JayBee (jaybee65) wrote in ship_manifesto,

Operations/Madeline (La Femme Nikita)

Title: More Twisted Than Hopeless
Author: JayBee jaybee65
Fandom: La Femme Nikita
Pairing: Operations/Madeline
Email: jaelbr@hotmail.com
Spoilers: Many, throughout the end of the final season


Among the most memorable characters of La Femme Nikita were Operations and Madeline: a megalomaniac and a zealot who presided over a reign of intimidation and terror within the secretive paramilitary organization they ran. Yet despite this rather repugnant behavior, they were never wholly villains; in their own way, they were dedicated, courageous, and genuinely self-sacrificing. They were also involved in a complex, dysfunctional, and codependent relationship that brought out the best and the worst in both of them: a relationship that's utterly addicting to think, read, and write about.

Canon tells us what happened during the last few years of their lives. We know the ending -- what we don’t know is how they got there. This information vacuum provides ample opportunity for speculation and subtextual interpretation. As new seasons came, the series revealed additional nuggets of information. But by the end, they were still shrouded in mystery -- which is just how we like them.

"This Is Who We Are"

The world outside these walls is an illusion. It's not really there for us. We're ghosts. -- Madeline, "Gray"

In the series, we knew Operations and Madeline as the leader and second-in-command, respectively, of Section One, "the most covert anti-terrorism organization on the planet." An aggressive, ambitious military man teamed with a cunning, cold-blooded psychologist, they were dedicated to the point of fanaticism to their cause. As the main character, Nikita, put it in the tagline she uttered in the opening credits of every episode, "their ends were just, but their means were ruthless."

Together, they ran an organization of mercenaries: convicted criminals, recruited by force and officially "dead," who were subjected to draconian rules and arbitrary punishments, up to and including execution (euphemistically referred to as "cancellation") for even trivial offenses. In this role, Operations and Madeline served as foils for the more conventionally heroic and humane Nikita; yet they were always something more than villains -- the show, to quote one of Madeline's more memorable lines, was all about "shades of gray," and these two characters were exemplars of that moral ambiguity.

However, we learned very little about Operations and Madeline as people with identities separate from their roles in Section. Operations' real name was a mystery until the second season; we never learned Madeline's last name. Their nameless quality was emblematic of the fact that, in a sense, they no longer really possessed independent selves. They were subsumed within Section, an entity that demanded everything and gave nothing -- an entity that Operations even once referred to as being more "alive" than its members. In another sense, however -- even after years in Section -- they never escaped their own personal demons: demons that ultimately drove them both in fatally self-destructive directions.

Their relationship with each other was also enigmatic: what was presented as canon was later revealed to be illusion, but then the illusion turned out to hide something else yet again. In the world of Section, where things were famously never what they seemed, canon masqueraded as subtext and vice versa. There are as many possible interpretations as there are viewers, all vying for legitimacy, but none ever clearly achieving it.


The series did reveal significant pieces of Operations' backstory, but thanks to crucial lapses in continuity by the show’s creators, that backstory is an irreconcilable mass of contradictions. We do know a few things for certain: first and foremost, that he was a Vietnam vet and former POW, whose experience in the war left indelible marks upon his character and provided him with much of his motivation for wanting to fight terrorism.

Prior to his captivity, he had been married with a son; his son grew up without him after his capture by the Vietnamese and subsequent recruitment to Section One. The time period and circumstances of his captivity are points of dispute thanks to conflicts between episodes, as was the means of his recruitment to Section. (Did he volunteer? Was he forced? The episodes disagree.)

In Section, he worked for and studied under its charismatic founder, Adrian. While their interactions in later years suggest a certain mutual respect, he nevertheless forced his way into the leadership position, replacing Adrian and creating many enemies in the process. As commander of Section One, he then pursued his own rather grandiose vision to sway the course of history. His main obstacle, at least in his mind, was his immediate supervisor (and Adrian's former lover) George; Operations thus engaged in tireless schemes to oust George and replace him as the head of "Oversight" (Section One’s supervisory entity). George, in turn, devised his own schemes to undermine Operations, and the resulting rivalry was a large part of what ultimately destroyed both men.

In temperament, Operations was callous and impatient, possessed a volcanic temper, and was extremely intolerant of being challenged. But he also exhibited a charmingly wicked sense of humor, and was even strangely sentimental at times -- especially when it came to people who had, at one point or another, saved his life (Madeline among them).


We know even less about Madeline than we do about Operations. By the end of the series, we had still learned almost nothing about her life prior to Section -- we don't know when she was recruited or how, or what she was doing beforehand. While she was a psychologist by training, there is no indication in the series as to whether she received that training before or after her recruitment. She had been in Section for a long time before the events of the series (a minimum of 17 years, by the fourth season of the show), and it appears likely that she threw her lot in with Operations when he ousted Adrian -- but beyond that, we know very little.

The main thing we do know about her background serves to make her even more enigmatic: as a child, she killed her sister, pushing her down a flight of stairs during a fight over a doll. This defining event -- which led to her estrangement from her mother and her choosing, as she put it, a life in hell -- haunted her for the rest of her life, and was a recurrent theme in the series.

Within Section One, she was the primary person responsible for analyzing and predicting the behavior of the enemy, for interrogating important captives (she didn’t flinch at using torture in this capacity), and for assessing and assigning personnel. In contrast to Operations, she was calm and methodical; when she wanted to, she could be charming and gracious -- but the warm façade could drop in an instant to reveal arctic iciness. When angry, she made an effort to remain polite -- she was even a courteous torturer -- but she was distinctly unforgiving of mistakes and faults.

Emotionally, she was detached, analytical, and almost shockingly unsentimental. Paradoxically, however, she appeared to be even more fervently devoted to Section One than Operations. Unlike him, her devotion had no taint of personal ambition to it; instead, it resembled something quasi-religious in nature. This rendered her much more dangerous than Operations to anyone who resisted her "fundamentalist" views. She would literally do anything to further Section One's interests, no matter what the sacrifice, and she expected the same effort from others. If they wouldn't make those sacrifices willingly, she had no compunctions about manipulating or even coercing them to do so.

Siamese Twins

Operations and Madeline are like Siamese twins. They bicker, they squabble, but they never separate. -- George, "All Good Things"

One of the most enduring images of the series is that of Madeline and Operations standing side by side in the "perch" overlooking Section One’s main work area, staring down menacingly at their subordinates. This stance emphasized their symbiotic connection -- Operations serving as the yang to Madeline's yin.

The two of them worked in tandem, complemented each other, and to a degree fed off each other -- in both constructive and destructive ways. Madeline was often able to restrain Operations' more impulsive urges; Operations provided a drive and vision that Madeline lacked. They sometimes disagreed -- in fact, Madeline was one of the few people Operations would tolerate disagreement from -- but in the end, their goals were always the same. But they also amplified each other's faults -- a tendency that became exaggerated over time.

Like the Siamese twins of George's jibe, they were fiercely protective of each other, and indeed they seemed unable to function in the other's absence. This led to extreme actions when one or the other was threatened. Madeline, for example, threatened to kill medical personnel treating Operations if he didn't recover from an assassination attempt; Operations exposed himself to a deadly virus rather than allow an already-infected Madeline to die alone; in an even more extreme case, Operations disrupted and attempted to thwart a mission when Madeline was taken hostage by the mission's target. Madeline's loyalty to Operations was such that, when offered command of all the Sections in exchange for betraying Operations, she sided with Operations instead; Operations, in turn, manipulated events so that when a mission failed that ordinarily Madeline would have been blamed for, someone else took the fall (and was cancelled) in her place. They also broke rules for each other that they would have severely punished anyone else for doing: Operations allowing Madeline to engage in the forbidden act of seeing a family member; Madeline covering up for Operations' murdering someone in revenge for the death of his son.

But at the same time -- and perhaps also like Siamese twins -- there were signs that they both may have harbored a desire to sever their connection. In one episode, Madeline shot Operations and deserted Section -- while she was admittedly under the influence of a mind-altering procedure at the time, it was of a kind that exaggerated existing emotions rather than creating new ones. Turning the tables, Operations later cut off Madeline during a mission, exposing her to the risk of death along with enemy operatives. While neither effort was successful, the fact that these attempts took place reveals that those darker, selfish impulses existed within both of them.

In the end, their connection was severed quite violently. As discussed below, the result was fatal for both of them.

Power, Possession, and Control

Madeline: I thought you did it out of hurt feelings. But, it had nothing to do with that, did it?
Operations: You were right when you said not to dwell on the past.
-- "Adrian's Garden"

The series showed many instances of warmth and affection between Operations and Madeline, but much of it was expressed in the non-verbal details of their interactions -- in their body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice. It also came across in certain habits and rituals: their regular breakfast meetings, complete with matching computer monitors; their dryly humorous banter; even bittersweet moments like the champagne toast they gave each other in the face of disastrous and potentially life-threatening failure. Season Two -- the most conventionally "romantic" Operations/Madeline season -- contained several such scenes and more than a hint of flirtation, culminating in a night of passion in the "Tower" (a private getaway apparently reserved for agency VIPs).

But not all was romance and light. As one character remarked by way of explanation when asked about an argument between Operations and Madeline, "They've known each other a long time." This was a long term relationship where hate existed alongside love: not the kind of love/hate dynamic often found in romantic fiction where an initial hostility turns into passion, but rather a different kind of hate, born out of a long history of hurt and wounds, held close and nurtured into resentment.

For every scene of flirtation or banter, there was another of coldness and rejection -- most infamously when Madeline casually explained that she slept with Operations just to get the sexual tension between them over with so they could return their full focus to their work. They argued and at times appeared to go out of their way to hurt each other.

The most significant theme -- both in their lives and in their relationship -- was that of control: control of their environment, control of their subordinates, self-control -- but also control over each other. This desire for control verged on the dangerously obsessive.

The most obvious source of control came from the hierarchy of command itself: Operations was Madeline's superior officer, and he quite literally held the power of life and death over her. However, Madeline had her own power over Operations -- she knew all too well where the bodies were buried in Section One and could have destroyed him easily had she set out to do so.

This mutual power and threat was explored beautifully in "Three Eyed Turtle," a third-season episode with blatant D/s themes, and in my opinion the quintessential Operations/Madeline episode of the entire series. In that episode, they engaged in BDSM role-playing -- pretending that Operations was blackmailing Madeline into an abusive sexual relationship so that George would trust Madeline when she offered to betray Operations. George was fooled -- but only partly, because he also took steps to protect himself, so the episode ended in stalemate.

"Three Eyed Turtle" was all about power -- not just the use of it, but also the choice of both of them not to use it. Their actions were reality disguised as role-playing disguised as reality -- in the end, Madeline actually did submit to Operations -- but as a free choice, not by coercion, which made the submission all the more powerful.

Despite this desire for mutual control, there was no pretense that the characters were ever monogamous. That fact added another layer of complexity to the relationship, triggering jealousy, anger, and indeed even violence.

Both of them, for example, were married to other people: Operations prior to his recruitment, and Madeline to another Section operative prior to the time period of the series. Both spouses became victims of Section. Operations' wife was drugged into madness on Operations' own orders, with Madeline's reluctant cooperation, because of a tenuous connection to terrorism. Madeline, in turn, cancelled her own husband, but under circumstances strongly suggesting that Operations had orchestrated the sequence of events.

They also had sexual liaisons with others during the time of the series. Some of these were work-related, such as Operations' affair with an operative from Oversight (most likely a part of the charade for George that culminated in "Three Eyed Turtle") and Madeline's seduction of an enemy agent by means of subjecting herself to a medical procedure that caused her to genuinely fall in love with the man. Others, like Madeline's probable dalliance with valentine operative Russell Burke and Operations' recreational activity with an unseen Hungarian-speaking woman, appeared to be for personal pleasure only. Both types resulted in jealous reactions -- perhaps genuine, perhaps contrived, or perhaps both.

Textual Subtext

Yes, Madeline and I spent time occasionally in the Tower, but that had nothing to do with the way we felt about each other. -- Operations, "In Through The Out Door"

Canonically, their relationship was sexual, certainly during and probably before the series. But in a world where sex was a commodity and tool of the profession, what did that actually signify? The series left that completely ambiguous. There were many moments of what appeared to be deep romantic attachment -- some of which can be explained as part of the pretense for George, but others of which cannot.

When asked by George at the end of "Three Eyed Turtle," Operations denied that a romantic relationship had ever existed. One could take that at face value. Then again, he also had every reason to lie to George. The denial, in fact, was belied by Operations' behavior in Season Five, where his emotional reaction to Madeline’s absence and her "return" in holographic form demonstrated the real strength of his feelings for her. Adrian, if not George, seemed to recognize this connection for what it was, remarking wryly about how Operations was "still defending" Madeline even after all those years, and taunting him about her infidelity -- something that, presumably, wouldn't have bothered him had there truly been "nothing between them."

While Operations' attachment to Madeline -- however distorted and sometimes unhealthy it may have been -- was fairly clear, Madeline's position was much more ambiguous. Did she love him? Care for him? Or merely believe that his leadership was good for Section? She never really said -- notoriously, all she ever admitted to was "admiration." But there were subtle signs of a more emotional response, usually revealed when no one else (including Operations) was looking: her intense command to him to "live" when he had been shot; the way she stroked his face in another instance when he was near death; the way she occasionally looked at him; even her somewhat panicked reaction when he was under attack by a psychokinetic child in the fourth season.

In the context of the entire series, I believe that Operations' comment quoted above, made after Madeline's death, is much more telling than his denial to George. The remark that their sexual encounters had "nothing to do with how [they] felt about each other" didn't so much signify that nothing deeper existed, but rather meant that the sex itself was relatively unimportant. Their relationship transcended sex on some profound level that perhaps only they really understood.


Madeline's Holographic Image: Paul, I'm not flesh and blood.
Operations: Some said you never were, but I knew better.
-- "A Girl Who Wasn’t There"

In a shocking scene in the final episode of the fourth -- and at the time intended to be final -- season, Madeline defiantly committed suicide rather than face judgment by a newly-empowered Nikita. She did so, apparently, without warning or explanation to Operations, who was left to cope -- rather badly -- without her in the fifth and final season.

But why did she commit suicide? Was it for the reasons given by the "holographic" Madeline created to placate an increasingly unstable Operations during the fifth season: that she killed herself because she knew they would be separated, and she wanted him to put his energy into moving on rather than trying to reunite with her? Or was that merely what Quinn, the creator of the hologram who was under orders to seduce and spy on Operations, thought he wanted/needed to hear? And if that wasn’t the real motive, what was? Was it the ultimate act of rejection, done without a care for how her death would affect him? Or was it the ultimate sacrifice, taken with the knowledge that the organization likely couldn't afford to lose both of them at once, and thus aimed at ensuring his survival? Or was it somewhere in between? We'll never know, which is part of what compels fans to examine it -- again and again -- through fiction.

In the aftermath of Madeline's death, Operations suffered a slow, painful decline as a leader. Stripped of real control over the organization he loved, deprived of his closest ally and supporter, and forced to watch the person he detested gain more and more at his expense, he became reckless -- eventually fatally so. With his death, an era at Section One came to an end.

Further Resources

The La Femme Nikita fandom is a relatively small one, and it has become even smaller now that the show has been off the air for several years. The fandom is also heavily dominated by fans of the Nikita/Michael relationship, to the point where Operations/Madeline partisans can appear like a tiny (but ardent!) cult. (Other ships have almost no representation whatsoever -- LFN is not a diverse fandom for shipping.)

First, I should point out some terminology that may be helpful for newcomers to the fandom: in LFN fannish circles, "HR" (or "Hopeless Romantics") has come to describe Nikita/Michael shippers, and "TR" (or "Twisted Romantics") refers to the Operations/Madeline fans. If you are looking for Operations/Madeline material, then, you need to look for anything labeled "TR."

TR fic frequently focuses on the characters' pre-series lives (both in and out of Section One); equally popular are stories dealing with the characters' deaths (or more popular still, resurrections). As in the series, issues of power and control are central themes, as are the difficulties inherent to life within Section One. A healthy percentage of stories speculate on the true nature of their relationship, some even positing a secret marriage (note: something I personally have never believed). Often, the character of Adrian is presented as a villain and obstacle to their romance, in much the same way that in canon they themselves became an obstacle for Michael and Nikita.

Most TR stories are collected together in a small number of archives, so it is easy to find and read them all -- the good, the bad, and the in-between. One collection to start with would be the TR Page within the larger (indeed enormous) LFN Storyboard Archives. Writers to check out there include Athena4 (but see below for her own, more comprehensive website) and Enjoue.

[Edit: the Alberta Watson Official Site has now shut down, so the link later in this paragraph is no longer active. However, most of the stories can be accessed via the Wayback Machine here.] Another comprehensive site is the collection of Madeline/Operations fic at the Alberta Watson website fanfic page (at the official site for the actress who portrayed Madeline). Several stories by the authors mentioned above can be found there, but also ones by several other writers. One author definitely worth reading is Nightangel, whose stories can't be found anywhere else.

Several individual websites are also worth noting:

Athena4 -- probably the foremost TR writer, with an extensive and detailed series outlining her version of their backstory. Several of her stories are contained in the archives above, but her website is the only place with the complete collection.

Another worthy site is run by Perfect Velvet -- she has not only a large number of stories and drabbles, but also other media, such as TR vids, a decent number of screencaps (dispersed on multiple pages, so look around), desktop backgrounds, icons, and much more.

I would also like to direct you to Your Cruise Director's Miscellaneous Fanfic Page here. While there is only one Madeline/Operations story (entitled "Constraints," about midway down the "Miscellany" page), it is, in my opinion, one of the best ever written, and brings to life the "power and control" issue in a vivid and striking way. Be forewarned, however -- it is NC-17, and contains very explicit material. If BDSM-type scenarios disturb you, steer clear. But if you want to see some spare and evocative writing, I can't recommend it enough.

[Edit: the site linked in this paragraph was hosted on geocities, which is no more! Most of the stories hosted there can be found either on the TR page linked above, or in my Livejournal. I'll probably be posting the rest on Livejournal soon.] Another individual site is the one by yours truly, JayBee -- my own site contains stories found in the archives, as well as some work not archived elsewhere.

[Edit: The Alberta Watson Official Site has now closed, so the links in this paragraph are no longer valid.] For a transcription of every line of dialogue ever uttered by Madeline (complete with amusing comments by the transcriber, Cathy Atkinson), you can go here on the Alberta Watson site. That site also has full episode transcripts for seasons 3 and 4 as well as links to other sites with transcripts for other seasons, on the transcripts page. In addition, it has more Madeline/Operations screencaps than anyplace else I am aware of. (Unfortunately, because many of the screencaps were taken from VHS recordings, the quality isn't always the greatest.) The full site is definitely worth exploring -- it's vast, comprehensive, and full of LFN goodies.

[Edit: While the Alberta Watson Official Site is no more, you can find an enormous number of Madeline and Operations screencaps at the Alberta Watson Fans website. You can also find many TR fans at alberta_watson. In addition, there are sometimes TR stories posted at the general LFN fanfic comm here on LJ, lfn_fanfiction.]

Unfortunately, one of the largest and most content-rich TR-oriented sites around, geneglazer.com, has now shut down. However, you can still visit Eugene R. Glazer's official website here. It contains some nice screencaps and also several .wav files, as well as a fanfic page (although most of its contents are identical to the ones on the Alberta Watson site linked above). [Edit: the contents of this site have been reduced, and it no longer contains fanfic.]

Finally, if want to discuss LFN fanfic and the role of Madeline and Operations in it, you may want to visit the LFN Fanfic Message Board. That board has hosted many lively discussions about Madeline, Operations, and their relationship, and most likely will again. (You might even want to start one!)

Of course, the ultimate resource for Operations/Madeline fans would be the episodes themselves -- if you haven't seen them, go watch them. And if you saw them already, watch them again -- but this time, stop looking at Michael and Nikita and pay attention to the Madeline and Operations scenes, because I think you'll be surprised at all you missed the first time around.

Thank you to this community and its moderator for providing me with the opportunity to ramble on about my favorite pairing. But my opinion is only one of many -- I encourage others to add what I have left out.

Tags: la femme nikita

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