|la femme nikita: "open heart"
2.09 / Original air date 5 April, 1998
Written by: Elliot Stern
|Directed by: René Bonnière
From the moment this dark, super-spy series with the blonde glamazon
and her mysterious, mullet-haired lover debuted, it was almost
inevitable that the writers would sooner or later give Nikita
a mission where she had to seduce another woman.
The fact that the woman in question was perennial scifi/fantasy
guest star Gina Torres (she of the enormous beestung lips that
put Angelina Jolie's smackers to shame) just gave them more to
play with. Torres is a versatile actor who'll do just about anything,
and she has an indefinable sensuality that more than one television
director has taken advantage of. Watch her work in Firefly,
or interactions with Jennifer Garner in Alias
and opposite Lucy Lawless in Xena to see exactly
what I mean.
For anyone who doesn't know, La Femme Nikita
was the TV adaptation of the 1990 Luc Besson French language classic
of the same name, masterminded for the small screen by Joel Surnow
(creator of 24). It was one of an endless stream
of cult sci-fi/fantasy hits filmed and cast in Canada. In fact,
if you watch carefully you can recognise re-used sets from LFN
in various episodes of Mutant X. LFN
really started the whole female spy formula that was later perfected
for Alias. The comparisons between the two shows
end there though, they are vastly different creatures and I would
never suggest otherwise.
When cancelled after the fourth season, there was enormous fan
pressure from LFN fans for the studio to, at
the very least, wrap up existing storylines. The producers funded
an additional 8-episodes to take the character of Nikita to her
logical conclusion. It was the perfect ending. After everything
that Nikita endured in her time in Section One it was excellent
to see them not back away from the inevitable. She had to eventually
be consumed by the powers she resisted, although in keeping with
the strength of the character she continued to do things on her
own terms. Personally, I was just glad that she wasn't killed
off in the end.
Along with TV heroines from such shows as Xena:
Warrior Princess, Dark Angel, Alias
and Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
Nikita is another of those tortured women with a difficult destiny.
Unlike the others however, she was made to suffer and suffer and
suffer some more to a degree unparalleled in genre television.
As a rule, even in the darkest TV shows there is often comic relief
and romantic interludes enjoyed by the characters to allow them
(and the audience) to blow off steam. Not so with LFN.
This was week after week of unrelenting darkness, treachery, despair
I think it takes a strong constitution to like this show. Despite
clinging desperately to her own sense of morality, Nikita has
no time or energy for tears. She's dangerous, aggressively sexy,
achingly vulnerable, and every time she lets her guard down even
the people who love her make her pay for it. The LFN
writers were downright sadistic at times. Its enough to make me
wonder about the psychology of the people who enjoy this show,
and why they like it (me included).
The only reason Nikita isn't "cancelled" (killed) by
her superiors is because everyone recognises her value as a survivor.
While she lives she might be impulsive and impertinent, but for
too long (and to their eventual detriment) the powers see her
as an essentially harmless operative who gets the job done. After
all, everyone high up in Section One just assumes that if they
put her in the field often enough one day her luck will run out
and the Nikita problem will take care of itself. It never does.
But back to the lesbians. Personally I don't think the episode
"Open Heart" is the first or the only indication that
Nikita swings both ways, but her obsession with fellow operative
Michael makes it difficult to really explore Nikita's sexuality
to any great degree.
In the earlier seasons of LFN, the terrorist
organisation called Red Cell are the bad guys. In this episode,
Nikita must infiltrate a women's prison in order to stage a prison
break with a Red Cell operative named Jenna. A bomb has been implanted
into a Red Cell assassin and Jenna is the only one who knows the
suicide bomber's identity. To save the lives of hundreds of people,
Nikita must gain Jenna's trust, all the while intending to betray
When Nikita saves Jenna's life in prison a friendship is formed
and an attraction grows. Nikita reciprocates just enough to gain
Jenna's trust. The two women kiss, although briefly, and it is
obvious that whatever darker motives either of the women have,
the kiss affects them more deeply than either of them could have
expected. Jenna even tells Nikita that she loves her.
The two women finally make their escape, where Jenna is immediately
captured and interrogated by Section. Despite their best efforts,
Section are unable to get the identity of the bomber from her.
They send in Nikita to try and distract Jenna's absolute concentration.
It seems to work. Jenna asks Nikita if she felt anything when
they were together. Nikita seems to admit the truth, that she
truly felt desire for Jenna.
What I liked about the storyline is that not only do the two
women play with each other's emotions, they play with ours as
well. It's always intense when Nikita develops feelings for someone.
In her cocoon-like existence in Section, Nikita's real emotions
are rarely let out to play, and here the experiment has curious
results. For the first time in ages she seems shocked by something
that she's feeling, that she's experiencing something new. When
the inevitable happens, Nikita seems truly devastated.
The whole thing could have been a sham. Jenna might have been
a lesbian, she might not. She might have been in love with Nikita,
she might have been acting. But watching the episode is a real
mind-bender, and each time I see it I change my mind as to how
Jenna and Nikita are really feeling. That says a lot for the writers
and the actors. To top it all off, here was finally a one-off
lesbian story that didn't leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.
It wasn't played for sensationalism, it was played with real emotion,
which set a new standard for the genre.
Postscript: I like it when there's some pattern
to naming TV episodes (The L Word
episodes all start with the letter "L" for example.)
The easiest way to figure out which season an episode of LFN
is from is to look at the title. All first season episodes have
one word titles, all second season eps have two word titles, and
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