Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 2 of The CW's "Nikita," entitled "Innocence."
While the "Nikita" Season 3 premiere was an excellent reintroduction to the series, of the three episodes sent to critics in advance, tonight's "Innocence" was by far my favorite. It achieved what all of the most successful "Nikita" installments do; blended nail-biting action with real emotional stakes, with a heady dose of humor and plenty of character development tossed in for good measure.
Not only did the episode allow Nikita to realize that she's far better with kids than she gave herself credit for, it also allowed Alex some much-needed closure after her own tumultuous childhood, allowing her to reunite a broken family the way she could never quite accomplish with her own. As Lyndsy Fonseca told me in our recent interview, "There's so much closure in dealing with the mom. Alex's mother didn't know she was alive and this mother doesn't know. And then in the end, Nikita gives her this beautiful gift of letting her take Liza back to her family. And that's so meaningful in such a deep way. And Nikita knows how much that means to Alex."
I'm guessing I wasn't the only one getting a little misty when Liza reunited with her parents -- poignantly set to Florence and the Machine's "Never Let Me Go" -- as Alex and Nikita looked on. While the episode undoubtedly emphasized just how much Nikita has to give as both a mentor and potential parent, it was great to see Alex given another storyline with real emotional weight, since Fonseca always brings such control and nuance to those moments.
"Innocence" continued to illustrate just how perfectly matched Michael and Nikita are; the revelation that he had long ago discovered her hidden keycard and still kept her safe from Percy while she was a recruit was a beautiful touch, and a very simple narrative device to help fill in their backstory and deepen their bond without the need for flashbacks. (Although I know how much we all enjoy those.)
It's often easy to forget how capable and accomplished Michael is when the show is mainly focused on Nikita's heroics, so I was glad to see him showing off his resourcefulness in finding Liza's necklace and his determination in taking down Wade. His pride in informing Wade that Nikita was his recruit was a similarly satisfying moment. When so many TV couples bicker about inconsequential things or seem threatened by each other's success, it's especially reassuring to see a partnership with both characters on equal ground and equally supportive of each other -- it's a maturity that's sadly lacking on primetime these days.
In order to counterbalance the heaviness of dealing with a damaged child and her distraught parents, I was glad that "Innocence" also featured plenty of lighter moments -- and what was even more impressive was that none of them lessened the emotional impact of the episode or made it feel bipolar in tone.
Naturally, Birkhoff once again scored the lion's share of the jokes, from his indignation over being the last one to hear about Nikita and Michael's engagement to his hilariously disturbing Dalek impersonation after taking over Wade's servo gun.
I spent a good few minutes laughing (while being simultaneously infuriated) over the genius decision for Alex to ask Nikita what Michael's real last name was, only for the show to cut away just as Nikita was about to put us all out of our misery and reveal it. It was a great wink to the audience from writer Mary Trahan and director David Grossman. And, even though Sean didn't actually appear in the episode, Alex using his last name as an alias when she went undercover to talk to Liza's parents was a nice touch.
MVP of the episode has to go to the amazing Annalise Basso as Liza -- the teen had a lot of emotional beats to play, as well as convincingly selling that she could kick ass, and I thought she did an exceptional job, when most child actors can come off overly precocious or grating. You truly felt for Liza even when she was running around Division and beating up adults, because the haunted look in her eyes was wholly believable.
Overall, I thought "Innocence" was an example of "Nikita" at its finest -- deftly balancing a tense and engaging mission with an emotionally resonant character arc -- and I hope the rest of Season 3 continues to build on the momentum of the first two installments.
"Nikita" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
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