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109. "Gray"

        
(#9) Section One's security is breached and its Directory of agents is stolen. Michael goes to Prague to recover it, but when the thief is killed Nikita is assigned to get close to an innocent bystander who might have unwittingly come into possession of the Directory.
lfnforever briefing
This isn't the first time that Nikita's on-the-job romance within the framework of a Section One mission is used to explore her relationship with Michael; there was Alec Chandler in "Charity" before architect Gray Wellman (played, a bit too blandly, by Callum Keith Rennie) comes along. But in this case Michael seems to sense that Wellman could become a real threat. "Gray" is a first-rate spy story, with numerous memorable scenes -- the Prague auction, with master terrorist Benko and Michael bidding on the stolen Directory; the shootout between Michael and Benko (and associates) after Benko kills Harding; Michael, Nikita and two other Section operatives dismantling Wellman's apartment looking for the Directory while Madeline, posing as police Detective M. Frayn, questions Wellman about Harding; and the thrilling conclusion in which Nikita turns the tables on Benko -- who has fitted her with an explosive collar -- by grabbing him, so that if he detonates the collar they both will die. Nikita's decision not to entrust the detonator to Michael a moment later is a defiant statement that she remains in control of her life. Probably the most memorable scene of all is the last one, in which Michael spies on Nikita from the shadows as she goes to Wellman's apartment for dinner -- demonstrating that he is not ready to relinquish that control. We are also introduced to Mick Schtoppel, the slick conman and fixer who turns out to be much, much more than he appears to be at this stage. The Directory is never recovered -- a loose end that, one might think, would give Operations plenty of sleepless nights. One might also think the second part of this two-story arc ("Choice") could be used to solve the mystery of the missing file, but it isn't -- eventually fans will grow accustomed to the fact that LFN doesn't always tie up loose ends.

best dialogue
[Michael arrives at the auction for the Directory]
HARDING: "Have you met Mr. Benko?"
MICHAEL: "I know him by reputation."
BENKO: "And I went to all the trouble of bringing you a present. (He places a square box on top of the table) Knowing how concerned you are about your operatives, I took the opportunity of returning Mr. Lang. What's left of him...."
MICHAEL (without emotion): "Thank you."
Written by Robert Cochran
Directed by Ken Girotti
 Original airdate: March 10, 1997 (USA)
August 16, 1998 (France); November 7, 1997 (UK)

guest stars
Callum Keith Rennie (Gray Wellman)
James Widmie (Benko)
David Jansen (Harding)
Carlo Rota (Mick Schtoppel)
Anthony Lenke (Guard)
Wayne Davis (Daniel)

music
"Tsunami," Guru Stefan
"Howling," Morcheeba

locations
Toronto's Osgoode Hall (Queen Street and University Avenue) serves as the location for the Prague auction; several Liberty Street locations are used for the scenes in which Benko kills Harding and then engages Michael and another Section operative in a gun battle; Holy Trinity Church is the cathedral admired by Wellman and Nikita; Nathan Phillips Square is used as the location for Nikita's walk with Wellman as well as for the scene in which the dummy "Nikita" explodes.


Czech title: "Sedivy"
German title: "Gefhahr fur Sektion 1"
Italian title: "l Signor Gray"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
"Gray" is a good, straight-ahead spy story that prepares the way for the more relationship-oriented follow-up episode, "Choice." Nikita's booby-trapped necklace, fully equipped with microphone and explosives, is a great Mission Impossible James Bond gadget that effectively reminds us of the spy element of the series. The imaginative resolution, whereby Section simulates Gray and Nikita's conversation and stages a phony explosion of the necklace, is given a nice Nikita twist. Nikita grabs Benko when he realizes he's been deceived, tying his fate to hers if he presses the detonator. It's a daring move -- even Michael is concerned -- but in the end Nikita's bluff works; she recovers the detonator, and almost hands it over to Michael. That she changes her mind and keeps the device is a loaded gesture and a memorable moment: she is intent on retaining control over her death, her life, her destiny, her identity, and her soul.
Other characters in the series are emerging, as well. Michael's skills as a strategist come to the fore: he suggests using Gray, an innocent, to lure Benko into the open. Section may not get the directory, but they can get the other buyer (removing that potential threat) and capture an enemy at the same time. As in "Charity," Madeline counsels Michael on his relationship with Nikita. In light of later story developments, it is difficult to discern if this is observation or manipulation on Madeline's part, but Michael's appearance in the shadows across from Gray's house feeds the jealousy theory that Nikita will espouse at the conclusion of "Choice." Madeline's foray into the field is a rarity, as she poses as a cop (M. Frayn) and questions Gray at the local police station. Equally rare is the suggestion that Section works in cooperation with local authorities (a theme that will be developed further in "Voices"). In a lighter moment, Alberta Watson and Peta Wilson have some fun playing up the sexual innuendo of their discussion of Gray's cooking skills, emphasizing Nikita's increasing comfort around Madeline as she becomes more settled into Section.
La Femme Peta, pp 111-113


Ted Edwards' "behind the scenes" look at this episode
One question the staff of La Femme Nikita has often been asked is how the scripts for the show are brought together. During an online chat, story editor Michael Loceff detailed the process, noting that it involves the staff "cloistering" into an office for days at a time. Ideas are thrown back and forth and eventually a story emerges. Other times, despite an incredible number of hours devoted to the effort, said story line will not sustain itself for four acts, they discover, which necessitates starting back at the beginning.
"Once a story line is established," he explained, "we will assign it to an in-house or freelance writer, based on workload, individual strengths, or preference. After the first draft of the script is handed in, the staff reconvenes and gives notes to the writer for a rewrite or polish. Usually the first rewrite of any script is extensive. In any case, one of the in-house -- or two working as a pair -- will take a final pass at it, scene by scene, until we feel it is 'correct.'"
At that point, the script is sent out to the studio and the network so that the powers that be at both can respond with notes of their own, which will result in additional rewrites. Then it goes to line producer Jamie Paul Rock, who might tell the writers that the script is impossible to shoot -- from a financial standpoint -- as written, resulting in still more rewrites. "Even then," Loceff said, "it seems to be unrproducable, given the budget. But Jamie and Rocco Matteo, our production designer, work magic and somehow do it all within or under budget and make it look like it cost twice as much. After it is produced and the director has submitted an initial cut, one of us sits with the editor and cuts the show into its final form."
Man, nothin's as easy as it seems.
La Femme Nikita X-Posed, pp 69-70


Joel Surnow's POV

Another one of those episodes that the script just wasn't in...great shape. It was all over the place. It didn't have a central throughline; you weren't following anything. It was a patchwork episode; one of those episodes for a reason that I can't explain is one of my favorites. I just thought there were so many great scenes in that show that it really held together. There was a good Eastern Europe feel to it. I thought the element of the soon-to-be boyfriend coming in played really well, and it had a great ending in that she went to Gray's house and Michael is across the street watching. It was an afterthought scene, but it was a great moment....

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