213. "Not Was"

 (#35) Michael is captured by Red Cell during a mission, and when Nikita rescues him she learns that he has been tortured and can't remember who he is -- a condition that, if discovered by Operations, could lead to Michael's cancellation.
lfnforever briefing
When Michael and Nikita infiltrate an Amsterdam salsa club that is a front for the operations of Orlando Perez, a first-tier Red Cell tactician, Nikita is trapped and Michael is sent in to rescue her. And yet, when Michael is taken by one of Perez's goons, Nikita is instructed not to pursue without backup. One wonders why Michael would be risked to save a Level-Two op like Nikita while Section won't risk her to save a Level-Five (Michael.) It's also curious that Operations and Madeline are fooled for so long regarding Michael's condition. And what ever happened to those poor, naked, abductees trapped in glass storage cells in the Perez lab? But, once past these curiosities, this is an extremely interesting episode, as the torture Michael endures before he is rescued strips him of that hard outer shell he uses to survive -- and we see the man underneath, a sensitive, caring human being who freely admits his love for Nikita. The irony of it all is that to save Michael, Nikita must find a way to return him to his former self. One of the most enjoyable scenes of the season is Michael's fumbling attempt to extract Perez from the private club in Germany. Roy Dupuis does a stellar job of showing us the "new" Michael. An intriguing subplot is how Operations deals with his jealousy when Madeline shows an interest in a valentine op named Russell Burke. We're surprised when Operations changes his mind about sending Burke on what amounts to a suicide mission. (Had this been the fourth season, Burke might not have been so lucky!) Worth noting is a fascinating new look at several levels of Section (at the end of the scene in which Operations explains to Madeline why Burke isn't in Uzbekistan getting his card punched.) And for the first time in the season, we realize that The Goatee Man has a twin -- they both show up at Perez's club.

best dialogue
(In Nikita's apartment when Michael is trying to find out what's happened to him.)
MICHAEL: "Do I have friends?"
NIKITA: "I don't really know all that much about you."
M: "How long have you known me?"
N: "Over three years. You trained me."
M: "Why don't you know me better?"
N: "It's hard to explain."
M: "I must be a real jerk."
N (laughs): "Actually, I'm very fond of you."
Written by Michael Loceff
Directed by Rene Bonniere
Original airdate: June 21, 1998 (USA)
March 8, 2001 (France); January 7, 2000 (UK)

guest stars
Sam Moses (Orlando Perez)
Jonathan Cuthill  (Russell)
Jean Yoon (Ying Kam)
Frank Bishun (Frank)
Natalie Persad (Natalie)

"Jerusalem Salsa Band," Oyeme Israel
"Fire And Roses," Mimi (Goese)

Toronto's Old Mill Club served as Perez's club.

Czech title: "Nebyt"
French title: "Crise d'identite"
German title: "Agent Ohne Vergangenheit"
Italian title: "Amnesia"
 Portuguese title: "Nao Era"
Spanish title: "No era"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
What could have been an extremely cheesy episode about Michael losing his memory becomes a rather moving exploration of the theme of identity and a commentary on the Section status quo. Inventive writing and sensitive direction make "Not Was" a fan favorite. Tantalizing and frustrating at the same time, we get an hour with an emotionally vulnerable Michael, knowing full well his only hope of survival is to regain his memory and return to his old self. This raises an interesting question about personality: how much of a person's identity is determined by experience?
If we accept that with his memories stripped away we see his true self, Michael's amnesia affords us a glimpse not only of his love for Nikita, but also of the enormous price he has paid for being treated like a caged animal. The amnesia also presents the opportunity for comment on the baffling jargon used in Section and on the cruelty of a life without family or friends. Michael gets to relive the horror of his first kill and experiences the common nightmare of the fear of being discovered to be a fraud. Roy Dupuis's performance is marvelous as he takes Michael through terror, confusion, loss, love, and humor. Even before the drugs take effect and the amnesia sets in there is cause to admire Michael. His resistance to the interrogation procedure is astounding, and his courage finds its twin in Nikita, who resists his declarations of love and, to save his life, returns his memories, thus losing his "true" self.
The hour is not all melodrama, though. It's Man vs. Machine as a jealous and flustered Operations fights with his keyboard attempting to check out the competition for Madeline's attentions. The opening sequence in the Latin dance club begins with a teasing and suggestive moment as Michael takes Nikita's hand down, down, down to his waistline where she finds...a gun. In a startling scene that could be straight out of The X-Files, recent abductees of Perez (the Red Cell tactician) are stored alive, naked, and hairless in glass-doored cabinets. In the rush to save Michael, no one is seen collecting these poor schmucks. And Section politics rears its ugly head again as Madeline and Operations choose to let Nikita and Michael think Michael's amnesia has gone unnoticed. It seems strange to see them hand over even the illusion of power, but the question of who is fooling whom will return with a vengeance over the next few episodes.
La Femme Peta, pp 181-183
Joel Surnow's POV
A great showpirce for Roy, who got to play someone who didn't remember who he was. Just a classic, cheesy hour drama idea that you've seen a million times -- the amnesia episode. But we at least get to do it in a way that's more real and tied in to terrorism in that a group injected him with stuff so he would give up information. This was not the accidental bumping of the head. The fans loved us and hated us for this episode, because they're dying to see Michael showing some emotion, but they also knew that it wasn't really him, in a sense. They were happy to see Michael be able to do it, but they wish that it was the real Michael. As long as they continue to want him to be that way, I think we still have their support. The "Moonlighting Syndrome" is when you have your characters do exactly what the audience wants, and then they're done. I like the episode.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)