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'Nikita' Season 2, Episode 9 Recap

by Laura Prudom, posted Nov 19th 2011 12:00AM
Amanda and Birkoff['Nikita' - 'Fair Trade']

I had a feeling that last week's lackluster episode was just a fluke; this week's installment was a welcome return to the 'Nikita' we know and love, advancing the storyline while providing palpable tension throughout the well-paced hour.

'Fair Trade' was a long-overdue showcase for Aaron Stanford, with Birkoff the focal point for much of the hour, and for anyone who underestimates the importance of our resident nerd, this episode was a welcome reminder of just how integral he is not just to operations, but apparently to Nikita's sanity too. We never forget the devotion that Nikita and Michael share, but sometimes it's easy to overlook our irritable little hacker, grumbling in the corner but always coming through for our heroes whenever they're in a tight spot.

Sadly, even though the loss of Birkoff sent Nikita off the deep end, his presence beforehand wasn't quite enough to stop our heroine from going "on a bender" this week, behaving even more recklessly than usual in Michael's absence.

Despite their geographical distance, it was a relief to see Nikita call Michael in her moment of panic -- partly because she had no-one else to turn to, certainly, but also because she knows she can rely on him no matter what's going on in their romantic life. That kind of unconditional love is exactly what every disgruntled Mikita fan should hold on to, because Michael was more than willing to drop everything to hop on the first flight back to America to offer Nikita support. The fact that he can also keep a cool head in a crisis (unlike his other half) and happens to know Division's protocol for interrogation is just gravy. My heart broke for Nikita when she screamed at Michael for not being there -- it was such an honest moment for her, and I'm only sad that Michael couldn't provide her with a good answer.

Proving that they're a kickass team no matter how many miles separate them, Nikita and Michael came up with an excellent plan to rescue Birkoff from Amanda's clutches, even if it would require an ominous-sounding "sacrifice." It was a wise decision for the producers to remove the black box from the board for the time being; it reintroduces the "quest" aspect of the show that we enjoyed in the first season, giving Nikita another goal to pursue to help distract her from Michael's absence, and allowing the writers to shake things up without falling into a storytelling rut.

The black box is, by design, a deus ex machina, and if it exists purely to dispense knowledge and provide missions for the team to embark upon, it's a dangerous plot device to have. Far better to have Nikita back out on the road and relying on her wits to uncover intel, especially since she now has Birkoff to decrypt the next box she retrieves with minimal drama. And since Sean helpfully destroyed the master box, poor Amanda still has to rely on Percy and his beautiful mind if she hopes to keep up with Nikita.

Speaking of Amanda; how thrilling was it to see her truly unleash her dark side this week? Amanda has always been ruthless and calculating, but mental manipulation still can't beat the visceral impact of physical torture, especially when the interrogator seems to take such gleeful pleasure in the torment. Kudos to Melinda Clarke for portraying our woman on top with such delicious malice.

I've seen enough genre shows to have grown desensitized to most forms of on-screen torture, but that cranial needle was one of the most chilling implements I've ever seen on a network drama, and I couldn't help but cringe as Amanda pushed it up Birkoff's nose, even if I felt fairly confident that the show wasn't about to lobotomize one of its regular characters. Suspension of disbelief is one of the most necessary components of a drama series, and it's a testament to the writers and actors that 'Nikita' truly makes us believe that our favorite characters are in danger of being maimed horribly every week.

We dove a little deeper into Sean's relationship with Madeline in this episode, seeing the ex-SEAL losing his cool with Amanda but still managing to orchestrate a fairly successful meeting between the mysterious members of Oversight. True, Nikita did uncover two extra identities in addition to Madeline's, but not only did she not kill his mommy dearest, Sean also successfully snagged Birkoff, despite his normally foolproof method of hiding himself; I'd chalk that up in the win column, if I were Sean.

Though Sean's more overt method of seducing Alex failed miserably last week, actor Dillon Casey did point out to me that Sean is now firmly entrenched in Alex's head, and he certainly dug his claws in a little deeper in 'Fair Trade.' He seems to be taking the sweet and sympathetic route for now, lending our troubled Russian a sympathetic ear as she goes after Semak, and that hidden tracker in her father's watch is doubtless going to come in handy further down the line.

Though Alex has spent the majority of this season (okay, the majority of the show's run so far) being manipulated every which-way by everyone around her, this episode also served to remind us that she's far more capable than she seems, especially compared to the lost girls she encountered on her circuitous journey back into Russia. It might be foolish of Alex to attempt to face Semak head on, but few agents would be brave -- or arrogant -- enough to drop into enemy territory without backup, all in the name of revenge. As suicidal as it is, I still think she should be commended for her resolve. I hope we see more of this confident, resilient Alex, since I think it does her a disservice to constantly see her as someone else's pawn.

I do so love the little touches that are often thrown into fight scenes, like last week's ceiling-walk or Nikita throwing a ball at a police officer to waylay Sean in this episode, but my favorite scene this week was one of the simplest. Nikita's final scene with Birkoff was understated and undeniably touching; I loved the subtlety of Nikita reaching out to take Birkoff's glass when his hand began to shake after his ordeal -- it was an elegant way of conveying the care between the two without either of them getting too mushy about it. Her "you're so worth it," helped too. More adventures with Nikki and Nerd, I say!

'Nikita' airs Fridays at 8PM ET on The CW. The show takes a one-week break next week and returns for the midseason finale on Dec. 2nd.

What did you think of Birkoff's central role this week? Did you miss Michael? Were you as impressed (and terrified) by Amanda as I was? Share your reactions below!

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA

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nidesola

Freaking good episode. I just became a Nikita fan recently, & I'm not regretting a minute of it.

November 22 2011 at 2:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nikitacalifornia

7. Glad Alex is finally back in Russia to proceed with her mission. I like that she had a few action scenes this week. The high point of her scenes so far this season was her Yuri interview and that fight scene with Nikita in the alley.

Sorry this is so long! I didn't mean to write so much.

November 20 2011 at 3:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nikitacalifornia's comment
lauraprudom

No need to apologize - thanks for sharing your thoughts! I love that the show always gives us so much to think about and digest after the fact. I agree that Nikita probably would've been wise to wound Sean properly, but in a way, I wonder if she's trying not to antagonize him -- she appealed to his better nature in pointing out that a decorated war vet shouldn't be allying himself with Oversight/Division, so perhaps she thinks she can sway him by proving that she doesn't want to hurt a "boy scout" whose intentions are honorable.

November 20 2011 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nikitacalifornia

So, while I think that she is always competent, it showed a raw emotional engagement with others. Nikita is always wondering what makes her so good, why she was the best at Division despite her extreme discomfort with the jobs she was made to do. I’ve always assumed that the combination of her improvisational know-how and her coolness under fire are key components of her super-hero vibe. She’s not any weaker for having a momentary collapse; we see her quickly recover and pull off the negotiation once she and Michael work out the details together.
4. Madeline- she is definitely approaching the Madeleine character from the original series in utter ruthlessness. I find it funny when people seem to buy her whole, “I want to clean up Division vibe” since she’s clearly a psychopath. It has always been her that Nikita most consistently shows just a hint of fear of—whenever she’s mentioned, Nikita quickly shudders. When she’s torturing Birkhoff and Sonia interrupts her, I loved that brief moment when she screams at her and looks like she’s going to finish using that nasty probe any way. Even she can lose control. I also like how she seems genuinely bothered by her inability to understand Birkhoff’s loyalty to Nikita or Nikita’s willingness to barter the black box for her friend. Great line when Nikita defines a friend as someone who knows you and likes you anyway. I also think they’re positioning Sonia to have a larger role.
5. Also loved it when Nikita disarms Sean. He looked shocked. The whole “hope you’re wearing Kevlar” part I found less than believable though. Seems like she’d at least wound him as well. I know she doesn’t “kill for nothing” but he is one of her main adversaries and she shoots for much less and doesn’t blink.
6. Michael in London; I won’t comment too much. I’m all for friction in the relationship but don’t think Cassandra eps have been that compelling. Also hated the whole, “you’re American so we fight with a different ji jitsu” or “I don’t have the same resistance to mind altering drugs that I used to” lines since she just doesn’t seem believable as a James Bond type. I won’t be surprised if we discover it’s not Michael’s child. I did find Laura’s comments last week about Nikita deciding to walk away really interesting. She definitely thinks that M might choose his child over her (I think she completely understands that choice even if it hurts her) and so is trying to protect herself by walking away first since she has been abandoned her whole life. She’s clearly “on a bender” to avoid thinking too much about it and the small details like her bruises and of course pulling bullets out of her vest are quite indicative or her over-the-top willingness to sacrifice herself. Part of me thinks she does these crazy things though because she’s so (over)confident in her abilities that she really thinks she’ll always be able to get away.

November 20 2011 at 3:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nikitacalifornia

First, let me add my voice to the chorus to say how much I enjoy your recaps every week Laura. After watching an episode, it’s great fun to read your blog (and the comments), as you do a nice job analyzing both character development and more detail oriented stuff such as action scenes, etc. I was a big fan of the original series and I think that this one also rocks. The cast is great and the writing is consistently entertaining. This week’s highlights in no particular order:

1. The chase scene was fabulous. Loved that Nikita was barefoot and still pounding the pavement. Not everyone looks great running, but Maggie Q makes it look so athletic and effortless at the same time. I know we have to suspend our disbelief to enjoy any show, but of course I found myself laughing to think that somehow all of those back up security people following Sean seem to have gotten lost along the way too. (At the end, I also found myself wondering how in the middle of a major urban center Division couldn’t manage to follow that helicopter’s whereabouts. Very hard to believe that Amanda, once she had the black box, wouldn’t do everything possible to track down 2 of Division’s greatest enemies.)

2. The Nikita/Birkhoff scenes were great. Having Birkhoff more front and center has been one of the highlights this season. I like that he’s one of the only people who dares to try to talk sense to Nikita and although one imagines that the 3 of them have gotten closer shacking up together, it’s nice when the series shows some tender moments with N and S. We’ve seen Michael and Birkhoff interact on a more personal level over the series (e.g. in the shooting range or in Com last season, Michael patting Birkhoff’s shoulder when the programmed assassin woman in Ep 2 says she cant remember anything from the past few weeks, etc.), but I find Nikita’s relationships with others in her life just as compelling and character building as her relationship with Michael. For example, I don’t particularly love Alex’s story lines, but I find her relationship with Nikita one of the most important ones of the show. I always appreciate the little touches such as when Alex gave her a box of Valentine’s Day candy or Nikita shows some emotion as she says good-bye to her or apologizes for shooting her. I digress, but I think the audience needs some of these “down time” scenes with all of the characters to help them seem more well rounded.
3. That brings me to the comments that others have made here about Nikita’s break down when she screams at Michael. I was also surprised, but moved. From what the writers have given us so far, N basically has 5 people in her life (that are still living!) that she has allowed herself to form an emotional connection with: Alex, Michael, Birkhoff, Ryan and Owen. In the past few months, she has lost all of them minus Owen. Loosing Birkhoff was too much, as it basically means her whole improvised family unit has disintegrated.

November 20 2011 at 3:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ivy

Love your recap. This was a great episode; definitely one of my favorites of S2. This was the time for Amanda and Birkhoff to shine, and both Melinda and Aaron were fantastic. The interrogation scene was cringe-worthy. I was biting my nails the entire time even though I knew nothing too bad would happen to the nerd; he was a total trooper. Amanda, on her part, was a total evil psycho and I loved her.
And Nikita, well, I felt for her on this episode. She is an emotional wreck at the moment, and not just because of her relationship with Michael, but because of many other things that have already happened to her recently. Her feelings were messed with when Division fabricated a dad for her. That's added to her ever present fear for Alex's fate. Then she thinks Division killed her friend Ryan. And now she fears she could lose Birkhoff, too, and she feels guilty for that because she went into the mission without proper preparation, just as the nerd had warned her. These are too many emotions to deal at once. My heart broke for her when she yelled at Michael "why aren't you here?!". She needed to vent and this is how she did it. There was panic, despiration, anger packed in her words. And while I would have liked Michael to tell her something more comforting, his answer was meat to make her focus. Someone had to keep calm and maintain their cool. If he started with emotional talk, it could have perhaps made everything worse. It is true that this was a reaction from a completely different Nikita, but we have to remember that in S1 shewas pretty much alone, and she had kept her feelings guarded. But in this season, circumstances are differet, and she has let her feelings be shown and shehas grown closer to the people she loves. Losing them is her greatest fear. She doesn't want to be left alone again.
I am super excited for 2.10 and how all the show storyline will come together. I love this show!

November 19 2011 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
O Nikos

You keep dissing last week's episode, but riddle me this. Without it, how would Michael be in London and lead to this episode and all the you liked this week?

November 19 2011 at 1:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Changstein

Awesome episode & one of the best yet! Highlights:
- Nikki and Nerd team up & relationship
- Amanda showing us again she's one scary villian
- Nikita to Sean "Your mom is a bit*h."
- Action sequence of Nikita taking Sean's gun (his face & ego a little bruised there)
- Oh yeah, did I mention Nikki and Nerd love?

November 19 2011 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Laysa S

Thank you so much for this recap. The episode was so good I just couldn't put it to words. Looking forward to your next recaps! Though there's no Nikita next week :(

And thank you again for promoting the show. I hope it gets renewed!!

-@TheMikitaJunkie

November 19 2011 at 12:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chiyuu

So glad Nikita is back to its normal level of awesomeness this week.
Amanda is one truly terrifying villain. The interrogation scene was intense. And as she demonstrated in season 1 when she interrogated Nikita, she really knows how to get to someone's weakest points.

I agree with Laura about the destruction of the black box being a good thing. This definitely keeps the show from assuming a procedural style and having Nikita take down Division and Oversight mission by mission. Kudos to the writers for daring to shake things up! I'm so excited for Owen's return. Episodes with him and Nikita hunting Percy's horcruxes are always amazeballs.

The one thing i had issue with in this episode was the portrayal of Nikita. She has always been portrayed as a very tough, calm and thorough heroine, even in dire situations. I get that with Michael gone, she could have gone off the bender and been so reckless with the mission, serious blow to her emotions and all but i found it rather uncharacteristic for her to freak out completely when Birkhoff was captured. In season 1, even when she and alex faced capture from division or when she "came back from the dead" after being unexpectedly shot by her own protege, she was able to remain calm and plan. That collectedness kinda defined her character and it just seems a little off to me that she would completely lose it like that, even with the whole Michael being in london thing.

Having said that, I love the way Maggie delivered the "why aren't you here?!". So much emotion. And i also love that despite being so far away, they can still work together. Mikita forever! :D

November 19 2011 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to chiyuu's comment
lauraprudom

Interesting point about Nikita, and I WAS surprised that she reacted so strongly to losing Birkoff to the point where she couldn't think rationally anymore. Having said that, given that she thinks she's lost Michael (or is at least on the verge of losing him) I can understand why the threat of losing Birkoff too would send her over the edge. In season 1, we were seeing a very different Nikita, one who was still fulfilling the "protector" role for Alex, so their lives often depended on her ability to be cool and calm. We know that she doesn't care about her own well-being, so when she faced capture herself in season 1 (and, I believe, if she faced capture at this point in season 2) that would be far preferable to losing someone she loved, in Nikita's mind.

At this point in the season, she's been forced to let Alex go, but she has subsequently let Michael and Birkoff much further into her heart than she ever has before, and much further than she ever trusted Alex (since she went out of her way to conceal a lot of her past and weaknesses from Alex, for what she perceived to be Alex's own good). So I think the cumulative loss of Michael AND Birkoff (and even the "loss" of her supposedly real father a few weeks back) was enough to make her reaction believable this week. I don't think it's supposed to be any reflection on her skills or competence, more on her mental state now that everything she cares about is systematically being stripped away from her. That was my interpretation, anyway!

November 19 2011 at 9:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gurrlsix

I saw Nikita's breakdown as growth. While last years Nikita had a "collectedness", she was also quite cold (because the man she loved was killed by Division) and relatively isolated emotionally. Nikita is no longer isolated, is in love again, is in a relationship with Michael and is building a family of sorts with people she loves. It makes sense that she would be emotionally raw when the new family she is building starts to fall apart little by little. However, I love the fact that by episodes end she has recollected herself and is refocused on the task at hand.

November 19 2011 at 10:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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