists that Cassandra was the only such case in his book.
At Division, Alex bluntly comes up and summarizes her situation from last episode to Amanda. Amanda wants her to help take down the faux-dictator and she refuses, which gets the attention of Sean. "You can't build your whole life around revenge. There has to be something else," he tells her, something many of our main characters know well by now.
At an auction house in the Belarusian capital, Nikita makes contact with Cassandra, and leads her directly to Michael. What Michael is not expecting is her son. The look on his face clearly says that he did not plan for this. It's not his kid, but kids do make missions really complicated. Not to mention assets having their own plans and not wanting your help in the first place. The brush-off doesn't sit well with Michael, who has a quick flashback to his own daughter Haley, and we know what happened to her.
Division's team is busy trying to off Faux-Dictator their own way, but the mission goes wrong when Lisa, the original asset, is captured. Sean springs into action to rescue her, but Amanda tells him that their assets are deniable (read: expendable). He is infuriated by this and decides to go after her anyway, which draws Alex's attention. She decides that she's going with him. "She's only there because I turned the mission down," he reminds her. "Not because it's the right thing to do," he retorts.
Birkhoff makes a Cerebro reference when Michael asks why he didn't know that Cassandra had a son. Nikita asks Michael why he was with Cassandra if he was so busy trying to avenge his family that he couldn't be with her, and he tells her that those were two separate people. The Michael that was with Cassandra was trying to find fulfillment in serving his country, and she was a part of that puzzle, not a part of his future.
Cassandra's eyebrow gets raised when Faux-Dictator decides to keep their son while she goes to Paris. So much for her own escape plan. She confronts him about what he's doing and he says that he's building a legacy for the kid. That's enough to get her to reconsider Michael and Nikita's offer of help. She meets Michael at the auction house, only long enough for them to exchange information and for there to be an awkward but innocuous hug Nikita can stare at.
Birkhoff tells everyone that they have a very limited window to get Cassandra and her son on their waiting jet, and what they'll have to do to make that happen - namely, use Cassandra's spa appointment to help her escape and sneak her son out of his piano lesson. The first part is simple enough. The second involves Nikita popping out of a vent in the Presidential palace with a phone to convince the kid that mom says it's okay to go with the nice lady. As if that's not weird enough, she's got to get him out a window and the kid does not like heights. That last part's a deal-breaker, and she aborts the mission.
Lisa is chained up in a factory being tortured by Faux-Dictator. Amanda calls Faux-Dictator and basically taunts him, which gets him to shoot Lisa just moments before Alex and Sean can get there to save her. Even New Female Assistant is shocked by that one. "We're not going anywhere," Sean tells Alex when she asks about their exit. He wants to kill Faux-Dictator, which might be awkward as Michael has just told Nikita that they need him alive.
Escape plan number two: crack a party at the Presidential palace and escape in a diplomatic car. That's the same car that Sean wants to blow up. As he gets worked up about Lisa's death, Amanda tells Percy that "Sometimes you have to sacrifice a pawn to motivate the knights," and we realize that she's just as manipulative as ever.
Outside the party, Michael has to remind Nikita again that there's nothing going on between him and Cassandra. She points out that this situation has some uncomfortable parallels with the deaths of his wife and daughter, and that he might just be trying to save them again by saving Cassandra and her son. They start having a cute moment at a bad time, as the party has started and it's game on.
Alex is already inside cozying up to Faux-Dictator pretending to be a translator for the Germans while Sean plants the bomb in the car. Not to mention that the kid, because he's four, has a hard time keeping his mouth shut about "waiting for the lady." As a result, his nanny has a gun and starts shooting. Michael tells Cassandra to get to the car and goes back to help Nikita. Do you see the unfortunate unintended consequence possibly on the horizon?
Nikita rescues the kid and reunites the tyke with his wife at the same time Alex gets Faux-Dictator to leave the party. As Sean readies the bomb, Birkhoff picks up its signal, sending Nikita and Michael into a panic. You guessed it: Michael almost gets there in time, but only close enough that he can watch the car blow up in front of his face. Thankfully, Nikita has rescued Cassandra and her son from the burning wreckage. She lets the three of them have their moment while looking really uncomfortable.
Realizing he's been had, Faux-Dictator decides to shoot Alex. Sean comes to her rescue by dropping him unconscious and then shooting him. This, of course, causes even more of a panic. Cassandra tells Nikita and Michael to go, and elects to stay behind with her son. When she hears that Faux-Dictator is dead, she seizes the moment to take control of the situation.
While Sean and Alex start to bond, we get some seriously unneeded ominous dramatic music as Percy gets dressed in one of his suits (but still in his box) and declares, "It's a start."
Michael gets one last chance to talk to Cassandra, and apologizes for six years earlier, saying he hopes that she can move on and find a future. She tells him that he gave her what she needed six years ago - that part wasn't an act even if his role was. Nikita also talks to Cassandra and in the resulting awkward conversation, Nikita tells her that thanks to the kid's mouth, she's figured out he's not four. Michael is the kid's father after all. Cassandra has no intention of telling Michael, because she knows that Michael can't stay and that the kid would be a potential weakness. "The decision is yours," she tells Nikita, and walks off.
That sound you hear is my head hitting my desk at a last plot twist that feels more like a soap opera cliche than anything that belongs on Nikita.
It's true that "Looking Glass" follows the same basic story formula that we've seen in "Knightfall" and "Partners." Discover something in the past, feel badly about it, try to rectify it, repeat. My concerns about the show's repetition remain valid. Yet I was really close to forgiving it that, since it shifted the focus to Michael and Shane West obviously delivered, and it also developed the relationship between Sean and Alex into something actually interesting. Maybe the formula had served a purpose this time.
But what purpose does the idea that Michael fathered another child really serve? Granted, we may have to wait until the end of the season to see how it plays out; I would cry foul if the show introduced the idea as merely a one-off never to be mentioned again. But as it stands right now, it seems to be two things: cliche and unwieldy.
We've seen the "Character B comes back into Character A's past and is it his kid?" storyline before. It didn't get any better when we had to start introducing flashbacks to Michael's family, as if the script somehow thought we wouldn't be able to get that hint without the visual aids and Nikita's speech to Michael about having a new family. Not to mention trying to make Nikita look jealous throughout the episode; I was hoping she'd be more mature than that. The whole concept was heavy-handed in its execution.
Beyond that, I'm just not sure how this improves the show in any way. The only thing it seems to do is set us up for the inevitable episode in which Cassandra and/or her son are put in danger, Michael finds out they're his family, and must go rescue them again. What else could they do with the idea that would even make sense? Cassandra's not going to part with the kid, but Michael's not going to run off with her either, so the kid is largely out of the picture unless she dies. Even if that happens, you wouldn't see Michael and Nikita running around with a kid (as Birkhoff pointed out this week, they cause enough problems), and I don't see Michael giving him up for adoption considering how badly he wants a family. Unless, of course, it's for another melodramatic moment of angst. (Having the car blow up right in front of Michael's face? C'mon now.) Now that the show has introduced this piece of the puzzle, even though it is so cliche, something ought to be done with it that is appropriate to the character of Michael, and I just don't know how that can be done. I suppose we'll wait and see.
Putting the major plot problems aside, this is a great episode acting-wise for both Shane West and Dillon Casey. We know from season one that when you put an episode on Shane's shoulders, he can carry it and then some; look at "One Way," for example. "Looking Glass" is no exception.
I've always thought Michael's backstory was a lot more fascinating than Nikita's, since Nikita fits the relative "mold" that Division recruited, whereas Michael had his own much more twisty way of getting there. But to deliver a complex history, you need a very smart actor, and Shane is very smart. He makes excellent acting choices. It's easy to see the toll that the situation takes on Michael mentally and emotionally, between trying to make amends for the past and trying to assure Nikita that it doesn't jeopardize their future. He conveys a lot, even when he's not saying anything, which has always been one of Shane's strengths. I continue to remain impressed by him as an actor. (You can read my recent interview with him here.)
As for Dillon Casey, the man finally gets to do some heavy lifting and show us a great deal about what makes Sean tick. Up to this point, he hadn't been much more than a snarky foil, but now we understand some of his motivations and morals. Now that I have a deeper understanding of his character, I want to know more about him, and I'm starting to see just how he may click with Alex later on down the line. In this one episode he went from practical non-entity to practical male lead of the series, in terms of how he's got more screen time and development thus far than either Aaron Stanford or Xander Berkeley. (That's a whole other issue I'm sure the series will address later on, at least, I hope it will.)
If "Looking Glass" taught us one thing, it's that there still are some supremely gifted actors in the Nikita cast. Shane West continues to be the best actor no one seems to be talking about, and Dillon Casey finally proved why he was hired. Lyndsy Fonseca and Maggie Q are always dependable for good performances. Now could the scripts please give the actors the caliber of material that they deserve? There's a great second season waiting to be had here, if we can find where it went.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.