Warner Bros. // 1999 // 978 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // August 3rd, 2005
George: Adrian is very dear to me; if I discover any harm has come to her and that Section One has played even a minor role, I will crush you, both figuratively and literally.
La Femme Nikita was a remarkably prescient television series in which a group of covert operations people take on terrorists around the globe. It seemed little more than a television adaptation of the popular film by Luc Besson called Nikita (which had already gotten an American remake as Point of No Return) when it debuted on basic cable in 1997. I am a huge fan of Nikita, but I wrote the show off, because surely it couldn't match its cinematic heritage. Now, thanks to the miracle of television on DVD, I'm finally seeing the legacy of the popular myth about a girl and her gun. And guess what? La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season showed me I couldn't have been more wrong to skip the show when it aired. With the aftermath of 9/11 and the controversies around the Patriot Act, La Femme Nikita seems less and less of a fantasy every year. Seems their aim to always be set "ten minutes in the future" paid off big time.
In the television version of La Femme Nikita, our girl starts off as a homeless junkie who is falsely accused of the murder of a cop. This leads to her being plucked out of jail by a super-secret organization of spies, Section One, and taught to kill. Working for Section One, Nikita is mentored by a guy she falls hard for named Michael. Originally, in Luc Besson's vision, Nikita was a junkie who did indeed kill people for a score, and who was on a journey of redemption and transformation. She was a wild animal who had to find her humanity through her own femininity and the love of a check-out clerk in a supermarket. It was about a woman discovering herself and mankind through ultra-violence. Here, though, we have Peta Wilson (the only female member of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) playing a woman who falls in love with a man, and she must find his humanity in the middle of a violent storm. Along the way she will also have to divorce herself from her nature if she is to survive in a world where everyone has you in their sights as a potential target. She has to become an animal, and represents the opposite of that which her cinematic alter ego struggled with. Nikita must learn to be a killer and lose some of her femininity, and she needs Michael to show her the way. Even though Section One forbids it, she refuses to become just a common killer. She retains her spunk and love for life, and dares to love a man who may not be all that he seems.
The arc of La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season concentrates on the final union of Nikita and Michael. We slowly find out that Operations and Madeline are only too happy to have this happen, so they can plant the seeds to tear them apart. If they can succeed in their mission, then Section One can have more control over both Nikita and Michael. Season Three of La Femme Nikita opens with a three-show arc concerning Nikita's discovery of an uncomfortable secret about Michael, which she quickly has to learn to deal with. We are also introduced to the creepy recurring character George, who is part of the Oversight team, superior to both Operations and Madeline. He's concerned with how the two are running Section One, and will prove to be someone who makes the icy pair nervous for many reasons. The entire season revolves around power and fear, as each player in Section One is challenged to inflict fear and assert their power over each other at all levels. Michael and Nikita succeed in getting closer, but Section One leaders tear them apart in every way they can conceive of, up to and including killing one or both of them. You have the struggles of both Nikita and Michael to deal with their feelings for each other, their working relationships as cold, calculating spies, and how to relate as more of their personal lives seeps in to the cracks of their Section One facades. And naturally, you have a lot of episodes with Nikita and the agents putting their lives on the line in spectacular action sequences. By the end of the season, a shocking twist makes us question where Nikita and Michael will end up.
As much as people claim that Alias ripped off this show, you can't steal an idea from a series that's already based on stolen concepts. While La Femme Nikita did set the stage for ass-kicking women of espionage, it hardly invented either of those elements. What the show did have going for it was one hell of a lead actress in Peta Wilson, and an excellent creative team -- most of whom went on to create the even more adroit terrorist series 24. The show was a Canadian production, based in Toronto. It shows us how much the entertainment industry in that city has grown; now it's capable of providing sufficient resources for a basic cable series such that it can rival the products of the major networks with its slick locales and well-designed sets. La Femme Nikita is a great looking show, and only in rare instances will you feel like it was cable-produced.
La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season provides us with twenty-three episodes of a show that had finally come into its own. La Femme Nikita had successfully distanced itself from the movies that came before it, carving out its own entity. Peta Wilson gave a stellar performance as Nikita, and the production design created a wonderful fantasy world for everyone to play in. The acting is hard to judge, since everyone is trying to keep their espionage "poker faces" in full force. A lot of people have pointed out that some of the actors seem made of cardboard -- but three seasons into the story, you realize that is part of the characters they are playing. What makes the show unique are the hidden flashes of emotion between action scenes. Most of the cast succeed very well, and La Femme Nikita rivals James Bond for gadgets and inventive action sequences. It's a fun show, and it's easy to get hooked on its stylish and playful stories.
One thing the show excels at is providing the unexpected at all times. You're never quite sure of anyone's motives, anyone's loyalties, or what they are capable of doing next. It's a credit to the writing team that many of the episodes are unpredictable in a completely enjoyable way. There are few obvious plot elements, and surprisingly the show is a well thought out mass of twists and turns executed with precision. Even with the limits of being a basic cable show shot on the cheap in Canada, you walk away feeling surprised and intrigued throughout every episode. It's dazzling in a way that smart television always is. La Femme Nikita is smartly made, and designed to last, as it did for four seasons plus an eight-episode extension.
The transfers of La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season are a mixed bag. Some scenes are crystal clear and look beautiful; others degrade into a grainy mess with noisy compression artifacts. On the whole it looks good, but it seems every other scene I was catching some artifacts unique to authoring a series onto DVD. Most of the time the episodes are so engaging you miss the grain or shimmering, but it's always there.
These season discs are tricky to transfer, since so much has to be packed onto each disc in order to keep the set down to a manageable number of DVDs. These Nikita sets are pricey, and are not packed with enough extras to make the exorbitant sticker price seem worth it. On La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season there are commentaries on the opening and closing episode from director Jon Cassar, writer Peter Lenkov, and actor Eugene Robert Glazer (Operations). Then there are various deleted scenes on each disc, which provide minimal insight into what hit the floor as they filmed the series. There is also a featurette on production design, which hits on the philosophy of the show, and how it was physically manifested. A short, but fun, gag reel is also included.
The music this time around seems only slightly changed. Season Two's release raised cries of outrage due to the replacement of a lot of pop songs that were on the series in its initial run. Either this third season had fewer musical cues, or they shelled out some extra bucks to insure it would be close enough to keep the protestations to a minimum. The sound mix is well done, and dialogue is front and center when it needs to be. Directional effects are sparsely used, and they don't do much to create any surround fields. Pity, because this is certainly one show that could use directional effects to amp up the excitement. Still, it is true to the original broadcasts, and fans should be satisfied.
La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season is a smart set of episodes that finally gives fans what they long for -- a time when Michael and Nikita get together. For that reason alone this set is mandatory for obsessive watchers of the series. These shows look like they have more money behind them, and the scripts and production values are amped up to reflect the show's "surprise hit" status. If you've never watched the show, it's definitely one that will hook you right away. Better off to start at the beginning with La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season. Trust me, this one will end up on your shelf shortly afterwards.
La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season is free to go. Pricey as it is, it's still twenty-three episodes of smart television with a great leading lady. Besides, who would want to piss off a blonde with a gun? Cleared of any wrong-doings.
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 978 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary on Episode One by Director Jon Cassar and Actor Eugene Robert Glazer
* Commentary on Final Episode by Writer Peter Lenkov and Actor Eugene Robert Glazer
* Deleted Scenes with Commentaries
* Featurette: "Designing La Femme Nikita"
* Gag Reel
* Fan Site -- Episode Guides and More
* Review: Season One
* Review: Season Two