What is better than Nikita going on an undercover mission? Nikita going on an undercover mission together with Michael! And, on top of that, an undercover mission that requires them to be lovers! This episode is one of the best in Season 1. Interestingly enough, it also was the first episode of the entire series to be filmed. Somebody probably thought: let's give Wilson and Dupuis something sexually charged and sizzling, to make sure they forge a "good" working relationship right away. Hehe, I'm not complaining. Apparently, the script was considered so good that many aspects of it made a reappearance in Season 5 of 24 (yup, the nerve gas season), another Joel Surnow/Robert Cochran smash hit.
Our bad guy Perry Bauer (marvellously played by Tobin Bell) is meeting with potential buyers for a powerful nerve gas: L-Virus (or El Virus?). An Asian woman (a translator) demands solid proof for the effect of the gas - what he shows them on the computer screen isn't enough; it could just be a simulation.
Bauer agrees: she has a good point. He gives the young man next to him his cat and tells him to take "Frank to the basement". The young man obeys, slightly troubled about what he thinks is the sacrifice of the cat.
Bauer tells the foreign costumers that they hired him to do two thing: get L-Virus and pull the trigger if their negotiations with the government break down. He understands that they may doubt his resolve to do it ... but he is going to show them what he is capable off for money.
The young man (Andy) is seen entering the basement on a TV screen. He deposits the cat on a table. Bauer tells his Asian costumers that he has known Andy for ten years, ever since his parents died. He is the closest thing he has to a son. Andy tries to open the door to get back out, but it is locked. He signals to the camera to open it - but Bauer just presses a button on a remote control. Andy starts panicking in the room: gas is flowing in.
A few seconds later, he is dead.
"Do we have a deal?" Bauer asks. The potential buyer nods.
"Good", says Bauer.
***Briefing time at Section One. Operations tells them that a dangerous experimental nerve gas was stolen from the government. The guy who stole it, Operations believes and we know, is Bauer, arms dealer and information gatherer for all the terrorists in the world. They do not know what he wants to us it for, but it is considered likely that it may be connected to the recent threats against the government by Red Cell. Since L-Virus has a limited shelf-life, they will have to use it soon.
Cut to a smoking hot and certainly very bad couple (Peterthe other will never see the light of day again.
Walter is doing the dirty-Walter-thing with Nikita, telling her that Section doesn't like sexual relations between Operatives - but they might well make an exception in their case. He has already done the paperwork.
Nikita bends over the computer screen and says: "Uhm, Walter, there is no 'w' in 'menage a trois.'"
Walter is s lightly embarrassed ... he has run a spell check!
Michael steps up to Nikita, lightly touches her shoulder and asks how it went.
Walter: "Michael, do you mind? We're having a moment here."
But Nikita and Michael are already walking away. She assures him that everything went fine.
"And how is everything else?", he asks.
"I didn't know there was anything else", she replies.
He keeps asking things, about whether she has made friends, how the apartment is, etc., but she cuts him short, telling him he doesn't have to pretend to be interested. But he says that he knows that "the transition" is difficult - it was difficult for him, too. But she doesn't believe him: she doesn't see anything being difficult for him.
Madeline wants to see them. Peter and Sage are supposed to have a meeting with Bauer this afternoon. Luckily, Bauer has never met them in person. Michael will be Peter, Nikita will be Sage. Madeline gives them the back story: they have met through a guy called Feiger in Frankfurt, Germany - also the guy that referred them to Bauer. They are skilled mercenaries and have been married for less than two years. Judging from the fresh scratch marks on their backs, their relationship seems to be a passionate one.
Madeline warns them to be extremely careful: Bauer is a very dangerous man, also to his "friends". Also, he has exotic sexual appetites, and it is certain he will hit on Nikita.
"I'm cool", says Nikita.
"And he could hit on you too, Michael", Madeline adds. Nikita grins widely.
Madeline gives them a pair of wedding rings to put on ... Michael helps Nikita with hers. Flirt mode ON.
Nikita: "Do I have to love, honor, and obey?"
Michael: "Just obey."
Nikita: "That's okay ... it's only till death do us part" (grin).
But that grin freezes pretty quickly, because Madeline wants them to kiss in front of her. Michael says they will be fine, but Madeline insists. Michael turns around to do his duty, but Nikita kisses him quickly on the lips and walks away. They will become Peter and Sage when it's time, they assure Madeline.
Before she leaves, Nikita asks which one cracked first. Madeline says "they both did, of course".
"So ... which one goes free?" Nikita asks. Still so naive sometimes ...
"You better get ready", is Madeline's answer.
Peter and Sage aka Michael and Nikita arrive at Bauer's property (in dreadful outfits), or at least a fenced gate - there is forest everywhere. The driver is instructed to drop them off there; they will be picked up. And they are, by a guy on a resort car.
They are taken to see Bauer, who is rather brusque. Why are they late? He checks them out thoroughly by walking around them, especially Nikita. He says the job requires precision and execution. "Convince me you can do it".
Michael says that Feiger knows their work, go ask him - but Bauer isn't satisfied. He says this doesn't feel right. Goodbye.
Back on the resort car they go - Michael warns Nikita to be on her guard; the guy doesn't have any intention of letting them walk out alive. Yeah, Michael knows how it's done. When they're out of sight of the house, Nikita kicks their driver in the face and they run off, into the forest.
Bauer is watching from his terrace, hunting rifle ready. A lot of his men are in the forest, searching. Click ... he has a gun at his neck. Nikita is standing right behind him and forces him to call off the search. Michael appears below, machine gun in his hand and Bauer says: "Welcome to the team". They have passed the test.
They get shown their accommodations and get a mission briefing pack and an order to memorize it all. It's on in 12 hours: they will release nerve gas into an office building. Nikita asks why, and the guy says: you know how they only start paying attention once you toss out dead bodies in a hostage situation? That is why.
At night, Nikita jumps out of the window, wearing all black (with a dark blue beanie). She runs to a car parked somewhere in the forest: Walter is in it. She tells him exactly when and where the attack will take place. Walter assures her they will evacuate the building and gives her a small device he just built (a bomb?). But when she's out the door, he sighs heavily.
Back at Section, Birkhoff and Madeline discuss the scenario. "Collateral"? About 400 to 500 people, Birkhoff estimates, about half in the morning.
And the terrorist act is on - Nikita and Michael are in a van, approaching the downtown area at high speed. They stop in front of the office building and Bauer and a few of his men go in; Nikita and Michael are to guard the exit. Nikita sees how a mother and a boy are about to enter the office building and she wants to run and warn them, but Michael holds her back forcefully. Just then, a man approaches, calling out to the mother and child - and they turn around and walk away. Saved. But where is Section personnel, Nikita asks?
Bauer and his men place the nerve gas in a ventilation shaft in the men's toilet (and shoot a guard in the process). They run out as soon as it's set up; but the guard isn't fully dead yet, he grabs Bauer's ankle, who falls, hits his head and doesn't get up.
Michael and Nikita see how the two men come running out, but where is Bauer? And Nikita sees something else, something absolutely dreadful: people are inside the building!!! Being who she is, she grabs a gas mask and runs inside.
In vain, she tries all the elevators, but they are not opening - in her frustration and horror, she sets off the fire alarm. That wakes Bauer. Now, the elevators suddenly open, and choking, dying people come stumbling out. Nikita tries to help, but she can't do anything. She wails in utter sadness. Michael is there all of a sudden, grabbing her, jerking her upright, and yelling at her that there is nothing they can do.
Bauer comes crawling out of the toilet, coughing like crazy. Seizing the opportunity, Michael grabs him and carries him to the truck (a strong man, our Roy Dupuis!) and they get away before the police arrive. The look on Nikita's face is deadly.
When they're back at Bauer's resort and alone, Nikita wants to know: "Who are these butchers we're working for, Michael?"
But Michael just says she doesn't have all the information, let it drop. But not Nikita. She doesn't care. Letting innocent people die is just evil! When Michael tells her that Bauer probably had a plan B, which would have been even worse, she says he doesn't know that.
"You are right", Michael answers, "but neither do you".
Stop questioning - just do the job.
Back at his place and fully recovered, Bauer wants to know why they didn't follow orders and came into the building. He would be dead if they hadn't, Nikita says. And Bauer remarks:"That's an interesting management dilemma, isn't it? Do I reward you for disobeying me, or do I punish you for saving my life?"
But then, he laughs it away, and invites them to dinner, and they all get "acquainted" in the kitchen. Bauer asks where they met. Michael starts answering, but Nikita interrupts: In Rio. At Carnival. They woke up in bed together and that was it: true love and all. She leans over to nibble on Michael's jaw and Bauer is clearly intrigued. Not sure about Michael.
But that's odd, he says, the story Feiger told him is different! And there is a fleeting moment of "oh shit" on Michael's face, but Nikita laughs, calling Feiger a liar and a pig, who wishes he were with her, and that's why he told Bauer that he was and introduced them to each other. Bauer is satisfied, because yes, his friend is a liar and a pig.
They have had dinner at the Bauer mansion - everybody is in a great mood and quite drunk. Bauer tries to kiss Nikita, but she artfully dodges his advances, so he goes over and kisses his wife instead. He switches on some music and starts dancing, inviting Peter and Stage to do the same. Michael takes Nikita's hand and pulls her close. And they dance ... carefully, beautifully, longingly, tortured. They stare at each other unblinkingly and the sexual tension hits the roof.
Bauer's wife remarks: "You two look so beautiful together. You must be in love."
Michael: "We are".
Bauer gets this look in his eyes and he goes over to them, puts an arm on each of their shoulder, dancing with them.
Michael wants to know whether they are done with the job, and Bauer says yes. It was a total waste of time, though, he says - those clients? Fanatics, lunatics. Even with the next load of people they will kill, likely thousands, they will not get what they want (release or prisoners, lifting of the embargo on North Korea, "that sort of crap", according to Operations). He tells them to watch the morning news if they are interested in what is going to happen.
But he doesn't want to talk about money on this beautiful evening. What does Michael think of Stefanie? (that's Bauer's wife). He leads Michael away and tells him that he really wants Michael to watch him have sex with Nikita. Poor Nikita. She is expecting the worst.
But Michael isn't throwing her to the wolves this time. He tells Bauer to just give them the money and they're out of here. But Bauer says: "I am sorry to burst your bubble, but "we're out of here" isn't an option". If they don't want to do it with him - then they'll have to do it for him.
Michael and Nikita are led to a room (at gunpoint). Bauer is watching on a screen, lustily drinking champagne out of the bottle and eating strawberries. He presses the dreaded remote control, but instead of gas, music invades the room. Nikita is visibly uncomfortable ... but then, she squares her shoulders, gathers her courage and starts kissing Michael. Quite aggressively, one might add!
"Take your clothes off", says Michael.
She starts ripping off her shirt (in a hurry there, babe? :), but he says "no. Slowly".
He flicks his eyes up to the camera and moves to the wall, sitting down on a chair almost out of sight, adding: "perform for me".
And she does.
Bauer zooms in, loosing sight of Michael. And Nikita throws Michael her hat, with Walter's device in it. While she continues to strip (leather underwear? seriously??), and Bauer has only eyes for her, Michael activates it and throws it into a ventilation duct, where it rolls away. Then he steps over to Nikita, lifts her up and throws her onto the bed. Serious kissing follows.
"Get ready", he says and .... BOOM! The bomb explodes.
Elsewhere, the terrorists get ready for their next nerve gas attack.
Bauer grabs a gun and runs out. Michael is also on the run, quickly entering Bauer's office and searching his computer. Bauer enters their room, but only finds a half-naked Nikita (without her wig) on the bed. Peter went out, to look for Bauer, she says. "Probably won't be back for a few minutes..."
Clearly an offer he can't refuse! But when he gets close enough, Nikita kicks him in the balls, hard, and he goes down ... but not down enough. He levels his gun at her, but she just grins. Michael is back and overpowers Bauer.
"It's the train station", he says and they leave with Bauer as a hostage. The get to the metro station and Nikita manages to find the gas in time (it's on the tracks). Just in time, of course.
Back at section, Nikita is just about to leave when he hears a familiar laugh ... she looks up and ... shit. It's Operations. And Bauer. Having a drink together.
"Shades of grey", says Madeline, who stepped up behind her. As long as Bauer plays both sides, he can continue to do what he does.
When she and Michael have left, Nikita steps forward, pulling out a gun. She aims it straight at Bauer - and pulls the trigger. Click ... it's empty. With fury in her eyes, she steps back out of sight, and leaves.
Nikita has become a more skillful operative from episode to episode and we have watched her grow from an insecure, extremely naive person, clining desperately to her mentor (Michael) in Episode 1 to a professional killer in Episode 5. At the same time, she has been forming bonds in her new working environment: with Walter, with Birkhoff, with others (representative for this i.e. Chuck), and in a complicated way, with Michael. Such bonds, friendship even, come natural to Nikita. She is an outgoing, friendly person whose heart is open for everyone that wants to enter. Such connections also help her to feel at home with the new "family" that Section has become. That feeling of family is certainly cause for Nikita's sangfroid when killing Wick in Epsiode 5: if you hurt my loved ones, I will hurt you. And it seems that Nikita has accepted that stopping "bad" people is, ultimately, a good thing - her new life as a captive of Section has a purpose.
But in this episode, this brittle feeling of belonging is brutally shattered. Not that Section ever seemed benign. We (and Nikita, too) have seen that Section - that is mainly Operations and Madeline - doesn't care at all for individuals, be it (potential) terrorists or be it their own operatives. But so far, it seemed as if Section at least got their "good-bad" distinction right. Bad are the terrorists that want to harm people, good are the ones stopping them. Since each and every operative has a criminal background, and since Section pretends to give them a "second chance", sacrifices can be expected - an operative that "sacrifices" is almost like a martyr, dying for that greater good.
In this episode, however, any illusion of morale or goodness is shattered. Section sacrifices innocents without even blinking so that the terrorists don't get suspicious. Any means necessary, or "whatever it takes", as Operations like to say, leads right to that slippery slope that also exists in real life. How dirty should our hands get for the "greater good"? Does the end always justify the means? The eerie thing about this 1997 series is that it foresaw so much of the post-9/11 world and the dilemmas of the "war against terror".
But more than that. Section also sides with the truly terrible if it serves the "greater good" - certainly also something that rings true for real-world politics. We already got a taste of that in episode 4, when Michael asked Chandler why he thought he was still alive. Before Nikita kicked the lighter into the gasoline and ultimately killed Chandler, Michael was about to strike a deal with Chandler, most likely to work both sides of the fence. In this episode, the ultimate twist is seeing Bauer, who truly is a monster, laughing and drinking with Operations.
After this episode, we know that Section is morally corrupted. It isn't even clear what this "greater good" is supposed to be ... "national security"? When Operations briefs his operatives about the nerve gas that the government has secretly manifactured, he mentions that having that gas in the first place is a blatant violation of the Chemical Weapon's Convention. Indeed, "the government" itself appears as morally questionable. Whose national security is Section trying to protect if the distinction between good and bad ("there's no such thing as the enemy anymore", says Madeline in the last scene) can no longer be made or, rather, is not being made?
Nikita has the answer. The only kind of security that is worth fighting for is human security: A security that is relevant to each and every individual. A notion of human security does not allow for the sacrifice of innocents. A notion of human security does not allow for "collateral" in the name of an illusive and morally corrupted "greater good". In this episode, Nikita becomes Section's most dangerous enemy - for Section has been exposed as the most evil of them all.
Once again, Michael appears to us as the most puzzling character in the show. We have already seen his dilemma several times - he is willing to go against Section if Nikita's well-being is at stake. At least sometimes. She has awoken feelings in him that have been dead and burried for years - the way they look at each other while dancing speaks volumes. But Nikita is the only thing Michael is ready to fight for at the moment. He, too, is corrupted. He has been in Section for much longer, and he is one of the top operatives, close to Madeline and Operations. In this episode, he simply accepts Section's decision to let hundreds of people die. He believes that there are good reasons for their actions, and he trusts Section's broader insights into things ("we do not have all the information"). Seeing Bauer with Operations makes him pause only briefly - he looks over at Nikita, probably worried about how she might react to it, but then, when Madeline steps over, he simply turns away.
But, he isn't immune to the pull of "goodness" that Nikita excerts on people around her. She is a prime danger to him (her ways lead to "cancellation" in Section), and at the same time his way to salvation. Caring for her ultimatelly means accepting that there is "good" worth fighting for in the world. Accepting this means he will change - and Section's doings will most certainly become much harder to simply ignore or reason away. She is his dangerous dilemma, and seeing them clash and grow ever closer is both beautiful and scary. As one commentor on the net : "Nikita is fire, and Michael is ice: a combination that is explosive on many levels, and mesmerizing to watch".