For those of you playing along at home, the answer is yes, I am posting three blog posts for this series today because I didn’t post any yesterday and I’m already behind for spy month. Feel free to judge me, I also blog professionally so really I have no excuse other than “I’m busy playing pretend for a living and this blog truly exists just so I can craft my piecemeal dissertation about why I’m never going to watch The Wire.”
Also, I’m aware that “I blog professionally” is both a great standup joke and sometimes a line I use at bars when I want to scare men away. (Which, to be honest, is always.)
Day 2 is a double feature of both the Luc Besson film La Femme Nikita and the CW television series Nikita from a few years ago. Also, if you’re wondering why I’m capitalizing some television names and then also italicizing them in other posts, it’s because I don’t believe in proofreading these blog posts and the all-caps thing is a holdover from my agency days. (Sadly, by “agency days” I mean my days working at a talent agency and not in the CIA.)
Enough one-sided banter, let’s get to it:
Writer/Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Anne Parillaud, Marc Duret, Patrick Fontana
Logline: Instead of going to jail, convicted felon Nikita is given a new identity and trained, stylishly, as a top secret spy/assassin
Favorite Line: “There are two things that have no limit: femininity, and the means of taking advantage of it.”
Before we get started, I really need you to watch this amazing trailer. Why? It’s from the ’90s. Also, the narration is hilarious. Drama is just saying adjectives without any context, apparently.
So because this film came out before I was born, I’ll admit I saw this after watching the most recent series adaptation. Unlike some people I know (nods toward the film buffs reading this and judging me) I didn’t grow up in an art house theater watching foreign films. My friends dragged me kicking and screaming to see The Notebook instead of Godard. So yes, I’m blaming the suburbs for my late appreciation of Good Film. (Although, I think I get points for seeing this way back in my high school days.)
This film was remade into Point of No Return in 1993 for American audiences and directed by John Badham and starring Bridget Fonda except in this version she lives in Venice, CA and dates a hippie. If you really hate subtitles, I won’t get mad if you only watch this version, which has its own great performances. Fun fact: John Badham called me to congratulate me on getting into Chapman back when I was deciding on a film school. I died with excitement. Then I went to USC instead. (Sorry.)
Okay, enough name-dropping and onto the review.
I love the character of Nikita — especially Parillaud’s portrayal — because she’s just a hot fucking mess. Then, right before she gets the electric chair/lethal injection/whatever, the government/patriarchy is like WE CAN USE YOU AND YOUR BODY and of course they do and she’s trapped and has to do assassin things for this secret arm of the government. Then she falls in love with a civilian, lives a double life, also has a thing for her hot (?) handler, and is taught how to use her looks to her advantage while also learning how to kill people. So basically, it’s just your standard coming-of-age story.
I think this resonated me on two levels: first of all, women are taught fear before courage. We’re taught to avoid things like walking alone at night, being alone with boys, always carry pepper spray, etc. We’re taught THE WORLD IS OUT TO GET YOU, and if the #MeToo movement is any indication, it is.
So that’s one reason in particular why I adore the Nikita origin story. It still shows how this evil system is pulling the strings and using her for their gain, but it’s also a story of learning the depths of your abilities and courage as well as parsing out ethics versus survival.
If someone handed you a gun in a restaurant and told you to shoot someone or be shot, would you do it?
One of the characters I really find fascinating in all of the adaptations is the older Madame-esque character who teaches Nikita to craft and control her femininity (and sexuality) to entrap men. We’ve seen so many matriarchal characters tell daughters to get pretty and be feminine for potential husbands, that it’s fun to see a matriarch be like “yo you have some crazy powers and can take down men just with a glance so like use that.” Honey traps are nothing new in spy fiction, but in a future post I’d like to drill down more on this subject since there’s so much to unpack about how women have been conditioned to view their sexuality and their power over men, and how the media portrays that. So stay tuned for that dissertation.
Nikita (2010) – The CW
Okay, I’d pretty much do anything to write a Maggie Q vehicle after seeing the original Nikita. I adored this show in high school, and pretty sure I tweeted at all of the writers who were on Twitter at the time (thank you for humoring High School Amy, you guys.)
I used to watch this show while doing my 4-6 mile runs on the treadmill at the gym. I had all the episodes downloaded and whenever there was a fight scene I’d just go full-speed and die. That’s to say, the action in this show is done really well.
Also yes, I’m aware there’s another TV show adaptation before this one, but I don’t care. I’m reviewing this one. I’ve probably lost most of you anyways at this point, so I’ll speed through the rest of this.
The reason I love this show is A) Maggie Q’s incredible performance, always, and B) another one of those rare shows that captures a multifaceted, complex female character who can fall in love AND kick-ass, without her storylines completely be taken over by the Male Gaze.
The stories that really shine are the ones where Nikita is dealing with the demons of her past. Oh, and I forgot to mention, this show takes place after Nikita has gone rogue and is going to take down the evil organization (Division, in this adaptation) at all costs since they killed the man she loved. (Daniel or that long haired hippie from Venice from the American adaptation.)
They go to some dark places in this show, really digging into what it means to want revenge so badly you start to become the people you want vengeance on. Not to mention that Xander Berkely’s portrayal of the psychopathic villain who runs Division is so chilling and complex that you can’t look away during any of his scenes.
The show had some clumsy moments (especially with plotting in later seasons) and while I think Lyndsey Fonseca, who played the character the CW wanted to appeal to younger audiences and was a new recruit in Division that Nikita ends up saving and taking under her wing, had some storylines and scenes that were a bit light.
The will they/won’t they love interest storyline with Shane West’s character Michael and Nikita, however, was on pointe. I think the problem was that it was so well-done (and not cotton-candy CW fare) that it went over the heads of the target audience, and felt like it should have belonged on a different network, which I think hindered a lot of the storytelling.
Still, this is a fantastic watch for the way they play with characters, and Craig Silverstein did a great job with this adaptation. I’m trying my best not to rewatch the series in its entirety because I know it’s going to be a black hole and I’m going to emerge three days later after binging all four seasons having forgotten to eat or shower.
To sum it up, these dark, edgy spy thrillers following the character of Nikita are the wish fulfillment women want in the world of spy fare. The entire storyline of this series follows an unstoppable woman leading a rebellion to destroy the corrupt system from the inside, so she can take down the puppetmaster that controlled her and her body her whole life. I don’t know one woman who doesn’t want to imagine they have that power in our world today.