Nikita, Get Your Gun: Cult Film Character Gets a New Start on TV

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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Maggie Q plays Nikita, performing her own stunts.
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

By now, it seems to me that you, dear readers, and I are on terms intimate enough for me to share with you some information about my old – and fairly new, so it seems – flames. And when I say old, I mean just that, because my (one-sided) love affair with the young woman (or women, as you’ll soon learn) started in 1990.

She turned out to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. True, she was a lone misfit, hovering on the borderline of crime and drugs and and yes, she was involved in an attempt to rob a drugstore which had ended badly with her shooting a cop. But it was implied at the outset that she was more sinned against (by life and circumstances) than sinning.

However, the real story was not about what had brought a girl like her to a place like that. It was, rather, about the place itself: a sci-fi-high-tech organization called Centre, a shadowy government agency that fights terrorism. To the world out there it looks like she was executed for her crimes, dead and buried. In reality – and in a moment a few words of explanation will be needed about the nature of that “reality” – she is trained to be a ruthless and efficient operative with a license to kill whoever Centre deems fit to die, for whatever reason. Sure enough, she has moral and psychological qualms about her new life-in-and-with death, and so do we, the viewers.

As you may have surmised, the reality I mentioned in the last paragraph was on screen: I merely summarized for you briefly the premise and plot of the 1990 Luc Besson movie “Nikita,” starring Anne Parrilaud as the eponymous heroin[e] (a lame pun, intended because of its aptness). Jeanne Moreau appears as Amande, one of her trainers, who manages to make a femme fatale out of the misguided junkie, and Jean Reno plays “the cleaner,” who is supposed to salvage her failed mission.

By the end of the movie, which became kind of a cult film, Nikita manages to slip out of Centre’s clutches, but it was not the end for her. On the contrary: it was just a new beginning. By 1993, Warner Bros., who had distributed the original French movie, decided on a remake, starring Bridget Fonda (with Besson co-writing the script), and by 1997 Nikita returned as a lead in a American TV series, entitled “La Femme Nikita” (with a bow to the French origins of the story), developed and produced by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, who will – in time – also give us the “24” series, due to return to world TV screens soon.

Both Parrilaud and Fonda were brunettes, not that there is anything wrong with that. In the new TV series, Nikita was a ravishing blonde, played by the Australian actress Peta Wilson. Unlike in the movies, she was innocent, and although more than fit to perform as a Section One operative (seductive and lethal), she was perennially troubled by her immoral life in captivity (the only way out of Section One seemed to be being “cancelled,” a euphemism for a swift and violent demise). Her most endearing quality for both viewers and colleagues on screen and off (her blank faced trainer, Michael, who falls for her and vice versa, the tech wizard Birkoff, and the two bosses, the male Operations, and the female Madeline, who manipulate her) was her deeply hurt look, with pain reflected in her eyes and evident in the partial constant pout of very lovely lips. Here was a damsel capable of taking care of herself (and inflicting heavy damage on others, male or female, with an array of arms – but mainly by deft use of her shapely limbs) and yet seem to be in distress.

By the time the series had run its course (after five seasons, with Nikita managing to escape the clutches of Section One and starting to regain her own life), both it and the star had a cult following, with Vladimir Putin admitting (in 2001) he was a fan. But the new bosses of the cable network that produced it were not part of its fan base, and even the campaign SFN (Save la Femme Nikita) did not prevent the series’ cancellation in 2001.

So why am I going on about such old news? Because Nikita was not to be vanquished that easily. In 2010 she was reborn, as “Nikita,” produced by CW Television Network, having the same premise, and some of the same characters, but with a different set of actors. In its third (or fourth, if we include the movie remake) incarnation, Nikita is a black-haired oriental, played by Maggie Q, who also – and it is worth noting in an action series – performs her own stunts. By now she has gone rogue, and is intent on bringing Division (aka Centre, aka Section One) down. Division itself had gone rogue as well, in a way, and instead of being a black ops section of the U.S. government, it now runs a policy of its own, although Oversight tries hard to keep it in line (the actress Alberta Watson, who played Madeline in “La Femme Nikita,” is now a senator and a member of Oversight, the only remnant of the first series).

By now, “Nikita” bites the TV dust as well, at least in the U.S. It was moderately successful, but the plot had ran its course. After Nikita trained her successor, Alex (the actress Lyndsy Fonseca, another dark-haired lass with pouting lips, deeply damaged and with a propensity to use violence when need be), she manages to install Alex in Division as her mole, and Alex turns against her, and back again. This time it took four seasons, with the last episode, broadcast on December 27, 2013, having less than a million viewers.

But here in Israel, we are – luckily in my view – behind the times. HOT Zone is now running Season 2, Sunday-Thursday at 22.45 (this week may differ due to Holocaust Memorial Day), which leaves us with almost three seasons to go, and it can also be seen on HOT VOD. You don’t need to know details of the plot, because you will never understand what is going on, or why, in any given episode. Don’t be afraid of spoilers, as the plot twists and turns much too quickly for any spoiling. Follow the girls, who manage to be as menacing as can be and yet make you want to protect them from any harm the screenwriters intend to inflict. It is in color, of course, but the feeling it leaves you with is decidedly black and white. Not only because you never know who is good and who is bad, but mainly because this is as close as you can get to TV noir.

Go girl, Nikita.