108. "Escape"

(#8) A fellow operative approaches Nikita with an offer that seems too good to be true -- a foolproof way to escape Section One. She must make a choice between freedom and Michael, who suddenly makes romantic overtures toward her.
lfnforever briefing
A flawed episode which, nonetheless, has its moments. Nikita's reluctance to join Eric in his scheme to escape Section seems to be based on three things: her (quite understandable) suspicions that this might be some sort of Section test; her recognition that, despite its unorthodox and sometimes cruel methodology, Section is fighting evil and saving innocents (in this case, an abducted embassy Marine guard); and her feelings for Michael. The third consideration seems to be the one that makes her mind up for her, thanks to Michael's apparently uncanny ability to realize what's going on and his subsequent romantic advances. In fact, it ought to be the first consideration that gives Nikita pause where Eric's plan is concerned. When they first meet she's unaware he's a Section operative, and yet from that point on they are on the same mission, giving them ample opportunity to make the escape attempt. (If that didn't make her even more suspicious, it should have.)  It seems a little early in the game for Nikita to choose Michael over freedom for Section; not enough screen time in the first seven episodes of the series has been devoted to building that relationship, so, at this point, the only logical explanation for Nikita's susceptibility to Michael's charms is extreme emotional vulnerability. And Eric's revelation that Nikita's apartment has been rigged with a variety of surveillance devices as a matter of Section standard operating procedure makes one wonder just how long this has been the case -- were they in place when Nikita hid Julie from Michael in "Friend"? The episode's scenario might have been more believable had it come much later in Season 1. Still, there are two very fine action sequences, and the final scene, in which Nikita storms into the middle of a briefing to return Section's surveillance equipment to Operations, is highly charged, as Nikita demonstrates a determination to maintain her own identity regardless of the circumstances.

best dialogue
MADELINE, approaching Nikita in Systems: "You're here late."
NIKITA: "Just going over the parameters again."
M: "That's not like you. You're usually a quick study."
N: "I Must be getting more dedicated to my work."
M: "Somehow I don't think it's the mission you're having trouble figuring out."
N, referring to Michael: "How did he get here? What's his life outside? Does he even have one?"
M: "Would knowing the answers make you perform your mission more efficiently?"
N: "It might."
M: "Is it his life you want to know about? Or his heart?"
N: "Does he even have a heart?"
M: "Michael loved once, very deeply."
N: "Simone."
M: "Some men can love only once.Whether Michael's like that or not, I don't really know."
N: "Gee, Madeline, I thought you knew everything."
M: "I know what I need to know, Nikita. If you can say the same, you'll be alright."
Written by Andrew Deltman & Daniel Truly
Directed by George Bloomfield
Original airdate: March 3, 1997 (USA)
July 5, 1998 (France); October 31, 1997 (UK)

guest stars
Jaimz Woolvett (Eric)
Domenic Cuzzocrea (Cassian)
Anais Granofsky (Carla)
Barbara Radecki (Suzanne Perez)
Philip Williams (Jerico Perez)
Jeffrey Scott Grice (Bruce Matches), Austin Di Iulio
Panou Mowling (Marine)
George Santino

"Evidence," Tara MacLean
"Torn," Rose Chronicles
"Temple," Beverly Klass
"Cun Lacoudhir," Rhea Obsession

Toronto University's Varsity Stadium (which no longer exists) was used extensively as the location of a mission; Eric approaches Nikita at Berkeley Castle, which would be used throughout the series as the location of Nikita's apartment.

Czech title: "Utek "
French title: "L'evasion "
German title: "Schmutziges Spiel"
Italian title: "Fuga"
 Portuguese title: "Fugo"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on the episode
This hour was based on a terrific idea: what if Nikita is forced to choose between her freedom and a relationship with Michael? Strong direction from George Bloomfield and superb cast performances rescue a plot so full of holes one could drive a mobile-com van through it!
Nikita doesn't know that Eric (whose name we don't learn until the end of the third act) works in Section. As soon as they've met, however, he shows up in the command center and on Nikita's next two missions. If her suspicions were not aroused, his should have been.
The presence of surveillance equipment in Nikita's apartment is not surprising, but it does raise questions about the logic of previous story lines (especially "Friend"), and it makes the apartment a questionable setting for Michael's seduction of Nikita. In fact, the whole episode is so riddled with red flags one wonders how she ever believed his advances. Dupuis has an extraordinary ability to convey, just with his eyes, regret, pain, and heartbreak, even as Michael is delivering the crushing emotional blow to Nikita in the final act. Peta Wilson is equally heartbreaking as she allows waves of vulnerability, realization, and devastation to wash across her face.
The seduction scenes have made this episode another fan favorite in spite of its flaws, and the now famous "hand dance" is even more sexually charged than the pair's lovemaking in "Hard Landing." The onscreen chemistry between the two leads is undeniable. Another powerful visual is the meeting of light and dark in the staged exchange between Madeline and Nikita as the topic of Michael's emotional life is discussed. Alberta Watson's performance as the beguiling Madeline is fascinating. Even as she steers Nikita along predetermined paths she exudes warmth and concern through eyes that can go dead in an instant. And then there is the unforgettable coming-of-age moment for Nikita, easily one of the best scenes of the series, as she storms into Section, hair wild like a lion's mane, and delivers the surveillance equipment ripped out of the apartment, drywall still attached. She calls Operations' bluff and leaves the trio behind: Operations amused, Madeline approving, and Michael unreadable.
La Femme Peta, pp 107-111

Ted Edward's "behind the scenes" look at the episode
In an AOL chat, Peta Wilson admitted that this episode was one that had an impact on her. "Look at the stuff they subject me to. Emotionally, the truth is, if my character doesn't go there and I don't make it believable, then the audience isn't going to buy it. So sometimes I have to go to strange places to pull myself to make it real. There's no rehearsal. Only a little prep at night. I get very little sleep, maybe six hours every night. I think 'Mercy' got to me. [And] 'Escape' was a rough one because it was such a metaphor for how I was feeling at the time," she said. "Not having anything outside of the series as a life. Very pent up. It's very bizarre -- many times I'm in synch with the character. It will affect my mood. The makeup artists will tell me a week later, saying that I was really out there or was not feeling well. That means I took on the character's state of mind. Working that quickly as an actor, you have to be very emotionally open. I also don't like having to shoot people. Nikita doesn't like it. It doesn't feel very nice."
"Escape" also showcased Michael's ability to manipulate Nikita, raising the possibility that he might have feelings for her so that she'll stay, and then, once she's stuck again, essentially letting her know that it could have all been a lie. "But the thing that Dupuis does that's so amazing is that we write him he manipulated her," Joel Surnow said in an interview with Bill Planer, "but he plays it with his looks as if he's heartbroken that he had to manipulate her. It just adds that one other level to it that makes it really cook."
La Femme Nikita X-Posed, pp 68-69

Joel Surnow's POV

It answered the question of what Nikita would do if she had the chance to escape. This became the first show where we really addressed the Michael and Nikita story, and reinforced that bond. What we did is we wanted her to have a chance to escape, which is the thing she wants more than anything in the world, but suddenly Michael steps forward and presents himself to her. They make this connection, they have this dance, they start to kiss in the third act, and because of that she decides to stay. So we realize how powerful her attraction and her connection to Michael is, and then at the end of that episode she realizes that he manipulated the whole thing. Or did he? The thing that Dupuis does that's so amazing is that we write it that he manipulated her, but he plays it with his looks as if he's heartbroken that he had to manipulate her. It adds that one other layer to it that really makes it cook. That's what we learned from that show, that the relationship between the two of them is hot and the more you can write toward it, the better it is. The season went in strange ways. We did protecting the innocent person, then there were the Michael and Nikita episodes. The show has so many different aspects....You can never really hit them all and do them in one show. So we pick up different threads in each episode. One of the threads we picked up here was the Michael and Nikita thread, as opposed to the Nikita helping the innocent thread. I thought the show came out pretty well. I liked it better on reviewing it. It wasn't one of my favorite episodes, but in looking at it again I think it's much stronger.

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