La Femme Peta
As an assassin with a heart of gold on La Femme Nikita, Peta Wilson is kick-boxing her way to stardom.
Gayle Forman, Seventeen (August 1998)
Don't even think about comparing Nikita (of "La Femme Nikita") with the Vampire Slayer or the Warrior Princess, her tough-girl TV counterparts. Because, if you do, Peta (rhymes with cheetah) Wilson, the 27-year-old amazon blond bombshell who plays Nikita, will set you straight with the same forceful intensity she uses when kick-boxing evil terrorists on her show.
"Nikita is not like Buffy or Xena," Wilson declares in her husky Aussie accept. "Those girls are heroes. Nikita's an antihero. She doesn't really want to be there. All this responsibility has been thrown upon her."
For those of you who are cable deprived ("Nikita" airs on the USA Network on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.), here's a little background: Nikita is a street urchin who's been convicted of a murder she didn't commit (a minor departure from the original Nikita flick, "La Femme Nikita", and its American cousin-terrible, "Point of no Return," in which the renegade actually committed the crime). She's given a choice—be put to death or work as a supercovert government operative for the strangely ambiguous international agency called Section One. She chooses the latter. Wise choice, because she gets to wear really fabulous black clothes, travel the world, and beat up and bomb would-be terrorists. But Nikita has conflicting feelings about the nasty things she does to save the world. She's an assassin—with a heart of gold.
Today, Nikita's not chasing terrorists. She's in more of a Girl Scout mode, doggedly hunting for a little girl who disappeared after a gunfight. The city of Toronto, Ontario, where LFN is filmed, has been transformed into as sleepy Albanian village, down to the extras who are seen shopping in head scarves at vegetable stands or sipping espressos at outdoor cafés. Swaggering through the streets in her trademark sunglasses, Nikita randomly interrogates the locals about the little girl. When she doesn't get answers from one nefarious-looking fellow, she yanks him by the collar and then slams a table with her fist so hard, it nearly topples.
In the next scene, Nikita dashes across a square after someone she thinks is the missing little girl and gets knocked out by a nasty thug. for 10 different takes, Wilson gets conked over the head 10 different ways. (The actress is constantly consulting Mick, the stunt coordinator, to make sure she's passing out realistically; she does most of her own stunts, including all the fights.) Finally the director yells cut and calls for a break. And even though Wilson has been running, punching and falling for three straight hours on a bone-chilling cold spring day, she doesn't do the star thing and retreat to her trailer. Instead she hangs outside, yakking with the hair and makeup people, horsing around with he cute crew boys and strolling over to talk to the throng of kids who are hoping to get her autograph.
Wilson is obviously enamored with her public.
"People really love the show and love me, and I feel that energy. It's wonderful," she says. And you can totally see that she thrives on the attention, maybe because it's all so new. After leaving her hometown of Sydney and enduring six years of acting school and relative obscurity in Los Angeles, Wilson outperformed 200 other wannabe spy girls to land the role of Nikita. She moved to Toronto, leaving behind Damian Harris, her director boyfriend of seven years (officially, they're still together), and moved in with her grandma, whom she calls Nan.
Now in its second season, "La Femme Nikita" is poised to make the jump from cult classic to bona-fide mainstream hit, à la "The X-Files". Wilson's personal star is rising as well. In between takes on the set, she passes her time perusing movie scripts. In cyberspace, there are more than 80 web sites devoted to Wilson. "I'm just beginning to realize that the show is doing well, because people come up to me and say, 'Hey, aren't you that girl? You're not that girl. You are that girl?' I'm like, 'Whatever girl you want me to be, I'll be.'"
Sounds like something Nikita might say. Maybe it's her chameleon like nature that makes the show so watchable. "Nah," says Wilson, smiling and raising her eyebrows. "People love the show because it's addictive, fast-moving eye candy—with a conscience."
Peta Wilson Interview
Jane Hawkin Live (1998)
Roy wasn't on the show, but Hawkin talked with him briefly on the set of LFN. In the studio with Jane, is Eugene(Ops), Don(Walter), Peta(Nikita). Peta was talking to Jane first, almost half way through the show, then Eugene joined them, then Don!!!
Jane: She's tough, talented, and drop dead gorgeous. Whether she's spying, stealing, or beating up the bad guys, she doesn't pull any punches. On Jane Hawtin, meet LFN's Peta Wilson, Eugene Robert Glazer, and Don Franks.
Then it went too introducing her show. Before going back into the studio, it showed a clip from Old Habits (the scene when Nikita comes into Maddy's office confronting her, asking why Maddy didn't tell her about Formitz.)
Jane: That's Peta Wilson as La Femme Nikita, one of the hottest female leads on television. Hello, I'm Jane Hawtin. Combining her experience as Australian army brat, a star athlete, and an international fashion model. One can easily say, Nikita is the role that Peta Wilson was born to play. The show is so popular that its developed a cult like following among its fans here and in the US. Joining us in the studio.....Peta Wilson. Welcome, nice to have you here.
Peta: Hi Jane, nice to meet you. Hi Canada.
Jane: Now, you were looking at that clip, you said ahh, didn't like that.
Peta: It was a very difficult show, that one, very difficult episode. Because Nikita is protecting a serial killer, because we need him for certain information. Just as far as the character goes, that's just not something she wanted to do. So, as the actress playing the role, it was very taxing (sounded like that) emotionally, to go to those kinds of places, in order to make it realistic.
Jane: But what did you see in that scene you didn't like.
Peta: No, I like the scene, I was talking more about the ......
Jane: actual episode, how difficult that was.
Peta: It was difficult, sometimes it's difficult for me to be to stand back and look at the work on the hull(sounded like that). I like watching the entire episode, but as far as watching my own work, sometimes i'm not really sure.
Jane: That's why I do live(they are both laughing).
Jane: Now, are you as tough as the character you play.
Peta: No, I'm not tough at all, no I'm only kidding (laughing).
Jane: Come on.
Peta: I'm a little bit of a boy, I like that, I like to get sort of worked up. Like, kind of like, when I'm in the show, I tend to be a little bit of a boy most of the day, to keep open, keep me spontaneous. As you know in television, you're working very quickly, it's important to stay open. The character is very masculine/feminine, I'm already a girl. I tend to be quite tomboyish, a little tough. I rough the crew up a little, I give them a bit of a hard time.
Jane: What does that mean, when you're being a little bit of a boy.
Peta: Well I push them around a little. I do hand stands on sets depending on the outfit I'm wearing of course. I'll warm up, or kick box, or work out during the lunch time. I work out with the trainer, called Al Greene, a Canadian man. Usually do a little fight scene after lunch. You know, I'll come back and the give the boys a bit of a rough and tumble, it helps me stay in character.
Jane: But that is also your character, very much, growing up. The story is that your mother made you have a nice piano lessens, because you were coming too much of a boy because you were so athletic.
Peta: Well I was at catholic girl school. I was very much a tomboy, very much into athletics boys, I didn't really like them. I like to skateboard with them, but I wasn't really into boys. So mom thought well, I have high hopes for my daughter, rather then being in the army, of which where I was going instead of an athlete in the army. Mom had me doing important classes, and......
Jane: how Australian......sorry.
Peta: You know, I was modeling on catwalks and supermarkets in Australia. My first modeling job on a catwalk, like a Saturday morning job. I was feeling pretty fabulously, walking out there in a bathing suit. I get so excite, and some overwhelmed, the audience sort of walked straight up on the catwalk and displaced some (couldn't pick out what was said there, they were laughing) Glad I got back on the catwalk, saturated kept going(couldn't pick it out what she said, seem someone spilled something on her).
Jane: Hey, at least you were in a bathing suit.
Peta: Mom said it was like overnight, a turn from very much a boy, to very much a girl.
Jane: Now, did you want that though, did you want the modeling stuff that you turned to?
Peta: I don't know, I just kind of went with the flow. When you are young, I didn't really. I'm not going to do this, and do that. I just kind of went with what was going on, my mother certainly enjoyed seeing me pretty, I quite enjoyed it. It was great when I was in that period of time when girls were uncomfortable, it gave me a certain amount of confidence, made me understand, well you make the best of what you got, and sooner or later with self confidence, you can certainly make things that really hated about yourself become to disappear or good things to come, does that make sense.
Jane: But how did the modeling happen, someone come after you. Or was it mom who said you know everybody is saying how beautiful you are, and how tall and all of that?
Peta: No, I got scouted, I was like being in a local town. I did a couple of television commercials, a big agent saw me, that was kind of it. I modeled for about 5 to 6 years, it was really wonderful, a difficult business. Very glamorous, supposedly, but not so. like any business really, I traveled all around the world, but I wasn't the kind of model that went and did all the different markets. I made a lot of money in Italy and I stayed and traveled right to Paris, made money and traveled. Went to London, made money and got out of it. I just used it as a passport to see the rest of the world. I learned a lot, in the middle of rock stars, it was very glamorous. A small town girl in Australia and car home, you at this outfit mom, they got here. it was great fun, I really look back at it.
Jane: It must be hard for you as well, you're obviously a talker.
Jane: modeling is kind of like.....
Peta: People hid me, Jim and the girls in the room were always a lot prettier, but they hired me because I had personality, and I'm always going to be a load of fun. I mean I wouldn't matter what I put on, I could make it work. it was great at the time, and over the course of modeling, I sort of realized I wanted to be an actress. I was frightened because I thought it was very nasistic (that's what it sounded) My family were all Irish, so they are born entertainers. But as far as an occupation, I was really scared to do it. Then one day I made the jump, I left Australia, I saved my money, came to drama school, worked very hard and here I am five years later with a series. you know, I thank God, I can't imagine, I'm very fortunate.
Jane: But what time period did the anorexic/bullimia fit in, was that during the modeling.
Peta: Probably, it was during the modeling, towards the end of it. I was pretty unhappy. I wasn't really being true to what I wanted to do. My parents divorced, which had been difficult for me at a young age, I suppressed it. It came out during that period, me not really enjoying what I was doing anymore, not very happy, that's what happened.
Jane: So it wasn't really the pressure then, to be a top model, the pressure you got to be thinner. I can imagine at 110 pounds, you're 5'10".
Peta: No, I was very thin. No, it wasn't so much the pressure of that because I was always in great shape and always work well with it. I think anorexic and bulimia are diseases of the mind. I was just very sad about my mom and dad's divorce, I never really dealt with it, that was a reaction. I can't really remember when it stopped, I went to treatment, I was very open about it, I think that's what stopped it. I also talked to my mom and dad, I communicated with them, but modeling wasn't really the cause of it, it certainly didn't help because it was pressure to look great all the time. There is a lot of girls, I think 8 out of 10 women have such a disorder and they should not be ashamed of it. They should talk about it, they would be surprised to have many of their friends have the same disorder, here I am five years later, very happy.
Jane: Now, when you got to Hollywood, you wanted to go into film, film is what you wanted, right, film and theater.
Peta: I didn't know, I wanted to be an actress. Well I'm really far away from Australia, so none was going to know(joke) I bought a 1958 Thunderbird, I love old cars and I had $10, 000 dollars in my pocket, sort of live out in my car and stay, and relied on the kindness of strangers(while saying that, we see her white car) stay in people's houses, and finally I found a drama school that was right for me, and I started to study and it was more form, acting wasn't so much I wanted to be in movies. I got a lot of energy, I love to put it out there, so what a great job for me to do. not only am I good enough for myself, I can play 3 or 4 different characters as well, and then over the course of a couple of years, my drama teacher sort of pushed me out of the theater, I got very enthralled in the theater, and loved it, it was like film. No, no, no, no, oh no!!! I was just scared basically, we were all scared of something. So finally, I was sort of pushed out the door, all the training that I had , and being so loyal, to be very dedicated to the work, rather than being in the movies, coming from a place I just like doing it, rather than needing an identity or needing to work. I did very well, you see my first auditions were great, people respond well to training. They see the work, it doesn't matter how pretty you are, if you don't know what you are doing, you're just another "numb box".
Jane: By the way, the story goes, it was the meeting of you, knowing you were Nikita and everyone got hired after that, that you were the right one. The way the story is told by the executive producer, was that instead of putting you on tape or whatever, they just brought people into a room and talk, is that true.
Peta: Yeah, it was pretty wild actually. I had like 6 or 7 close counters on big movies, and I kept losing to a star, that happens a lot. I said to my manager....that's it, I love the theater, but I'm not going to sit in LA for two years and wait. I'm an actress, I'm going to go to New York and do theater. My first day, I auditioned, I went in for Nikita, I wasn't even sure, I loved the movie. I was frightened, I was like, I can't do that, they already done a great version of it. With that attitude of not really worrying about getting the job or not, I did a great audition, and they called me back a few days later to meet the producer. I said I really loved the opportunity, but I don't know if I am really ready for that kind of commitment, I'm really green, I don't even know what continuity is, I don't know. So six or seven weeks later, it kept going on, they kept calling. I went okay, and I discussed it with the producer saying, I don't know if I would let my children watch a woman who was convicted police officer killer and a drug addict on television. What if she is a victim of circumstance, we can all relate to that, someone who is judged by the way she looks because of the street thing, rather than who she is. He agreed, and we came up with a plan. Sort of convinced a whole lot of people. It wasn't just me, it was a group of us, and that's how it happened and here we are.
Jane: Now, how fun are the action sequences that you get to do, those are just wild (while they were talking, it showed a clip from Spec Ops, where Jurgen has two men fighting with Nikita, Jurgen is there observing).
Peta: That is, that's fun.
Jane: Is that fun, are you a kick boxer, do you train for it.
Peta: No, I'm an actress, I just make it look like it, I'm very good at it. I'm not a kick boxer, I had lots of people ask me. It's fun, try to do as many fight scenes as Jamie Paul Rock allows me to do. That one I did, I did the whole fight scene, I loved every minute of it.
Jane: So what is it, you treat it like choreography, it's like dance.
Peta: It's like dance, but it's more spontaneous, this character is very agile, and her senses is very clear, she's like an animal. So she can hear lots of things all the time, she's very on guard, and very paranoid.
Warner Bros. Online to Host First-Ever La Femme Nikita Convention Video Webcast, Oct. 3-4
Business Wire (1 October 1998)
Warner Bros. Online, producers of the popular La Femme Nikita website [www.nikita.com], will provide live streaming-video coverage of the first-ever La Femme Nikita fan convention, at Toronto's Don Valley Hotel on Oct. 3-4.
The "Close Quarters Standby" convention will stay true to its name, as membership registration for the first days has already sold out! Now, thanks to Warner Bros. Online and Windows Media Player, Nikita fans who couldn't make it to Canada can enjoy the star interaction, celebrity auction and Nikita chat live on the Internet at www.warnerbros.com.
Online fans will also have the chance to enjoy and interact with the actors and creative talents behind La Femme Nikita during several opportunities.
On Saturday, Oct. 3, at 2:45 p.m. ET, fans can watch streaming video of special guest speakers Don Francks and Matthew Ferguson, answering questions from the convention floor. At 4:45 p.m. ET on the same day, costume designer Laurie Drew will participate in a live online chat, answering questions from the Internet audience.
On Sunday, Oct. 4, at 11:30 a.m. ET, fans can enjoy a Special Charity Auction with celebrity auctioneer Francks, offering up Nikita wardrobe, autographed photos and various memorabilia to benefit multiple charities.
During the entire convention, on-site fans will describe the proceedings through a dedicated computer terminal on the convention floor, for the enjoyment of online fans in the Nikita chatroom at www.nikita.com....
Actress is the Cat's Meow
Nikita star Alberta Watson donates $2,100 to city's humane society
Janet Kelly, Cambridge Reporter (5 November 1998)
Nikita has brought the forces of good to the Cambridge and DistrictHumane Society.
At a recent Toronto auction held by fans of the popular television series, actress Alberta Watson donated the proceeds of her items to Cambridge's humane society.
"Here's a huge movie star in the U.S. making a contribution to us," said Bonnie Deckon, executive director of the ocal animal shelter. "It's absolutely amazing to us."
In total, the Oct. 2-3 auction in Toronto raised $17,545 to be distributed by the stars to the charity of their choice.
Ms. Watson, who plays Madeline in Toronto-filmed Nikita, decided to give her share of the proceeds to a humane society and enlisted the help of the chairperson of the charity auction to help her find a needy one in the area.
Living in California, Joyce Wolf depended on her computer and was delighted to come across the Cambridge and District Humane Society's Web page on the Internet.
"It seemed they were appropriate," Ms. Wolf said.
Impressed with the site, Ms. Wolf sent the society a cheque for $1,383 U.S. much to the delight of Deckon, the cheque converts to about $2,100 Canadian.
"They were able to visually see us as a small shelter in need of help," Ms. Deckon said. "They found us and thought this would be a great idea."
She gives much credit in acquiring the special donation to Galganov and Associates, which established, hosts and services the site as a donation to the society.
"People ask 'do Web sites work?" said Mason Galganov, co-owner of the Cambridge business.
Mr. Galganov said he was only too happy to create the site after coming to the city more than a year ago.
"If you're going to go to a community and take things out, you have to put something back in," he said.
It was his hope that the site would bring in much-needed donations, and, to date, the Cambridge site is one of the most successful society sites.
"To us it's a big accomplishment to bring attention to the society," Mr. Galganov said. The humane society is one of those things that is persistently underfunded."
Ms. Watson was delighted with the choice, Ms. Wolf said. Although having recently won a battle with lymphoma, the Toronto native made a special appearance at the auction.
The fans were star-struck, Ms. Wolf said.
Nikita is a series which stemmed from the movie La Femme Nikita, also the name of the series in the U.S. Fans are attracted by a variety of things including "great special effects" and "great actors and actresses," Ms. Wolf said. "The fans think the show is terrific."
Peta Wilson stars a Nikita, a beautiful, courageous woman given a difficult choice - join a secret, ruthless government agency or be executed. Falsely accused of a crime she did not commit, Nikita does whatever is necessary to survive.
Alberta Watson stars as Madeline in the original series which premiered in January 1997 on the USA Network. Madeline is the master strategist of Section One.
Her specialty isn't hardware or logistics, but rather the emotional and psychological side of missions; she probes and analyses the psyches of Section One operatives and opponents, designing strategies that are most likely to succeed.
If the Cambridge humane society remains Ms. Watson's charity of choice, more money could be coming their way. Ms. Wolf plans to auction some more items on the Internet, and send all proceeds to the selected charities.
The Cambridge and District Humane Society is always in need of help.
Tax-deductible contributions to this non-profit organization may be sent to: The Cambridge and District Humane Society, 1650 Dunbar Road, Cambridge, ON N1R 8S5.
Peta's Time-Killer Workout
Robert Sullivan, Women's Sports & Fitness (Nov/Dec 1998)
Late on a Friday afternoon in Hollywood, Peta Wilson has just wrapped up another season of La Femme Nikita, the USA Network show on which she plays a gun-toting, explosion-loving post-Cold War spy, able to disarm attacking evil security forces with a single karate chop. In the bedroom of her home, she is packing her bags, getting ready to fly off for R & R in the South Pacific, and nowhere in her luggage is there a pen phone, a stiletto heel knife, hair gel that is actually a plastic explosive. The fact is, Wilson is, in her non-Nikita life, very much not prepared to save the world, at least not using traditional James Bondian methods. This does not mean that she cannot take care of herself. A tall and thin five feet ten, with the triceps of an Olympian swimmer and the calf muscles of somebody seriously into mountain bikes, she's in good shape all right. Still, despite the paramilitary training she has done for the sake of the show, despite what all the Xena-philes who watch her on TC might think, if a band of rabid evil agents were to barge into her home at this moment, upsetting her planned getaway, her natural inclination would be to high-school-athlete them to death, to challenge them to game of netball, one-on-one, her against the evil forces, winner take the world.
"I'll be honest with you right now," she says, proving the point she is about to make by wearing her boyfriend's ripped-knee Levi's and plain blue Gap T-shirt. "I'm not an action hero."
She sure looks like one on Sunday nights, which is when La Femme Nikita airs. This particular Nikita is the latest incarnation in a series of Nikitas who began life in France in a female-spy film. The concept was later translated into American as Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda, who played a less existential version of Nikita. As in the case of the two previous Nikitas, Wilson's Nikita is a woman living on the street who runs into trouble with the law and is given a second chance by a secret government spy agency, which in the TV series is called Section One, "the most clandestine organization on the planet." A big difference between this Nikita and all the others is that she's not an actual killer; she's just a good guy, really, and, like so many people who turn to international espionage, misunderstood. Also, you get the idea, hinted at in each music-video-like episode, that this Nikita might someday return to the real, mundane world.
In her non-secret-agent life, the 27-year-old Wilson spent her early years growing up in various South Pacific locales, including many years in rural Papua New Guinea, where her father was a military commander. (Her parents thought they were having a boy and adjusted the name Pete to Peta when their daughter was born.) She remembers childhood adventures with her family that the rest of us would now pay a lot of money for: river rafting and jungle vines and roaming through deserted lands. By the time high school came around and she was back in Australia, she went from being an avid sailor and swimmer and nationally ranked netball player - a variation of basketball that they played Down Under - to being a fashion model, a career her mother steered her toward, hoping (vainly) to dissuade her from being too much of a tomboy. In 1991, Peta packed her bags and flrew to L.A., where she landed a few small roles in small films and then auditioned for La Femme Nikita. She seem to fit the part. Last year, TV Guide called Nikita "the best exercise in paranoia since The X-Files."
When Wilson landed her breakthrough role, she spent four months getting in shape, courtesy of an Airborne Ranger fluent in everything from tai chi to commando raids. "He taught me to defend myself, really," Peta remembers, in her raspy Australian accent. "He taught me about something called ‘sensorial intuition'." Now she maintains her interfere-with-my-mission-and-I'll-terminate-you physique with the help of trainer Alvin Greene, owner of Body Alive Studios in Toronto, where Nikita is taped. Peta's workouts are usually conducted right on the set. She does Pilates-type exercises, lifts light weights (five to ten pounds) and uses a steel BodyBar to do biceps curls, military presses, frontal deltoid raises and, of course, squats. She also does lots of crunches, and something Green calls wall squats: With her back against the wall, Wilson lowers herself to a sitting position and stays there as long as she can, usually long enough to go over at least a few lines of script. "I like it because you don't have to push yourself really hard," she says of her workout. "You just have to do the technique." Of workouts in general, she says, "I think it's important that you're doing it for yourself. And when you're clear and you're focused, then your body will follow suit."
Wilson is no the type of person who thinks it makes sense to work on staying thin and having a hard body everyday of the year. On long summer breaks from shooting, she gives her workout a rest. If she were not expected to be Nikita for so many weeks of the year, Wilson would be less likely to work out more likely to, say, hike or play netball. But because she is Nikita, and involved with pseudo-life-threatening stunts and make-believe fights, she works out for her own good. "It's required now to keep me healthy," she says, laughing.
She looks healthy, and as she wraps up the conversation, she speaks with vigorous anticipation about her vacation. Given that she gets enough action from her day job, Wilson tends to take her vacation slow. In Hawaii, she plans to hike up and around volcanoes and to make the most of the beaches. Recently, she took the best vacation she's had in a long time. She went to the Grand Canyon with her father, an experience that blew her away - so much so that she offers this bit of advice, which you are guaranteed not to hear at the undercover-spy school: "It was all so epic," she says. "I recommend every girl go on a long trip with her dad once in her lifetime."
Squat Pulses: To work her thighs, Wilson rests a 14-pound BodyBar across her shoulders (hands gently grasping the ends, legs shoulder-width apart,and squats until her legs are bent at right angles. Then she rises up one third of the way and repeats for three sets of 32 pulses.
Back Extension: To strengthen her back, Wilson [laying face-down] extends her arms overhead and raises her legs and arms as high as she can, holding for two seconds. She does three sets of 12.
Pushups: She does them the hard way -- on her toes -- hands positioned directly under her shoulders. Three sets of 24 tone her chest and upper arms.
Biceps Curl: Wilson exercises her biceps and her memory. Resting her right elbow on her thigh, with forearm parallel to the floor, she slowly lifts a five-pound weight toward her shoulder, then lowers it. After three sets of 20, she switches to her right arm.
Deltoid Raise: Wilson works her shoulders with the BodyBar. Standing with her knees slightly bent, arms down and gripping the bar shoulder-width apart, she raises it to just below shoulder level, then lowers it to her thighs. She does three sets of 24.
Abdominal Crunch: To strengthen her abs, Wilson [laying on her back] places her hands behind her bent knees and contracts her abs to pull her knees and torso together. Again, three sets of 24.
Wall Squat: To work her quads, Wilson leans against a wall and squats with her legs at a 90-degree angle and studies spy tactics for nine minutes.
Oblique Crunch: Lying on her back, Wilson lowers both knees to her left, keeping her torso straight, then raises her shoulders off the ground, holding for one count. She repeats 72 times.
Tim Goodman, The [Sydney, Australia] Sunday Telegraph (6 Dec. 1998)
Finally, somebody who can kick Xena's butt.
La Femme Nikita is based on the 1991 film of the same name (no, not the American version, thankfully), and it has a lot of style and verve.
The world might be flipping for Lucy Lawless as Xena, but she’d take a bullet in a battle with Nikita.
Sure, it’s nice to see all that horseback riding and mythmaking in Xena: Warrior Princess, but Nikita is decidedly a modern girl.
She packs heat. She kicks some serious behind. She’s a babe.
And she’s just this side of totally ruthless. Of course, it’s this fragment of humanity that makes her character engaging.
La Femme Nikita continues on a weekly basis to be influenced by the movie. In fact, the premise in the premiere episode came almost straight out of the movie. Nikita (played by Australian Peta Wilson) is first glimpsed living on the streets in rags. She’s dirty and grimy, and without direction.
She stumbles upon a back-alley knifing (the victim turns out to be a cop) and fights with the killer, coming up with the knife just as the police arrive.
She’s sentenced to life in prison, then is pulled out and given a second chance by the highly secretive, specialised government agency known as Section One.
This high-tech bunch looks to have stepped straight out of the Mission: Impossible movie. But they’re more high-powered than the CIA. In fact, La Femme Nikita owes more to the classic James Bond movies than anything else. This is spy v spy all the way. No rules. No red tape. No mistakes. Just bodies everywhere and big guns with silencers going off a lot.
After faking Nikita’s death (nobody came to the funeral), Section One trains her for two years. Her cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow mentor, Michael (Roy Dupuis), is warned that she’s a loose cannon and she needs to be "cancelled." (Anytime they use that language, you’ve gotta love it.)
Anyway, he sticks by her, thinking that she’s a cold-blooded killer (never knowing that she didn’t kill that cop) and will work out. Like The Fugitive before her, she has to play with the hand she’s been dealt. She has to go along with the plan. Soon, she gets better and better at offing the bad guys. But she’s not the ruthless killing machine they think she is and want her to be. It all takes a toll.
Plus, she’s not exactly Bond. She makes mistakes. She’s still learning the trade. And that’s what makes La Femme Nikita believable. She’s taking tiny steps.
The writers and producers haven’t transformed her into the Terminator overnight. She refuses to lose her soul. It’s a nice complexity to a series that could have easily gone over the top. Each week, Nikita has blossomed a little more.
So far, Wilson is playing her as edgy — not exactly talkative, but not a steely-eyed monster either. Wilson has found a way to be both a trapped test case and a woman getting used to killing for the good of the country (and sometimes the world).
There’s a wonderful array of international bad guys in Nikita, and the show is beginning to expand the surrounding characters nicely.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that, at some point, Nikita is going to want out. She’s going to want her life back. That gives this show great promise.Maybe one day, Xena will time-travel and meet up with her newest action peer. Put your money on the leggy blonde with the high-calibre pistol.
Peta Makes A KIlling
In her butt-kicking role as arch-assassin La Femme Nikita, Australian actress Peta Wilson shows Hollywood she's got what it takes to make it big
New Weekly (7 December 1998)
The eight weeks of intense martial arts training has paid off. Peta Wilson has been transformed into a ruthless killing machine ... but who is she?
Australians are just beginning to learn about the feisty blonde bombshell with the intermittently ocker accent, thanks to the arrival of the stylish US action series La Femme Nikita (Nine Network, Mondays 9.30pm).
Sydney-born Peta plays Nikita, the street girl-turned-government agent/pawn and since the show's debut on American television last January, the 28-year-old actress has quickly become LA's top femme fatale. Gracing the pages of numerous US magazines, she has appeared on talk shows with David Letterman, Jay Leno and Rosie O'Donnell, but the streetwise, sharp-talking beauty knows fame can vanish just as easily as it arrived.
"At any moment, you know, this wave I'm riding like a surfboard rider is going to crash and I better be ready for the tumble-turn that's going to happen," she says. "I know at any point it could finish and you'll be like 'Who the f**k was Peta Wilson?'"
It's unlikely that's going to happen any time soon, however, with the 177cm tall actress signed up on Nikita for the next three years and even knocking back an avalanche of movie offers.
"The next choice I make is going to be something that feeds me creatively," she says. "I'm already getting exposure, so it's not necessary to do a movie for exposure, unless I want to blast myself into some kind of place where I didn't have a life, which I don't want to do. I've been offered a bit of money too, but it's like, 'Well, what do you need?' I'm making a nice living."
Peta's ambitions to become an actress began aged nine when she saw Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and "wanted to be like Jeff Bridges". She dreamed of being an actress but never pursued her ambition here in Australia, turning her interests instead to the national netball squad as its youngest and brightest player. Then came modelling, "not full-time" but long enough for Peta both to become tired of being judged by how she looked and to suffer from anorexia and bulimia before giving it all up.
She spent the next six years studying acting in LA and was all set to head for the stage in New York when her agent mentioned Nikita.
Peta was the first to suggest that her "strong personality" would not fit with TV. She soon charmed the pants off the assembled executives, however, nabbed the role and moved to Canada with her very supportive grandmother Elizabeth, to start work on the 17-hour days.
"When I started I was like, 'Holy hell, what am I doing?' I come from the theatre," Peta remembers. "But now I've learnt the techniques, it's harder to do than some fantastic play. There are so many things you've got to think about, like when the commercial break's coming."
Having just finished shooting the second series of the action show, Peta admits it took a while for US audiences to get the pregnant pauses, meaningful glances and deadpan pronunciation that have become the series's signature.
"On American television, other than The X-Files and NYPD Blue, they talk a lot of crap," says Peta. "People's concentration levels are so low. They watch TV so much, how do you keep them interested in a show where the style is different and characters are ambiguous?"
When first proposed, the original pilot was knocked back because it was too close in concept to the feature films it was based on - the 1990 cult French film and the uninspired 1993 American remake Assassin, in which the character of Nikita is a druggy, murderous gang member before her transformation into a sexy killing machine.
"The US had done a show a couple of years before that had a very dark lead, and they were nervous about Nikita being too dark," says executive consultant Joel Surnow, who has worked on such hit shows as Miami Vice. Instead, Joel pitched a new concept which had Nikita being an innocent who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, then has to pretend to be a person she isn't in order to survive. "She wouldn't be an assassin. She will be killing, but that's not her job. She'll be killing just as if a cop would kill if he had to," he says.
Joel also admits casting was difficult because he was searching for vulnerability, but the blue-eyed Peta had a rawness to her than he loved. This "rawness" probably stemmed from her youth spent in Papua New Guinea with an army colonel father, a caterer mother and a brother, Rob, who is now an Australian army truck driver.
Next for Peta is a starring role in a film about sex and serial killers, to be directed by her boyfriend Damian Harris, son of actor Richard Harris. The couple has set up a production company, Sweet Lick Productions, to develop their own material.
Peta met the writer/producer when she first moved to LA in 1991 to pursue an acting career. They were sharing a home three months later. "I really appreciate and respect what he does, as he does me," she says. "I think part of the reason we fell in love is the creative abilities that we have. That's attractive."
Peta Wilson, TV Commando and Star of An "Uncommon" Series
Alysia Bennett, The Washington Post (20 December 1998)
Army brat turned TV commando. One doesn't necessarily follow the other, but raising a tomboy in Papua New Guinea...Peta Wilson's parents should have seen it coming.
Looking back, Wilson, approaching a third season as star of USA Network's provocative action-drama La Femme Nikita, sees the connection clearly. She credits those early years spent on foreign soil with guiding her to performance art.
"My brother and I were two white kids that grew up in a completely black native environment," she said. "We didn't have television or radio [but] we had our imaginations."
To a generation that could sing lengthy television jingles before speaking full sentences, growing up in that environment might be considered cruel deprivation. But Wilson said she reveled in it. As a way of entertaining herself, she often put on shows for family and friends by lip-syncing or performing skits. Falling in love with the theater, she said, came next.
Seven years after moving to the United States from her native Australia, Wilson has found success via television. La Femme Nikita, airing at 10 p.m. as a staple of USA's Sunday Night Heat lineup, not only has proved to be a "cure for the common show" -- as the USA Network spins it -- but also has given Wilson her juiciest role.
The part was first played by Anne Parillaud in the 1990 French movie and then by Bridget Fonda in the '93 American remake, Point of No Return.
"I love the original movie," said Wilson, 27. "Thank God for [director] Luc Besson for creating the character. Any actress who would play the role of Nikita would bring something different to it. I just love the opportunity to play this wildly multi-dimensional character."
Wilson said she fell back on her theater training to breathe life into her role as Nikita. The methods were unconventional, but effective, she said.
"I actually worked with an ex-Airborne Ranger. I pretty well learned how to be a commando. I did tae kwon do. I did tai chi. I shot off two thousand rounds of ammunition, played war games [and] broke into my own house."
She also went to the zoo. The zoo?
"I tried to get in touch with the animal in me. If I was once in another life, I was either a fish or a dog. But Nikita's a cat," she explained, referring to her character, who at one time lived on the street like a stray. "Whenever I do a role, I always look at what animal would they be. 'Cause when you look at animals, there's no dialogue. There's nothing. You're purely looking at behavior."
Inspired by Besson's film noir of the same title, the series La Femme Nikita is high on style and sophistication, with a hip soundtrack of alternative music that lends additional intensity. In it, Wilson plays a young woman who is sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn't commit. Given a second chance, she's forced into a new life as an elite operative for a secret and ruthless government organization known as Section One. The life she once knew is lost forever.
"I saw a lot of wonderful actresses," said Joel Surnow, executive consultant to the series, "but none of them had the [same] toughness, the exoticism and yet the ability to be able to dress up and pull off such a wide range of things."
A veteran executive producer of some of television's top shows, he confessed to hesitating when he was approached to develop La Femme Nikita as a series. "I felt the show wouldn't be worth doing if we couldn't preserve the raw complexity and sexuality of the film," he said.
The program at times includes partial nudity. And violent, cold-blooded killings are not unusual.
"I think it's more ruthless at the core than any show I've ever done," Surnow said. "I've done some tough shows. I did Miami Vice and The Equalizer, which had some really hard action, and I did the Wiseguy movie. But the protagonists in this show operate in a way that almost appears more villainous than your antagonists."
The characters of the show's highly technical, covert anti-terrorist group known as Section One include Michael, Nikita's trainer, mentor and sometime love interest; Madeline, the master strategist; Walter, the Section One equivalent of James Bond's gadget man "Q"; Birkoff, the computer genius; and Operations, the ultimate intelligence bureaucrat and leader of Section One, who makes all the big decisions -- including who should live and who should die.
On the surface, these characters seem fairly straightforward, but over time it becomes evident that they are as unpredictable as the show. Motivations and agendas are usually hidden, and none of the characters can be sure how they are being manipulated or by whom. There is also an obscurity to the series that reaches out beyond its characters.
"It's not just high-tech and dark. It's very subterranean," said Surnow.. "We're never outside, we're never in a bookstore, we're never in a supermarket. It's never in the mundane world. Even when we go outside to do things, we're in these sort of hard-to-reach places. You never know what city you're in. You never know where the Section is. You never really know quite where everything is."
Sometimes you don't know what you're listening to, either. "You'll never hear U2 on our show," Surnow joked. The score is hard to pin down -- unfamiliar, exuding the European techno-sound. A soundtrack featuring 16 songs from previous episodes was released June 16.
The first season was largely experimental, said Surnow, and it took 14 episodes to "find" the show. By design, the series is actor-driven and dialogue is sparse. As the third season draws near, beginning Jan. 3, he said, there still is no formula for the show....
Wilson, too, said she is looking ahead to the possibilities of the new season. She also looks to her own future. She mentioned Gena Rowlands and Bette Davis among her favorite actors, and she suggested that if one day she could be half as good as they, she'd be content.
"I've learned a lot from doing this show, technically," she said. "Combine that with my theater training, hopefully I've got a pretty good instrument. I think actors are like a piano: The more you train, the more you learn -- you've got more keys to play with. At the moment, I've got, like, five keys. I'm playing a song with five notes. But I think as you get older and more experienced, sooner or later you're playing the whole piano."
"Femme" Sleek, Stealthy
Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post (29 December 1998)
I haven't kept up with "La Femme Nikita." It's one of those original cable dramas I like but don't follow closely.
As the series makes its third season premiere on Sunday at 8 p.m. on USA, it remains an eye-catching hour.
Mainly, it's a stylistic achievement. Modeled on the 1991 feature film, the show has a distinctive, metallic, industrial, high-gloss look and feel.
The set design suggests pre-millennial paranoia. Ultra-sleek postmodern interiors dominate the screen, with a refreshingly international cast wearing high-style black-on-black. The stories have a nicely nuanced, mysterious and somehow urgent tone.
Add to that the haunting main title music by Mark Snow and the use of cutting-edge music by Depeche Mode, Enigma, Curve, Mono and others, and you've got a show that's different enough to merit attention.
Not least, the pouty Peta Wilson does amazing physical stunts en route to blowing up terrorists, extricating herself from certain death traps time and again, hurling herself through the air, rolling off cars and sliding down chutes while firing guns with both hands, all while dressed in slinky black - definitely a certain style.
Nikita (the Australian Wilson) and her mentor Michael (the Canadian Roy Dupuis) are a stunning couple. Too bad they have to watch their backs constantly and rarely get to share more than a couple of cryptic sentences between chase scenes. He's inscrutable, she's inscrutable; they're a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that keeps viewers guessing.
Executive consultant Joel Surnow talks about wanting the TV version to preserve "the raw complexity and sexuality" of the feature film. Maybe that's why there's so much black leather. In any case, the translation to the small screen works.
Never mind the fact that it's tough to tell the good guys from the bad guys. We're supposed to be vaguely confused. As in "The X-Files," there are layers of deceit at work, and the truth is elusive.
Nikita operates in a high-stakes, covert international espionage and anti-terrorist organization. She trusts no one. If you've followed the back story, as they say, you know Nikita was sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn't commit, and now, given a second chance, she is forced into a new life as an elite operative for Section One, a clandestine government organization. Now the bureaucrat known only as Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer) is out to get her. We don't really know who's in charge and why they are treating her like this. We do know, however, that Madeline (Alberta Watson) is the ruthless mastermind of Section One who psychologically manipulates those who report to her. She delicately trims an orchid while ordering assassinations.
Between Operations and Madeline, la femme's got plenty to pout about.
At the end of last season, Nikita attempted to destroy Section One and was caught. This week the new season begins with a four-episode story thread that picks up in the same spot. Brace for a surprise concerning Michael and a secret he's been harboring.
A distaff James Bond updated for the late '90s, "La Femme Nikita" is worth another look.
Review of Season Premiere of La Femme Nikita
Kinney Littlefield, The Orange County Register (31 December 1998)
Question -- most frequently asked by anxious male viewers. When will they air new episodes of La Femme Nikita?
Answer -- repeated often: Stop buggin' me -- the third season premieres at 10 p.m. tonight. You get 22 new episodes, so put a lid on it.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Sundays haven't been the same since luminous, luscious, lethal assassin Nikita (Peta Wilson) ended [S]eason 2 last August. Sure, you had encores over the fall -- which should have kept you happy. But Nikita is long on looks and moves -- not necessarily a bad thing -- and short on enduring substance. She's a gripping, gorgeous, artificial high, guys. Like kids addicted to the latest Disney merchandise, you need a frequent new fix.
Eventually, Nikita won't satisfy.
But right now she does.
And how. Check blood pressure before palming remote.
In tonight's somewhat sluggish season opener, good-hearted Nikita -- who last season tried to sabotage Season One, the unscrupulous anti-terrorist group she works for -- is herself prey. Her bosses, Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer) and Madeline (Alberta Watson), try to snuff her by sending her on a deliberately messed-up mission.
Any normal mortal would die 10 times over. Tonight's episode is not prime Nikita. It suffers -- as most season openers do -- from trying to explain too much, talk too much, straighten out too many story lines. Even the high-action kill-Nikita sequence early on feels flat. But this is only the start of a four-episode arc that promises deeper Nikita nirvana.
And Wilson is, of course, flawless. High stylin' Nikita demands as much. Her white-blonde hair is perfect, just mussed arousingly enough. Her huge blue eyes shimmer. Her buff bod seems liquid -- poured into what looks like a killer-cool Kevlar bulletproof suit.
But wait -- hard bod, soft heart. Nikita has a big mushy spot for her mysterious trainer/mentor Michael. Turns out Michael has two weighty personal secrets of his own in tonight's premiere. They disturb Nikita. So do his oh-so-sexy-sleepy eyes.
Anyway, here she is, guys, as promised: libido-lifting Nikita, a deadly dream, a rush too perfect to be true. And for all you femmes out there who relish a great goof of a girl-power fantasy -- hey, Nikita is for you, too.
Michael Ventura, Psychology Today (December 1998)
Why are TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, La Femme Nikita and Xena: Warrior Princess so popular, especially among teens?
You can gauge the public's true feeling by what its entertainment is trying to salve. Television's weekly one-hour shows, known in the trade as "episodics", constitute the bulk of American's exposure to serious drama. These series mostly depict cops, doctors, and lawyers - professions on the gritty interface between working citizens and the ruling powers, professions that Americans are leery of in real life.
We watch to reassure ourselves that the representatives of Officialdom can be depended upon in a pinch. We need to be reassured: deep down, we harbor the nasty notion that nobody's really looking out for us. These shows soothe our fears. Somebody cares. The heart of society is good, after all.
I've dubbed these dramas the Priest-and-Nun shows: characters agonize earnestly and endlessly over moral choices and their own worthiness. ER, Chicago Hope: priests and nuns with stethoscopes. NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Streets: priests and nuns with guns. Law and Order, The Practice: priests and nuns with cases. The X-Files: a priest and nun (who, unlike most of the other "clerics," seem to be celibate) fight the Dark Powers, for the truth must be out there somewhere - a moral conviction if ever there was one. Throw in Baywatch: naked priests and nuns. And Dawson's Creek, the teen novitiate house.
Such fare speaks of a people unsure of what it means to be good or bad. In classic Hollywood films, moral choice wasn't an issue, wasn't the meat of the drama. The major characters had already drawn the hard line between right and wrong; the drama was in getting the job done against enormous odds. Now characters anguish over where the line is, or whether it even exists. They always come out on the side of traditional morality, of course. That's point of the exercise, though it can take a while to get there, to reaffirm that the heart of society is, after all, good.
But there is another breed of show on TV, with a very large and mostly young following, that takes the opposite stance: the heart of society is demonic. Society is Hell. The vission is fatalistic, the moral choice made for us before we were born. There may or may not be a God, but the Devil is the bully is your neighbourhood. And to be human is to constantly fight demons.
The X-Files, at first glance, seems to fall in this category. But Fox Mulder and Dana Scully continue, despite all evidence to the contrary, to believe that there's a moral solution to their dilemma. If only the truth "out there" were known, they'd be victorious.
The real society-is-hell shows aren't so optimistic. For one thing, they don't believe there's an end to the struggle. For another, in these shows men aren't much good at demon-fighting. It's up to the women.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows a perky high-school girl (Sarah Michelle Gellar) whom fate has designated the Slayer. Every generation has one, and if you're it, you have no choice. Two students, a boy and a girl, are Buffy's allies, but she's the Slayer. She does all the fighting, mostly kickboxing. Convinced that she'll die young - you can only kickbox for so long - Buffy lives for the moment, though she's kept so busy with her duties, she doesn't get to date much.
According to Buffy, the American high school lies right around the corner from the Mouth of Hell, which constantly spews forth demons (mostly teens) intent on disrupting the course of education. With the exception of the school librarian, adults are oblivious to the evil reality. Bizarre events occur with unnerving regularity and Buffy is rarely home nights, but her single Mom remains certain that things will be normal in the morning that Buffy could finish her homework if only she had the right counselling.
The symbolism is dizzying. Drugs, alcohol and gangs are conspicuously absent from Buffy's high school, but it's clear that these are Hell Mouth's vomitus. Demons are the gangs. The surreal transformations in gullible kids victimized by demons - that's your brain on drugs. And the helplessness of grown-ups in the face of this Hell - that's life. Even Buffy's love, Angel, is in the end just another vampire.
Done with sly yet generous humor, Buffy lets us forget the pain of its premise - which is precisely its appeal. Buffy, the pagan priestess, struggles to turn darkness into light, but the battle is unending. There's always another vampire to fight, every night, every generation. Humor makes it bearable but doesn't change it.
Only one show has a bleaker premise: La Femme Nikita. With Buffy, Hell's around the corner. But Nikita lives in Hell. It's called Section One, and it's even located underground. "I was falsely accused of a hideous crime," intones Nikita in the opening narration of each episode, "and condemned to death." Section One staged her funeral, recruited her, trained her, "and if I don't play by their rules, I die."
If Buffy is uncorrupted by her struggle, Nikita has fallen victim to it, accepting corruption far worse, Nikita herself is a demon, one of the living dead, but darkly on the side of light. Section One fights terrorists. And in fighting terrorists, the ends justify the means. Nikita kills and tortures on order. She resisted the practice at first, but now she breaks fingers with the best of them. The show's horrors are something Buffy would not dare contemplate.
But make no mistake: La Femme Nikita's weekly torture session, indulged in by characters with whom viewers are encouraged to identify and empathize, is unconscionable. Torture is disturbing, but the real ugliness here is the stylistic flourish with which it is presented. In Nikita, torture is not a horror but a titillation.
Nikita pushes our preconceptions in other ways as well. While Buffy is a squeaky-clean hetero teen, Nikita (Peta Wilson) is a seductive 20-ish blond, a fashion plate with a runway walk who sexually swings both ways. In one episode Nikita falls in love with a stunning African-American woman, and their close-up tongue-twining kiss makes the canceled Ellen's lesbian liplocks look as tame as a Brady Bunch buss. In most episodes, though, Nikita's love is a cold control-freak named Michael. A Section One comrade, he's passive-aggressive, effeminate and masculine.
Hell, in other words, knows no boundaries. Butch/femme, straight/gay, good/evil, sweet/bitter, control/chaos - everything's blurred. Hell is just like the Nineties. The ambivalence that frighten Americans so much are taken for granted on La Femme Nikita.
You want Officaldom to be on your side? OK, it's on your side - sort of. But it's evil. If it has to threaten you and your children to stop a terrorist, it will. Being on society's side doesn't necessarily mean being on your side. La Femme Nikita provides no comfort. It assumes we're living in the worst of worlds. As with Buffy, there is no future. For every terrorist you kill, you'll have to face another.
What Buffy and Nikita have most in common is that they are warriors. Western storytelling hasn't seen their ilk since the legendary female fighters of the Celts. So it's fitting that the most brazen of TV's new warrior women is the Celtic battler Xena (played by the grand Lucy Lawless).
Buffy and Nikita inhabit the Devil's kingdom, but Xena frolics in a sorcerer's realm where Playboy-fold-out witches come and go in puffs of smoke. Xena is never threatening like Nikita or focused like Buffy. She cavorts safely in the legendary past. It's all comic book - except for the look in Xena's eyes.
A scantily clad butch who's still femme enough to please the boys, Xena has a sentimental streak and a fundamental sweetness. But her eyes blaze with rages and fears, bright with paradoxes that belie the silly scripts. The strain of her fierceness wears on her. Where we see a fairy realm, she seems to see a bad dream. A very human face stares from that comic book, and you can't get more Nineties than that surreal mix.
Not so long ago, viewers wouldn't follow a woman into such hellish worlds. Now they wouldn't follow a man. (Hercules, for all its popularity, is basically a cartoon for little kids; it's Xena, Warrior Princess that grabs both teens and adults.) Far from softening the shows, these warrior women make the nightmarish visions all the more stark. Male heroes just aren't flexibel enough to handle the conditions that Buffy, Nikita and Xena deal with. To handle, that is, the Nineties.
John Wayne would sooner nuke Nikita's world than tolerate it, even if it means blowing up the planet; Humphrey Bogart, trapped in Buffy's high school, would get drunk and stay drunk; Errol Flynn, faced with Xena, would drop his sword and abandon the field. The old dramatic conception of the male hero depends upon strong boundaries and clear choices. In a world increasing without boundaries, those guys would just look lost - as their descendants usually do on the male-dominated Priest-and-Nun shows.
American isn't ready to accept sexual ambivalence in its male action heroes. American still wants them to make clear moral choices, even if they have to struggle to get there. None of this half-angel, half-devil stuff. In a man, that's still seen as somewhat sinister; in a woman it's seductive.
Young America, the big audience for these shows, seems willing to let warrior women lead in the realm of the betwixt-and-between, morally, sexually, every which way. If the women prove survival is possible in such a world, the men may eventually tag along. But they won't be ready until they, like Buffy and Xena, can not only tolerate but learn to relish ambivalence - and, unlike poor fallen Nikita, refuse to let a lack of boundaries demolish their morality.
Kings, Queens, Knights, Pawns
Michelle Erica Green, Mania Online (1998)
Over the past few months, La Femme Nikita has become my favorite hour of television every week. Oh, the arc's not as well-written as The X-Files, it's not as stylish as Buffy nor as consistent as Earth: Final Conflict, and it's impossible to compare to the space operas in terms of scope or even realism. It merely has the two coolest women currently on television.
Odd as it may seem to have a season finale in late August, that's what USA chose to do with La Femme Nikita...a rather brilliant strategy considering that new episodes of the series had reruns for ratings competition, and will come back only after the hype for this fall's new series has passed. All summer they've been balancing James Bond-style politics with one of the best soap operas on TV, leading to this week's stunning conclusion, "End Game." Maybe because it's on a cable network or maybe because the show's produced in Canada, Nikita takes risks few other series would dare. In the season opener, the scandal was nudity; in the closer, it was an attempt to justify the positive aspects of the continued empowerment of Saddam Hussein. No matter what one thinks of this show's values, it's never boring.
Despite the tech, terrorists, and shootouts, La Femme Nikita works best as a relationship show, so let's look at it on that level first. At its center are two couples. Operations and Madeline control the workings of the anti-terrorist organization and the protection of its interests; Michael and Nikita, whom the elder pair seem to be grooming to take over their roles, are operatives who live and breathe their work. Operations (whose given name is Paul and we've never heard a last name) runs Section One. While he has to answer to something called Oversight, which occasionally sends in observers and meddling evil admirals, Operations seems to have absolute power to kill anyone or blow up anything he wants. Madeline's official job description has to do with psychoanalyzing and psyching out terrorist threats, but in practice, her role is bondage and discipline - which often includes killing people who have worked with her. Give her a whip, and she could play Catwoman.
Nikita, of course, is the falsely-accused former prisoner who was taken from her cell and recruited by Section One under threats of "cancellation" - that's Section-speak for execution - if she ever fails to cooperate. Nikita has been naughty on several occasions before this season finale, but Michael, her trainer and mentor, has bailed her out during the times when she couldn't save herself. Michael and Nikita were lovers briefly but have engaged in a perverse sort of power dance this season. Ditto Operations and Madeline, who were apparently passionately involved some time ago - a state Operations would like to revive, despite Madeline's objections. Thus, Operations and Michael are similar in both their ruthlessness and their single apparent weakness: they are both willing to take risks for the women they love which could destroy everything they care about, from their own lives to the agency itself.
Michael has seemed to become increasingly like Operations this season and to be taken into the section head's confidence more and more, so I was surprised by his twice offering to let Nikita escape during the finale, "End Game." Michael let her go once, at the end of last season, when it was the only way to save her life, but he spent the next several months working to get her back into his life and his work. Since then, he and Nikita have lied to one another and betrayed each other on both a personal and professional level, so in some ways, "End Game" was heartwarming: maybe Michael cares about Nikita as much as Operations apparently cares about Madeline, not only more than his own life but beyond power or even honor.
Then again, maybe neither of these guys can tell love from power. Either way, it's a volatile combination, and quite sexy. These aren't likeable people, not even Nikita; she's gotten far too comfortable shooting people, shooting through the innocent to get to the guilty, closing her eyes to Madeline's methods of torture and murder. It's important to keep the characters vulnerable on a personal level, or viewers aren't going to relate to them, and then the twisted, fragmented international conspiracies might not be enough to keep the show compelling.
The biggest shock of the finale on a character level was Nikita's concession that the aims of Section One really do justify the means. Forced to choose between Operations (who by his own admission has been supporting dictators like Saddam in order to control the spread of terrorism) and Section founder Adrian (who believes that Operations' power is completely out of hand), Nikita sided with her boss. She accepted Operations' justification for murdering innocents along with freely elected officials of foreign countries as a necessary evil for protecting the world from the possible spread of chemical weapons and nuclear proliferation. It's hard to believe that this argument got to her, even with Michael prompting her to believe Section has done more good than harm. In many ways, Nikita is turning into Michael: she's now willing to lie even to her lover for what she believes in.
Is Michael turning into Operations? It's too soon to say, though I'm inclined to believe so. Since we learned at the end of "End Game" that Nikita was working for Operations all along where Adrian was concerned, we have to believe that Michael had personal reasons to want to contact the founder of Section which had nothing to do with Operations' orders. He seems next in line to inherit legitimately, but if he has a coup in mind, what kind of power does he intend to wield? Michael's a romantic figure with a rebellious past as a student protestor, but he can also be ruthless and cold. I'm not sure Nikita would be doing the world a favor giving Michael any more power than he has.
Madeline, who's just too cool for words, is the biggest wild card of all. She doesn't seem to want absolute power - or if she does, she's apparently content to exercise it through Operations, though their messy personal relationship may complicate that. It's hard to tell whether Madeline's reluctance to have an ongoing sexual relationship with the head honcho stems from her disdain for sex with him or because she likes it rather too much for her own good - after all, this is a woman who describes desire as the ultimate weakness. Her relationship with Nikita is similarly convoluted. It's hard to tell whether Madeline protects the younger woman because she has genuine admiration for Nikita or because she wants to use Nikita for her own dark purposes.
I hesitate to make predictions about next season. I've heard rumors, some plausible (that we're going to find out Michael has a wife and kids outside of Section), some less so (that we're going to find out computer whiz Berkoff is really the love child of Operations and Madeline). In "End Game," Madeline suggested to Operations that the safest way to keep Nikita quiet is to send her out on dangerous missions until she inevitably gets bumped off, but that's not a state of affairs Michael is likely to tolerate. And it's pretty clear that Madeline doesn't want to lose Nikita: she's just protecting the girl from Operations' current wrath. I think the power struggle within Section is going to have to take precedence over any outside terrorist activities, and that means the personal relationships are going to have to sort themselves out, one way or another.
I don't suppose I'm going to get my fantasy wherein the two women toss out the guys and run Section together, but it sure would make for an interesting storyline. My hunch is that Michael is going to discover he needs Nikita professionally as well as personally, but by the time he realizes it, he's going to have violated her trust in some fundamental way which makes her unwilling to work with him. And it wouldn't surprise me if Operations' ego were unable to put up with ongoing rejection from Madeline, which might make him seek out Nikita as a possible replacement, with Madeline privately using Nikita to resist their overseer.
If Nikita is going to remain in Section - a choice she has made twice now of her own free will - we hadbetter get some better justification for it than Saddam Hussein...or true love.