305. "Imitation of Death"

(#49) Nikita and Michael pose as cocaine dealers to get to Chernov, who is brainwashing children and turning them into suicide bombers -- only to learn that Chernov has special plans for Nikita that involve his cloning experiments.
lfnforever briefing
An unusual episode in several respects. Nikita's mission to infiltrate the stronghold of Ivan Chernov -- the effectively menacing LFN version of the "mad scientist" -- and lead the charge in Section's efforts to destroy it, is over halfway through the show. (In most episodes, the mission is not resolved until the final moments.) The rest of the time is spent exploring the possibility that Section One is, like Chernov, engaged in a program of human cloning. It's very much like (and could have been) two separate episodes in one. Nikita's discovery of the Level Eight "school" where she meets a young, blonde child that looks exactly as she did when she was young is truly chilling. And, of course, it reinforces the moral ambiguity of the very existence of Section One  -- a prominent underlying theme of the series. Terrorism is the enemy, but in fighting fire with fire, has Section become indistinguishable from that enemy? Interestingly, we are reminded of the fact that this ambiguity extends to Michael; he offers Nikita no support in her attempt to solve the mystery of what she discovered on Level Eight; so soon after Section has separated him from his son, he appears once more to be its loyal subject. Nikita has never been more alone; fortunately, she has become quite efficient and resourceful, fully capable of taking care of herself. The sub-plot of this episode involves Birkoff's efforts to deal with the threats of Felix, an abeyance operative who vows to survive a suicide mission and return to kill the former. Both Operations and Madeline seem to take great delight in contributing to Birkoff's growing fear -- not to mention his suspicion that the entire thing is some sort of "test". But was it? Did Felix survive? What happened to the children Nikita found on Level Eight? Is Section engaged in human cloning? And, perhaps most importantly, as we move inexorably to point where Nikita will turn against Section, we have to ask ourselves, whose side will Michael take? By this time, fans of the series had become accustomed to being given more questions than answers as the closing credits rolled. But it's a shame that no further efforts will be made to exploit the Birkoff-Felix duel, or the possibility that there's a little Nikita running around somewhere. Neither will ever be resolved.

best dialogue
[Birkoff seeks help from Michael in dealing with Felix]
BIRKOFF:"I just had a little run-in with Felix."
MICHAEL: "Don't worry about him. He'll be in abeyance soon."
B: "That's what pissed him off."
M: "Then whats' the problem?"
B: "He threatened to kill me! What do you think I should do?"
M: "Don't let him."
Written by Cyrus Nowrasteh
Directed by Brad Turner
Original airdate: March 7, 1999
July 12, 2001 (France); April 24, 2002 (UK)

guest stars
Eugene Lipinski (Ivan Chernov)
Michael Gabriel (Felix)
Shawn Roberts (Milan)
Hannah Lochner (Little Nikita)

 "Sunset Bell," Love Spirals Downward


Czech title: "Imitace smrti"
French title: "L'ecole de la mort"
German title: "Die Killerfabrik"
Italian title: "La clonazione"
Portuguese title: "Imitacao de morte"
Spanish title: "Imitando a la muerte"

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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Madeline and Operations play it very close to the chest in the wake of the recent shows of independence by Nikita, Michael, and Birkoff. Operations starts to make good on his promise to keep Birkoff in line ("Looking for Michael") when he sets up Felix as a shadowy threat. Nice handheld camera work and a fisheye lens impart Birkoff's growing sense of claustrophobia and paranoia. And we are treated to a taste of "Section mythology" when Walter explains that there are stories that abeyance operatives sometimes escape their death sentences. Matthew Ferguson and Alberta Watson have some fun together as Madeline plays with Birkoff's head; he talks himself into the idea that the Felix situation is really a "test" as she lets him chase his own tail. And, in a rare pairing, Birkoff approaches Michael for help. Unmoved by Birkoff's plight and his past loyalties, Michael offers cold comfort and terse advice: "Don't let him [kill you]."
More and more, Nikita is emerging as a willing participant in her own fate when, in danger, she insists that the raid on Chernov's lab be aborted to give her time to continue her investigation. Nikita has been the victim of both emotional and psychological exploitation during past missions, but here (and in the next episode) she falls prey to an elemental violation when one of her eggs is harvested by the scientist, Chernov. The "rape" is made all the more disturbing when Nikita discovers Section has beaten Chernov in his race to create his own Brave New World and when we observe Michael listening impassively to the whole procedure. It's a voyeurism that echoes Birkoff's quiet and unemotional repetition of "kill him" (to the operative transfixed by the eyes of an eighteen-year-old suicide bomber).
Eugene Lipinski exudes quiet power as the soft-spoken, diabolical villain, Ivan Chernov, leader of his own very Section-like organization. Is it asexuality or singularity of focus that drives his disinterest in an unclothed Nikita? Whatever the reason, it is a disinterest he shares with the Inquisitor of "Cat and Mouse," strangely ironic considering the depth of the violations these two villains perpetrate on Nikita.
After two seasons of manipulations, the audience is pretty savvy to the writers' tricks and sleights of hand, so nobody is fooled when Nikita is apparently betrayed by Michael and sold to the scientist, Chernov. But writer Cyrus Nowrasteh compensates for audience expectations by adopting a more subtle approach in this episode. By the end of the hour, Nikita, Michael, Birkoff, and the audience have all been deceived by the machinations of Operations and Madeline and we are left to wonder at the complex wheels within wheels of Section life. Why does Nikita believe Madeline when she is told her egg was destroyed in Chernov's lab? What is Section's plan for their own crop of children? Have they become so tired of dealing with unruly self-assertive operatives that they have decided to grow their own? Why would they clone Nikita who has been a thorn in the side of Section since Day One? Another wonderful zero resolution story!
La Femme Peta, pp 206-208