122. "Mercy"

(#22) When Nikita refuses to cancel a young scientist who's being forced to help a ruthless terrorist, Operations sends her on a suicide mission. Now Michael must do the impossible -- find some way to keep her alive.
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best dialogue
MICHAEL: "I can't protect you anymore."
NIKITA: "I never asked for your protection."
M: "Without it, you'd be dead now."
N: "You seem to care more about that than I do."
M: "Why can't you just do the job?"
N: "I tried to tell you."
M: "Tell me what?"
N: "I'm not who you think I am. I never killed anyone before I came into Section. I know you don't want to believe it. But you know it's true."
M: "It's not important what you did. It's what you do now."
N: "I can't change who I am."
M: "Then I can't help you."
N: "Why did you ever?"

Written by Michael Loceff
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Original airdate: October 5, 1997 (USA)
November 2, 2000 (France); February 6, 1998 (UK)

guest stars
Sam Whalen (Stanley Shays)
Richard Clarkin (Tyler)
Alan Mozes (Richard J. Spidel)
Gerry Salsberg (Tribunal Man)
James Kirchner (Operative)
Kay Valley (Operative # 2)
Jeffrey Scott Grice (Fredrick Matches)

 "My Romance," Rodgers & Hart
"The Love Thieves," Depeche Mode

The Gooderham & Worts distillery (used previously in "Rescue") was used in the scene in which Nikita tells Michael she couldn't kill Stanley Shays.

Czech title: "Slitovani"
French title: "Clemence"
German title: "Gnade"
Italian title: "Grazia"
Polish title: "Litosc"
Portuguese title: "Misericordia"
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
This is an episode of confessions and truths. Madeline is unexpectedly forthright when she tells Nikita that she will never have the freedom she seeks regardless of how well she performs. Nikita, for her part, has finally realized that what she needs cannot and should not be sought in the person of Michael, or anybody else for that matter. Michael is finally honest both with Nikita, when he tells her that he's been protecting her from the start but can no longer do so, and with himself, when he gives up his need to mold her into a cold op.
"Mercy" is a dense episode that could have (and probably should have) and been a two-parter. It is possibly the most emotional episode of Section One, with "War" running a close second. Peta Wilson's challenge is to take Nikita from the ease of the opening dance (presumably at peace with the demons that plagued her in "Brainwash") through a suicide attempt (foiled by Michael's fortuitous timing) to the elation of her escape from Section. She rises to it ably.
Nikita's descent into despair comes fast and hard, triggered by her refusal to kill Stanley in cold blood. But she makes a mistake: the torture and captivity he endures makes it clear his execution would have been a mercy killing. Ironically, the mercy she cannot show Stanley is the grace she receives from Michael. He saves her life twice: in the inadvertent disruption of her suicide and in the ultimate gift of her freedom.
La Femme Peta, pp 146-14
Ted Edwards' "behind the scenes" look at this episode
As Season One came to a close, Peta Wilson noted to online fans the...direction she'd like things to go in the second year. "I'd like her [Nikita] to be a little more like she's got their number," she pointed out. "'I got that number. I've had that happen before.' I'd like to see her dominate more. The only way she's going to get out is to get them. I think she might get real good next year. I just try to take a deep breath and do the things she doesn't want to do. I don't think she'll accept what she does, but it's certainly not something I'm thinking about now. She knows it's the way it is, but she doesn't have to like it. She's trying to find a way to get out."
Of this episode she added elsewhere, "It's my favorite episode, because I feel like it's the most honest. I had had to tone my character down a bit throughout the season. The producers and I sort of met each other halfway on some character issues. For me as an actress, the finale was the most fulfilling experience. I really felt Nikita was really in a place that I wanted her to be at and I think we see so much of who she really is in that episode, and everything sort of comes out there."
Joel Surnow highly praised the season-one finale in an online interview, noting that it was an episode that went in myriad directions, yet somehow managed to stay contained. As he explained it, the intent was to tell the story of an innocent man who got in over his head, and Nikita finally coming to her wits'  end. "We wanted to reconnect Michael and Nikita and get her out of the Section," he said. "The story kind of traveled to a lot of different places, but it was all part of an organic place. Real successful for us."
La Femme Peta X-Posed, pp 84-85
Joel Surnow's POV

One of those shows that went in so many directions, yet remained contained. First of all, we hired Sean Whalan, who's an actor that I love. We had to get a lot of stuff packed into that episode. We wanted to tell the story of an innocent guy who sort of got in over his head; we wanted to tell the story of Nikita's coming to her wits' end; we wanted to reconnect Michael and Nikita and we wanted to get her out of the Section. The story kind of traveled to a lot of different places, but it was all part of an organic place. Real successful for us. Most of the time, the viewers would look at a show like this and say, "That's bullshit, there's no way she would be leaving Section." But you could on this show....

La Femme Nikita Episode Guide
Edward Gross, Retrovision # 6 (1999)