Review by Don Houston, DVD Talk
Many times, television shows seem to get worse with subsequent seasons, preferring to play it safe in order to keep from alienating their core audience. This leads to a lot of boring episodes as evidenced by such former televised hits as Hercules: Season 6 or later seasons of Wiseguy and Airwolf that all ended up following a set formula .... One show that managed to do something different, and thereby build an audience of super-loyal fans that side-stepped the usual geekiness of the fans of shows like Star Trek was La Femme Nikita. Lasting five seasons due to an outpouring of support by the loyal fans, the show was one case where the television show was miles ahead of its original movie counterpart, so unlike the watered down versions we're usually subjected to ....
[A]fter a false start involving a recall of epic proportions, I finally landed a copy of La Femme Nikita: Season Two for review. I'll minimize spoilers but keep in mind that unless I say nothing at all about what happens, I have to delve into some so-called "classified" information about the show. In general though, there exists a secret agency so important that it's not known about by the general public. Founded by the top intelligence guru of our time, Adrian, it has since been taken over by a man known as Paul Wolfe (Eugene Robert Glazer from The New Twilight Zone) but only safely referred to as "Operations." He is as ruthless a man as has ever lived and demands complete loyalty of his subordinates or he cancels them (a euphemism for killing them). Under his rule, the spy agency known as Section One runs a tight ship, recruiting employees from prison who learn the score right away that they belong mind, body and soul to him and Section One.
Operations' leading strategist and right hand assistant is Madeline Sand (Alberta Watson, known initially for her role in The Outer Limits). She is nearly as ruthless as he is, and in the second season seems to harden just a little bit as her last family ties pass away (her usually unseen mother, in "Psychic Pilgrim"). A former lover of Operations, she is not above sacrificing anything, or anyone, to accomplish a mission. She sees Nikita as too much of a loose cannon for her unorthodox ways as much as a potential rival, especially after being saved by Nikita in "New Regime" and "Mandatory Refusal," but every once in a while she'll show some of the deadly compassion that usually results in cancellation of an operative.
Next up is a man named ... Walter (Don Francks, a well known voice actor for shows like Rock & Rule), who is probably the oldest employee of Section One. His expertise is that of the munitions expert who can devise anything if given enough material to work with but also for his uncanny ability to figure out weapons of all sorts, including those used by terrorist organizations. His role in this ongoing drama was to befriend Nikita although with his decades of experience in Section One (and preceding groups that led up to it), trusting him completely would be ... folly since the manner of the group is survival at all costs. Still, his unorthodox ways of handling things are something of a mystery to Nikita since such stepping outside of the boundaries is typically met with less than pleasing results.
Next in the supporting cast is Birkoff (Matthew Ferguson of Earth Final Conflict), the resident computer genius. He's younger and smarter than the other characters in his field but his lack of cunning and street savvy mark him as something less of a player in the group. He also befriends Nikita and appears to trust her more than anyone in Section One ... but the downside of his trust is that it potentially gets him in trouble with those who flip the switches (and keep a close eye on him). His loyalty is tested is "Darkness Visible" but he sometimes gets a juicier role as in "Inside Out" or "Fuzzy Logic."
Last but not least are the two main characters of the show: Nikita (Peta Wilson, best known by non-fans of the show for her role in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Michael (Roy Dupuis). Nikita was a junkie falsely imprisoned (in the television version) for killing a police officer and given a choice -- work for Section One or die. Choosing the former, she becomes an excellent field operative, second only to Michael in terms of accomplishing whatever mission is assigned, albeit in a somewhat less structured way. The series focuses on her most of the time as she seeks to successfully escape this torturous life of killing, destruction, and routinely risking her life for sometimes flimsy reasons with an on again, off again forbidden romance with Michael that endangers them both. Like a moth to a flame, she can barely resist his combination of good looks, superior intellect and overall survival skill ....
Michael ... was recruited into Section One by way of his youthful terrorist activities that included killing people with bombs, even though he came from a well-off family. We learn more about him in "Half Life" ... than in most of the first season combined .... [H]is near ruthless nature and skill in multiple fields make him almost a perfect operative, seldom straying from the path laid out for him by Operations and Madeline. In general, he responds to potential threats ... with a deadly response.
With all this discussion of the primary players of the show, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that a lot of great guest stars were also employed during the second season, most botable for me being Nigel Bennett of Lexx and Forever Knight and the lovely Gina Torres, star of both Firefly and Cleopatra 2525 .... [T]he casting was always a strong suit of the producers of La Femme Nikita, which was likely one of the reasons behind the initial chemistry behind the entire cast that led the series into the hearts and minds of so many fans. Let's face it, the general formula of bad guy poses threat, Section One gets mission, team gets in a jam, team saves the day by ending threat, would get pretty boring if the cast weren't well suited for their roles .... Thankfully for late-comers like me, the show almost always flowed well due to the manner in which each player understood their role and the way the writers accommodated ... their individual idiosyncrasies.
La Femme Nikita: Season Two started off answering the cliffhanger of Season One with the return of Nikita, long thought dead. She is forced to give up her life apart from Section One, knowing full well that if it's discovered she wasn't involuntary away she'd be cancelled .... This leads her to being evaluated by Michael's former mentor Jurgen and a series of increasingly dangerous escapades where the truth would set Nikita free- free of this mortal coil, if you know what I mean.
The second season also gave each of the leads a chance to flesh out their motivations and characters, evolving in ways that weren't always pleasant but certainly in ways that kept me, and likely the massive fan base, on the edge of their seats. The overriding theme of Machiavellian tactics by those around her to do whatever it takes at all costs ... begins to affect the way [Nikita] views the world ..., bringing her increasingly closer to the dark side needed to keep alive .... [T]his season managed to end on a high note by offering up three ... episodes of truly high caliber: "In Between," "Adrian's Garden," and "End Game," all of which explored relationships of the past for Madeline or Operations, with each side using Nikita to further their own goals ....
....I'd rate it as Highly Recommended. The season set included all the episodes, some decent extras and commentaries .... [I]f you like spy shows or movies, this had a lot more class than the last several James Bond blockbusters. It was a lot of fun ... seeing the struggle for Nikita's soul between her desire for a normal life and the needs of Section One's soulless machine ....
Picture: La Femme Nikita: Season Two was presented in the same 1:33:1 ratio full frame color it was originally shot in for television. With so much material on the 6-disc set, my primary concern was if the compression rate would require compromises in picture quality. If the original shows were lacking, all the extras in the world weren't going to make such problems easier to swallow, so I was pleased when I finished watching all the episodes to report that the picture quality looked slightly better than Season One. The colors were accurate, the fleshtones solid, and the levels of grain acceptable with no compression artifacts to be seen. There was some pattern noise on occasion but it wasn't common and few ... will notice it ....
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround English with optional English, Spanish or French subtitles .... The audio was again well done with some separation between the channels ... and a decent dynamic range. One thing to note is that the DVD set was recalled over a music rights issue involving a song or two, most notably one from Garbage, that really didn't make a difference to me as a sound-alike song was employed to maintain the same feeling. There are still copies of the original to be found but only the most dedicated of you will be willing to pay the price ....
Extras: The extras were also decent this time with my favorite ... being the two commentaries .... The first commentary was for the first episode, "Hard Landing," with executive consultant Joel Surnow, director Jon Cassar, and writer/editor Michael Loceff all contributing their thoughts and anecdotes on the episode as well as the season in general. I think I would've preferred Peta Wilson, Roy Dupuis, and others join in on the commentary and have more of them but I thought they added some value for fans. The second commentary was on the final show of the season, "End Game," and they added some further exposition on the season (perhaps more so than the episode itself) ....
My next favorite extra was the series of deleted scenes from various episodes, all with commentary by director Jon Cassar (who didn't direct all the episodes but had a great handle on most of them). They were all short and rarely added a lot of information to the episodes, but fans will like them nonetheless, including: (1) Nikita Saves Michael, (2) Angry Operative, (3) Dinner Guests, (4) Follow My Lead, (5) Something Strange Going On, (6) Setting A Trap, (7) Surprise Meeting, (8) Following Michael Home.
There was also a gag reel that lasted a few minutes and showed the actors flubbing their lines and a paper insert that detailed facts about the episodes, including date of release, directors, and who wrote them as well as detail[ing] the chapter titles.
Final Thoughts: La Femme Nikita: Season Two was highly entertaining, full of action, and managed to convey a far more believable scenario for a futuristic spy show driven less by technology than human drama with the claustrophobic control of Operations and Madeline helping to make [it] stand above the crowd of similar shows. With a tagline of "A choice that will change everything," the season was even better than the first....
Review by Evan "Mushy" Jacobs, Movieweb
I never watched an episode of La Femme Nikita when it was on the air. It seemed like I would always see commercials for it (it ran on USA and I always watched USA when their aired Tuesday Night Fights), I would see Peta Wilson (the show's star), and I'd think to myself, "Yah know, you really should watch that," but my thoughts never translated into any kind of action. Before I knew it, the show seeemed to disappear only to be resurrected by the lords of DVD.
La Femme Nikita - The Complete Second Season is good if not great TV. It seems to foreshadow many of the shows that are currently on primetime. I mean, where would Alias be if not for this predecessor about a butt-kicking woman who joins an organization, but then must spend her entire time in that organization staying one step ahead of it? I mean, let's be honest, looked at in this light it's sort of sad to think that La Femme Nikita, while popular, never seemed to grab the public the way that Alias has. One could argue that Peta Wilson is no Jennifer Garner, but then my friends, we are just talking apples and oranges, right?
I found this show to be wildly ambitious for its time. I don't think that the acting on anybody's part is that great, but as I stated above it sort of seemed to pave the way for a lot of the melodramatic action on today's top shows. I felt that the Section One headquarters looked like a spaceship (maybe that was the intent?), a lot of the FX such as the technical side of the show looked poorly done .... Everyone seemed almost mechnical and on the whole I think this show had a dyspeptic feel. There is a lot about this that works to the show's advantage. We think of the CIA and Special Ops type organizations as cold. That is how they are always presented to us in movies, on the news and in magazines, etc. So it stands to reason that this would be the effect that creators of a show like this would go for.
As stodgy as I found this whole show to be, I did find myself engaged by it at times. Maybe I am a sucker, but I actually found myself concerned for Nikita's well being. I even started to care about Michael ... as well. In many instances, it seemed like Nikita had outgrown his tutelage. Yet he continually displayed a wisdom that manifested itself perfectly throughout the episodes. Whether Nikita was posing as a prisoner, pretending to be a housewife, or fighting against her own organization, nothing about Peta Wilson's portrayal of this character seemed out of line with the way you might expect her to act. In fact, there is a coldness to Wilson that really plays in to the character. I am not sure if this is her acting or if this is how she really is but whatever the case may be, Wilson certainly had something ... to give an extra element, an extra shade, to the complex persona of NIkita.
Audio Commentary on Season Opener and Final Episode
These commentaries are done by the show's creators and I found them to be surprisingly informative. They didn't talk about how this show came together but rather they just seemed to focus on the show itself. They talked about how after season one they looked at what worked and they knew that the Michael/Nikita relationship was one that was going to have to be expanded for Season 2. They also discussedt he villains and the characters' actions and how they always tried to not give the audience what they expected, and they even spoke about the technology and how at first they were trying to be accurate and real and then they realized the most important thing was to create interesting pieces of technology regardless of how real they were. All in all, an informative audio piece aboutu what goes into making a show of this nature.
Canceled Scenes with Introductions by Director Jon Cassar
Spaced out over the disks, these are scenes that for one reason or another just didn't make the cut within the show. Director Jon Cassar talks about the scenes and then explains the reasons for their exclusion. Either the scene wasn't right for the show, the tone felt off, or it may have just been a case of this particular scene getting in the way of the show's narrative. I like how easy-going he seems to be about all of this now, because I am sure that 7 years ago there was probably some agonizing over the "trims" that would need to be made.
This is a cool (although somewhat hard to find on the disks) compilation of bloopers, mistakes and mishaps that happened on the set while shooting La Femme Nikita .... For me, it was really interesting seeing these characters let their hair down and just have fun. It's so weird because you become so used to seeing them within the confines of the show, that when you see them having a good time you almost don't believe what you're watching. A nice little companion piece to display the human side of not only this cast but the show as a whole.
Standard Version Presented in a Format Preserving the Aspect Rato of its Original Television Exhibition. Yes, you guessed it folks, this means full screen. I am surprised by this because the overall look and feel of this show seems to beg for the widescreen format. It seems like it wouuld make sense based on where this show is set, the subject matter and the way the characters act. There is something about widescreen that just seems to bolster the tech/Special Ops look of certain films. As it is not present here, I was never able to really get a true beat [sic] on Section One. I know that the creators wanted to make it look "harder," but without the widescreen look it just doesn't feel that daunting to me. The transfers, even though they are in full screen, look pretty darn good. I didn't notice too much "pan and scan" movement and, save for some bad-looking "slow-mo" video FX on the actions scenes, these shows are clear and clean. In fact, I do have to commend the show's creators on being so ambitious with all the different uses of technology, especially for a show that was on TV. This doesn't seem like a TV show even though I don't think it really seems like a movie. It looks more like a glorified straight to home video movie with much higher production values.
Dolby Digital - English: Dolby Surround Stereo. There is a quietness to this show that I am not sure I like, but I can appreciate if that makes any sense. I like how we aren't inundated with a techno soundtrack and quick editing every 5 seconds. I mean, these things are in there, the action scenes especially are cut somewhat quickly, but I did appreciate how this show seemed to have a stillness to it. It didn't seem to feel the need to rush things, or underscore everything with wall to wall music. It seemed more content to just let the episodes play, to see Nikita in different situations and see how she would react. The music, when used, was also well placed and not overdone .... I was also able to just set the levels on my TV, and the mix between the music and dialogue was perfect. I never had to adjust my sound between the two.
This cover alone should account for many of this 6-disk set's sales. The luminous Peta Wilson adorns the cover with a gun at her feet. I am sure those ... who have never seen the show will give this boxset a second look. The back features another picture of Wilson (of course holding a gun) and a nice summation of the contents of this boxset. Inside, the 6 DVDs are like a book, with clear plastic "cases" that house the DVDs. Truthfully, I think the packaging is a little overdone. This DVD boxset seems like it might have been more manageable if it came in such a way that it could all fold out .... [I]t's just that this boxset looks a tad too daunting and for its $99 price tag, it seems like things could have been cheaper if they had knocked out some of the bells and whistles. I do like the "special intel portfolio" that comes with this boxset. It walks you through all the special features, gives a nice overview of each episode and generally helps you navigate through all 6 disks.
La Femme Nikita - The Complete Second Season was an enjoyable watch. It didn't make me wish I had watched the show when it was on, and I certainly don't think it is the greatest show I have ever seen, but I will say that if nothing else my curiosity was certainly satisfied. Overall, I found La Femme Nikita - The Complete Second Season to be okay. I don't think that there is anything too great about it and truthfully, over time I think that the whole special agent "keep your guard up at all times" thing gets a little bit stale. I guess this is just the nature of this type of material....