“La Femme Nikita”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
December 31, 1997

The best reason to subscribe to cable television is “La Femme Nikita.”  Well-written, suspenseful and sexy, the superb drama kicks off its second season Sunday on the USA Network with an engrossing episode that reveals a turning point in the title character’s life.

Based on the 1991 Luc Besson film of the same name, “La Femme Nikita” focuses on a beautiful, young woman sentenced to prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Viewing her negatives as an asset, a clandestine government organization called Section One recruits her to work as  an operative. If she fails to live up to their standards, she will be “canceled” – or executed.

In the final episode of last season, Section One sent Nikita (Peta Wilson) and five other operatives on a suicide mission. Her mentor, Michael (Roy Dupuis), helped her escape,  but Section One thought she had died. For the emotionally distant Michael, the act was his way of letting Nikita know that he cared for her.

Sunday’s season premiere shows that Nikita has spent her six months of freedom working as a waitress in a small-town diner. Serving patrons who like to bully women, Nikita shows her strength by not taking them down. She knows her survival depends on her ability to blend in.

Michael, meanwhile, is grieving for her in his own way.  He remains silent. When he must socialize, he breaks the leg of a sparring partner. Squirreled away in his ergonomically correct office, he continues to send encoded e-mails to Nikita, asking if she’s alive. Finally, he gets a reply from her:  “Yes.”

When they reunite, there is a cool passion to their union.

“Do you know that for three years, all I did was dream about getting out of Section?” Nikita tells him.  “When I did, it wasn’t what I’d expected. This isn’t freedom.”

Nikita hints that she may want to return to the Section, but it’s clear she’s not sure if her actions are motivated by her love for Michael or her disenchantment with the “outside.”

As far as the Section is concerned, though, Nikita is dead.  So it is through intricate plot work that Michael helps bring her back in, raising the suspicions of his boss Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer). Neither he nor colleague Madeline (Alberta Watson) is convinced that the pair is telling the truth.

Right and wrong doesn’t factor into Section One so much as whether the end result is the desired one.  One of the leads tells an injured suspect: “The doctors say you’re going to live. That’s the bad news. There is no good news.”

Though other actresses have played the part of Nikita on film – including Bridget Fonda in “Point of No Return,” an American remake of Besson’s movie – Wilson has made the role her own.

A former model, Wilson could’ve gotten by on her lethal looks. But the 5-foot-10 Aussie gives her character strength, depth and intense vulnerability. Nikita can disengage a mercenary in hand-to-hand combat but, unlike her colleagues, she shows remorse. She also conveys sympathy and love, especially for Michael, who is   either unwilling to or incapable of reciprocating.

“A bond between two agents isn’t always such a bad thing,” Madeline will say in a surprisingly charitable moment of an upcoming episode.

Especially when it’s so intelligently handled. As a TV star, Wilson has made her impact in show business.  But   perhaps just as important, Nikita has proven that kindness, cunning and a sense of honor are just as appealing traits in a heroine as beauty.

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