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INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Farewell to Nikita

AOKI-GUY-color1By GUY AOKI

When it debuted in the September 2010, it was the only network show to star an Asian American. It was “Nikita,” a remake of the 1990 French film of the same name and the 1997 TV series “Le Femme Nikita,” and it starred Maggie Q, who’s half Vietnamese.

It was an unpredictable series that kept reinventing itself by having regular cast members switching sides and destroying one evil organization only to have to conquer an even bigger umbrella network.

Q played Nikita Mears, a wayward youth sentenced to death for killing a police officer. But “Division,” a government-funded shadow organization, faked her death and trained her as a secret agent and assassin.

When she broke the rules by falling in love with a non-agent, the organization had him killed, and Nikita resolved to destroy Division by sending a mole into the organization — Alexandria Udinov (Lyndsy Fonseca), a sex slave and drug addict whom she trained.

In Season 1, Nikita’s trainer, Michael (“ER’s” Shane West), worked closely with the evil Percy (“24’s” Xander Berkeley) to capture their former agent, but gradually, Michael realized he’d fallen in love with her and that Percy was working against the interests of the country (duh). So he joined Nikita and Alex’s campaign. But then one of the baddies revealed to Alex that the agent who murdered her father was Nikita.

After Nikita befriended another Division assassin Owen (Devon Sawa), she realized he had been the agent assigned to murder her fiancé (obviously, this series ran on a lot of tension). Eventually, computer expert Birkhoff (Aaron Sanford) joined Team Nikita as well.

In the second season finale, Nikita killed Percy in self-defense, and her team took over Division, but it was full of former bad guys who couldn’t always be trusted.

Maggie Q

Maggie Q

Former Division psychologist and sadist Amanda (Melinda Clarke) became the main villain as we learned she was part of Oversight, which supervised Division.

This spring, the series, with falling ratings (the premiere was watched by 3.57 million people; the finale, .82 million), the CW gave the producers a shortened fourth season —just six episodes.

Nikita had been framed for the assassination of the president of the United States. But it turns out she was one of many doubles Amanda had installed in place of important leaders. After her group rescued the real president and others who had been replaced, Nikita and her team — who always thought telling the truth about what they’d done and about Division would get them killed — finally confessed to a Senate subcommittee everything they knew about Division and their long and winding road to getting rid of the corruption around them. Nikita even got the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But Amanda, who’d faked her death to give Nikita and her associates a false sense of security, captured Ryan Fletcher (Noah Bean), who’d run the new Division. Rather than become brainwashed into hurting Nikita, he jumped out of a building. Before dying, he let Nikita know of the doubles and the fact that Amanda was still alive.

In the riveting season finale, which aired Dec. 27, Nikita and Alex seemed to go on a murderous rampage, killing the eight members of “The Shop” — the latest evil organization still in place. Was the series going to end on such a dark note that Nikita had given into her baser instincts instead of always trying to do the right thing?

The assassinations turned the rest of Team Nikita against them, the two were arrested, and Nikita was held in a top-secret government facility where Amanda came out to gloat.

Nikita turned the tables by incarcerating Amanda instead and explaining that she actually hadn’t killed anyone — they used tranquilizer bullets. Nikita told Amanda that instead of killing her, she was going to leave her alone where no one would ever know where she was.

After a seemingly never-ending uphill battle against one evil organization after another coming out of the woodwork to reveal their plans to take over the world, the good guys finally won. Nikita and Michael were married and continued their own missions in Ecuador.

I never wrote a column dedicated to the show because the character’s ethnicity was virtually a non-issue. There was an episode where we saw flashbacks to Nikita’s parents, and I believe they revealed her mother (as in Q’s real life) was Asian, but I missed it.

In another show where Nikita sabotaged a Division operation, Percy asked an agent about what she looked like. “5’7” brunette? … Yeah, it’s Nikita.” I laughed out loud. Uh, wouldn’t “Asian” be part of the description? How could he know it was Nikita just based on height and hair color?

A source told me Maggie Q didn’t want her ethnicity to be talked about, hoping that the audience would just see her as a woman without any baggage attached to being Asian. That’s a shame. How many half-black women would’ve asked for the same non-ethnic description of their characters?

The series gave former Entertainment Weekly writer Albert Kim the chance to develop his writing skills; he was eventually promoted to executive producer and will write and executive-produce a new CW series for Eva Longoria.

But other Asians were barely seen unless they were playing foreign nationals, usually baddies. Still, it was a good showcase for Maggie Q, who demonstrated not only her fighting chops (she supposedly did her own stunts) but sensitivity as an empathetic human being.

Set Aside More Time in Your Daily Routine Department: Korean American Janice Min, who took over as editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter in 2010, has been named co-president of the Entertainment Group of Guggenheim Media, making her co-president of THR and sister publication Billboard.

Min, who was formerly in charge of People magazine, hired a bunch of reporters who added a lot of more human interest (like People) content to the THR website, building interest in it to the point where now it gets more than 12 million unique visitors each month.

The L.A. Press Club recently gave 20 National Entertainment Journalism Awards to THR, including “Best Website,” “Best Entertainment Publication,” and “Best Journalist.”

I can attest to its allure — I spend waaay too many hours going through that website every day just trying to keep up with music, TV, movie and industry news. Most days, I barely get anything else done.

Min also saved THR’s print counterpart, halting the daily magazine and instead putting out deluxe weekly editions full of in-depth reporting on executives, stars and writers, and gathering many industry insiders for roundtable discussions that are also videotaped. (By comparison, Daily Variety, its chief competitor, is all but dead.)

Great, so I’m sure it’ll take me even longer to go through Billboard.com and its print version now that she’s taken that over too. Sigh…

Belated Farewell Department: I didn’t have room to write about Dr. Mary Oda (who died last November) in previous columns, but I wanted to acknowledge her passing here.  I was surprised The Rafu didn’t do a full story on her long life and interesting history. I mean, this is someone who’d been a doctor during the internment camps of World War II, who lost several members of her family due to poor camp conditions, and gave tearful testimony at the 1981 commission hearings revealing her frustrations about feeling American but always being regarded as “the enemy.”

Around 1990, I asked her to be a panelist for a workshop I was moderating for the “Future of the Nikkei Community” conference. Having seen the commission tapes (sponsored by NCRR and Visual Communications) over and over again, I felt I was talking to a celebrity. Over the phone, she talked about her concerns about the latest trends hurting society. “… And now you have these crack babies where they’re born addicted to crack! It’s so frustrating! And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

MaryOda_groupHere’s a picture from that conference of myself, Dr. Oda, her youngest daughter Meri Jane, Oda’s younger sister Lily (who once taught Ralph Lazo, whose daughter later married Lily’s son), and her husband James. Unfortunately, of these relatives, only Meri Jane is still with us. Thanks to fellow Rafu columnist Phil Shigekuni for identifying everyone and offering those bits of trivia.

Thank you, Dr. Oda, for all your caring and hard work. Rest well.

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at guyaoki@yahoo.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

2 Comments

  • ckonnect
    January 9, 2014 | Permalink |

    As a devout, dedicated Nikita/Maggie fan and fellow Asian American, it is my opinion that Maggie Q is very proud of her heritage and wouldn’t mind “asian/polish/irish, 5’7″ brunette” mentioned. I don’t know who your source is though, so you may have the upper hand here.
    I also disagree with mention that a half-black woman would never ask for a non-ethnic description. That is stereotyping, is it not?
    Does your driver’s license have your ethnicity listed next to height and eye color? Do my comments make you think I’m not proud of my ethnicity? Because to be honest, although I am Asian American by “census” definition, I am truly MULTIcultural. Filipino bloodline, raised in Canada/United States living abroad in Europe. And I wouldn’t prefer someone describing me as that “multicultural woman” while walking down the street. But I am proud and wouldn’t mind being categorized by my ethnicity, my gender, my height or any other feature of mine.

  • yamamotojk
    January 10, 2014 | Permalink |

    A comment on this column that was posted last night or this morning went to the spam folder and was accidentally deleted. Please repost.

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