107. "Mother"

(#5) To recover a nuclear trigger stolen by a man-and-wife team of international arms dealers, Nikita must pose as the woman's long-lost daughter.
lfnforever briefing
John and Helen Wick are a fascinating couple. They live in a big mansion, drive fancy cars, have riding horses, eat scones -- and are trying to sell a stolen nuclear trigger to the highest bidder. Nikita becomes a real superspy in this episode, as she poses as Helen's long-lost daughter to find out where the trigger is located -- she places a tracking device disguised in a ring on John Wick's car, uses a miniature digital camera and laptop to relay images to Section, and a plethora of gadgets including a frequency counter to circumvent the security in Wick's office, drugs Helen's tea, and guns down John Wick without blinking an eye. The fact that it's vengeance -- Wick is responsible for the death of an operative named Chuck who, as is clearly established in the teaser, was Nikita's friend -- is offered up as justification. Quite a difference from last week's Nikita, which is understandable if you know that four episodes were filmed between "Charity" and "Mother", which gave Peta Wilson time to get a handle on her character.
We get a sampling of Michael's ruthless efficiency when he carries out a charade that requires violence done to Nikita, designed to force Helen to divulge the location of the trigger -- even though he has resisted the plan all along in Section. Nikita gives Helen a little credit when she tells Michael that her real mother would have let her die. (This doesn't quite mesh with somewhat fonder memories Nikita will have of her mother in later episodes.) All in all it's a fine episode, with plenty of suspense, well-crafted characters, and a shocking climax as Michael presides over a brutal beating of Nikita in order to force Helen to give up the location of the nuclear triggers.

best dialogue
BRODSKY (secured to a chair in the White Room): "I can't tell you what I don't know. You can torture me all day and that won't change."
MADELINE: "It's a deal."
Written by Naomi Janzen
Directed by Guy Magar
 Original airdate: February 9, 1997 (USA)
June 14, 1998 (France); October 10, 1997 (UK)

guest stars
Sherry Miller (Helen Wicke)
Wayne Best (John Wicke)
Kent Staines (Chuck)
Bruce Tubbe (Larry)
David Blacker (Mark Freeman)
Emmanuel Mark (Brodsky)
Ray Doucette (Worker)

Original score by Sean Callery

Czech title: "Matka"
French title: "La mere"
German title: "Mutterliebe"
Italian title: "Madre"
Portuguese title: "Mae"
Spanish title: "Madre"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Director Guy Magar and writer Naomi Janzen team up again to give us a story that examines the most fundamental of female-female relationships, that of mother and daughter. The narrative relies on the suspension of disbelief by both characters. Helen wants to believe she has found her daughter and "plays" at dressing her up, attempting to compress all the lost years into a few short days. In a wonderful piece of casting, the elegant Sherry Miller conveys with perfection the fragility of Helen's newfound conviction. Nikita needs Helen to believe, but she, too, is yearning for a relationship she never had. By the final act we learn the depth of abandonment she feels. Wilson and Miller hold the tension of their characters' desires beautifully.
"Mother" is an important episode  because it establishes Nikita as a true Section operative. She executes John to avenge another agent's death and is somehow resigned to her fate as a pawn in Section's mind games. There is a rather horrifying pattern emerging in her relationship with Michael, as well. When she is beaten she is "doing her job" and is rewarded with approval (even Madeline is waiting by her hospital bedside). Further, although these incidents may be orchestrated by Operations, they are carried out by Michael and are the only occasions that evoke any overt tenderness from him. There seems to be no limit to the kind of hell the writers can put Nikita through without losing the audience. This is dark stuff, but it will get even darker before season's end.
La Femme Peta, pp 106-107

Ted Edwards' "behind-the-scenes" look at this episode
Reportedly there were enormous problems in the writing of this particular episode, and it went through more drafts than any other script of the first season. Due to the fact that the story line was rather thin, the staff felt that there wouldn't be enough to carry a whole episode, and they were grateful for the skills of guest star Sherry Miller.
Undoubtedly the most disturbing moment of the show is when Section operatives beat the hell out of Nikita, hoping to get Miller's character to talk rather than see her "daughter" injured. It's a very powerful piece of film, and even caused USA [Network] to debate whether or not the show had gone too far. In terms of the series itself, it proved without question that Section One would go as far as it had to to achieve its goals -- even at the expense of the lives of its operatives. For the writing staff, as Surnow said online, "At the time it was a liberation for us. The network was a little challenged by it, but it became, in a sense, a defining moment in terms of what we could do on this show. It started to show us that anything goes, that the old rules have sort of been discarded and that we were going to go places on this show that we haven't seen other shows go."
La Femme Nikita X-Posed, pp 65-68

Joel Surnow's POV

An episode we had tremendous problems writing. We probably put that script through more drafts than any other script we had that first season. If you look at it, the story is very, very thin. It works because the relationship really worked well; we had a nice bit of casting with Sherry Miller. When the script was done, we didn't think we had a strong enough show, we felt it was going to be soft, it didn't have a lot of action. It had what I think is one of the best act three breaks I've ever seen, which is she kills [John Wicke]. The whole element of them beating up Nikita to extract something out of the mother, came in the middle of the writing of the show. That was not something we had planned. That's when we started to realize that we could go pretty far with this show. Most TV shows aren't going to have the protagonists take the hero and beat the shit out of [her]....It's really kind of dark stuff. At the time, it was sort of a liberation for us. The network was a little challenged by it. They weren't sure if we'd gone too far. But that scene became, in a sense, kind of a defining moment for us. It started to show us that anything goes. The old rules have sort of...been discarded; we're really going to go places on this show we haven't seen other shows go. It was another undercover story, but it was an undercover story with a big twist. In some ways, the show stopped being Nikita and...started being Section One. It's not about the life of this girl anymore, it's about the life of these people and this girl is the prominent one. She remains our emotional connection; our eyes and ears to it all and she's our moral compass. We're outraged as she's outraged by what they do. At the end of that show, when she got beat up, she wasn't going, "How could you have done that to me?", she was more like, "I get it, now." But she had her moment of compassion at the end when she said, "Did you tell her I'm not her daughter? Do me a favor, don't let her know." In other words, kill her before you tell her. It's like Nikita is starting to become part of the program, whereas if this was the first or second episode, it would have been, "How could you have done that to me? Don't you care?"

What was also interesting was that Nikita was completely seduced by the fact that this woman was treating her like she wishes her own mother had. When I say we had so many problems with the script, we were thinking it being more [like] Wiseguy; more about her emotions, more about the show being, "God, wouldn't Nikita love this to be her mother? Maybe she'll betray the Section."

La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)