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313. "Beyond the Pale"

        
 (#57) When the position of Head Strategist is given to Zalman rather than Michael, the latter convinces Nikita to help him steal a field router so that they can escape Section.
lfnforever briefing
It seems to be the moment all fans have been waiting for -- Michael and Nikita decide to make a break for freedom. The catalyst is the decision by Operations to make Zalman, rather than Michael, the Section's head strategist. Michael's ambition suddenly surfaces -- an ambition that has been evident in the past ("Slipping Into Darkness") and soon will be again ("All Good Things" and "Third Party Ripoff"). The lovers spend an idyllic few hours in a remote cabin -- scenes dear to the heart of hopeless romantics everywhere. Alas, as is so often the case in the saga, nothing is really as it seems. It's all a scheme to unmask Zalman as the Red Cell mole that he is. Once again the viewer is played for a patsy, and the by-now-cliched plot contrivance of hidden cameras in Section, requiring the regulars to keep up the ruse even when it would appear they'd have no legitimate reason to do so, is utilized. The one unanswered question at the end is whether -- or when -- Nikita was brought into the loop. When did she know, if she ever did, that it was all just a game? Her parting comment to Zalman -- "If you think about it long enough, it'll come to you" -- certainly seems to implicate her, but maybe it just occurred to her more quickly than it did to Zalman. (The latter, by the way, is played with wicked zest by Jamie Harris, brother to Peta Wilson's significant other, Damian Harris.) Arguably the most interesting scenes involve Walter, Madeline and Operations, as we are given hints that, in the past, Section One was a much more pleasant place to work. One speculates this must have been in the Cold War days, back when, as Operations once said, things were simpler, and both sides played by the same set of rules. Since terrorists don't, Section One threw out the rule book some time ago. The shocking images of both Walter and Michael being tortured in Section illustrate the cold hard fact that everyone in the shadowy world of La Femme Nikita is a potential enemy. Also of interest is Operations' soft spot for Walter; the implication is that once upon a time Paul Wolfe was a man Walter could like and admire. Madeline is wrong when she tells Walter "We didn't change. The world did." Obviously, she and Operations have changed, and not for the better. This, of course, is what makes Nikita a true heroine; like the others, she's in a situation that could change her for the worse, but she clings to her sense of right and wrong, of fairplay, no matter what's done to her.

best dialogue
(Operations visits Walter in Munitions)..
OPERATIONS: "You've been debriefed. You know why things happened the way they did."
WALTER: "Yes."
O: "You endured considerably pain on behalf of the Section without complaint, without incident."
W: "What are you going to do, pin a medal on me?"
O: "You know, Walter, when I was a prisoner-of-war, I made friends with one of the guards. It was war, we were on opposite sides, but we made friends anyway. He gave me this. (He holds up a white crystal) It's suppose to relieve the pain of life. I never believed him. But I never threw it away, either. (He hands the crystal to Walter)  I want you to have it. Take a month off."
Written by Lawrence Hertzog
Directed by Rene Bonniere
Original airdate: June 13, 1999
August 13, 2001 (France); June 26, 2002 (UK)

guest stars
Jamie Harris (Zalman)
Michael Cram (Fredricks)

music
"Ma Jeunesse Fout le Camp," Francoise Hardy

locations
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Czech title: "Vsechno ma sve maze"
French title: "Preference"
German title: "Jenseits der Grenzen"
Italian title: "Fuori dal recinto"
Spanish title: "Mas alle de la palidez"


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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Nikita and Michael get another test-run at domesticity and fans get the relationship fantasy played out for them in this suspenseful and clever episode from writer Lawrence Hertzog. Long-time viewers will not be surprised that the elaborate plot manipulations are designed to trap Zalman, a Red Cell mole. There are plenty of winks to the audience: Zalman's promotion over Michael, Michael's losing his cool with Walter, Michael's abrupt signoff to Zalman indicating that the mission target had advance notice of Section's arrival, Madeline's insight into Michael's behvaior, Michael's "capture" on a routine supply run -- well, you get the picture.
The contrivance of the hidden cameras is too similar to that of "Slipping Into Darkness" (and the upcoming "Three Eyed Turtle") but it raises the intriguing question of just when did Nikita know what was going on? One could argue that Michael informed her when he collected her at her apartment but her rejoinder to Zalman ("If you think about it long enough, it'll come to you") sounds like code for how she figured it out. She and Michael share a very uncomfortable moment immediately afterwards.
Jamie Harris, brother to Wilson's real-life boyfriend director Damian Harris, guest stars as Zalman, the loathsome, bullying, backstabbing, suck-up, corporate, toady sycophant. He's the man you love to hate, and Harris plays him unsympathetically and with relish. How gratifying that we see him fold like a tent when the tables are finally turned. Harris and Francks have great fun when Walter and Zalman go head to head -- first when Zalman begins to throw his weight around and later, in the truly shocking torture scene where Zalman's sadism is fully evident. Harris' performance is particularly enjoyable as he switches postures from petty bully with Walter to dutiful son with Operations.
The real kicker, of course, is Michael's interrogation. Zalman taunts Michael with the promotion, the "blonde whore" comment, and finally with a live satellite feed of his son. This must be an object lesson for Michael, for it conjures up the actual power Operations could wield over Michael if he chose to. In fact, the whole mission is an interesting exercise as it provokes a statement from Michael that sums up the theme of Nikita's journey this season: "In Section you move up or you move out."
Section's corporate mores are the subject of discussion again as Walter and Madeline, members of the "old guard," consider the loss of past values. The conversation builds on Madeline and Operations' exchange in the previous episode, in which the two overtly acknowledge authorship of Section's "usual approach." These exchanges make one wonder what Section was like before the era of Operations. The very idea of a Red Cell mole attaining class-five operative status certainly speaks to Section's vulnerability. So is the approach of the current regime a response to a changing world or is it part and parcel of the change it purportedly fights?
Hertzog's script is filled with wonderful moments. Walter and Operations' honest and open dialogue is a beautiful twin to the comedic fumble of "Threshold of Pain" and a rare glimpse into why these men continue to work together. In spite of the dramatic sleight of hand, Wilson and Dupuis' scenes in the farmhouse (which will resonate for Dupuis fans who remember the actor makes his home in the Quebec countryside) and later in Nikita's apartment are moving and truthful. Nikita and Michael finally achieve moments of honesty and emotion; tenderness born of a considered desire, not of overblown dramatics.
La Femme Peta, pp 225-227