316. "Before I Sleep"

(#59) Section One must recruit Sarah, a young woman suffering from leukemia, to impersonate a terrorist courier, and Nikita is dismayed when Sarah becomes addicted to the excitement of life in Section.
lfnforever briefing
Creative consultant Joel Surnow takes a turn in the director's chair, and with the aid of veteran writer Peter Lenkov, and some outstanding performances by the actors, creates a stylish and inventive tale. Section recruits a young woman, Sarah Gerard, who suffers from leukemia, and who happens to be the spitting image of deceased terrorist courier Jan Baylin, to pose as Baylin in a scheme to infiltrate The Alliance. Juliet Landau lands every actor's dream -- she plays the hardcase Baylin and the meek Gerard with equal aplomb. Sarah is beguiled by the "glamor" of being a secret agent, and is given license to play out her wildest fantasies. But more than that, she seizes an opportunity to die in a blaze of glory instead of by inches as the victim of a merciless disease. The episode is filled with memorable scenes, but none more memorable than the conversation between Sarah and Michael, in which the latter is surprised and impressed by the former's dead-on insights into his character. We discover just how diabolically clever Madeline can be when she uses Nikita's conviction that Section would go so far as to manufacture Sarah's illness against her; thinking that Section will "cure" Sarah if she completes the mission, Nikita does Section's bidding by encouraging Sarah to press on. There is some chilling dialogue, as well -- for instance, when Madeline tells Operations that Nikita believes Section induced Sarah's illness, Operations asks if they had done that, demonstrating that such heartless tampering with the lives of innocents is so mundane that even the head of Section isn't always informed of it. The show even has some dark humor -- who can forget the scene in which Sarah betrays herself to the forger, Corey, who is then killed by Michael, who quietly comments to a blood-splattered, hysterical Sarah that "It's best if you don't mention Section One."   Inventive and action-packed, "Before I Sleep" is one of the best of Season Three's entries.

best dialogue
MICHAEL: "What is it about me that scares you?"
SARAH: "I guess...I guess I find a different reason every time I meet a man."
M: "And what reason are you giving yourself this time?"
S: "You're handsome. You probably get everything you want from women. Which means you're not very nice."
M, thinking it over: "You're right."
Written by Peter M. Lenkov
Directed by Joel Surnow
Original airdate: June 27, 1999
October 4, 2001 (France); July 9, 2002 (UK)

guest stars
Juliet Landau (Jay Baylin/Sarah Gerard)
Peter Crockett (Ashe)
Ron Kennell (Corey)
Madhuri Bhatia (Darius)

"I Feel Free," Cream

Michael and Nikita tail Jan Baylin along Toronto's Front Street, while Colborne Street is the site of Baylin's suicide. Marco Ashe's residence was located at 218 Walmer Road, Toronto.

Czech title: "Predtim nez jdu spat"
French title: "Avant de m'endormir"
German title: "Sarahs letzter Auftrag"
Italian title: "Prima che io dorma"
Portuguese title: "Antes que eu durma"
Spanish title: "Antes de dormir"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Joel Surnow, who reduced his role to creative consultant this season, switches caps this round and takes on the role of director for Peter Lenkov's inventive story. The episode contains a good balance of action sequences, such as the lively opening car scene, and quiet, more intimate scenes like Madeline's recruitment of Sarah and the scene between Michael and Sarah, which features playful and forthright work from Dupuis. Guest star Juliet Landau, as Sarah, insightfully pegs Michael as an unpleasant man used to getting what he wants; Michael is uncharacteristically charmed by this insight rather than threatened. There is even the stylish injection of videotaped footage as Sarah looks through the surveillance glasses for the first time -- adding a touch of hyper-realism, as Sarah herself begins to realize the danger she's taken on. Landau, who plays Drusilla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) breathes life into her two creations, Jan and Sarah. One could even argue she has the fun of drawing three characters as the reticent Sarah begins to emerge from her shell.
Ironies abound here, for although Section's use of Sarah as a "wet duplicate" in the final days of her life is an aberration to Nikita, the experience affords the woman her first and only opportunity to act out without real risk. And Madeline's astutely directed appeals to Sarah's sense of duty hold much less weight than Sarah's more personal motivation to go out with a bang (almost literally).
Lenkov's script is littered with lighter moments as well: the female half of the torture twins actually gets some lines, including a clinical discussion of the side effects of one of the latest weapons of persuasion and Nikita's child-like smile as Michael admits caring for someone. And it can't really come as a surprise that the attrition rate is high in "housekeeping." Sarah's quick exchange with Walter as she asks for directions to Com is delightful and for the Canadian fans there is a bit of insider trivia: the bomb's security code (416) is the Toronto area code!
In the end though, the cruelest cut is reserved for Nikita herself. Motivated by a misdirected belief in another one of Section's "tricks" she convinces herself (with a bit of help from the quick-thinking Madeline) that Sarah's leukemia was induced artificially -- not a big leap considering the cloning science of "Imitation of Death." There is no end to the variety of Section manipulations and this one even has a name (an "inventive scenario"). Wouldn't Nikita love to have a look at the Operations Manual one day, if only to get the rules straight!
La Femme Peta, pp 230-31