The CW’s Nikita, Fox’s Emily Thorne, and the Revenge that Steals Your Soul

“Yesterday’s victim is today’s victimizer. Today’s victimizer is tomorrow’s victim.”

–    Miroslov Volf. Exclusion and Embrace.

Ok, I have been trying to read more and write more this year (if you read this blog that might be oblivious), so this week I actually spent some time catching up on pop culture. On the DVR playlist was the winter opener of Nikita, “Pale Fire,” as well as this week’s episode of Revenge, “Commitment”. Both shows deal with the concept of Revenge. Nikita, Alex, and co. are determined to see the shadowy Division and Operations groups destroyed in much the same way that the Black Ops teams run by them torched their own lives (Division killed Nikita’s innocent fiancé, and Alex’s mafia dad). Meanwhile Emily Thorne and her scheming alliance are set to take down the nefarious 1-percenter family Grayson who imprisoned her dad.  Beyond just the similarity in thematic material, these shows highlighted their females scorned as they faced important decisions on their continuing course of retribution. Emily watched as the most recent scheme of hers meant a brutal beating foisted upon the supposed love of her life, Jack. Nikita found her pursuit to reacquire a copy of Division’s black box (a treasure trove of digital files on every dirty rotten Division mission) bumping up against her protégée’s desire to rescue her mom (matters worse- hurt feelings and bullet wounds have separated the two).  The major question of the episodes then revolves around the idea of second chances and forgiveness. Can Emily rethink her plan to eliminate unnecessary blowback as one of her cohorts suggests? Can Nikita and Alex put aside their hurt (physical and emotional) to work together, and if they do whose agenda trumps the other? SPOILER ALERT.

At first it seems that Emily may be rethinking her decision as she and Nolan discuss a retrenchment. Emily is going to say “no” to Daniel Grayson’s proposal, actually seems to be bond with her unknowing half-sister Charlotte, gets the homicidal ‘Amanda’ away from the Hamptons, and shows up at the hospital to utter a request for forgiveness to the unconscious Jack (whew!). Meanwhile Nikita volunteers to help Alex rescue her mom and drops her plans to grab the black box. Tantalizingly she and Michael set up a long needed dialogue about how to handle Michael’s desire to be there for his recently discovered son. Nikita and Alex take turns saving each other’s bacon, but their plans become FUBAR’d and so they leave the home without the mom (seems that mommie dearest has taken up with the man who set Division on daddy, and chooses him over Alex). Back in the Hamptons Emily meets up with Daniel with the intent of breaking off the engagement, just as, Daniel relates a new horrific rumor spread by his own mommy dearest (seems that rather than come clean on her affair with David, she has allowed Daniel to believe she was raped and conceived Charlotte that un-pro-choice matter).

After spending an entire episode coming to grips with the devil inside themselves Nikita, Alex, and Emily now find themselves staring once again into that dark abyss. Far be it from me to state that the assassin Nikita has a better grip on morality, but it surprisingly this spitfire turned deadly killer who speaks eloquently about the morality of the second chance. “Everyone has done things wrong that they regret (including ourselves if we are honest), and therefore all of us are in need of some kind of second chance,” Nikita argues. Here she is applying her request for forgiveness not just to Momma Udinov (who may be slowly realizing the deal with the devil she has made) but to Alex. Michael, and herself. Meanwhile Emily’s voiceover spoken as Daniel’s dissertation on the evils of David Clarke fades into the background speaks of commitment, the idea that all of us are knowing or unknowingly committed to our actions, choices have been made, and consequences set into motion. To Emily, she is not responsible for her regrettable actions because it was the Grayson family that started things, and she is simply responding in kind. Two similar circumstances breeding two different results[1]

In this way these shows reminded me of the work of theologian Miroslav Volf who has witnessed first-hand the results of grudges and hatreds left to fester.[2] In his book Exclusion and Embrace, he sought out to discuss the power of these slights and the power they hold to destroy our worlds. Like several other scholars (both Christian and non) who have witnessed the power of hate he described in detail how the path of victimization is fraught with complexity. Innocence and guilt is never quite as easily assigned as first believed. Both these shows have done excellent jobs at showing the mixed emotions and oversized baggage that has led to the current hostilities. In many ways Percy and Amanda, as well as Victoria and Conrad are not the cruel remorseless villains seen in earlier shows and movies. Each is conflicted, hurt victims in their own right. In this land of repeated and cyclic violence and oppression, Volf located only one hope, the cross of Christ. When the only truly innocent victim in history opened his arms to be pounded into that cross, Christ revealed the only true way to deal with the cycles of hate, the open embrace of the other. Only in a selfless and at times painful love and acceptance of the other can true peace be found.  Here’s hope that at long last Nikita, Alex, Emily, and Nolan realize this life-changing reality (and then there shows would end, because who really wants peace, revenge seems so much sweeter). As this will not happen, the viewer must, I guess, prepare to see these morality plays work out as its proponents, perhaps, gain the world, but lose their souls.

[1] Though to be honest we have yet to see Nikita apply her live and let live philosophy to Percy and Amanda at Division. In a way she, too, can be seen to hold a grudge. And in another way she, too, is responding to continuing provocations from her sworn enemies.

[2] He watched as his homeland of the formerYugoslavia was rent with violence as old hurts led to new animosities and atrocities between Christian and Muslim; as well as, Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian.


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