(#64) When Greg Hillinger's mistakes result in the failure of a mission important to Oversight, George takes control of most of Section One's missions, which prods an infuriated Operations to set a trap that will destroy George.
The ultimate "office politics" episode, as Operations and George go head to head, with Madeline playing the role of pawn, but for which side? Maurice Hurley crafts a script so laden with LFN techno-jargon and unexplained plot elements like the Key File, that only the most dedicated fan could make sense of it. In fact, the entire story is as enigmatic as the title. Writer Maurice Hurley resurrects a contrivance used to better effect in "Slipping Into Darkness". In that episode, if you'll remember, Michael pretends to "poison" Operations with a drug that drives him insane, in order to persuade a Red Cell strategist that Michael is his trusted accomplice; in this entry, an apparent falling out between Operations and Madeline, which supposedly drives her into George's camp, is really just make-believe, too -- part of a devilishly clever scheme to frame George for high treason and force him to resign, so that Operations can take his place him at Oversight. You see, George is "watching" everything that goes on in Section (just like that Red Cell strategist was) -- even, it seems, in The Perch. (One wonders how long he's been snooping, since that's where Operations and Madeline have talked openly about deceiving him on several occasions in the past.) Actually, it's yet another opportunity to string the audience along; they watch, aghast, as Madeline appears to conspire against Operations. And we thought they were a team! Operations says no, it's all been an act to fool George. (Really? So it was an act, in "Inside Out", when Operations shot his way out of The Perch just to join Madeline in what they both thought were their final moments of life?) We also learn that Section's resident juvenile delinquent, Greg Hillinger, has actually been working as a highly resourceful mole for George. Poor Birkoff, he thought for a moment that he'd finally rid himself of his nemesis. Alas, getting rid of George and Hillinger will have to wait, as in the remainder of Season 3, Section One resumes its appointed task of fighting terrorism -- and Operations turns his attention back to toying with the lives of Michael and Nikita. In this episode, Michael utters that memorable line -- "He made a terminal sequence of mistakes" -- in reference to Hillinger. So do the creators of this episode, who were trying a little too hard to be clever, and inserted a few too many implausible twists and turns. It might have been better had Operations really turned on Madeline after George stripped him of his power, and Madeline really had been tempted to help George bring Operations down. Now that would have been a genuine cliffhanger.
HILLINGER: "What are you working on?"
BIRKOFF: "Just stuff."
H: "It's the mission evaluation, isn't it? Birkoff, you're not going to hang me out, are you? Come on. I didn't have enough information."
B: "It was on your panel."
H: "I never read my panel, you know that. I don't need to."
B: "This time you did."
H: "Birkoff, they'll cancel me."
B: "Probably not, with my luck."
Written by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original airdate: August 15, 1999
November 1, 2001 (France); August 14, 2002 (UK)
David Hemblen (George)
Kris Lemche (Greg Hillinger)
Alex Poch-Goldin (Ruben)
Original score by Sean Callery
Czech title: "Trojoka zelva"
French title: "Tel est pris"
German title: "Intrigen"
Italian title: "Il drago a tre teste"
Portuguese title: "Tartaruga de tres olhos"
Spanish title: "Tortuga de tres ojos"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
Writer Maurice Hurley takes the dark strains of sado-masochism that always bubbles just beneath the surface in Section and plays them full volume right to the episode's end. After the horrifying escalation of humiliation, abuse, and harassment suffered by Madeline at the hands of Operations, we learn it's all been a ploy played to hidden cameras for the benefit of George. For the third time this season the writers had employed this same dramatic trick. One wonders just where all these cameras were and what kind of security Section really has if all these devices could have been planted with such ease. It feels like something of a cheat now and retrospectively casts a shadow over every conversation that's taken place within Section for the last two years.
The idea that Madeline is willing to betray Operations and make a power grab for herself seems so out of character (regardless of the abuse) that the audience gets the wink early and the fun lies, as always, in sitting back to watch who will get the upper hand. Watson and Glazer play it to the hilt in the public dressing-down. Madeline's submissive stance in committee, the cruel shot about her cheap smelling perfume, and the intensely distasteful post-coital discovery of a "branding" hickey. But it's a stalemate, for although Operations has been successful in securing the mysterious "Key File," he has also been promoting the very man who could bring him down by recovering the Gemstone File for George -- Hillinger. Dressed in a dark suit instead of his usual teen gear, Hillinger looks every inch the formidable enemy which he has actually been all along.
It remains a mystery why Birkoff continues to cover for Hillinger's obvious mistakes and why Nikita risks her life to save Hillinger's -- now we know why the writers never drew Nikita into Birkoff's struggles. Hillinger's obvious maneuvering to be put in abeyance has seemed a bid for personal freedom, not Section betrayal. Matthew Ferguson is great here as Birkoff comes face to face with his own mortality in the van scene that could be his own post-trauma nightmare from "Noise." His contained show of anger in "Any Means Necessary" (in which he punches a wall and silently mouths a curse) now explodes publicly on his return to Section. Finally, he has the documented proof of Hillinger's manipulations that he's required all along -- something tangible that Operations and Hillinger cannot explain away. It's a great moment when we see both Birkoff and Ferguson get to break out like that.
The political implications for Michael in all this upheaval are intriguing. His bargaining chip with Operations is gone now that George knows all about Adrian's death and Operations' power base. Although he scored points with George on the Bergomi mission, Operations' warning about blatantly choosing sides must be ringing in his ears. But until a victor emerges in this round of the "testosterone finals," he will have enough to keep him busy, as the next two episodes will show.
La Femme Peta, pp 247-48