This week’s Nikita marks the third appearance of my least favorite character: foreign dignitary/Michael’s baby mama/MI6 agent/Gogol mole Cassandra (Helena Mattsson). Unlike the first two, though, this one’s pretty good.
The episode opens in London, where Cassandra is meeting Ari (Peter Outerbridge). He’s handing her a new assignment that seems to momentarily throw her. Alex clues Michael and Nikita into the fact that Cassandra is a mole, causing Michael to blow a gasket. He breaks stuff and then decides to get his son back. (Wouldn’t Shane West be awesome if he was in a movie like, say, Taken?) Nikita says that maybe he ought to start with just confronting Cassandra rather than committing kidnapping.
Cut to MI6 headquarters in London (hey, graphics people? There’s no hyphen in the official title of the agency), where Cassandra gets dispatched to Moscow to “teach Gogol a lesson.” Who’s in Moscow? Alex and Sean, who are surprised when Sergei Semak himself shows up at their door, looking for help to find Alex’s mother. Alex believes that Semak is genuine, and makes an emotional plea on TV to her mother.
Meanwhile, Cassandra spots Nikita on an MI6 surveillance feed, and the two briefly brawl before an angry Michael puts a stop to it, confronting her with the knowledge that she’s a double agent. She gives him a whole sob story about how she was approached to be a Gogol agent as a desperate teenager, and how she thinks she’s going to leave Gogol and retire from MI6. On a spy show, that’s usually the equivalent of painting a target on your back. Thanks to this conversation, Michael soon realizes that the whole thing is a frame job; another agent is waking into a trap so MI6 can be framed for Semak’s murder.
Naturally this can’t be allowed to happen, and so Nikita and Michael intervene, dispatching the Gogol henchmen and saving the life of the MI6 agent. When Ari pulls Semak out into the alley to be killed, he realizes his henchman is dead and decides he’s just going to have to do his own dirty work. A few shots later, the much talked-about Sergei Semak is no longer with us. Ari does a pretty decent job of selling his cover story to the various lackeys in the office.
Michael and Nikita are reunited with Alex and Sean, and Alex tells everyone that she received a coded message from her mother, just before Ari phones to tell her that Semak is dead. Michael knows something is wrong, and he and Nikita go to help Cassandra’s MI6 team out of a Gogol ambush. Unfortunately for them, they left one survivor, who tells Ari that they’re in town. Ari immediately suspects Cassandra of turning sides again, and decides to leak her file to MI6.
The MI6 boss tells one of Cassandra’s colleagues (the one that almost died earlier) that she’s a mole, and when that becomes public, it doesn’t go well. Michael and Nikita are forced to help Cassandra escape from her own teammates, and then to go and rescue Max from MI6 agents. How to get the pair somewhere safe? Well, they make it look like Cassandra and Max escaped on a plane that exploded in midair, with each agency blaming the other for their presumed deaths. The two have to disappear, but that means it’s the end for any contact with Michael, because he doesn’t want to bring harm to his family. There’s a tearful departure moment, of course.
Alex and Sean, meanwhile, go to the family home that Alex’s mother directed them to, only to find it crawling with Division people that Katya says are “protecting” her. Mother and daughter have another conversation about their complicated situation, which is broken up by a phone call from Ari for Alex. He has a “proposition” for her: sign over all her shares of Zetrov to him and Amanda in exchange for her mother’s safety. Alex’s mom wants her to let the company go before it destroys her, but Sean points out it could only get worse in Amanda and Ari’s hands. Alex balks at the deal and tells her, “We’ll be coming to you.” She sends her mom off to Corfu with Sean, telling her that she has unfinished business that must come before any long-term reunion. With all the noncombatants off the board, it’s game on.
“Arising,” like the two episodes that you could say spawned it (“Looking Glass” and “London Calling”), is a big example of how uneven season two has been. I’ve been over my dislike for the character of Cassandra and her function in the series numerous times, so I’m going to assume that as read and simply say this episode didn’t change any of those thoughts. And when a large part of an episode involves something I don’t care for, that makes it hard for me to appreciate. At least, of the three episodes, this one was definitely the least cringe-worthy. It had Nikita‘s usual solid action sequences and provided closure to the controversial storyline (at least, I hope) as well as to a lot of what’s been going on all season.
I’m sitting on the fence about that closure: on one hand, I’m glad that Cassandra and Max are out of the picture, and I certainly understand Michael’s reasoning for cutting off contact with them. I said when it was first introduced that the storyline was never going to end well, so I’m not shocked. As a fan, however, part of me thinks about how cruel that is for Michael’s character. We know how important family is to him and he’s now had that ripped away from him a second time, which makes the ending a little tough to swallow for me, even as I know it’s what is best for the show from a writing standpoint.
However, I’m not totally burned out; there have been good things about season two as well. As strange as it sounds to say being that he’s a villain, season two’s new direction has definitely made Ari more interesting to me. In season one he seemed like the typical foreign bad guy who popped up now and then, but this season I’m actually starting to understand him a bit. (And if you want a real surprise, check out Peter Outerbridge in a Canadian TV series called ReGenesis, where he does some equally fine acting but looks and sounds completely different.) And I am always going to be happy to see more of Sarah Clarke in any form; she’s a fantastic actress, and she and Lyndsy Fonseca have created a believable bond, with some more good scenes between them this week.
And I know I discuss this a lot, but that’s because it’s worth discussing: how fantastic is Shane West? This man has literally done something with nothing before in The Presence, and he’s made Michael such a richly layered character. You couldn’t ask him for more. Even when I haven’t enjoyed the episodes, I’ve enjoyed watching him and continuing to connect with his character. Spy shows usually don’t lend themselves to character depth with all the action going on, but even with all that, he’s created such a compelling protagonist. Of all the things I enjoy about this show, my biggest pleasure has come from watching him work and getting to interact with him. I’m glad that this show seems to be building him a new fanbase.
I’m still not entirely sold on season two of Nikita, or where it might go in a potential season three. It hasn’t been perfect. But if nothing else, it is still the most entertaining thing on a Friday night, with a great and hard-working main cast that I’ll always enjoy watching. I can see the effort that the actors put in, and that means something to me as a fan. I might not always like the ride, but the people I’m on it with are enough for me to stick around.