Last night's Nikita was one of the best hours of TV I've seen in agesS

How do you follow up one of the weirdest cliffhangers in television history? With an episode chock full of jaw-dropping moments and one terrible shock. They could have called this "The Last Temptation of Nikita." This show is going out on an amazing high note.

Spoilers ahead...

Parts of last night's Nikita felt like a dream sequence, or one of those science-fiction tropes where someone gets trapped in a dream world where they have everything they've ever wanted. But it was real, and it was fascinating.

In last week's episode — which I apologize for not recapping, but life got in the way — Nikita started getting too close to the Shop's conspiracy to start a war with Pakistan using brainwashed doubles, and using Nikita as the fall guy. So the Shop's head, Philip, contacted her and offered her a deal. Nikita offered a counter-deal: he and Amanda should turn themselves in and she wouldn't hunt them down. In the end, Philip gave her exactly what she wanted. Exactly.

Last night's Nikita was one of the best hours of TV I've seen in agesS

Nikita gets pretty much the perfect happy ending, and it's painful to watch because you know it's an illusion. The bad guys faked their own downfall, sacrificing one operation to keep their larger organization intact, and set Nikita up as the big hero who rescued the President that she was supposed to have killed.

The scenes where Nikita and Michael bask in their victory are flooded with sunlight, so that they're washed out and overexposed — and this codes them, visually, as being like a dream sequence or hallucination. Nikita not only gets to be a hero, she gets a medal, in a somewhat less impressive sequence than the end of Star Wars. She gets pardons and immunity for everybody. She gets forgiven for everything she's done.

But Nikita's real bribe here is that she gets to tell the truth, the whole truth, for once. At the start of the episode, on a military base that could almost be mistaken for suburbia, she tries to figure out a cover story that she and her team can tell — but then it's too late, and anyway she realizes the truth is the only thing that will work. After years of lying and hiding, she comes out and explains everything she's done — much of it in public, to a Senate hearing. Her reward isn't just the medal, it's getting to come clean.

Nikita fears that if she tells the whole truth, everyone will hate her — but Michael convinces her that if she shares her whole story, they'll all love her instead. The whole world will see her the way Michael does. And he's right. Her approval ratings go through the stratosphere. (The one thing this episode needed was some more talking heads going on about Nikita the Hero.)

Last night's Nikita was one of the best hours of TV I've seen in agesS

The scenes of Nikita explaining the whole storyline of the show, from her origin story to becoming an assassin for Division to going rogue to bringing Division down, could just be the show nodding at its past and maybe patting itself on the back a bit — but instead, they come off like Nikita finally getting to unburden herself.

I would have gotten away with it, too...

The great thing about this is that Nikita really wouldn't ever learn the truth — that Amanda is still alive, and the bad guys are still out there, with mind-controlled duplicates all over the place — on her own initiative. She's too invested in her dream world, and being the hero of the story is a trap as well as a reward. She can't do anything to tarnish her new forgiveness.

But there are two people who just won't let it rest. One is Ryan, who's too much of a paranoid conspiracy nut to accept how many mistakes the Shop suddenly made before Nikita brought them down: Sending Ramon, an operative Nikita and Michael knew, to help hijack that Pakistani missile, sending a guy after Alex who would get caught and squeal, and giving Ronald Peller a computer to talk to his son. Ryan creates a brand new wall of crazy in his house at the military base, and starts trying to piece together who these new bad guys are.

Meanwhile, Amanda is still out there, and visibly rankles at the idea that the sacrifice of the Shop means that they have to leave Nikita alone and preserve the illusion of Nikita's victory at all costs. (In fact, you could argue that Nikita did win, since preserving that illusion means the bad guys, the Group, can't make any overt moves that she's likely to notice for several years, at least.)

Amanda very nearly gets herself shot by her new boss, whom we'll call Tennis-Playing Guy since he's always playing tennis. But then she sells him on some line of bullshit about how the duplicates need to have their brainwashing upgraded so they don't go off the rails — and he lets her personally brainwash all 50-something of their duplicates. Soon she has a small army of rich and powerful people completely devoted to her. Oops.

When Ryan goes to see Phillip in prison, he barely even bothers to pretend that Ryan's not on to something — you could argue the smarter play would be to send Ryan off in a wrong direction, so he follows some bogus leads and ends up just seeming like a crazy person at last. Or pretend that Amanda was always the brains of the operation and now she's dead, and maybe she was losing her grip at the end there. Or whatever.

Instead, Phillip immediately has Ryan seized, and taken off to see Amanda, who tries to do her brainwashing mojo on him. Ryan escapes, gets into a totally awesome shootout with Amanda's thugs, and finally — when it's clear he's cornered and there's no other way — decides to throw himself out a window rather than compromise his commitment to the truth. This is absolutely the perfect end for a paranoid conspiracy guy, and just screamingly heroic — and yet terrible and sad as fuck, too.

Meanwhile, Alex has sent Sam off to Paris with a bunch of fake diamonds, to test his reliability once and for all, and Sam has unexpectedly passed the test — but then he gets nabbed by the creeps he owes money to. They take him to Club Besson (ha) which doesn't look nearly Fifth Element enough, and Alex goes to rescue him, in classic Alex style. The great thing about the Alex/Sam subplot is the part where Alex tells Sam that he needs to figure out who he is (after having been a duplicate of Owen for so long) and that he shouldn't be figuring out who he needs to pretend to be to make Alex happy — he needs to find himself, for real, and then maybe they can be together. This, interspersed with Nikita finally getting to be herself in public and open up about her past, is a subtler thematic resonance than I'm used to seeing on network TV.

Last night's Nikita was one of the best hours of TV I've seen in agesS

So in the end, Nikita discovers Ryan's sacrifice, and he tells her just enough before he dies to let her know it's not over. And now, she has a choice: carry on with the charade and try to work within the system to bring down these bad guys, or go do what she does best. Michael argues she has no choice but to carry on and stick to the story she's already told — and Amanda tells Tennis-Playing Guy the same thing — but they're wrong.

The episode's final moments consist of a Nikita voice-over in which she tells someone they have to go bring these guys down, and this is how it was always going to end. Not with the shiny happy ending where everybody's together and we're all forgiven and it's all lovely, but with Nikita and her partner, on their own, risking everything. In the final shot, we see Nikita back where she started — going rogue and teaming up with Alex.