105. "Friend"

(#2) While on an assignment to provide security for a VIP, Nikita runs into a childhood friend -- only to discover that the friend is actually a terrorist intent on assassinating the man Nikita must protect.
lfnforever briefing
Section One is charged with providing security for Jovan Mijovich, who is trying to broker peace for his country (Mijovich will appear again in "Verdict"). We see Nikita as a child in a flashback, playing with her friend Julie Roark, and learn that she attended Monroe Elementary and that her 4th grade teacher was named Mrs. Willis. For the first time -- but certainly not the last -- Michael creates a scenario to protect Nikita from Section after she's been kidnapped and tortured by The Legion. And -- also not for the last time -- Nikita breaks Section regs to protect an innocent; ironically, this time the person isn't innocent at all. Nikita also shows us just how formidable an operative she can be, as she stands up to torture. Walter puts a tracking device in the heel of Nikita's boot which is activated by striking the heel against something; Nikita chooses to activate it by kicking one of her tormentors in the head. Can anyone doubt that Michael is a quick thinker when he leans nonchalantly against a wall to cover bulletholes with his hand so that Mijovich, emerging from the men's room at the airport, has no idea an assassination attempt was just made? This episode is not quite up to the first one's standards, but then that was a hard act to follow. Nikita shows she's still vulnerable to a trick only a novice would fall for -- tha fake Julie -- but she also shows surprising toughness in the torture scene. And who will ever forget Michael's remarkable entrance, crashing through the window and shooting a torturer on the way down to the floor? And so begins the mythology of Michael Samuelle -- he is the ultimate agent, and an angel of death.

best dialogue
TORTURER: "You have the courage of a man."
NIKITA: "How would you know?"
T: "Perhaps you think I'm the good cop and he's the bad cap. We're both the good cop. In the next room is the bad cop." N: "Bring him on."
Written by Naomi Janzen
 Directed by Guy Magar
Original airdate: January 20, 1997 (USA)
May 24, 1998 (France); September 19, 1997 (UK)

guest stars
Marnie McPhail (Julie)
David Calderisi (Jovan Mijovich)
Billy Otis (Harry)
Lorne Hunchuck
Joseph Scoren (Tiko)
Ravinder Toor (Prisoner)

"Night Of The Iguana," Huevos Rancheros
"Last Playboy Interview," Merlin

Downsview Airport was used in the scene where Nikita spots the fake Julie during Mijovich's departure.

Czech title: "Pritel"
French title: "Une amie d'enfance"
German title: "Der Todesengel"
 Italian title: "Amici"
Polish title: "Przyjaciel"
Portuguese title: "Amiga"
Spanish title: "Amigo" ("Amiga")
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Dawn Connolly's commentary on this episode
This memorable episode from Naomi Janzen (who will give us another strong female-centered story with "Mother") is important as the first story told completely within the dramatic logic of La Femme Nikita. Producer Joel Surnow singles out "Friend" because it does not draw from the series' big-screen origins; nor does it act as another straight-ahead action and spy piece. "Friend" is also the first of many episodes in which Nikita risks her life by breaking Section protocols to protect an innocent.
Wilson does a fine job here, entering the drama pissed off and uncharacteristically short-tempered with Walter. She imparts a real sense that the character's life goes on before and after the cameras roll. The story also offers her and guest actor Marnie McPhail (Julie) the welcome opportunity to display the closeness shared between two women friends and the ferocity of two trained killers facing off. The showdown confirms the essential difference between Nikita and her targets: Nikita fights because she has no choice, whereas Julie fights for a cause in which she believes. Yet self-definition is problematic as Julie defines herself by her job while Nikita fights to maintain her identity in spite of it. McPhail does a wonderful job as Julie, taking her from the afraid-of-her-own-shadow mouse to the woman slowly realizing the real implications of having to leave everything and everyone in her life, to the soulless killing machine of the fnale.
There are also some clever spy and action elements to the episode. In the torture scene, straight out of Lethal Weapon 2, Peta Wilson is like a drowning cat that refuses to give up one of her nine lives. Nikita proves herself a worthy adversary to her torturers -- not only in body but in spirit -- with her retort to her interrogator's "praise" that she has the courage of a man: "How would you know?" Director Guy Magar gives us a couple of exciting and compact action sequences as Nikita slides backward on her back across the floor (Hong Kong action-film style), shooting at an assassin in an overhead air vent, while Michael breaks through a second-story window, shooting and killing Nikita's torturer while making his descent. Whew!
In this episode, Nikita spends a lot of time hiding: hiding behind glasses, behind her bangs, behind an all-too-transparent nonchalance, hiding evidence of the assassins trailing Mijovich, and hiding her friend Julie. Michael's behavior extends this voyeuristic theme of watching and being watched. He lifts her sunglasses to read the truth in Nikita's eyes but fails to find Julie in Nikita's apartment. Michael also creates a cover story to hide Nikita's failure to discover the truth about Julie's identity. As a Section One operative, though, Nikita is still very green; as clever as she is to forestall Julie's execution by Section One, she misses the collision of coincidences that leads to her own capture and torture by the Legion. Julie confirms what we already know about Section's visibility.
La Femme Peta, pp 101-103

Ted Edwards' "behind the scenes" look at this episode
Despite the fact that each episode has Section One sending agents into various parts of the world to maintain peace or bring down terrorists, the writing staff has been careful to pretty much avoid real-world events.
"LFN takes place in a reality which is five degrees to the right and two degrees ahead of the world in which you and I live," Michael Loceff told an online questioner. "We are to the right (or left) of reality in that we don't deal with too many actual locations or incidents in our scripts. We do use the names of some terrorist organizations to help root the episodes in a dash of reality. It is 'ahead' in that it uses a pseudotechnology, which is only partially grounded in reality. This makes it somewhat futuristic. It acknowledges that there are terrorist and antiterrorist activities in both worlds, but a direct connection is never established. In the end, the series is about relationships between people, and we feel that these relationships and the crises that arise out of them are best served by providing a surreal setting."
This being said, [Joel] Surnow, tongue firmly planted in cheek, responded on AOL to being asked to consider how Section One would handle dictator Saddam Hussein. "In fact, I've heard that Saddam watches the show to find out about America's counterintelligence. They would kidnap an attache. Have Madeline torture him until he gave up the location of Saddam. Then Birkoff would run a sim and the team would go out and cancel all seven of him. All seven of 'him' meaning his look-a-likes."
"Friend" was significant to the series in that it was the most organic show that had been offered up until that time. Previously, as Surnow has often conceded, the early episodes had been influenced in tone by the Ken Wahl series Wiseguy, and, indeed, there were many similarities. With "Friend," however, Nikita moved beyond both the Besson feature and Wiseguy. "'Love,' 'Charity"'and, to an extent, 'Simone' could have been told on a lot of different shows," Surnow said. "La Femme Nikita is the only show where the story of 'Friend' could have been told."
La Femme Nikita X-Posed, pp 58-59

Joel Surnow's POV

A benchmark show for us. This was the first show that the people who saw it said, "Okay, I get the show." It stood on its own as La Femme Nikita. It wasn't Wiseguy-influenced, it wasn't the movie influence, it stood on its own as the first real La Femme Nikita, done with an element of what we had set up in the pilot, different from the movie; [it] had an organic story that really exploited the demands of Section, the oppression of the Section and her situation, and told a really clever story of what it's like to be Nikita. "Love," "Charity" and even, to an extent, "Simone," could have been told on a lot of different shows. La Femme Nikita is the only show that the story of "Friend" could have been told. In fact, it was because of that show that we put the twenty-second "saga sell" at the beginning of the show, because unless you understand what the premise of the show is, that story made no sense. Which was a good thing. It made it clear what we were doing. It was a little more elegant than the first four shows, more score and less source music, great twists and exploiting the fact that Nikita is helping someone. As you love her for helping someone, you realize she's being duped. Dumping shit on Nikita keeps our audience interested. Let's face it, Peta Wilson is so strong, that if you don't she wouldn't be likeable. She's incredibly aggressive, she does action better than any woman on TV or film, she's just so tough....We took it upon ourselves to throw a lot of shit on her throughout the season. Again, I think that was a landmark show in the history of the series, because it really identified the kind of stories we could tell....

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