Nikita's final season has been slow to start, but 'Pay-Off' promises to do just that, in an at least titular continuation from last week's episode 'Set-Up.' It starts slow with the return of a villain who didn't need to come back and some references to old episodes we didn't need, but the final act turns up the heat just in time.
We're in Pakistan, where one poor soldier gets abducted and left in the back of a van so that yet another clone can take his place. Of course, nobody notices the van. Meanwhile, Air Nikita finally goes to ground nearby, with Ryan in full nervous panic mode. He has reason for that - the plane is promptly invaded by armed smugglers. You'd think that for all the technology on the plane, they'd put better locks on the doors. The smugglers demand ten million dollars, which Alex and Sam have to go fetch from a safe deposit box in Switzerland, while still not getting along. Business as usual, then.
Minions report Alex and Sam's whereabouts to Amanda, who's been benched by her business partner due to her "obsession" with Nikita. He thinks that he can persuade Team Nikita to give up their crusade by offering them faked deaths and subsequent new identities. "It's in my own self-interest," he tells her. "Trying to kill you was a mistake, but unlike Percy and Amanda, I learn from my mistakes." That last sentence comes while Amanda is in the room. Burn. But Nikita is only interested in The Shop's unconditional surrender.
Meanwhile, Michael isn't happy to spot Ramon (Simon Kassianides from Quantum of Solace), who hasn't been seen since Season 2's "Knightfall," turn up on surveillance footage from an army depot. Ramon's also pulled a Logan Cale from Dark Angel and he's no longer paralyzed, courtesy of The Shop. The team decides to find out what he's up to as Alex takes care of business, moaning about how she's now relegated to the role of "the banker." Hey, if this were Monopoly, she wouldn't be complaining.
Sam sort of, kind of tries to talk to her about her issues regarding Sean's (Dillon Casey) death during the Division mutiny. He points out that he gets it because of the death of his former fiancee Emily (Bianca Lawson). And then he saves her life for a second time this season.
Cue the movement of a Really Big Missile, courtesy of the soldier clone. Ryan quickly deduces that the RBM is intended for a United States aircraft carrier. So Team Nikita has their Mission of the Week. Michael and Nikita track the RBM into the woods, but one small sound - that appears to come out of nowhere - alerts Ramon, setting off a gun battle between him and Michael. After they discuss deals made with the devil, Michael discovers from Ramon that Nikita's current predicament is the result of her trying to get his hand back, and then kills Ramon.
He reunites with Nikita, who has recovered the RBM, and they discover that The Shop has found a way to use that one to gain access to all of Pakistan's missiles. Looking for a way to fix that problem, the team gets a call from Alex, who tells Nikita that the man who tried to kill her revealed that he works for MDK - a private military company. MDK's Chief Financial Officer is Amanda's business partner. Suddenly, Ryan's giant conspiracy wall makes sense!
Suspecting that Sam's motivations are still not entirely pure, Alex convinces him to head for Paris without her, just so she can see where he actually goes.
Amanda returns to Birkhoff's father Ronald Peller (Judd Nelson) and orders him to destroy Shadownet, and he apparently cracks Birkhoff's firewalls in about fifteen seconds. When Birkhoff discovers his father is alive, he's shocked. But his father sends him an IP address which allows him to pinpoint The Shop's HQ location as MDK's office in Dubai.
Nikita, Michael, Birkhoff and Ryan, who finally gets something to do, break their way into the building and confront Amanda's business partner face-to-face. With a gun pointed square at him, he folds the operation, which Amanda doesn't agree to. She grabs a gun and starts shooting indiscriminately. Birkhoff reunites with his father, while Michael frees everyone else Amanda has had locked up, including the real President Spencer.
Elsewhere, Nikita has another confrontation with Amanda. Referring to her by her real name, Helen, she urges her to "do the right thing" and stop the missile launch. But Amanda insists that "it's too late," forcing Nikita to either use the one missile they have to blow up the building they're in, or watch the carrier group go down. What follows is the last-minute evacuation drama you've seen in countless action movies. "You don't get to save me, Nikita, but you will kill me," Amanda says, steadfastly refusing to move while everyone else panics.
The RBM slams into the building, with Nikita knocked unconscious in the resulting rubble, the President confirmed alive, and Amanda's business partner in a cell...meeting with Amanda, who's very much alive. We're told that the Amanda who was just killed was a clone all along, and that the master plan that was just stopped, was just one finger on the evil hand. As much as we're not surprised because otherwise there wouldn't be anything to discuss for two more episodes, we can't help but get a little frustrated, too.
"Pay-Off" doesn't deliver much of one until the second half of the episode. There's not much of a reason for Ramon to have been specifically brought back, except to give Michael and Nikita something else to have another deep conversation about. And the references to past events, while nice touches for continuity's sake, don't really enhance the story. We don't need to know that Sam understands what it's like for Alex to have lost a loved one; if you've been watching the show with any regularity, you probably know that already. For the first thirty minutes, this episode unfolds like another Mission of the Week, at the wrong time.
But the second half of this episode is what we've been wanting to see for weeks now. Not only do we finally start learning some definitive information about The Shop, but we also see Team Nikita definitively doing something about this threat, rather than just bits and pieces here and there. We're also beyond thrilled that after three episodes of standing around theorizing, Ryan is finally given a chance to do something else, because as we've argued before, Noah Bean is a great actor who should be a bigger part of the game plan.
Yet we're going to drop a 'but' on you here, and it has to do with the last five minutes. The rescues of the President, Birkhoff's father and everyone else give the audience a "score one for the good guys" feeling, and then that gets snatched away by the reveal that Amanda's been a clone and that Team Nikita hasn't realy accomplished that much. Our dissatisfaction with that goes back to a question posed by fans last season: how many times can Amanda get away before Team Nikita starts looking stupid for not being able to stop her? We know that there are still episodes to go, but her faux-death scene was a pretty compelling one, and would've been a satisfying way for her to go out. Instead, we have to just shake our heads and go, "Not again."
Having said that, it will be interesting to see what the writers set up for the final two episodes, now that the real President has been freed and things should start to get back to normal. One would hope that saving the President would give Team Nikita a little more room and resources to work with, so what's going to be their new challenge? What's this alleged master plan that's bigger than the one we've been watching unfold since the end of Season 3? And how can that be concluded satisfactorily in two episodes? This ending generates more questions than it solves, but unlike the episodes before it, at least it finally makes some definitive moves, for better or for worse.
Nikita's final season continues next Friday at 9 PM ET/PT on The CW.