Friday, November 30, 2012
Last week I told you about what's bothering me in story telling on TV, this week I thought I'd talk about something I love.
I watch and really like the show Nikita, but I don't know talk about it a lot on here because I really prefer to watch it in chunks, it just works better that way. A couple of weekends ago, I settled down and watched the first four episodes of season three AND I LOVED THEM. But I'm really glad I watched that way because I'm not sure how excited I would have been after just one.
One of the episodes managed to encapsulate exactly what it is I find so refreshing and compelling about the show. I mean sure it's a fun spy show with lots of action and stuff blowing up and fighting girls. But what makes Nikita really shine is Nikita herself and what an interesting character she is--and her relationships with the other women on the show.
Is Nikita perfect in the representation department? No. But it's funny because it's kind of the perfect show for me. There are lots of men (unfortunately they aren't really that great for eye candy but if they were then it would DEF be the perfect show for me ;) But the relationships between the women and their individual story lines are by far the emotional meat of the show. So while sure you can complain about how there aren't more female spies, I really wouldn't trade Nikita and Alex and Amanda for more female characters and watered down story lines*.
Anyway, the premise of the show is that Nikita was "recruited" by Division to become an assassin. In essence, Division recruited people they thought would make good agents who were also disposable to society. So it's a kind of slavery because it's a group that has gone rogue, they don't really work for the government though they might DO work FOR the government. Nikita has issues with the things she's eventually asked to do, though, and she breaks out of Division and seeks to take them down. She recruits a young girl to help her, a girl who was in the sex slave trade and addicted to drugs. There's lots of reasons why she's important to Nikita, but I don't want to spoil EVERYTHING. But what she represents to Nikita is kind of beautiful. Anyway, this girl, Alex, goes undercover into Division to help Nikita bring it down from within.
Their relationship is the heart and soul of Nikita. It is deeply felt, complicated, fierce, and loving. It's a friendship, a sisterhood, and a pseudo-mother/daughter relationship. The relationship roles on Nikita are often like this, representative of our family ties. And the ways they break and the people who come in to mend them, and gah it's what I so love about the show.
At Division, there's a woman named Amanda. She's a cold, cunning, ambitious, manipulative, and intelligent woman who creates an identity for Nikita to assume for her missions. She is one of Nikita's mother figures and in one of my favorite episodes of the show's excellent second season, Nikita gets her chance to confront her. When Amanda says Nikita broke her heart from straying from the path, Nikita counters that Amanda dressed her up, told her she was pretty, and served her up for them to devour. "You took a messed up girl and you made her a broken woman" It is...UGH RIGHT IN THE GUT. And while obviously this is a heightened reality and I am not even going to begin to claim this is the creator's intent, it's like a message from all women to the ones who came before us. It's like every broken mother/daughter relationship full of so many complicated feelings. Our mothers love us and they want more for us, but a lot of times they have still believed in the lie of what being female means, and the limitations on women as being nothing more than dressed up pretty for the purposes of others. They give us gifts but they also break our hearts in the process. And from this broken shattered heart, Nikita's own courage rises, her own compassion, her own desperation to get it right the next time--FOR ALEX. Strangely enough, this spy show feels very much like a show about motherhood. And I don't just mean traditional motherhood, though the show is definitely heading there (in a way I fear people will hate, but not me!!) but women mentoring women. And you know, it's not just mothers but families as a whole.
So Nikita saved Alex and in the third season's second episode, Nikita and Alex work together to save another girl who has been kidnapped by a rogue Division agent. At the end of the episode, the girl turns to Nikita and says something about how she bets she never saved a girl before. "Well, there was one other girl..." Nikita says. And I teared up. Because Nikita saved Alex and then Alex saved Liza and it's a cycle of women saving each other-women saving girls, women saving women. That's the ethos of Nikita. And it's incredibly refreshing.
That's not to say the show doesn't have its fair share of romances or every guy crushing a bit on Nikita, but that's never the most important focus. Nikita's relationship with Michael is incredibly important to the show for sure, but Michael never outshines Nikita. Even the stuff that plays an important role in his characterization is largely about Nikita's search for her own identity. When in the second season Michael realizes he has a son, it plays a huge role in revealing to the audience who Nikita is and what she longs for most and how she sees herself. It was a very poignant arc, because Nikita never had that sense of belonging that comes from simply being someone's biological family. She's moved when she sees Michael with his son. "That's so sad!" you might think, but the show doesn't believe biological family is all that matters and throughout the season Nikita forges a family from all the people who help in their independent mission. By the end of the season my heart was exploding with joy over this tightly knit group who loved each other deeply, flaws and all. Because isn't that what we all want the most? In recovery, there's a saying about how in relationships we were broken, so it's in relationships we must heal. And that's on prominent display in Nikita's second season as the show plumbs the depths of Nikita's broken relationships and shows her putting the pieces of herself back together with the love of these individuals.
And brilliantly, Nikita realizes at the end of season 2 that she can't stay outside Division. She can't run anymore from this place that broke her, but she can go in and try to reform it and shut it down. So it should be no surprise to us all that the first really successful thing they do is save another girl. (while I wouldn't go so far as to say the show sees Division as the patriarchy or anything, it is a kind of interesting way to look at it. After all, the female agents are regularly used as escorts and prostitutes and Alex was in sex slave trade etc.)
I want to emphasize for those of you that don't watch the show that it's still very much a spy show with people shooting guns, etc. There's a big bad, and people die, etc. It's just also so much more.
It's not a perfect show, either. It takes about 19 episodes to get to the part of the story where you won't want to stop watching and where you can kind of start to see where the show is going. One of my friends thinks the set looks really cheap. I can usually predict whatever thing they happen to overlook that will become really big by the end of the episode. There are not LGBT characters, etc. But despite all these imperfections, I really love the show. Anyone reading in the US has Netflix--the first two seasons are on Netflix streaming! You should consider giving it a shot if you can!
Anyone else watch?
*I am often puzzled by how women watch much more TV than men but there aren't more female characters. Yes there are a lot, but you can still have shows that have almost entirely male casts. I'm generally more drawn to stories about women, though I certainly have the male characters I love as well! So I kind of think the way Nikita is set up would fix this problem for me...as long as the female characters are the priority in the story telling, you can still have lots of eye candy? IDK
Women Saving Girls: Why I Love Nikita