(#13) Nikita must evaluate Karyn, whose two-year training period has concluded -- an assignment made more complicated when Karyn kills her trainer in cold blood, claiming he had raped her.
Felicity Waterman, who portrays Karyn -- the "recruit" -- was seriously considered for the role of Nikita, until Peta Wilson came along. Felicity made such a strong impression, however, that she was promised an important guest spot, and she makes the most of it in this episode. Karyn's background -- that she was involved in a drugstore break-in and was accused of killing someone, is a direct reference to the Luc Besson film. Nikita is assigned the task of evaluating Karyn; her verdict will determine whether the recruit becomes an operative or is cancelled. Of course by now astute viewers realize that Nikita is being evaluated, too -- and to complicate her decision, a romantic entanglement between Michael and Karyn is suggested, just to see if Nikita will let personal feelings color her judgment. Then Karyn murders her trainer, Brian, during a mission. She claims it's because Brian repeatedly raped her. In the end, though, Nikita realizes that Karyn is a manipulating sociopath with homicidal tendencies, and, after enduring much inner torment, recommends her cancellation. To her surprise, Operations has already had Karyn cancelled, revealing that the entire exercise was designed to test Nikita. This is a turning point for our heroine; her actions in this episode reveal that she's tough-minded enough to do what she must to survive. Of particular interest is the training room where holographic bad guys return laser-generated fire; we'll see this again in "Spec Ops." The most curious scene is when Michael is shot by a middle-aged female bank clerk; the fact that for the one and only time in the series he is wearing Kevlar body armor suggests that such a response was anticipated, but it doesn't make much sense. Ordinarily Michael would not have been caught napping like that. What if she had gone for a head shot?
NIKITA: "You two seem to like each other."
MICHAEL: "I don't understand your meaning."
N: "Come on, Michael. I've seen the way you act together. You laugh like you're old friends."
M: "What is your question?"
N: "I need to know if your admiration for her is purely professional."
M: "I thought you would know me better than that."
N: "That's funny, Michael. Because I don't know you at all."
Written by Larry Raskin
Directed by Reza Badiya
Original airdate: June 22, 1997 (USA)
August 23, 1998 (France); December 5, 1997 (UK)
Felicity Waterman (Karyn)
Markus Parilo (Brian)
Jean Daigle (Kreizel)
Denise Fergusson (Woman in Bank)
Ted Whittall (Loan Officer)
Greg Campbell (Drag Queen)
Brian Smegal (Man in Office)
"Broken Man," SIANspheric
Czech title: "Novy clen"
French title: "Recrue"
German title: "Die Psychopathin"
Italian title: "La recluta"
Polish title: "Rekrut"
Portuguese title: "Recruta"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
"Recruit" is a very strong Section story, full of psychological minefields, and it exposes more of the abuse and manipulation to which Nikita is subjected as she evolves as an operative. It is apparent early in the episode that the true subject of the evaluation is Nikita. Karyn's appeals to Nikita's sympathy are designed to remind us of Nikita's first day on the job. Michael's task is to cloud Nikita's judgment with feelings of jealousy. In true Michael style he takes it a step further; when Nikita asks him about the nature of his relationship with Karyn, he asserts, "You should know me better than that by now." Why twist the truth once if you can twist it twice?
Karyn is played by Felicity Waterman, who coincidentally lost the lead in this series to Peta Wilson. However, her audition was so memorable that Joel Surnow promised her a guest spot and had her in mind when this script was written. Karyn's back story is that of the original big-screen Nikita, and this episode is the last direct tie to Luc Besson's film.
Nikita's development and maturity both as a member of Section One and as a human being are apparent here in her disinterest in being liked and playing idiotic games. But Nikita has built alliances within Section, which she manipulates to her advantage. The mood is lightened with a comic scene between Nikita and Birkoff, and their behavior is becoming more and more like that of a brother and sister. Nikita silently mouths Birkoff's "I don't do favors" line and employs her own brand of reverse psychology by suggesting the task she has in mind may be too difficult for him. Karyn and Nikita may be more alike than she would care to admit.
The episode offers a couple of surprises. Michael's shooting comes as a shock, especially at the hands of the cleverly cast middle-aged female bank teller. Just as shocking is Karyn's glee while she continues to shoot the already-dead enemy agents. Finally, that Nikita's big decision is not only moot but barely a blip in Operation's awareness makes her moral struggle insignificant.
La Femme Peta, pp 126-127
Ted Edwards' "behind the scenes" look at this episode
In many ways, "Recruit" was significant because it marked a turning point for the character of Nikita. In essence, she had proven herself as a rookie to Section One and was now ready to move up to the next level, bringing in people beneath her and having to make cold-blooded decisions about them. Indeed, it was a means by which she would prove that she would be able to survive life in Section.
Guest star Felicity Waterman actually came in second place to Peta Wilson during auditions for the role of Nikita. Reportedly Joel Surnow had told her back in the beginning that although she wasn't chosen for the lead they did like her and would use her on the show.
La Femme Nikita X-Posed, pp 75-76
Joel Surnow's POV
This was important in the evolution of the character, because we started to move her forward as opposed to her having to prove herself as a rookie. This is like, "Now you're going up to the next level and you're bringing in people underneath you. You're now going to have to learn how to make cold-blooded decisions." It's one thing to have to go and shoot and kill people in the field, they know she can do that, but if she's going to survive in Section One, she has to be able to order someone else's cold-blooded murder. What was interesting about that show is that the woman who played Karyn, Felicity Waterman, came in second to Peta for the part of Nikita. When we read her for the pilot we said, "We're sorry you didn't get it, but we really like you and we'll find something for you." That was part of the way that [the episode] even came about.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)