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202. "Spec Ops"

        
(#24) Operations finds the circumstances of Nikita's return to Section highly suspicious, so he assigns her to Jurgen, a special operative whose mission is to find out if she's lying. Michael kills a Freedom League member to prevent him from revealing the truth about Nikita.
lfnforever briefing
This episode launches the three-story "Jurgen" arc; it introduces the mysterious Jurgen (played by Bruce Payne), whom Michael sees as a serious threat to the charade he and Nikita have devised to explain her return to Section, while Nikita, taking her cue from Michael initially, and distrusting Jurgen, will come to the conclusion that he will not expose them. Nikita must persuade Jurgen that she was a prisoner of the Freedom League for six months, and Michael must find some way to silence a League member, Kudrin, who knows the truth. He tries to murder Kudrin in Hong Kong -- a sequence that includes an outstanding chase scene -- and when that fails, and Kudrin is brought to Section, the stakes skyrocket, because Kudrin could reveal that Nikita was not a long-term captive of the League. Michael is so desperate to silence Kudrin that he makes a few uncharacteristic mistakes, causing Madeline to suspect that perhaps, indeed, Kudrin has some intel that might reveal the truth about Nikita's missing six months. It's rare to see Michael lose his cool, but he does so several times, and even admits to Nikita that he made a mistake bringing her back in. Nikita doesn't acquit herself all that well, either -- she's certainly no match for Jurgen, with her totally unconvincing answers to his pointed questions. (She's "loyal to Section?" She couldn't sell that to the janitor on Level 4, much less Jurgen!) But as the fortuitous presence of Ackerman, the League mole, saves Michael and Nikita in "Hard Landing", they are saved again in this instance by the surprise revelation that Jurgen is himself a rebel inside Section -- and he sees in Nikita a kindred spirit. Also in this episode we get a look at Madeline's new office -- a tremendous improvement over the previous one.

best dialogue
(Michael and Nikita discussing Jurgen...)
NIKITA: "If he was going to betray us he would have done it by now."
MICHAEL: "Betrayal gets him nothing. But he has power over us, because he knows the truth, and one day he will use that power."
N: "For what?"
M: "We'll find out soon enough."
N: "No. I don't think so, Michael. He's different."
M: "Different from what?"
N: "Different from you."
Written by Robert Cochran
Directed by T.J. Scott
Original airdate: January 11, 1998 (USA)
September 14, 2000 (France); October 8, 1999 (UK)

guest stars
 Bruce Payne (Jurgen)
Derwin Jordan (Marco)
Nicu Branzea (Kudrin)

music
"Smack My Bitch Up," Prodigy
"Satan," Orbital

locations
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Czech title: "Specialni jednotka"
French title: "Remise en condition"
German title: "Unter Verdacht"
Italian title: "Agente speciale"
Portuguese title: "Agente especial"
Spanish title: "Agente Especial"

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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
This three-episode arc begins with a stylish opening scene, set to the music of Prodigy. In a white-on-white room, Nikita is bored, captive, and under surveillance, pacing like a caged animal. The opening scene is typical of this episode, which is filled with astounding visuals. The Hong Kong scene is possibly the series' best chase sequence. Edited by Richard Wells and set to Orbital's "Satan," the scene is vividly lit with greens, purples, and reds and is stylishly shot by T.J. Scott. It is Michael, rather than Nikita, whom we now see wearing sunglasses, which reflect back to us his off-kilter world. Later, another amazing image of Michael -- the master of masks -- presents itself as he is shot through a face etched in a blacked-out window. The unearthly sound of the silencer adds to the surreal flavor of the scene. Writer Robert Cochran is giving us a man who is rapidly losing his poker face, making errors, and not even lying particularly well. Losing his trademark control (about to dishonor himself?) and afraid of more than cancellation, Michael's threatened disintegration is projected flawlessly by Dupuis.
Nikita and Michael's continued deception is a house of cards always threatening to collapse under its own weight. They meet in back corners and secret hallways; their labyrinth of lies is reflected in the physical space as they are shot through grillwork as through a cage. Paranoia is aised to a new pitch. Michael is correct when he asserts that any intimacy between them will show in their demeanors and they will be cancelled. And when he tells her to get over it, he speaks to her like the child she is becoming in the hands of the writers. An unfortunate side effect of Nikita's overt desire is that she seems bratty and whiny, a characterization that will take the writers almost half the season to get past.
Bruce Payne joins the cast as Jurgen, whose history with Michael is hinted at but not explored -- a potentially exciting opportunity missed. Payne gives Jurgen a "tell": every time he takes off his glasses he's being sincere or honest. It is a variation on Nikita's use of glasses, but it's a bit heavy handed, as is the British actor's American accent. Apparently, the notion was to create a kind of Zen master spiritual guru type as a change of pace from the cold, undemonstrative Michael.
Along with some new ideas of Section, like "reprogramming" with its geodesic training pod, Madeline gets a new office: harder, colder than her previous one, despite the addition of plant life. How appropriate that the plants are orchids and bonsai trees -- controlled and highly cultivated. One real surprise is Madeline's comment: "A bond between two agents isn't always such a bad thing." This comment lays the foundation for a third-season shocker, and subtly introduces the second-season revelations about her shared history with Operations.
La Femme Peta, pp 150-152
Joel Surnow's POV
Great looking episode. Very tense, but for me it was problematic and didn't gell for a variety of reasons. I didn't think there was enough chemistry between Jurgen and Nikita to make us care for him and to make us care about their relationship. We learned a lot in that episode, because Nikita played her feelings for Michael very openly and she said, "Please, Michael, let's be together." She was very overt with her feelings, and our audience hated it. They didn't forgive us for half a season. They didn't care about Jurgen, they didn't care about anything. They cared that Nikita would never throw herself at Michael the way she did. I sort of agree with them. In terms of understanding what the show is, you have to use the audience as a basis. If enough people really reject it, you have to listen to it. It wasn't just the Internet. There was a lot of response, a lot of feeling like, "Who is she?" Here's this tough, cool chick, and now suddenly she's throwing herself at Michael. They had a point.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)