201. "Hard Landing"
(#23) Nikita discovers being free of Section isn't what she'd thought it would be, especially with the Freedom League hunting her down, and Michael devises a daring and complicated scheme to bring her back into Section -- and convince Operations she shouldn't be cancelled.
lfnforever briefing
Writer Michael Loceff outdoes himself in tackling one of the most difficult scripting challenges of the series -- how to bring Nikita back into Section and maintain plausibility. Michael devises a risky plan designed to convince Operations that for the past six months Nikita was a prisoner of the Freedom League, when in fact, she's only been in their hands for a few days. Fortunately for all concerned, there is a Freedom League mole in Section -- a Class Five operative named Ackerman. His presence is fortuitous in the extreme, for without him it's unlikely that Michael's subterfuge would have worked. By exposing Ackerman, Michael can deflect suspicion from Nikita. With last season's "War" showing the way, "Hard Landing" sets the parameters for the rest of the series -- all the major story arcs to come will revolve around the complicated relationship between Michael and Nikita. Their love scene in this episode is memorable not only for the famous morning-after nude shots but also for the sadomasochistic suggestions stemming from their rather violent reunion (and which are reiterated when Nikita voluntarily subjects herself to a beating at Michael's hand in order to make it appear she'd been tortured by the League). Nikita's comment in response to Michael's admission that he thought he had lost her -- "You never had me" -- rings false; as far as viewers are concerned; her only possible motivations for returning to the living hell of life in Section One are her feelings for Michael. She's being far more honest when she tells him "This isn't freedom" in reference to her time out of Section' She doesn't mean in a physical sense; she can escape Section, but she could never escape the memory of Michael.

best dialogue
 (Madeline and Operations discussing Michael...) MADELINE: "He's still out of synch."
OPERATIONS: "Out of synch? He's out of control. That stunt he pulled in Liberia could have gotten everybody killed. Now he's beating up our recruits."
M: "He's still not over Nikita."
O: "So he's taking it out on us."
M: "No, not on us. Himself."
O: "It's been six months. He's got to let it go."
M: "What if he can't?"
O: "He got over Simone. He'll get over Nikita."
Written by Michael Loceff
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original airdate: January 4, 1998 (USA)
November 9, 2000 (France); October 1, 1999 (UK)

guest stars
David Nerman (Ackerman)
Valeri Outcharov (Sherron)
Johnie Chase (Matty)
Arthur Eng (Xing)
Earl Pastko (Field)
Makoto Kabayama (Karate Instructor)
Patric Maserkevitch (Field's Aide)

"The Love Thieves," Depeche Mode

Toronto's Cherry Restaurant is the location of the eatery where Nikita is working, and where she is captured by the Freedom League. The boat used for the rendezvous between Nikita and Michael was at the time located at the Toronto Docks. (It was used again in "Playing With Fire.")

Czech title: "Tvrde pristani"
French title: "Reintegration difficile"
German title: "Der Maulwurf"
Italian title: "Il ritorno"
Polish title: "Twarde Ladowanie"
Portuguese title: "Dificil retorno"
Spanish title: "Aterrizaje forzoso"

Drew the largest audience for any USA Network one-hour drama to date.

Systems is introduced and has its own permanent set. (a.k.a the War Room early on.)

A new department called Reprogramming is mentioned as being located on Level 3.
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Writer Michael Loceff faces a daunting challenge in this episode : he must make Nikita's return to Section believable both for Operations and for the audience. As we have seen so often in the past, Nikita's love for Michael has been a powerful motivation, and the circumstances of her reunion with him afford the perfect cover for her return to Section. But in solving one problem the writers the danger of creating a new one: the so-called Moonlighting syndrome.
This episode is remembered as the one where Nikita and Michael finally "do it." But in consummating the series' central relationship, the show risks losing that all-important sexual tension that has viewers tuning in week after week. That said, it would have been unbelievable if they had not made love, and Loceff's script ensures that the love scene is not lacking in signature elements of violence, restraint, and control that have marked the relationship thus far. Not only is the secual act off-screen (unlike in other episodes: "Obsessed," "Double Date," "Off Profile"), but the voluntary beating Nikita takes at Michael's hand is very intimate and, ironically, almost tender. This note of sadomasochism sounds twice here, But Loceff also gives us the morning-after scene in which the lovers, bathed in light, are stripped bare; it is this scene that will stand in painful contrast to Nikita's new trials once back in Section.
The episode excels visually as well as dramatically. Production Designer Rocco Matteo's club and foreign-locations sets are always fun, imaginative, and a real change of pace from the more minimalist, stark environments of Section One. The Thai club is both exotic -- lit with reds, blues, and yellows -- and futuristic, with its corridor of convex mirros. Red targeting lasers add drama to the action sequences with classic La Femme Nikita flair: the ultra-cool Michael disables his target with one hand while continuing to nuzzle a prostitute's neck. The hour concludes with a sensual little gesture from Peta Wilson, as Nikita licks the fingers that have just been caressing Michael's chin. Unfortunately, it will be her last taste of intimacy for some time....
La Femme Peta, pp 148-150
Joel Surnow's POV
Important episode: the first time Michael and Nikita consummate the relationship. It was our number one fan favorite of season two, because it was clearly about Michael and Nikita fighting very hard to find each other and coming together. Being naked together d id not hurt anybody's enthusiasm. Episodes like that are always hard. Cliffhangers force you to explain a lot of stuff, yet you still want a story to happen in the episode. I think we successfully managed to get a very plausible explanation for her to return to Section, back in the same position we wanted her to be. Yet we planted that moment between the two of them. I think it was one of our strongest episodes. And yes, we were afraid of the "Moonlighting Syndrome," but I think we deftly avoided that. By the fourth episode of the season we were back where we started from. The fact that they were outside the Section at the time helped.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)
Christopher Heyn's Intel
Numerous changes to "Hard Landing" began in earnest well before principal photography. The first involves Michael's undercover visit to an ultra-modern brothel in Bangkok, where Stuart Sherrin, the Freedom League's money launderer, is seized. Originally, his capture is more surreptitious, as Michael first tags Sherrin through a transmitting device in a ring he is wearing, then releases colorful clouds of tear gas in the brothel's ventilation system so fellow Section operatives can capture [Sherrin] easily. However, to ratchet up the excitement of this sequence, the writing staff added more gunplay with the help of visually striking laser-guided Berettas, Michael's "decoder ring" was cut in favor of metal strips dropped on the floor to be crushed by the heel of Sherrin's assistant -- an action more interesting conceptually as well as visually....
Madeline's interrogstion of Sherrin in the White Room is also much shorter in the aired version. As originally conceived, the scene is played with sick humor, as the Devos disagree over the effectiveness placed in the middle of Sherrin's spine .... While amusing, a shorter interrogation serves the writing staff's need to quicken the pace of the episode. The single shot of Madeline's high heel stepping in front of a man who can no longer speak is chilling enough to get the point across.
Post-production generated the most significant alterations to "Hard Landing." Although La Femme Nikita spent two days filming Section One's assault against the Freedom League research lab in Lyons, France, the sequence was dropped completely, as the final result looks unintentionally laughable. Originally, Michael and his three-man Section team are ambushed by Freedom League terrorists who have secretly infiltrated the woods surrounding the complex. Because the terrorists wear reflective silver suits that block Section's infrared scans, their presence is undetectable. On the page, the idea sounded like a nifty futuristic concept, but the final result appears like something out of a bad 1950s science-fiction movie....
Once USA's Standards & Practices reviewed the episode, they were adamantly opposed to the full-body nudity of co-stars Peta Wilson and Dupuis .... When Surnow refused to replace the post-coital wide shot of the two of them standing near a moonlit porthole, USA suggested a compromise, in which two versions would be created: Surnow's version, which would air only late at night, and a second, less revealing version that could be broadcast during daytime hours. Whether by irony or calculation, no alternative take of this final shot was filmed, so a less-revealing version couldn't be edited. As a result, the episode reached the air just as Surnow envisioned, albeit with a "TV-MA" rating and a parental guidance disclaimer. This scene between Michael and Nikita quickly became one of the most endlessly analyzed moments among long-time viewers, and remains the standard by which all other love scenes in the series are compared....
Inside Section One, p 292