Division of Interest: Partners

diciembre 6, 2016 at 7:21 pm (Television) (, , , , , )

While the parallels between Nikita and Person of Interest are not as easy to identify as those between Nikita and Alias, they are in some ways arguably more substantive. Produced roughly during the same period, the two series’ takes on the espionage genre not only feature similar tones and (to a degree) aesthetics, but also similar themes and concerns. Their core foci may be different—Person of Interest is chiefly about how technology changes the world, both by making possible and normalizing the surveillance state and by altering the definition of living thing, while Nikita is about abuse and dehumanization, and the possibility of reclaiming that humanity—but both also deal with themes like identity, redemption, corruption, rebirth, and rebirth—more than enough, in other words, to make comparing and contrasting the series both interesting and rewarding—hence what I hope will become a series. This is Division of Interest, and we begin with the two couples (hush!) with whom it all begins.

(Series spoilers for both Person of Interest and Nikita below.)

(Content Notes: Suicide, suicidal ideation)

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The CW’s “Nikita” is a Spy Story about Healing

octubre 27, 2016 at 12:06 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

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(Series-wide spoilers below)

There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance required in order to accept La Femme Nikita’s premise on its own terms. The series wants us to believe that clandestine intelligence agency / assassination bureau Section One is necessary in order to ensure the world’s safety, and that its work somehow justifies the monstrous way the group operates. At the same time, everything the series tells us about the Section suggests that such a claim isn’t factual. It obtains its “recruits” via kidnapping and dehumanization, which belies its alleged legitimacy—surely an above-board agency would be able to obtain agents some other, less illegal, way. It lies to and manipulates its people constantly, not because of a need to keep information properly classified, but to keep them compliant. Its oversight appears to include no one connected to any government entity anywhere, or anyone who is themselves subject to oversight. And yet, in order for the series to work, one has to choose to disregard all of this, and believe that the Section lies about everything but is completely honest about its agenda.

It’s hard to understate how significant this is to the series. If the Section isn’t working for the greater good—if that claim is just another one of its countless lies—then the story simply falls apart. There’s no reason to care about Nikita’s fate, or to consider her anything other than a great big fool, in addition to an accomplice to continued abuse. And while mitigating factors exist due to her status as a prisoner and victim, those become much less mitigating once she manages to escape, scot-free, and then decides to return. Similarly, there’s no reason to wish for any of the characters to succeed. And while this element of uncertainty was always baked into the premise’s cake—there is every reason to be just as skeptical of the agency in Luc Besson’s original film—that original version manages to get away with it because Anne Parillaud’s Nikita, by and large, doesn’t care about what she does except insofar as it affects her. It is only in the TV series, where the agency and its manipulation of Nikita (Peta Wilson) became central, that its role in the world becomes truly relevant. And yet, the show proves ambivalent at best on this point, seeming uninterested in providing evidence about the good the Section allegedly does. The largely episodic and insular storytelling makes it hard to get a bead on the long-term consequences of the Section’s actions, and the vague world-building—to the point where the Section doesn’t defend any one nation, but rather “the West”—makes it impossible to determine with precision whose interests the Section is supposed to be aligned with, leaving us only with the assertions of proven manipulators with no incentive to tell the truth. How can we trust then, that the people behind Section One aren’t simply using their people for their own personal gain?  So important is this question, that J.J. Abrams, intentionally or not, based half the initial premise of Alias on it.

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“Alias” is a Show About a Spy, and Not Much Else

mayo 25, 2015 at 12:30 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Alias made the current action TV landscape possible.

Part of what defines the current so-called golden age of television, particularly when it relates to the action-adventure genre, is its ability to rival film when it comes to sheer scale and craft. Before 2001, you really needed film in order to make Superman fly; Lois & Clark may have understood Superman, but it had no other choice but to suggest his more impressive super-feats, rather than actually show them. Now, with shows like The Flash, there’s no obvious sense of compromise: while there’s still a gap between what you can do in each medium, it’s much less noticeable, and mitigated by the fact that there’s a lot of things you can do with TV that you just can’t do with film. Alias, the 2001-2006 action / espionage show starring Jennifer Garner and created by J.J. Abrams, was in many ways the show that began to bridge that gap.

Compare the first season of Alias to the first season of La Femme Nikita, a show that stopped airing a scant few months before spy royalty Sydney Bristow made her debut. Sure, the earlier show could occasionally pull off some slick moments, and yet, these were these few and far between, exceptions in a show that oftentimes felt quite limited. Alias, on the other hand, often succeeded in making it feel as if those limits didn’t exist. Whereas Femme spent most of its on generic cities or inside Section One HQ, Alias took place all over the world (in a simplistic, theme-park-y, made for TV way—they sure as hell weren’t filming on China, Japan, Monaco, etc.—but still). While Nikita got into a lot of relatively-easy-to-stage shoot-outs, Sydney got into a lot of brawls, car chases, and races, requiring considerably more involved choreography from the creators.   La Femme Nikita had style and tone; Alias had that and vision. Perhaps most importantly, while La Femme Nikita was structured in a manner not dissimilar to countless other shows, with self-contained one-shot episodes and very few recurring characters, Alias had several large, overarching and interconnected storylines, involving lots of characters and events and places, giving the show a scope that at the time was unmatched and requiring far more attention and trust from viewers than was the norm at the time. Without Alias, there would have been no Lost. Without Lost to popularize the mytharc and assure TV execs that yes, viewers could deal with complex and elaborate story arcs, shows like Arrow or The Flash wouldn’t exist, at least not in their current forms.

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Season One of ” La Femme Nikita” is Indeed Quite a Bit Like “Twilight” (Spoilers)

noviembre 2, 2014 at 10:52 am (Television) (, , , , )

One of the claims I often noticed made when comparing the Peta Wilson La Femme Nikita to its successor, Maggie Q’s Nikita, is that it is  both considerably more dark and more gray than its successor. After finishing season one of Femme, I have to agree with the first part of that assessment: while Nikita is a story that is fundamentally about the possibility of fighting impossible odds and winning without having to give up one’s soul—even if that soul has plenty of red in its ledger—the earlier show, or at least its first season, is about the futility of even trying. It makes for a work that is fascinating, yet unpleasant to watch, particularly since the writers and showrunners appear to have no idea of just how dark the story they’re telling actually is.

Both versions of the story, like all versions of the Nikita story, feature at its center a quasi-legitimate black-ops group which forces their “recruits”, including Nikita, to become spies and assassins—spyssassins—at gunpoint. Femme‘s is called Section One, and is, the show wants us to believe, mostly involved in legitimate counterintelligence—stopping terrorists, procuring WMD’s before they fall into The Wrong Hands, etcetera.  Nikita‘s organization, on the other hand, is called Division, and is explicitly presented as a group which, unbeknownst to the rank and file, has been almost wholly corrupted by its director, who basically uses it as a way to accrue money and power for himself. The difference in the way the organizations are portrayed are largely a result of the two different stories each series is trying to tell: La Femme Nikita is a story about Nikita when she is inside, and therefore needs her to be doing arguably good work for Section One, while Nikita is about a Nikita who is on the outside trying to bring down Division, and therefore needs the organization to be a bad guy.

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