la femme nikita: open heart
2.09 / Original air date 5 April, 1998
Written: Elliot Stern
Directed: René Bonnière
From the moment this dark, super-spy series with the blonde glamazon and her mysterious, mullet-haired lover debuted, it was inevitable that the writers would 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 just gave them more to play with. Torres is a versatile actor with an indefinable sensuality. Watch her work in Firefly, Alias and Xena to see exactly what I mean.
For anyone who doesn't know, La Femme Nikita was the original TV adaptation of the 1990 Luc Besson classic film of the same name, masterminded by Joel Surnow (creator of 24). LFN really started the whole female spy formula that was later perfected for Alias.
When cancelled after the fourth season, there was enormous fan pressure from LFN fans for the studio to wrap up existing storylines. The producers funded an additional 8-episodes, and it was the perfect ending.
Along with heroines from shows like Xena, Dark Angel, Alias, and Buffy, Nikita is one of those tortured women with a difficult destiny. She was made to suffer and suffer some more, to a degree unparalleled in genre television. As a rule there is often comic relief and romantic interludes enjoyed by the characters to allow them to blow off steam. Not so with LFN. This was week after week of unrelenting darkness, treachery, despair and death.
Despite clinging desperately to her own sense of morality, Nikita has no time or energy for tears. She's dangerous, 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.
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 the powers see her as an essentially harmless operative who gets the job done. Everyone 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. I don't think the episode "Open Heart" is the only indication that Nikita swings both ways. In this episode, Nikita must infiltrate a women's prison in order to stage a break with a Red Cell (bad guys) operative named Jenna. A bomb has been implanted into a Red Cell assassin and Jenna is the only one who knows the bomber's identity. Nikita must gain Jenna's trust, all the while intending to betray her.
When Nikita saves Jenna's life in prison a friendship is formed and an attraction grows. 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.
They finally make their escape, and Jenna is immediately captured and interrogated. Despite their best efforts, Section One are unable to make her crack. They send in Nikita to try and distract Jenna. 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.
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.
The whole thing could have been a sham. Jenna might have been in love with Nikita, she might have been acting. But 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. To top it all off, here was a lesbian sweeps story that didn't leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. It was played with real emotion, which set a new standard for the genre.