Nikita (TV series)

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Nikita
Image:NikitaDVD.jpg </small>
Genre Action -Drama
Running time approx. 0:45
(per episode)
Creator(s) Joel Surnow
Starring Peta Wilson
Roy Dupuis
Country of origin Canada
Original channel USA Network
Original run 19972001
No. of episodes 96
IMDb profile

Nikita is a television spy drama based upon the French film directed by Luc Besson (see Nikita). It was created by Joel Surnow, who later co-created 24 with fellow Nikita executive consultant Robert Cochran. Originally produced in Canada and first broadcast there under the title Nikita on CTV, it was later retitled La Femme Nikita when it was broadcast in the United States on the USA Network for five seasons from January 1997 to March 2001. A Canadian co-production of Warner Bros. and Fireworks Entertainment, La Femme Nikita was the highest-rated drama on American basic cable during its first two seasons, and the series continues to have a strong cult following internationally.

Contents

[edit] Series Concept

While the Luc Besson film Nikita features a young woman who is a teenage delinquent and heroin addict who actually does murder a police officer in cold blood, the TV series character Nikita (played by Peta Wilson) is a teenage homeless runaway who becomes falsely accused of killing a police officer. After being sentenced to life in prison, she is ‘recruited’ by Section One, a covert counter-terrorism organization. Section One falsely believes that Nikita has killed the police officer and is therefore capable of committing deadly acts of violence; such misconceptions of Nikita lay the groundwork for ironic complexities of character, plot, and theme throughout the series.

With all traces of her former life revised or purged and her official records altered to state that she committed suicide while in prison, Nikita undergoes two years of training as a recruit under the supervision of top operative Michael Samuelle (Roy Dupuis). After barely passing the final field test, Section One reluctantly assigns her the code name "Josephine” and provides Nikita with a new identity and a small apartment, in which she stays when she is not working for the organization (during her "down time"). Over time, Nikita forms distinct relationships with various members of Section One, most notably with the ambiguous Michael, with whom she becomes romantically involved.

As she engages in missions in service of Section One, Nikita slowly learns to accept her new life, becoming an efficient (and, when necessary, cold-blooded) killer along the way, though she often experiences conflicting emotions and questions the "morality" of "Section." She often struggles to retain her sense of "humanity" and her "soul," continually raising questions about the methods of Section One.

[edit] Style and Presentation

Despite being advertised as an action-oriented series, the series' uniqueness primarily stems from its deemphasis on action per se and greater reliance on well-crafted dialogue and complex plot structures more common to the genre of sophisticated spy fiction as influenced by film noir and neo-noir. Since its inception, the series did not have a large-enough budget to finance complex action sequences (as seen in later dramatic spy fiction or spy thriller tv series such as Alias or 24). Its creative team exhibited great ingenuity marshalling its modest resources, channeling their energies into the writing of episodes with more complex plot structures, fuller character development, and more substantial dialogue for the series' talented actors (all of which aspects are less costly than filming special effects in action sequences).

The autonomous nature of Section One allowed the writers of this series freedom to explore areas not usually associated with this genre on television. Nikita's voiceover in Season One establishes the Machiavellian motif of Section One. While founded as a counter-terrorism organization (traditionally represented within fiction as good), Section One uses (as a standard) immoral means to achieve its objectives, while still citing efficiency and "service of the greater good" as justification for its actions. Its standardized implementation of draconian procedures include the use (upon both terrorist and innocent) of intimidation, torture ("The White Room"), murder ("cancellation"), assassination, abduction, suicide operatives ("abeyance" operatives), false imprisonment, and terrorist cooperation. In one early episode, for example, Section One hands a woman over to a sadist to be carved up in exchange for crucial information.

Unlike most organizations engaged in counter-terrorism, Section One's key personnel work neither for monetary gain nor for "pure" ideological devotion; instead, since most of these operatives are purportedly reformed criminals (though their backgrounds are often ambiguous), they work out of fear of execution for sub-standard performance or disloyalty (fear of being "canceled"). Such a dynamics based on fear fosters a bleak social environment in which there is little interaction among members (except regarding issues relating to work). This rather-paranoid environment, combined with the futuristic hyper-realist setting of the counter-terrorist organization, the brutally-real nature of counter-terrorism, and Section One's particular mantra of efficiency, results in a dark, minimalist ethos reflected or expressed in all aspects of the television series, most particularly in its design of costumes and selection and original composition of music, as well as in aspects of dialogue, plot, themes, lighting, and acting modes and camera styles. Also notable are intriguing camera angles and frequent close ups on actors' facial expressions, focusing especially, during pauses in dialogue or in reaction shots, on their eyes in long takes.

Due to the harshness (both mental and physical) of the environment in which operatives have to perform, the writing tends not to romanticize any potentially-positive aspects of the organization or of most of the series' characters (excluding Nikita, Birkoff or Walter, and, at times, Michael at his most vulnerable). The series generally exudes a dark tone in keeping with the organizational philosophies, the counter-terrorist (frequently dangerously-violent) situations, and the requisite tactics used by operatives of Section One. Unlimited operational resources for missions coupled with human propensity to hide ulterior motives and individual personal moral relativism lead to widespread intra- and inter-departmental infighting and recurrent secret alliances, backstabbing, blackmail and abuses of power between and among the characters.

The series raises, explores, and offers fresh insights about ethical and moral issues emerging from the paradoxical nature of a counter-terrorism organization which resorts to terrorist methods to succeed in its own ostensibly-altruistic goals, and the commensurate dilemmas in which the generally-unwilling operatives in such an organization find themselves plunged. Nikita's unwavering belief in a kind of moral absolutism (as opposed to Section One's prescribed philosophy of situational ethics) consistently and coherently motivates the underlying dramatic plot conflicts in the majority of the episodes.

[edit] Characters

[edit] Main cast

[edit] Nikita (Peta Wilson)

Falsely accused of killing a police officer, Nikita is sentenced to life in prison. Soon afterward, she is recruited into Section One when the organization fakes her suicide. As the only truly innocent recruit into Section, her compassion and sympathy constantly conflicts with the often ruthless orders she is given. After spending two years being trained by Michael, Nikita learns to use her beauty as a weapon and becomes an expert in martial arts and other ordnance. Initially reluctant to kill (she uses creative measures to avoid having to commit a murder during her first mission), she eventually becames more efficient at doing so. She is used in a wide variety of capacities, from "valentine operative" to assassin, despite her moral qualms, but manages to hold on to her humanity while working for the organization. Eventually, she and Michael become romantically involved, a development that threatens not only their standing in Section One, but their very lives.

[edit] Michael (Roy Dupuis)

  • Seasons 1-4 (with major guest role in Season 5)

Blank-faced, often emotionless and coldly efficient, Michael Samuelle is a former radical student activist whose protest group sparked the Paris Riots of 1984. Not long after being sent to prison, he is recruited into Section One and becomes one of their most successful and respected team leaders. A few years later, however, the death of his wife, Simone--a fellow Section operative he married against the wishes of Operations and Madeline--profoundly affects him, and he completely shuts down emotionally, becoming almost an automaton. It isn't until Nikita enters the organization that he begins to open up emotionally once again. Complicating their often difficult relationship is his "blood cover" marriage to Elena Vacek, the daughter of a fearsome terrorist that Section One has pursued for decades. His son, Adam, is a product of that union, and his protective fatherly instincts will have a major impact on his future relationship with the organization.

[edit] Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer)

A Vietnam veteran, former Lieutenant Paul L. Wolfe was recruited into Section One against his will just prior to the fall of Saigon. A shrewd and driven man, Operations soon topples the founder and head of Section One, Adrian, seizing control of the organization himself. While giving lip service to the aims of Section--the eradication of terrorists and the protection of the innocent--Operations uses Section as his own power base, gaining considerable control over dictators in many regions of the globe. This lust for power brings him into direct conflict with George, head of Oversight, who on many levels despises him, and even Adrian returns from her forced retirement to mount an unsuccessful coup attempt against Operations. He is also distrustful of Nikita, and even attempts to kill her on a number of occasions, but is forced to grudgingly accept her success at completing Section missions. (The same is also true of his relationship to Michael, when he discovers his romantic involvement with Nikita.) While he and Madeline make an effective partnership--including, hypocritically, a brief romance--their days running Section One together are numbered.

[edit] Madeline (Alberta Watson)

  • Seasons 1-4 only (guest appearances in Season 5)

As the executive strategist for Section One, Madeline is Operations' closest ally and confidante. The ultimate personification of Section One's ideals, she is cold and efficient in the execution of her duties, which often involves torturing information from captured terrorist subjects. A master manipulator, she knows the psyche of each Section operative inside and out, and can push the right buttons to get what she wants from each one each time. This brings her into constant conflict with Nikita, whose independent spirit she grudgingly admires, but overall, views as a threat to her control within the organization. Madeline's "Type One Directive" against Michael and Nikita's romantic partnership will kick off a chain of events that even Madeline is unable to predict, events that will force her to make a fateful choice that will have major repurcussions on the future of Section One.

[edit] Birkoff (Matthew Ferguson)

  • Seasons 1-4 only (guest appearances in Season 5)

Seymour Birkoff is Section One's resident genius, whose computer abilities are legend, and who, as the head of Comm, supervises Section missions in progress. He and Walter are close friends despite their wide difference in age, and even Nikita is especially fond of him. It isn't until many years later that Birkoff learns he was one of two twin boys born to a Section operative. The boys became the subject of a Section One psychological comparison, in which Birkoff was kept within Section One, while his brother Jason was adopted by the Crawford family outside the organization. This was due to a fateful flip of the coin by Walter, and when Birkoff discovers this, it permanently strains their relationship. Birkoff's new obsession with leaving Section One leads to the creation of an artificial intelligence program to take his place, in order to create more downtime. Unfortunately, the A.I. becomes self-aware, and Birkoff is forced to make a decision that will change the face of Section One permanently.

[edit] Walter (Don Francks)

The oldest surviving operative in Section One, Walter is head of Munitions, responsible for creating new and necessary gadgets, tools and weapons for Section operatives to use on various missions. While initially sexually attracted to Nikita upon her arrival into Section, he ultimately becomes her loyal friend and confidante, even participating in a cover-up to hide the ongoing romantic status of she and Michael. His brief marriage to, and loss of, Belinda, an "abeyance operative" (one who is scheduled for elimination by Section One), is ample motivation for his willingness to do anything to get back at what he perceives to be Operations' cruelty. However, Operations continues to pardon Walter's life, likely due to a long-standing relationship that began in Vietnam and may have included a period where Walter was his Section trainer, although this is merely speculation.

[edit] Quinn (Cindy Dolenc)

  • Seasons 4-5 only

Katherine "Kate" Quinn is Seymour Birkoff's replacement as head of Comm, and is markedly different from her predecessor. Arrogant, sharp-tongued and distrustful of all men, she neverthless is unflappable in the face of danger and manipulative of her superiors when necessary. Forced to work alongside newly-recruited Jason Crawford, she shares a number of humorous exchanges when she becomes the focus of his romantic interests. However, her sights are set on Operations, and she seeks to be the woman at his side in charge of Section One. Little does he know that her alligiances are to an even higher authority.

[edit] Recurring guest stars

[edit] Broadcasting History

[edit] Ratings success

In its first two seasons, La Femme Nikita (as entitled in the USA) was the number-one drama on basic cable until Barry Diller assumed control of USA Network in April of 1998, and installed Stephen Chao as network president. During Nikita's third season, Chao began retooling USA Network's successful "Sunday Night Heat" bloc of action dramas, which also included Pacific Blue and Silk Stalkings. Silk Stalkings was canceled and replaced with a slate of new series that included The War Next Door, G vs. E, Manhattan, AZ and Cover Me, all of which ultimately failed in the ratings and were themselves canceled. Because of this, La Femme Nikita's ratings also took a tumble, although the series remained the top-rated drama on USA Network, even during its fourth season, when promotional advertisements for the series all but disappeared. Negotiations to continue Nikita for a fifth season and beyond failed when both Warner Bros. and USA Network could not agree on financial terms, and the disagreement over who was responsible for the series' cancellation became a very public spat that spilled into the pages of the industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

[edit] The "Save LFN" campaign

Following the series' cancellation, long-time viewers mounted an extensive campaign to get the series back on the air. Although the "Save LFN" effort was not the first to successfully use the internet to rally fans and renew a cancelled series (that honor goes to the viewers of Roswell, who did so one year prior), it became notable for its size and inventiveness. This included a full-page advertisement placed in The Hollywood Reporter that requested USA Network and Warner Bros. reconsider their decision, as well as over 35,000 letters sent to both entities containing everything from dollar bills featuring co-star Roy Dupuis to sunglasses (Nikita's signature accessory) to old TVs, VCRs and remote controls. Most of these efforts were coordinated through a website maintained by a group of organizers that called themselves "First Team," based on the term for the lead members of a mission used frequently in the series.

As a result of these efforts, Stephen Chao announced in September of 2000 that Nikita would return for a truncated fifth season of eight new episodes, which began airing in January 2001. The "Save LFN" campaign was used as a central element in USA Network's promotional advertisements of Season Five in TV Guide and other publications.

  • "LFN" refers to La Femme Nikita, the title of the series as televised in the United States and in other international markets outside Canada.

[edit] Merchandising

[edit] DVD releases

The DVD box sets use the USA/international title, La Femme Nikita.

DVD Name
Release dates
Region 1
Region 2
Region 4
The Complete First Season July 8 2003 TBD TBD
The Complete Second Season March 15 2005 TBD TBD
The Complete Third Season June 28 2005 TBD TBD
The Complete Fourth Season July 25 2006 TBD TBD
The Complete Fifth Season October 17 2006 TBD TBD
  • Season Two was originally scheduled for release on July 20, 2004, but Warner Bros. was unable to license the song "Loaded Gun" by Hednoize, featured in the episode "Off Profile." (Some websites have claimed that the song in question was from Garbage, but that is incorrect.) This was eventually resolved by replacing the song with another piece of music. A small number of Season Two box sets were distributed and sold in 2004 with "Loaded Gun" before it was withdrawn from store shelves and internet sales sites. Some consider those sets collectors' items.

[edit] Other merchandising

An official soundtrack for Nikita, released in June of 1998, is still available on CD from TVT Records. It features the title theme from composer Mark Snow, as well as numerous pre-recorded songs heard during the first two seasons of the show from artists like Depeche Mode and Afro Celt Sound System. Selections from Nikita's orchestral score, by Emmy-award winning composer Sean Callery, were released on a limited run of 2000 CDs in May of 2001, but quickly sold out. A long-rumored second disc of more Callery compositions from Nikita has yet to surface.

A limited run of official merchandise was made available in October of 1999 at Close Quarters Standby 2, the second in a series of four Nikita fan conventions held in Toronto during the run of the series. Merchandise included jackets, sweatshirts, T-shirts, coffee mugs and keychains emblazoned with the series logo. Everything sold out within an hour, and no such merchandise was ever made available to the general public again. Sometimes, one may find these items for auction on eBay. (Note: This licensed merchandise can be clearly differentiated from similar items created solely for the cast and crew of the series, some of which are occasionally offered for auction on eBay as well. The licensed merchandise features the phrase, "©1999, Warner Bros" below the logo on all items. The cast and crew items do not.)

In 2001, a computer game based on Nikita--featuring dialogue written by Nikita supervising producer Peter Lenkov--was announced for the Xbox system, but the project was later canceled.

[edit] Selected Bibliography

[edit] External links

[edit] Episode reviews

fr:La Femme Nikita nl:Nikita (televisie) ru:Её звали Никита (телесериал) sk:Brutálna Nikita (TV seriál) sv:La Femme Nikita

Nikita (TV series)

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