(#20) Section One comes into possession of a mind-control device and uses Nikita to test the machine. When the Chinese premier is threatened by brainwashed assassins, Nikita turns out to be the greatest threat to his survival.
A name on a list carried by an arms dealer whose body is found floating in the Mediterranean leads Section One to a waiter who commits suicide by hurling himself out of the window of a highrise restaurant, and then to a futuristic contraption called a Phasing Shell that's being used to transform ordinary people into assassins. Section uses Nikita as guinea pig to discern the Phasing Shell's purpose, and in the process she becomes programmed as one of the assassins, her target being the Chinese premier. Sound bizarre? It is. But this episode has a lot going for it, principally Peta Wilson's bravura performance as a Nikita who quickly becomes addicted to the Shell in an effort to exorcise the demons of her past. Viewers are provided insights into Nikita's early years that will be expanded on, from time to time, in future episodes, to explain why she'd ended up a street vagabond before her "recruitment" by Section. As usual, director Bonniere keeps the show moving at a rapid clip and avoids getting bogged down in the sci-fi aspects of the Shell. Nikita's flashbacks are particularly well-done, and the scene in which she is haunted by an image of her mother's abusive boyfriend is chilling. Michael is very solicitous where Nikita is concerned, and Nikita proves she cares more deeply for him than she's certainly willing to admit, or perhaps even realizes -- despite his treachery in "War" -- when she can't bring herself to kill him to get to her target. We're also clued in to the fact that Birkoff cares more about machines than people -- he doesn't seem to comprehend Walter's concerns about subjecting Nikita to the Shell. (And shame on him, after all Nikita taught him about friendship in "Noise".) In the gadgetry department, Nikita uses a device disguised as a ring to scan a drinking glass for Coleman Reilly's fingerprints. It's very clever, if slightly unbelievable -- just like "Brainwash" itself.
(Walter discovers Nikita in the room containing the Phasing Shell)
WALTER: "What did you do?"
NIKITA: "You should try this thing. It's amazing."
W: "I told you. This thing is dangerous!"
N: "I don't care. It's helping me. I'm finally getting rid of the things that are holding me back."
W: "This thing's not going to help you get rid of anything. Do you know what they're going to do to you if they catch you in here?"
N: "So don't tell them."
Written by Peter Bellwood
Directed by Rene Bonniere
Original airdate: September 21, 1997 (USA)
September 25, 1999 (France); January 30, 1998 (UK)
Janet Lo (Chan Park)
William Colgate (Shadowy Man)
Steve Mousseau (Reilly)
David Dunbar (Tour Guide)
Fred Lee (Premier Hua Feng)
Alex Stapley (Young Nikita)
Connor Devitt (Bully)
"Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto," Gang Chen & He Zhan Hao
The Ontario Place walkways at Toronto's Harbourfront are the setting for Michael's infiltration of DeLure Electronics.
Czech title: "Vemyvani mozku"
French title: "Lavage de cerveau"
German title: "Gehirnwasche"
Italian title: "Flashback"
Polish title: "Pranie mozgu"
Portuguese title: "Lavagem cerebral"
Spanish title: "Lavado de cerebro"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
The performances take center stage in this episode, but there are some other notable elements. The story fills in some of the details in Nikita's back story, emphasizing episodes of victimization (she was traumatized during a childhood beating by schoolyard bullies and later by her mother's abusive boyfriend). The solarized look of Nikita's hallucinations as they recede creates an effective mood. Madeline's use of the sound of Park's heartbeat as a ready-made lie detector is reminiscent of "War." (Hey, if it worked for the Inquisitor, why not Madeline?) And there is some humor from Walter, the sixties throwback, spotting Nikita "jones-ing" for another session in the phasing shell. Michael's devotion in the face of Nikita's breakdown and assassination-suicide attempt is moving.
An inspired nod to the spy classic The Manchurian Candidate, "Brainwash" is an interesting mix of high-tech and high drama. It is easy to understand why this episode is a favorite for Peta Wilson. Working with one of her favorite directors, Rene Bonniere, Wilson gives the rich material in Peter Bellwood's script a run for its money. She is able to convey Nikita's tailspin into addiction and a nervous breakdown through a balance of physical, emotional, and psychological expressions. Who can forget the discovery of Nikita, feet in the kitchen sink, lost to her demons? The stage is set for Nikita's crisis of faith in "Mercy," the season finale.
La Femme Peta, pp 144-145
Ted Edwards' "behind the scenes" look at this episode
In some ways, La Femme Nikita came this close to entering science-fiction territory with "Brainwash," the show's take on The Manchurian Candidate. At the same time, it was analogous to a story of drug addiction, made extremely tangible by Peta Wilson's portrayal of Nikita's cathartic release of childhood demons.
In its third year, the series could very well continue approaching science-fiction borders, particularly considering, as the staff has often maintained, that Nikita is a show set "five minutes in the future." As Joel Surnow has explained, it's not so futuristic that you're talking about people in flying cars, but rather about issues such as artificial intelligence, gene splicing, and genetic engineering. In other words, things that are going to be happening in the next century. "That's what 'Brainwash' did for us," he said. "Look at the multilayered aspects of the show. You have the romance and the Section; and one element that's exploitable for us is technology. What is going on on both sides of the fence in terms of technology, what the bad guys are doing and what the good guys are doing. That's a real promising area for us."
La Femme Nikita X-Posed, pp 83-84
Joel Surnow's POV
We wanted to do Manchurian Candidate, and we just came up with our own version of it. There's not much more to it than that. The question in that episode was how far into the realm of science fiction could we go? We pushed it as far as we can push it. People have said that our show takes place about five minutes in the future. It's not so futuristic that you have people flying around in cars, but you can have things like artificial intelligence, gene splicing, genetic engineering -- things that we hear about now that we know are going to be happening in the next century. We just push it up a little bit. Look at the multi-layered aspects of La Femme Nikita. You have the romance and the Section; and one element that's exploitable for us is technolgy. What is going on on both sides of the fence in terms of technology, what the bad guys are doing and what the good guys are doing. That's a real promising area for us.
La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)