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303. "Opening Night Jitters"

        
 (#47) Desperate to nab Vacek before he orchestrates a terrorist coup, Section orders Michael to give Elena a poison that produces symptoms of a terminal illness in hopes that this will lure her father out of hiding, but Michael's reluctance threatens the mission.
lfnforever briefing
The spy business is a very dangerous one. It is also very cruel, and no book, film or other television episode illustrates that aspect of it with as much clarity as "Opening Night Jitters", the conclusion of the three-episode Vacek arc. It's clear by now that the perfect agent, as far as Operations is concerned, is one who is little more than a machine. One suspects he thought Michael was as close to perfect as Section was likely ever to see, so it's easy to imagine his disappointment when the latter balks at carrying out an order which marks a real low point for his masters -- the poisoning of Michael's own wife in order to draw her father out into the open. Roy Dupuis reveals what a talented actor he really is as Michael slowly comes unraveled, confronted with the realization that his "other" life -- with Elena and son Adam -- is coming to an end. The moral ambiguity of Section's struggle against terrorism is never more starkly portrayed than when Elena must watch both her father and her husband shot to death before her very eyes. Is it justifiable to inflict such pain on one innocent in order to save hundreds? Perhaps only a man as dedicated as Operations can enjoy any certainty with respect to the answer. As far as gadgetry goes, Section outdoes itself in this show, with the interrogation carried out by Madeline on one of Vacek's associates, using spooky holographic sleight-of-hand

best dialogue
(Michael confronts Vacek)
MICHAEL: "You’ll have to learn to accept the loss of your daughter, just like she had to learn to accept the loss of her father."
VACEK: "You know, I wish I had the choice to live a different life. No one else can do what needs to be done."
M: "What are you talking about? Who are you?"
V: "Apparently someone who is powerless even to help his own daughter. Go. Return to Elena. My men will take you back."
M: Why don't you come with me? So she won't die wondering if her father even cares?"
V: "I can't."
Written by David J. Burke
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original airdate: January 17, 1999
June 28, 2001 (France); April 10, 2002 (UK)

guest stars
Samia Shoaib (Elena)
Evan Caravela (Adam)
Hrant Aliank (Salla Vacek)
John Bourgeois (Misha)
Henry Allessandroni (Beckman)
Carlo Rota (Mick Schtoppel)

music
"Chanson Sans Issue," Autour de Lucie
"Is Jesus Your Pal," Gus Gus

locations
Vacek comes to visit his daughter at Toronto's Central Hospital, on Sherbourne Street.


Czech title: "Neklid prvni noci"
French title: "Fatales retrouvailles"
German title: "Gefuhle unerwunscht"
Italian title: "Morte annunciata"
Portuguese title: "Abrinda quietude noturna"
Spanish title: "Iniciando temblores nocturnos"


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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Madeline and Operations hit a new low on the humanity scale (if they even register on that scale any longer) when they order Michael to poison his wife and order Nikita to provide surveillance and act as a witness. This unique horror, we learn, is to catch a uniquely elusive criminal, but the depravity of the act is so extreme that not only does Michael refuse the order (after sabotaging his sole attempt) but he states he will kill his overseers if Elena dies. The threat stands as the first time Michael has overtly expressed his opinion of Madeline and Operations or their actions. Their baseness is matched only by their smug condescension at the hour's conclusion (acknowledging Michael's sacrifice). One shudders to think what the "Level 9" proposal will entail.
The episode also gives us a glimpse into the warmer side of a strangely controlled family environment. The irresistibly cute Adam (played warmly by young Evan Caravela) plays at passing for thirty to win a taste of wine from his father, and writer David J. Burke adds a nice touch when Adam asserts he has learned karate all by himself at school. It's a bittersweet notion that the boy has the character to excel on his own without the aid of a father (a martial arts expert) whose very presence is a cover for a mission.
The production and prop departments show off some new gadgets here too, particularly a remote holographic interrogation device for Madeline. Beautifully shot and intensely creepy, the scene is a veritable gadget-fest. Still it's "nice" to see the torture twins out in the field and inflicting something other than coercive pain. Mick Schtoppel becomes a permanent fixture as Nikita's new neighbor, and unfortunately his presence will be played for an often jarring comic relief. But here his presence in the next-to-last scene gives Nikita an acquaintance with whom she actually shares a point of reference.
When Michael is kidnapped and brought to Vacek while Elena lies dying in the hospital, Roy Dupuis, with writer Burke and director Cassar, creates a powerful multi-colored scene. Michael acts out the mission scenario knowing it is his only chance of saving his wife, but his frustration at being parted from her for so long is evident. He pleads to be let go and his mystified "Who are you?" stops just short of indignant. He could just as easily be demanding such an explanation from Madeline and Operations as they play god with these lives. His pain is as real as is his shame when, having lured Vacek out of hiding, he can barely look at the man he has just defeated. Dupuis shines here, stretching his acting muscles and offering a glimpse of this actor's marvelous range.
La Femme Peta, pp 201-203