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304. "Gates of Hell"

        
 (#48) After being separated from his son, Michael doesn't care if he lives or dies, and Nikita must put her own life on the line to protect him. Meanwhile, Birkoff and Walter hatch a scheme to blackmail Operations.
lfnforever briefing
A note of great irony is struck when Operations, scolding Michael for his indifference to a mission (not to mention his own survival), tells the operative to "get over it" -- referring to Michael's apparently permanent separation from his son Adam. How many times will Michael tell Nikita the same thing when the latter allows her emotions to get in the way of completing an assignment? The shoe is definitely on the other foot now, as Michael's emotional disintegration reaches critical mass; in the extremely touching teaser, he mourns the loss of Adam, as he plays a cello in a barren loft apartment and flirts with suicide. (And yes, Michael learned to play the piece on the cello; unfortunately, his recorded track wasn't used in the scene.) Operations plays the stern father; he, too, was separated from his son many years ago, but he has little sympathy for Michael's plight. Strangely enough, it's Madeline who displays compassion for Michael. (I speculate that Madeline has always had a soft spot for Michael, despite the fact that he was more than willing to sacrifice her life in "Mandatory Refusal".) And Nikita reveals that she is more than Michael's on-and-off lover; perhaps more importantly, she is a true friend, who does everything in her power to protect him while he is so vulnerable. When it's mentioned that Michael's survival depends on his finding something else to care about we all know what that "something else" is -- and when Nikita is abducted by Brevich, Michael is resurrected. Take note, however: He is not quite the impassive angel of death that he was before; he takes the time to inform Brevich that the man who killed Brevich's son is dead. This is just before he executes the terrorist.

best dialogue
OPERATIONS: "Michael, I know you’ve been through a difficult time, but Adam and Elena are being well provided for. You need to get past it."
MICHAEL: "Get past losing my son?"
O: "Yes."
M: "How?"
O: "However you can. I didn't see my son grow up either, because I was in a POW camp in Vietnam. It wasn't pleasant, but life goes on."
M: "Really.
 O: "Yes, really. Get over it."
Written by Robert Cochran
Directed by Rene Bonniere
Original airdate: January 24, 1999
July 5, 2001 (France); April 16, 2002 (UK)

guest stars
Edward Evanko (Mihai Brevich)

music
"Is Jesus Your Pal," Gus Gus
"Elegie (Op. 24)," Gabriel Faure

locations
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Czech title: "Brany pekla"
French title: "Portes de l'enfer"
German title: "Die Pforten der Holle"
Italian title: "Ai cancelli dell'inferno"
Polish title: "Wrota piekiel"
Portuguese title: "Porta do inferno"
Spanish title: "Las puertas del Infierno"


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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
The opening four-part arc concludes with Michael's journey through and out of an emotional hell. Hollowed out by grief, Michael sits alone in an apartment as empty as himself and as stripped of furniture as he is of a reason to live. Director Rene Bonniere and Roy Dupuis create a painful scene as Michael views his precious home movies of Adam and contemplates suicide. The musical soundtrack for this scene is inspired. Its near a capella quality reflects Michael's spare physical space and the childlike vocals act as a counterpoint to Michael's emotional torment, while seeming almost comforting at the same time. It is truly shocking to see Michael so out of control, emotional, and exposed in front of everyone.
Dupuis is marvelous throughout the episode. His restraint usually sets the tone and the style for any scene he is in (and, his co-stars have said, for the production itself). Gone now is Michael's usual economy of movement as he arrives late for a briefing, fusses with a chair, and gets smart-assed with Operations. There is even humor in Michael's "Thank-you" to Operations' sarcastic "Nice of you to join us" and his "Why not?" in answer to Nikita's question "Should we attack?" Michael may as well be at a picnic, he's so disinterested in the mission. And there is a wonderful moment when Michael, whose nerves have been rubbed raw, jumps at the gunfire he hears as he observes the episode's first mission. Later, Michael, unable to kill himself, awaits his fate, alarms turned off and unconcerned as he plays the cello for his absent son. (Dupuis learned the piece for the show, which sadly had to be dubbed in by another performer due to technical problems with the recording.) Nikita, guarding Michael by night, plays Beatrice to Michael's Dante, hoping to lead him out of hell and give him a will to survive, perhaps reciprocating in some part Michael's help with her own "dark night of the soul" in "Brainwash." It is ironic that although Michael's newfound depth of understanding enables him to tell Brevich what he needs to know (that the man who killed his son is dead), it is with barely a flicker that he executes the man.
It speaks to Operations' emotional vacuity that a potential point of identification between the two men (they've both lost sons) becomes merely a point of correction in a cruelly familiar exchange between the men. (Operations employs the same phrasing used by Michael to Nikita in "Spec Ops": "get over it.") Operations' hamfisted attemptes to jolt Michael back from introspection generate criticism and a plea for caution from Madeline. There is a curious and intriguing statement by Madeline that she knows "better" than Operations that there is no "pulling back" in their line of work. This season we will see more conflict of this kind and gain more insight into the duo's power structure. Connected by ruthlessness, they are a balance of his emotion and her control. But this time Madeline's attempts to temper Operations' impatience with caution earn her a lecture on god's fallibility.
Birkoff's discovery of the "umbrella file," a leftover file from the Adrian debacle, reinforces his assertions that the governing pair are vulnerable. But it doesn't really seem credible that Operations would have forgotten a file so soon after Birkoff used (hidden) information to prevent Nikita's execution (in "Looking for Michael"). It is also a shame that, because of awkward scene construction, we don't share Birkoff's discovery that he and Walter have been bluffed by Operations in their botched blackmail attempt.
Michael's domestic/mission situation is a clever answer to inevitable fan questions about how long the lovers will remain apart. But the "cheat" to explain Michael's distant emotional stance with respect to Nikita (and that Nikita has really been pursuing a married man without knowing it) will give the writers an even greater challenge with the obstacles now removed that once kept them apart. Writer Robert Cochran's chilling finale, as Operations delivers his little hunting dog homily, provides the blueprint for the course of Nikita and Michael's tribulations for the rest of the season.
La Femme Peta, pp 204-206