207. "Half Life"

(#29) Nikita learns that Rene, the leader of a small terrorist faction called L'Heure Sanguine, is an old friend of Michael's, who is faced with a difficult choice -- betray Section One or lead his friend into a trap that he will not survive.
lfnforever briefing
At long last we learn about Michael's past, in a story superbly written by Hurley and, as is always the case, flawlessly directed by Bonniere. We discover that Michael was a student protester turned terrorist in Paris during the '80s. He was arrested and supposedly died in prison, but of course the truth is he was recruited into Section One. Now a ghost from his past arises -- Rene Dian, his closest friend in the old days, and still fighting for a cause now out of fashion. Roy Dupuis delivers one of his finest performances, handling the most difficult assignment of portraying a Michael who, for once, is beleaguered by self-doubt; Dupuis lets Michael's stoic mask slip just a little so that we may see his emotional turmoil, but he resists the temptation to go overboard. The scene in which Michael is prepared to accept death at Dian's hands, and then mourns over his fallen comrade (slain by Nikita) is a masterpiece. Ironically, Nikita's and Michael's roles are reversed; she chastises Michael for letting feelings get in the way of completing the mission to capture Dian. And this time she protects him, not only from Dian but also from Section. We learn that Michael has a sister, and in the final, touching scene he sees her, for the first time in years, from a distance. In terms of gadgetry, the glasses Nikita uses when she's shadowing Michael are classic, endowed with night vision, zoom, audio and video capabilities. Interestingly, three women are among the casualties in this episode -- Section snipers take out two while one of the two L'Heure Sanguine members Michael knocks off when he first meets Dian is a woman, as well. Which just goes to show that equality of the sexes has at least been achieved in the shadowy world of the terror war. "Half Life" demonstrates that La Femme Nikita has hit its stride -- most of the remaining Season 2 episodes will, like this one, be first-rate, as the writers focus on the intricacies and perils of life within Section as well as the relationships and motivations of the main characters.

best dialogue
DIAN: "I was remembering '84, the transportation strike. We were all dreaming of the great cause and the role we might play. We spent most of our time delivering fresh underwear and toilet paper to the strikers."
MICHAEL: "We rode those beat up Lambrettas."
D: "Those were the good times. You must agree on that, no?"
M: "We were young. Everything seemed good then."
Written by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Rene Bonniere
Original airdate: March 22, 1998 (USA)
January 25, 2001 (France); November 12, 1999 (UK)

guest stars
Denis Forest (Rene Dian)
Genevieve Langlois (Jeanine)
Martine Rochon (Michael's Sister)
Tannis Burnett (Teacher)

"Tangent," Beth Orton
"Les Bourgeois," Jacques Brel

Part of Toronto's Union Station was used in the scene where Michael locates Rene Dian; Michael watches his sister from afar on Bright Street. Michael discovers the bomb at the Cloud Gardens, on Temperance Street.

Czech title: "Rozpad zivota"
French title: "Retrouvailles"
German title: "Zwiespalt"
Italian title: "Rene"
Polish title: "Pol zywy"
Spanish title: "Media vida"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Once again a Section recruit turns out to be more human than monstrous, and not the cold-blooded killer we've come to expect. And it is quite shocking to learn that political protest once motivated Michael's behavior and that he fought for a cause.
Nikita and Michael experience something of a role reversal here. Nikita initially deceives Section to protect Michael. Later, in a refreshing shift of power, she proceeds with the mission to capture Dian, admonishing Michael the way he has done to her in the past. Nikita's instincts are improving -- she suspects a deeper and more personal motive behind Michael's deceptions. She has also become much more adept at playing the Section game, spying on Michael (with some of the coolest surveillance equipment to date) and using Birkoff to pass on her intel. (A humerous moment occurs when an impatient Nikita deflates Birkoff's evident pleasure with the progress he's making in his search for Dian by delivering the bomber's location and tracker frequency.)
As the writers fill in the blanks of the characters' lives, there is always a risk that humanizing them will diminish their power or mystique. The potential for such a disaster is present as we learn of Michael's history as a student in the Paris University riots of 1984. But Maurice Hurley's script, directed by the incomparable Rene Bonniere, is a complex examination of regret and disillusionment, of loyalty and friendship. The confluence of Michael's past with his present drives him to a dangerous self-examination. By the episode's climax he is willing to submit to Rene's judgment that along with his beliefs, he has lost his soul. Rene's death is not meaningless, and Michael unexpectedly derives three gifts from it. He observes his sister (whom Rene raised as his own) in person, albeit at a distance; he gains a new perspective on an old enemy as his sister and her loving family are the very bourgeois he once sought to destroy; he redefines his relationship with Nikita by giving her the gift of his past and his trust in their most intimate exchange to date.
La Femme Peta, pp 162-166
Joel Surnow's POV
Loved it. Great Michael story and guest stars. In contrast to the previous two episodes ["Mandatory Refusal" and "Darkness Visible"] this was a very small story. Not a lot of locations, not a lot of things happening, but the emotions between Michael and his friend from his past. Everything about it worked for me. Like I said, the refugee camp in "Darkness Visible" looked amazing, but who cared? This story was a guy and Michael and there's a great story about them and their past. I was really moved by it and it had nothing to do with production. It was also a nice piece of the Michael puzzle, which our fans always appreciate. The funny thing is, they didn't love it as much as I thought they would. So much of our fan base is women who love Michael and want him to be enigmatic. I think maybe they didn't love it because there wasn't a romantic element to it. It's a guy story, in a way.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)