Nikita went into a tailspin last week, largely because it jettisoned much of what made it a good show. Put the pieces back together, and the show gets good again. Who'd have thought?
"My boss doesn't need caffeine, she's high on life," Birkhoff tells a pretty girl named Allison - who happens to be Senator Madeline Pierce's aide - in a coffee shop, as he's putting a tracker in the Senator's coffee. Will Traveler would approve.
Nikita's hoping to get the drop on the remaining members of Oversight by crashing the emergency meeting they've called to discuss her. Division knows she's coming, however, and they're prepared. While Sean pursues Nikita through Washington D.C. in broad daylight to no avail, Birkhoff is kidnapped by Division agents. For the first time in the history of the series, our title heroine has to go it alone. She flips out, knocking over some furniture while calling Michael to scream at him for not being there, having forgotten that she's the one who left him, but in the course of that conversation, they concoct a plan to trade Birkhoff for the black box and discover Sean's parentage. They're efficient!
Birkhoff's interrogation gives Melinda Clarke a chance to follow in Alberta Watson's disturbingly watchable footsteps one more time. She starts with unceremoniously breaking a few fingers, and then we start talking about needles. After a slow start, Clarke has gradually built up Amanda to be almost as scary as Madeline. While I'm glad for that, I like the scenes more for what they allow Aaron Stanford to do. Birkhoff has mostly been reserved for comic relief, but Stanford played a pretty tough and occasionally chilling protagonist in Traveler, and I'd always felt like his Birkhoff could have more edge to him. The interrogation gives him the opportunity to show that tougher side, and he does so.
Nikita offers Amanda the black box in exchange for Birkhoff, but only if Sean makes the switch. There has to be a catch, right? Well, there is. Sean destroys the box rather than give it to Amanda, and Nikita almost seems to take pity on him before she and Birkhoff make her escape. Perhaps she's starting to see parallels between Sean and Michael the way we have for a few episodes now; the guy doesn't exactly have a great poker face. Once Birkhoff is back safely, she sets off to find Owen (Devon Sawa), who is himself looking for another black box.
While all this is going on, Alex is determined to go to Russia in order to kill Semak, who has creepily rebuilt her childhood home after its destruction by Division and is now living in it. Sean doesn't like her plan to make the trip the same way she got out - via sex trafficking - but he does her the favor of keeping his mouth shut. Alex's plan brings her in contact with Oksana (that's The Good Guys' Angela Serafyan) and an ICE agent who takes bribes (Alphas star Malik Yoba). When the situation disintegrates, Alex shoots the ICE agent and is left responsible for Oksana and the rest of her friends. She makes sure the girls can start new lives before heading off to finish her mission. It's decision time for Sean, whose mom wants him to turn on Alex, but who seems like he's hesitating.
"Fair Trade" is an obvious improvement over last week's jaw-droppingly bad "London Calling," but it's also a pretty good episode in its own right. There was some legitimate suspense and there were also some cringe-worthy moments (raise your hand if you got really uncomfortable at that needle up the nose!) as we head toward Nikita's midseason hiatus. The actors who were wasted last week are back in their best form this week, particularly Aaron Stanford and Melinda Clarke.
And after screwing up Sean's character last time out, "Fair Trade" seems to set him back on track for the most part - thankfully, because Dillon Casey has been growing on me with every episode. He's no Shane West, but he doesn't have to be. Speaking of Shane, absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder, because this certainly felt like a different show with his limited appearance. It didn't quite pop like it does when he's on screen, but that's just fine, because we know he'll be back.
Season two of Nikita has had its ups and downs. One week I like it, the next I can't believe it. Still, with episodes like this, I'm interested in seeing where the show leaves off at midseason, which should give us a better indication of the show's long-term prognosis. "Fair Trade" has earned my loyalty for another week.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.