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La Femme Nikita: Under the Influence

Madeline: "You'll have your own emotions back when this is over."

This episode had its good points. But it also took the Michael/Nikita relationship by the scruff of the neck and dragged it right back to season one.

Michael has sex on command. So how come Nikita hasn't had to before? Yes, she came close to it in "Love and Country," but let's face it, Markali was a lot more human than Carl Peruze. Did Michael see Nikita sleeping with a terrorist as just another task, comparable to what he's had to do himself? Of course, Michael has had to seduce much less frightening partners than Carl. (Oops, I forgot Andrea.)

Anyway, moving right along to my next complaint. How come they went to the trouble to drug and brainwash Nikita? Why didn't they just order her to do it? I think she could have pulled it off. She's a veteran now, after all.

The whole brainwash thing was ultra creepy, though, I'll give them that. How much did Michael have to do with it? Were the embedded subliminals in Nikita's apartment a one-time thing, or has she been manipulated all along to love Michael in order to keep her in line? Yes, Michael handed her the drugged disks, but did he have a choice? He may be higher up on the food chain, but he still has to follow orders or die, like everyone else in Section. Ah, well. We'll probably never know.



I really liked the actor who played Carl (Alan Van Sprang). He was totally evil in the initial scene. He showed extraordinary courage in the white room, both resisting to the end and smart-mouthing Madeline. ("No thanks. I prefer younger." and "What's this? Lunch?") And he was very attractive after his memory had been erased. In a sense, Nikita was lucky. What if they'd captured Simon instead? He was twice as revolting as his brother. I wonder if Simon would have been as willing to die for Carl's sake.

In this week's B plot, the wages of sin caught up with Operations' son, Stephen. Operations was so upset about Stephen's death that he actually threw the command of a mission to Michael. It was touching of Madeline to set up a cover for a murder she knew Operations would commit. And I can't believe I said the words "touching" and "murder" in the same sentence.

Bits and pieces:

— This episode ended with Nikita tearing up her artwork, a pan back to Nikita on four Section computer screens, and a male voice saying, "Alpha test complete." What was the Casper thing? Was it what they did to Carl, or what they did to Nikita? If it was Nikita, that final scene would make sense. Except it sort of doesn't.

— Did Michael have to listen to Nikita making love with Carl? It would serve him right if he did, after what happened in "Cat and Mouse."

— Having Carl's face morph into Michael's was truly freaky.

— The possibility that female Section operatives have been conditioned to fall in love with Michael was also mentioned in the second season episode, "First Mission."

— This time, when Madeline called for Housekeeping, I started to wonder: what do they call the people who clean the offices? You know, brooms and mops, not body disposal?

— In this week's Most Obvious Symbolism, Nikita was wearing what looked like a dog or cat collar in the opening scenes.

— What's with Roy's hair? It seemed to be doing this uncontrolled flippy kind of thing.

— Nikita: "Don't you ever get tired of being their errand boy, Michael?" (slaps him) "That's courtesy of my own free will." Michael just took that slap without saying a word. Maybe he felt guilty.

— Cancelled scenes: There were three deleted scenes on the DVD: (1) An alternate version of the George scene with a too sci-fi communication device; (2) At the end of the first interrogation scene, the Devos come in. Carl laughs out loud and says, sarcastically, "Uh-oh." Very funny. And (3) Nikita and Carl return to their apartment after the deal and make love. This one really should have been in the episode.

Sort of shuddery. Sort of good, despite what I didn't like about it. Three out of four stars,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

5 comments:

  1. i think he felt a little more than just guilty. but he's so hard to read. she should have slapped him harder and kicked him too. my sadistic side is showing. but honestly, their relationship is a little creepy in these episodes.

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  2. The potential of this episode is undermined by huge plot holes, inconsistent characterization, and yet another ridiculous final plot “twist”. The premise did have promise: the villain is thoroughly sadistic, and Nikita’s undercover mission is both dangerous and difficult to stomach, so to ensure that she performs as required, Section goes far beyond mere manipulation. Wilson gives a marvellous performance as the violated Nikita, and her emotional crisis is by far the best part of this episode. However, the character of Michael is so poorly written that his treatment of Nikita pushes well past the limits of audience tolerance – he is essentially made into Nikita’s pimp. The “B” story demonstrates better consistency of character, but it has continuity issues as well. On the whole, I recommend pretending that this episode is actually just Nikita’s nightmare born of her worst fears of being violated by Section and cruelly manipulated by Michael. As such, the events depicted can be dismissed as just a bad dream.

    Favourite Scenes:
    Wilson is mesmerizing during Nikita’s emotional meltdown: right from the moment she wakes up in bed with the villain, to the scene where she confides in Walter, to her confrontations with Madeline and then Michael. I’d almost say this is Wilson’s best work in the entire series.

    Logic Flaws:
    Karl’s memory has been completely erased – how then does he remember where his brother is hiding out? I think Simon would have been a little suspicious if he had to give Karl directions. Since getting to Simon was the entire point of the undercover mission, this plot hole is impossible to ignore, as it negates the entire premise of the episode.

    Continuity Issues:
    In “Missing”, Operations went to great lengths to prevent the others in Section from knowing about his son. Now it seems to be common knowledge.

    In both “Charity” and “Approaching Zero”, Michael apologized to Nikita and tried to explain his manipulations. In “Choice”, Michael let her know that his “proposal” was actually the lesser of evils. In this episode, his betrayal is orders of magnitude worse, but neither Nikita nor the audience is given any closure. Instead, all we see is Michael berating Nikita for caring about Karl’s pain, which is especially cruel since she was conditioned to care by using her feelings for Michael. Basically, this script portrays Michael as a soulless bastard who pimps out the woman who loves him. This is a huge lapse in character continuity that should have been rectified before broadcast – the simplest solution would have been to replace the pointless final plot twist (see below) with a scene between Michael and Nikita in which he shows remorse and justifies his actions.

    The final plot twist (“Alpha test complete”) implies that Nikita was the subject of the “Casper project”, which is just nonsense. Conditioning a subject using drugs and subliminal images is not a new technique – it makes far more sense that the “neural stripping” procedure used on Karl would be the “Casper project” requiring a year of extensive Beta testing. And really, why bother with subliminal images to condition Nikita to love Michael? Seems rather redundant, as it is more than adequate for “imprinting” purposes that Michael was her trainer and lifeline when she was thrown into Section. Once again, the writers defy logic in order to provide a supposedly clever final plot twist. Please, just stop it already!

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    Replies
    1. Great analysis! I believe the episode could actually work fine with some script alterations, but I'll probably just pretend it was all Nikita’s nightmare :D

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  3. "This episode had its good points. But it also took the Michael/Nikita relationship by the scruff of the neck and dragged it right back to season one."

    How right you are on this one, Billie.

    It was painful to watch this episode and see what Michael had to do to Nikita in order for her to go through with her mission. Michael had to have good reason to do what he's done but like Serena said, it's left to us to think of the justification.

    Like you Billie, I did find the actor who played Karl Peruze likeable. He did act evil and turned attractive when needed.

    And you're right Serena, Peta Wilson was mesmerizing during Nikita's emotional meltdown. She had me right there with her all throughout. Excellent acting.

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  4. This episode presents a good example of how the show has steadily been shifting (or losing) its focus over time. In Season 1, each episode focused acutely on the suffering that is willfully inflicted on an innocent person by Section in pursuit of its objectives, which are developed only to the extent necessary in order to provide a story. It seeks to thoroughly test the ethics of "the ends justifies the means" by pushing the boundaries in every despicable way imaginable.

    However, this episode follows the format of a much more conventional TV drama. The despicable behavior that we are first shown is that of the bad guys, which establishes for the viewer the need to take action to stop them. As usual, Section sets out to abuse and manipulate someone in order to achieve this goal, yet curiously enough, this time the person being abused is one of the bad guys who we've been predisposed to feel no sympathy for. The twist comes from the fact that Nikita is in fact being abused and manipulated by Section as well. However, by now we've come to expect this, and we're well beyond the point of considering Nikita to be innocent in the same sense as an outsider. This may be a new brand of mistreatment for her, but it's hard to say that this comes close to surpassing previous low marks such as her original kidnapping, the times they submitted her to be tortured, and the times they tried to have her killed.

    Overall, the episode does a satisfactory job of storytelling, but it lacks the emotional impact and the moral quandaries that have typified the show, in favor of developing the larger story arc around the internal politics of Section. The closest thing to innocent victims in this story was the couple at the beginning, yet they were treated as anonymous and disposable by the writers, whose only purpose was to quickly develop the other characters. Perhaps the subplot with Operations was intended as this episode's source of moral consternation, but that too featured a victim who was presented as neither innocent nor sympathetic.

    To my dismay, this episode also moved the series closer to the realm of outright science fiction. The world already has plenty of examples of dystopian and orwellian science fiction. What had made La Femme Nikita unique was that way that it explored the same type of concepts in a much more relatable environment. However, the increasingly frequent deviations into the realms of human cloning and mind control strain the ability to suspend disbelief. This sense of detachment threatens to undermine the show's ability to be provocative. How does one feel empathy for the victims without first buying into the premise? But of course, that question is moot if the show itself has already moved on to other things.

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