(# 17) Nikita and Michael are captured and tortured by Red Cell, which has acquired the missing Directory. When Michael confesses his love for her, Nikita breaks to save him from further pain, putting the entire Section at risk.
In some ways, "War" is a landmark episode; it creates a framework within which the majority of episodes in Seasons 2 and 3 are created. It's as though the writers had finally discovered that the most fascinating and enduring interpersonal subplots are right there in Section One -- there's no need to bring people (and stories) in from the outside. Nikita's love-hate relationship with Michael is clearly delineated here, and we're given a few glimpses of the relationship between Operations and Walter. Best of all, the episode focuses on the epic struggle between Section and its terrorist foes -- in this case, Red Cell, which soars to the top of Section's list of enemies, where it will remain through Season 4. LFN is as much a war drama as a spy drama -- it's as similar to Tour of Duty as it is to Mission: Impossible -- and in this entry Section One is battling for its very survival. Red Cell has cracked the Directory -- if you'll recall, it was lost during the "Gray"-"Choice" story-arc and never recovered. Michael and Nikita are captured, and to save Michael's life, Nikita reveals the whereabouts of the substation where Operations and the Section's command apparatus have been moved. Only it's not quite that simple; in fact, Section has pulled off a diabolically clever ruse to lead Red Cell into a trap. The torture scenes are chilling, the scenes during which Michael and Nikita demonstrate their feelings for one another are touching, and the twist at the end is a shocker. Icing on the cake is the introduction of Red Cell's Dominic, aka The Inquisitor, played with exquisite finesse by James Faulkner, who creates one of LFN's most memorable villains. (He'll return in "Cat and Mouse".) Note the striking contrast between the bright hospital room in the final scene and the dark shadows of the rest of Section; LFN aficionados know the significance of well-lighted settings (including the White Room), as it's there that we can count on the truth being spoken.
WALTER: "Let me guess. They're hanging us out to dry."
OPERATIONS: "In effect."
W: "I knew it. They'll treat us like an infected limb. Cut us off without even blinking."
O: "No one's getting cut off."
W: "Oh, do you believe that?"
O: "Look, Walter, we're in a situation. If you have something to contribute, I'm all ears. If not, do your job and stay out of my face."
W: "What gives you the right to talk to people like that?"
O: "I'm in command, that's what. You want to try to relieve me? (He hands Walter a pistol) Go ahead."
Written by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Rene Bonniere
Original airdate: August 3, 1997 (USA)
October 12, 2000 (France); January 16, 1998 (UK)
James Faulkner (Dominic)
Costa Kamateros (Garsha)
Czech title: "Valka"
French title: "Guerre"
German title: "Krieg"
Italian title: "Guerra"
Polish title: "Wojna"
Spanish title: "Guerra"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
The other shoe has finally dropped. The directory that disappeared in "Gray" has been recovered by Red Cell. And what a formidable enemy they will prove themselves to be over the course of the series. The wonderful James Faulkner (I Claudius, Joel Surnow's Covington Cross) proves a most worthy adversary in the person of the Inquisitor as he gleefully plays with his victims' darkest fears. A Gothic counterpart to Section's Madeline, he fails to break Nikita's spirit initially, despite his horrific torture techniques.
The episode is an exploration of the ruthless politics of survival, Section-style. If the trap for Red Cell fails, any and all Section survivors will be exterminated by the agency. This glimpse of the larger organizational philosophy that has informed Operations' and Madeline's management style puts the maladjusted, warped reality of Section into a new perspective. It speaks to Nikita's strength that Operations, Madeline, and Michael invent such cruel lies to get her to crack. The story is not just about personal survival, but corporate survival.
Nikos Evdemon begins a lengthy stay with the show as director of photography, and with director Rene Bonniere creates a dark and disturbing episode with visual references straight out of Orwell's 1984. Once again the sadomasochistic note sounds as Maurice Hurley's script juxtaposes violence and torture with love and compassion. Bonniere has been singled out by Wilson as a favorite guest director; their work on scenes requiring intense or complex emotions are some of the series' best.
Michael's fear that he will dishonor himself fuels the image of Michael as a knight. Dupuis is marvelous in the tender exchanges with Peta Wilson and even more so in the final scene as he stands in the white hospital room, shamed and devastated by his manipulations and the real cost of his betrayal. The white hospital room, without shadows or corners, has become a haven for truth in several episodes ("Treason," "Mother," "Third Person"). Sean Callery's wistful soundtrack underscores a guileless admission from Michael. It is easy to see why this episode is the overwhelming...fan favorite. As Joel Surnow has remarked, "Dumping...on Nikita keeps our audience interested."
La Femme Peta, pp 138-140
Ted Edwards' "behind the scenes" look at this episode
"War" was actually voted as the number-one episode among the show's fans, as evidenced from a call-in and Internet campaign run by the USA Network when they were planning on rerunning a certain number of episodes. In an interview, Joel Surnow surmised this show was so popular because it was probably the darkest show they had shot.
"It really went into 1984 territory," Surnow stated on RetroVision Online. "It really took a lot of the elements of our show to its extreme lengths: underground spaces, dark, devious manipulations of people, Michael and Nikita at the core of it, holding on to each other [in] the face of imminent death.
La Femme Nikita X-Posed, pp 82-83
Joel Surnow's POV
The number one fan favorite episode. They had a call-in campaign to USA to determine what is the favorite episode, because the network was going to rerun some episodes, and this by far was the favorite of the first season. It was the darkest show we did, but in some ways it was the most romantic. It really went into 1984 territory and took a lot of the elements of our show to its extreme, like underground spaces; dark, devious manipulation of people; a sado-masochistic overlay; Michael and Nikita at the core of it, holding on to each other in the face of imminent death and conveying real feelings for each other, only to find out at the end that it's all been a manipulation on Michael's part. It really scored high for us. A good, solid episode.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)