Nikita is back, and I’ve got a boatload of questions. What does the show’s future look like after those drastic changes in the first season finale? Will it continue to break the stereotype we expect when we hear the phrase “The CW”? Can I make a Standoff reference somewhere in here?
Ominous music swells as Nikita walks into a dimly lit store and asks for haggis, which turns out to be the password that gets her into an underground casino. Looking fabulous as ever, she throws a lucky seven for a guy who flirts with her. She tells him that she and her boyfriend are “taking a little break” because he wasn’t “into taking the same risks” as she was. It’s the wrong answer as she gets escorted into a meat locker and slapped around, and then proceeds to do some knocking around of her own. With the help of (who else?) Michael, she retrieves a case full of money and speeds off on the back of his motorcycle.
“Just enough to cover our next mission. Barely,” he says later, when she asks how much they escaped with. He thinks their prospects are grim, but she points out that Division is only interested in the black box they stole, not them specifically. “Want to give that back to them?” he inquires, before adding that this is “our chance to set things right.” She’s concerned about doing more damage along the way. He points out that she’s referring to Alex, and they argue about what happened to her former protege, before she adds that she can’t and won’t lose him, too.
This is a perfect time to reveal Alex, who’s invited herself into the same casino. There’s some more fighting – geez, the guys at this place are really taking a beating tonight – before she finds that Nikita has left a prepaid phone behind and returns to Division to report to Amanda, who has moved into Percy’s office. Amanda tells her that Division has put active recruitment on hold and is no longer taking work for money. Alex is only concerned with getting the man who ordered her father’s death – “the head of a corporate empire whose net worth eclipses most small countries” according to her new boss. When Amanda asks Alex to trust her, Alex doesn’t answer and walks out of her office, right into new guy Sean Pierce (Dillon Casey, who for some reason reminds me of Jeremy Sisto). Sean doesn’t like her very much. It’s awkward.
The next day, Michael talks to Nikita about a 2004 mission called “Game Change” where a lot of money went missing thanks to a Division strike team, including our old friend Joey Greco. The Pentagon sent an investigator named Tony Merrick, who got too close and ended up getting framed for a crime he didn’t commit, so now he’s in prison. Michael’s plan is to find the evidence that Tony uncovered and use it to expose Oversight, which means breaking Tony out of Leavenworth. I love the expression on his face, which shows he is completely not bothered by this.
Percy might be bothered, though. In fact, Percy might be cranky, because he’s sitting in a big plastic prison cell with Amanda telling us that the casino was a place that he used to launder money. We also learn he’s still got that dead man’s switch near his heart keeping the guardians from releasing the rest of his secrets to the world. She taunts him about failing to make a play against Oversight. He retorts that he’s done with her, and will only speak with Alex because he believes Alex to be a neutral third party. “You’re going to sit here and plot your revenge against me,” she replies. “Good luck with that.”
“Good luck with Nikita,” he snarks. Touche.
This is the show’s cue to cut to Michael and Nikita rolling up on the prison. They almost look like they escaped from an episode of JAG. Michael has a sit-down with Tony, and tries to give him the ID band of a prisoner scheduled for release. However, Tony has become convinced of his own guilt after seven years in lockup. Since he won’t go voluntarily, Michael has to knock him out and a pair of guards besides, stuff Tony into a guard’s uniform, and drag him to the backseat of their sedan. Talk about heavy lifting! It’s also nice to be reminded that while Nikita may be the star of the show, Michael is equally as capable of handling situations. They’re equals.
After that, there’s an Oversight conference (oh hey, there’s Alberta Watson again!) where they are quite concerned. After Amanda gets off the phone with them, she wants to have a word with Alex. She tells her that Engineering has tracked Nikita via the burner phone and instead of sending a strike team, she’s telling Alex and giving her one chance to retrieve the black box on her own.
Tony wakes up in Michael and Nikita’s hotel room and he’s not a happy camper as Nikita gives him the spiel about who they are and what they want. He tells them that his family was threatened right after he was arrested; in flashback we see the guy who did the strong-arming was none other than Percy. Tony doesn’t care about himself but he does care about his son. “At least he was safe, until today,” he says. “I know you guys think you’re helping, but you’ve just made it worse.”
Nikita assures him that won’t be the case, but then gets a call from Alex. Sitting right outside the hotel room, Alex puts on her best fake tears and gets the other woman to agree to come for her. Alex watches as Nikita leaves the hotel, but before she can make a move, an entire Division convoy rolls up and starts shooting at…well, everyone and everything. Nikita spots Alex just before all hell breaks loose, but she, Michael and Tony are then caught further unaware by the arrival of two drone aircraft that shoot some Division cronies, blow up a pair of propane tanks, and generally cause mayhem of their own. Who do those belong to?
That would be the missing member of the band. When she and Michael come to, they have no idea where they are, until Birkhoff walks into the room and says that “it wasn’t a capture, it was a rescue.” He’s left Division and has brought them back to his house, and he’s not happy about their lack of gratitude. “I forgot how dense you guys can be. You’re going to make me regret doing this,” he says, pointing out that he has a lot of money and ambition now, and doesn’t want to be associated with their shenanigans. “You’re lonely and you have no friends,” Nikita replies cheerfully.
Alex is not happy that Sean and New Female Birkhoff ruined her plans. She, Sean and Amanda have a chat in Amanda’s office about who’s more responsible for the screwup. “I’m not interested in conceding defeat yet,” Amanda tells Alex, but informs her that their last option involves talking to Percy. All Percy wants in exchange for his help with the operation is a TV. Both Alex and the audience know he’s got some ulterior motive for that request.
Michael tells Nikita that Birkhoff has located Tony’s son Justin, and reminds her that she is not responsible for Alex anymore, but Nikita still won’t budge. She goes to another club to find Justin, and spots a Division agent in the crowd. While she’s doing that, Amanda has pinged a signal and finds Michael, with whom she has a testy chat. While he is a little miffed that Amanda refers to Nikita as “the person in charge,” therefore challenging his ego, Nikita is even less thrilled to see Alex chatting up Justin. She convinces him to leave with her, leading him to Sean and a waiting car.
Birkhoff decides to randomly interrupt Michael and make his presence known to Amanda with a nice rant. By this point, Alex is trying to drive off with Justin in tow, only to be stopped by a gun-toting Nikita. The two trade blows in the alley, although it’s clear that Nikita is holding back. “Remember this. I did this because I care,” she insists, right before she snaps Alex’s arm, and shoots her for good measure. Lyndsy Fonseca’s pained screaming is going to stick in my ears for awhile.
There’s another Oversight huddle, where one guy is freaking out. He soon ends up dead, with a faux suicide note claiming he was responsible for the original operation years ago, and for threatening Justin as well (much to Percy’s satisfaction). With Tony out of prison, father and son are reunited. While Alex sits in Medical, Michael tells Nikita that they’ve knocked out one Oversight member and have five more to go.
If not for the established backstory, “Game Change” would feel like the pilot to a whole new series. It spends the bulk of its time making sure we know how different things are between season one and season two. The most palpable tension comes in the interactions between characters, and not because of anything particularly dramatic in the plot. To an extent, I’m okay with this, because you have to give writers time to set the table, particularly on a show like Nikita where storylines are ambitious and often complicated. However, I couldn’t escape the feeling that many scenes were just hitting the same points over again. Alex doesn’t get along with Sean? We get it. Nikita has angst over Alex? Got that, too. It feels as if the script isn’t sure of itself – like it thinks the audience might forget the episode’s underlying themes, so it continues to remind us of them.
We’ve now seen how our characters have changed – in another case of perhaps being too obvious, Michael and Birkhoff even look different besides – but we haven’t really gotten to know too much about these new versions of them. They appear different and have different goals, but how has that changed them as people? Nikita has a boatload of angst to work through, but the others seem fairly similar to the people we’ve left behind. It’s frustratingly middling; there have allegedly been all these huge changes, but the characters are emotionally static. To buy into the alterations, we should see the characters develop, and I’m hoping we’ll see more into their hearts and minds in later episodes.
“Game Change” isn’t a bad first episode, but that’s the heart of its flaw: it’s a first episode. It’s hard to get an impression of where the season might be headed from this one hour. I worried last season about where the show would go after “Pandora,” and this didn’t do much to make me stop worrying. I’ll be patient for now, but let’s hope we get a few more clues, and soon.