216. "Old Habits"

 (#38) As part of an effort to stop Bright Star's suicide bombings, Nikita is assigned to Formitz, a man who provides the terrorist group with false documents -- an assignment complicated by the fact that Formitz is a modern-day Jack the Ripper who preys on prostitutes.
lfnforever briefing
The moral ambiguity inherent in the work done by Section One is never more clearly represented than in this episode. It all starts in the teaser, when Operations says, with a satisfied smile, that everything is going according to plan after he watches, on live feed, the execution of a Section mole planted in the terrorist group called Bright Star. This group has embarked on a campaign of terror by dispatching suicide bombers throughout Europe. To reach Bright Star's well-insulated leader, Halir, Section must deal with Formitz, a man who provides the group with false documentation. Nikita becomes his Section contact, and when she discovers that he is a modern-day Jack the Ripper who preys on prostitutes, she is horrified and outraged -- and even moreso when she learns that Section knows of Formitz's avocation and is willing to sacrifice a prostitute named Danielle, whom Nikita is trying to save from Formitz, in order to get the psycho to help them catch Halir. Both Madeline and Michael try to impress upon Nikita that Section is willing to sacrifice one life to save hundreds, and perhaps it helps that Nikita has already witnessed the murder of forty innocents by a Bright Star suicide bomber in a Hamburg bus depot. If so, it doesn't help much. In the end, we learn that Nikita can play the ruthless game with the best of them; Formitz is executed by an assassin, and Michael suspects that he was fingered by Nikita; of course, she denies it, as smoothly as others in Section have lied to her in the past. The subplot is just as chillingly grim; Walter marries Belinda, not knowing that she is marked as an abeyance operative. When she's killed on a mission to Rio de Janeiro, Walter flies into a rage and wants to kill Operations. Nikita intercedes, persuading him to stay alive because she -- and others in Section who cling to at least a remnant of their humanity -- need him. In a broader context, this episode is crucial to an understanding of Nikita's ambivalence where Michael is concerned; over the first three seasons she becomes increasingly attached to him, and yet will go through stages where she tries to deny her feelings for him -- and who can blame her? When there's a personal stake involved, Michael is prepared to bend the rules, but otherwise he is a willing participant in the oft-times almost diabolical machinations of Section One. This is one of those times.

best dialogue
(In Madeline's office, after Nikita has learned of Formitz's crimes...)
NIKITA: "Why didn't you tell me?"
MADELINE: "He's a very frightened man. Murder gives him the feeling of being in control."
N: "I know Section makes compromises. But he's Jack the Ripper."
M: "We need him."
N: "Shall I tell you what he does?"
M: "That won't be necessary. It's simple arithmetic. We sacrifice a few lives to save hundreds. Stay focussed on the mission. Try remembering the faces of the people at the bus depot just before the explosion."
Written by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Terry Ingram
Original airdate: July 12, 1998 (USA)
March 15, 2001 (France); January 28, 2000 (UK)

guest stars
Chris Leavins (Gregory Formitz)
Donna Christo (Danielle)
Cas Anvar (Halir)
Eric Fink (Amar)
T.L. Fursberg (Erica)
Jill Dyck (Belinda)
Stavroula Logothettis (Kara)

"(Can't You Trip) Like I Do," The Crystal Method
"Space," Keoki

The area in Hamburg where Nikita and Michael are watching for suicide bomber Muhanni is actually Toronto's Metro Hall; the bus stop explosion occurs at nearby Wellington Street; the scene in which Michael uses Formitz to locate Halir in the Berlin market is Toronto's Sunnyside Pavilion.

Czech title: "Stary zvyk"
French title: "De vielles habitudes"
German title: "Alte Gewohnheiten"
Italian title: "L'informatore"
Portuguese title: "Velhos habitos"
Spanish title: "Viejos habitos"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Chris Leavins is wonderful as the cold, dead-eyed, sniggering psycho killer Formitz. And Section is up to its old tricks, protecting a sociopath in hopes of saving many lives from a series of suicide bombings. It is a classic La Femme Nikita dilemma. Does Nikita protect one life or many, and does Section's sanctioning of criminal behavior create even bigger monsters? Nikita has come a long way since Season One, and it is intriguing that she is able to control her rage, which once might have caused her to kill the man outright rather than beat him senseless. Truth is in short supply as Nikita and Michael play a round who's lying to whom; this time Nikita wins when she leaks Formitz's betrayal of Bright Star and allows them to take care of his execution. It is a clever solution, perfectly in keeping with Section mind games. It's even a little unnerving that she does it so well. Wilson closes the scene with a lovely little I-wash-my-hands-of-it gesture as she flicks away the memory of the bug that was Formitz.
There is no justice on the personal front within Section, either. The little time Birkoff was able to give Walter and his new love Belinda has now expired. Francks, Ferguson, and Wilson do a great job with Walter's crisis when he learns that his wife has been killed as an abeyance operative on a mission. Ready for revenge, Walter is barely able to contain himself. It's a tension-filled scene that works beautifully.
La Femme Peta, pp 176-179
Joel Surnow's POV
A very classic Nikita that was like trying to go back to season one. The ultimate brutality of the Section; the Section willing to be in business with a serial killer to get a bomber. That really had a season one feel for us, and it was intentional -- that this is the world we're dealing with. Nikita dealt with it a little differently than she would have in the first season when she cleverly was able to get [the killer in "Voices"] killed. In a sense, it reoriented the audience, because we were doing all kinds of other shows, where the series had come from, in a sense.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)