208. "Darkness Visible"

(#30) When Michael and Nikita are sent into a war-torn Balkan country to eliminate a ruthless arms buyer, two refugee children complicate their mission -- especially when Nikita insists on trying to reunite them with their parents and getting the family out of the country.
lfnforever briefing
First there was "Mandatory Refusal" and then "Half Life" -- and here we have a third consecutive episode with the focus on Michael. While the first showcased Michael's unwavering resolve to complete a mission even when all the cards are stacked against him, and the second gave us his intriguing backstory, this one focuses on Nikita's growing influence on him. That same unwavering and at times ruthless single-mindedness of purpose that Michael displayed in "Mandatory Refusal" seems to be in full force again here, as he initially shows no compassion for Peter and Sasha, the refugee children. But when Nikita tells him they can't leave the children behind, he doesn't. He seems to accept her willingness to sacrifice the mission on the altar of her own humanity -- Nikita eschews an opportunity to assassinate Luka to save the children from a couple of heavies -- with a quiet resignation. He tells her it's a mistake to let the kids tag along, but doesn't do anything about it. After Luka is killed -- and somewhat to Nikita's surprise -- Michael is the one who suggests they find Peter's and Sasha's parents. We've seen how resourceful Michael can be in keeping Nikita alive ("Mercy" and "Hard Landing"), and apparently he's not yet arrived at the point where he thinks she's more trouble than she's worth (and may never.)  His cold-blooded stoicism, of course, is the armor he uses to shield himself from the perils of humanity and compassion; clearly, Nikita has succeeded in creating a few chinks in it. A good job is done by all involved in creating a fairly realistic background of the war-torn land and the despair and brutality that war spawns; the frail and desperate voices of the people crying out for help on Gregory's receiver effectively communicates this to the audience. And the subtext of the effort to reunite Peter and Sasha with their parents is truly heartrending. The tag, in which Nikita dreams that the children are reunited with their parents is a chilling reminder that LFN is not about happy endings.

best dialogue
MADELINE: "We're not going to cancel Gail."
BIKOFF: "You're not?"
M: "We've known about her extracurricular activities for some time now. It's what brought her to our attention in the first place."
B: "What about the money?"
M: "Those accounts don't exist. We create them for the sole purpose of satisfying her habit."
B: "Her habit?"
M: "After an extensive profile, we came to the conclusion that stealing is something she'll never be able to give up. So we allow it. Keeps her productive."
B: "But how long can this go on?"
M: "Indefinitely. She doesn't want to spend the money. She just wants to steal it."
Written by David Ehrman
Directed by Ken Girotti
Original airdate: March 29, 1998 (USA)
February 1, 2001 (France); November 19, 1999 (UK)

guest stars
Kyle Downes (Peter)
Kevi Katsuras (Sasha)
Tara Slone (Gail)
Damir Andrei (Cain)
Ned Vukovich (Radovan Luka)
Anna-Louise Richardson (Anna)
Andy Rukavina (Gregory)
Hakan Coskuner (Bosnian Soldier)

Original score by Sean Callery


Czech title: "Viditelna temnota"
French title: "La bombe humaine"
German title: "Dunkle Kanale"
Italian title: "Un paese al buio"
Portuguese title: "Escuridao visivel"
Spanish title: "Oscuridad visible"

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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
In spite of some intriguing scenes and shifting character dynamics, this episode, ripped from the headlines, fails to hit the mark. It may be, as Surnow suggests, that the hour is ambitiously production-heavy; or that the sympathy we are supposed to feel for the children is never fully realized. It may be simply too topical in theme. Even the secondary Birkoff-Gail story line, as intriguing as it is, seems to be filler that might have been better employed in another episode.
Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see Nikita's approach with Michael beginning to change. Instead of arguing with him or convincing Michael of their responsibilities, she speaks her mind and leaves it to him to play the bad guy. Yet, over the course of the episode, he becomes the voice of moral outrage and personal sympathy. He returns to pick up the children rather than leave them to fend for themselves at a refugee camp. Unmoved by Luca's strategic pleas for his life, Michael executes him. It is Michael who suggests they find the children's parents and who counsels the boy not to look back as they leave the parents behind. It goes a long way to humanizing a man who often appears entirely devoid of any human emotion.
Birkoff's disturbing decision to turn in his first love, when he discovers Gail has been using Section intel to steal money, might have seemed a more significant event in another episode. As it is, his moral dilemma turns out to be just a test of his middle-management skills, courtesy of Madeline.
La Femme Nikita's open endings are one of its great attractions, and this episode is no exception. Writer David Ehrman cleverly plays against our expectations with the closing tag, in which we see the children and their parents reunited. When the reunion turns out to be Nikita's dream it is less a cheat than it is evidence of her compassion and guilt burrowing into her subconscious.
La Femme Peta, pp 161-162
Joel Surnow's POV
Didn't work out. We tried to do more of an action episode where it's not just in the Section but was on the road. We realized we didn't have the resources to do it. This goes for "Mandatory Refusal" and "Darkness Visible." We bit off more than we could chew. It was too much production and not enough time to do it. So we had to lose scenes, skimp on dramatic moments because we were so busy trying to do a show that was bigger than a show we could do. "Darkness Visible" had some stunning visuals when they were in that concentration camp, and we just came up short on those two. They were workable stories that didn't have much to do with the show. At this point we were getting away from Michael and Nikita, and just doing some straight-ahead stories. Those two were particular disappointments for me because I felt we didn't solidify the episodes because we over-reached.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)