Spoilers abound, so beware.
23 episodes, CW (September 2011 - May 2012)
A risky strategy in Nikita's first season was its tendency to play its cards too quickly, meaning Nikita and Alex's covert partnership was removed mid-season, Nikita and Michael coupled up after only briefly dancing around the subject, and Alex's Division status propelled forward before you could really settle into her character's position of power. Season one was spectacular, but there was always that risk that things were running so fast that stories could quickly dry up. This season, there were definitely annoying side effects to that. But it seems to be the CW's prerogative, as I hear that most of the network's drama series bombard you with plots that get introduced and resolved within two or three episodes. It's obviously a peculiar complaint, since you don't want to slow things down so much that the show becomes turtle porn, but the fast pace sometimes becomes so frenetic that you lose sight of character and narrative.
I should probably preface all of this by saying that I watched Nikita in around three blocks this year. For reasons unrelated to the show itself, I ended up viewing runs of episodes in large chunks, rather than at the speed of their initial airdates. With that in mind, my lack of enthusiasm about the show could easily have been a result of that, not so much because I lacked any interest in the stories the show was telling.
Presumably at the request of the network, Nikita became pretty standalone-driven this season. While every episode was at least linked by an ongoing narrative (be it Percy's machinations, or the black boxes, or Gogol), most of the missions were a little thin, generally involving a character being kidnapped, or foiling the latest dastardly plot that Xander Berkeley's mustache-twirling antagonist was launching. Division itself also became weirdly insular, the agency suddenly faceless beyond Amanda, Sean, and Sonya and her annoying accent. While they started up as ciphers, it made me miss the presence of Thom and Jaden, who at least had vibrant personalities. Amanda got a little neutered at times, too, like she grew this 'stock' personality to match the 'stock' evilness of Percy. Eh.
There was also this annoying push-and-pull dynamic with the core group at the center of the show. While the fact that they grew and bonded as a team worked well (Birkhoff in particular found greater purpose this year), there were moments when Alex was completely separated from them, while Michael drifted off in his bland Cassandra arc. While the show suddenly explored this group ensemble dynamic, it also gained this penchant to split them apart all the time, and I'm not sure most of them are that interesting as characters just yet to truly anchor their own subplots.
Gosh, I feel almost bad for not entirely loving the show this year. It has this intense fanbase, and I honestly question whether it's more a fault of my own that I didn't share that love, you know? Don't get me wrong, the show is still pretty awesome at the best of times, but there were just a couple of issues that prevented me from completely adoring it, especially since I loved the first season so much and have recently been watching Alias, which was just so damn intense.
If I concentrate on the positive, the show has a great team of writers, seemingly determined to pull the rug from under us at every opportunity. That aforementioned relentless quality may be plagued with worry but does at least create this intense forward momentum, something that made the last run of episodes really pop. I also continue to love Nikita as a character, particularly the insight into her history and her sometimes flawed arrogance. She's a complex protagonist, somebody we can easily root for but someone who often leads with her heart rather than her head. Her relationship with Michael isn't hugely interesting, but I like that they're very much an adult couple. While I wasn't totally absorbed by the Cassandra thing, it actually surprised me that the story didn't lead to a trashy break-up. It was actually handled in a relatively mature manner, which was welcome.
Nikita as a show has changed a lot since its initial arrival, recently adopting this arch James Bond sensibility with its nuclear warheads and dangerous satellites (Roan even got his very own Oddjob death scene), which I'm sure has its fans. There's a ton of action and explosions and the fight choreography continues to be inherently badass, but when it really works is when we learn about these characters as individuals -- when we see the vulnerability behind Amanda's cold-as-ice glare, or Nikita panicking over the type of woman she's becoming or when she realizes that she's facing an immense task, that's when the show becomes truly great. Hopefully all of that didn't read like I was dumping all over the show, it's just that it's a series that's really capable of hitting that level of quality, and sometimes falls back on ideas and themes that are sort of generic. Eh. Maybe it's me. B-
Favorite Episode I loved how Power (2.18) balanced the action with the character-driven drama of Amanda and Nikita and their past. They have such a strong dynamic, crossing 'mother/daughter', 'queen bee/worker bee' territory, but with both holding far more emotional investment in each other than presumably they'd ever consciously recognize.