Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees wouldn't mind spending her existence in eternal darkness if she got to have the spiffy wardrobe sported by the vampires in this cult favorite.
"Let him brood. It's always been his way."—Janette, speaking of Nick
Fans of this cult hit series will rejoice to see the return of television's original do-gooder vampire with a guilty conscience. Season Two is considered by many to be the series' best, and in addition to providing a satisfying range of creative stories, this season sees the introduction of new cast member Natsuko Ohama (replacing Gary Farmer) as well as the directorial debuts of stars Geraint Wyn Davies and John Kapelos.
Facts of the Case
Nick Knight (Geraint Wyn Davies, Airwolf) is a Toronto homicide detective with a secret: He's a vampire. After centuries of preying on humans in the company of his powerful sire, Lucien LaCroix (Nigel Bennett, Legends of the Fall), and the seductive vampire Janette (Deborah Duchêne), he has determined to redeem himself. No longer a killer of mortals, he seeks to protect them—and, he hopes, regain a mortal existence. Aiding him in this quest is Natalie (Catherine Disher), a plucky pathologist and devoted friend who alone of his mortal acquaintances knows his secret. As he and his lovable slob of a partner, Detective Schanke (John Kapelos), work under the strict eye of Captain Amanda Cohen (Natsuko Ohama) to bring killers to justice, Nick is plagued by recurring memories of his bloodstained, bloodthirsty past—and the return of LaCroix, who wants to bring Nick back to his vampiric ways.
Season Two contains 26 episodes (44 minutes each) on six discs, plus extras on Disc Six:
I have to admit that it took some time for Forever Knight to grow on me. The cheesy production values, the low-budget special effects, and the amateurish level of some of the acting alienated me at first. But s an addictive show, as its legions of devoted fans have discovered for themselves. Humor and drama are balanced well, the mix of cop drama and vampire fantasy is surprisingly effective, and as the characters developed over the course of this season I found myself truly caring about them.
One of the main stumbling blocks for me initially was the show's star, Geraint Wyn Davies, largely because he looks nothing like my idea of the Byronic, tormented vampire he's portraying. His blond, boyish, almost cuddly looks seem completely at odds with his character's dark past and tortured conscience. Fortunately, in addition to his guy-next-door looks Wyn Davies possesses a handsome voice, and that asset—honed no doubt by his theatrical training—helps lend him the necessary gravitas. He takes the role seriously enough to give it credibility without descending into melodramatic excess. Likewise, he strikes a good balance between dramatic intensity and sophisticated ease, showing more intensity in many of the flashbacks to his dark past, yet holding back more in the present-day scenes that make up the bulk of each episode, showing us a man who knows (and is) more than he's telling. This lightness of touch sometimes makes Nick seem a tad too chipper, but it's a nice change from the rest of the cast, which by and large tends to overact.
Two actors whose broader performances actually work quite well, however, are John Kapelos, as Schanke, and especially Nigel Bennett as the deliciously sinister LaCroix. As the wisecracking schmoe Detective Schanke (fittingly pronounced "skanky"), Kapelos is just right: His character, though something of a cliché, is always enjoyable, and Kapelos and Wyn Davies create a sense of camaraderie that helps lighten the sometimes angst-laden plot lines. Even more enjoyable is Bennett's LaCroix, who functions—much as Anne Rice's Lestat did for Louis in Interview with a Vampire—as Nick's father figure, corruptor, mentor, and nemesis. Bennett ably conveys the complexities that elevate LaCroix above the level of the conventional villain, and his theatricality, rather than being a detriment, is part of what makes him effective: He registers menace and black humor with equal relish. Thanks to Bennett's striking and charismatic presence, the character never becomes laughable, even when he approaches camp. (It also helps that he is never burdened with the dreadful wigs that Wyn Davies sports in some flashbacks.)
Besides these strong performances, one of the main strengths of the show is the way it, like the best vampire fiction that paved the way for it, uses the figure of the vampire as a way to explore humanity. Nick's desire to become mortal again opens up intriguing questions about the nature of humanity itself: When are we at our most human? And which of those qualities are valuable enough to lead an immortal to envy them? The series also gives us a more sophisticated take on the classic good-versus-evil struggle by making the vampire himself embody impulses for both good and evil. Nick's battle against his vampiric instincts and his championing of not just a mortal but a legal code of ethics results in some often thought-provoking story lines. The bizarrely familial relationship that Nick, Janette, and LaCroix share also raises the series above the level of potboiler. Historically, vampirism has been an effective metaphor for writers to explore familial relationships and questions of heredity's influence on character, since it is about—literally—one's blood relatives. Nick is struggling against his blood inheritance, bestowed upon him by his "father," LaCroix, just as many mortal children must struggle to separate themselves from the influence of their parents as they try to attain selfhood. The relationship between Nick and LaCroix is a particularly powerful one, and episodes like "Father's Day" are surprisingly affecting in their depiction of the father-son bond that the two very different men share. The scenes between Nick and LaCroix in this episode have real emotional resonance and give their ongoing relationship unexpected complexity and depth.
Foremost among the many other standout episodes from this season is "Stranger Than Fiction," in which a female author of popular vampire novels—a character evidently inspired by Anne Rice—becomes the target of a stalker who may be a vampire. Shy, retiring Emily Weiss (Larissa Lapchinski) shows remarkable insight into the vampire mind, which results a strong romantic current of yearning between her and Nick, at the same time that it attracts the hostility of vampires like Janette, who fear that she will blow their cover. The romantic angle lends the story special poignancy, yet this episode also features some of the biggest laughs of the season, courtesy of fantasy sequences (replacing the usual historical flashbacks) in which Nick, Emily, Natalie, and even Schanke imagine themselves as the major characters in Emily's latest vampire romance. Another romantic episode, "Be My Valentine," offers some welcome tender moments between Nick and Natalie, as well as a poignant (and surprising) glimpse into LaCroix's past. The delightful "Partners of the Month" spotlights Schanke and gives Kapelos a chance to stretch.
"Undue Process" is a particularly strong story in its examination of the moral grey areas that the desire for vengeance leads to; when Natalie's goddaughter is murdered, she wants vengeance, but Nick knows firsthand what it's like to be on both sides of a vengeance killing. Both Natalie and Nick have to make some difficult choices in this episode, and Catherine Disher's performance is one of her best. Some effective plot twists as well as the thought-provoking philosophical angle make this a standout episode. "Curioser and Curioser" stands out by transforming the characters with which we've become familiar. After a confrontation with some robbers in which an innocent bystander is killed, Nick is suffused with so much guilt that his world transforms itself, and all of a sudden he finds himself, like Alice through the looking glass, in a world where everything is the opposite of what it should be. The laid-back Schanke is now a brisk, efficient cop who bosses him around; Natalie is the power-suited captain, and LaCroix is found murdered at the radio station where he broadcasts as the "Night Crawler." It's a perceptive and imaginative exploration of the power of guilt, and the only shortcoming is the pat, too-hasty ending.
Unfortunately, some episodes stand out for failing to fulfill their potential. The episode in which Jack the Ripper appears has a couple of intriguing twists, but the physical presence of the Ripper is so ludicrous that the episode's tension vanishes like a ghost at daybreak. "Dead End," in which Nick subjects himself to a near-death experience in an attempt to confront his guilty past, has a terrific premise that is handled clunkily. "Blood Money," the season finale, has a blandly moralistic plot that is only partly redeemed by Wyn Davies's stylish directing and a guest appearance by Colm Feore (who engages in a swashbuckling fencing match with Wyn Davies). A much stronger ending for the season would have been "A More Permanent Hell," directed by John Kapelos, which depicts the panic that breaks out when a scientist reveals that the Earth will be obliterated by a meteor in three months. By and large the episodes that focus more on police work failed to hold my interest as much as those that focus on vampiric or relationship issues.
The transfer Forever Knight receives makes its television origins clear: The image is hazy and busy with grain, looking scarcely sharper than VHS. This is not a satisfying visual experience. It's a particular pity since this is a show that worked hard for visual flair, as is particularly evident in the use of dramatic lighting, bold color, and creative camera angles; see particularly the episode "Curioser and Curioser," helmed by former cameraman Jon Cassar, for a prime example of the series' visual punch. The quality of the audio, which is spread out attractively in a stereo mix, is much stronger; although there are instances of murkiness and buzz, this is by and large a clear and immersive track. Particularly effective is the almost subaural presence of heartbeat sounds whenever one of the vampires is working a mind-whammy on a mortal.
Fans who were (justly) indignant at the absence of extras in the Season One DVD release will be overjoyed that there is a respectable bundle of supplementary material on this set. We get four commentaries: two with Nigel Bennett, two with Wyn Davies and series creator James D. Parriott. Wyn Davies and Parriott also appear together for the "About the Show" featurette, which runs close to 20 minutes and describes the show's origin, filming, cult following, and influences (which, not surprisingly, include the work of Anne Rice). Wyn Davies is every bit as charismatic and charming here as he is in character as Nick. The two also take the screen to answer fan questions, a welcome feature but a sadly short one at under eight minutes. There is a gallery of trailers for similarly themed releases, and, as with the first-season set, there is a case insert with plot synopses for every episode.
The four commentaries are not as meaty as one might like; Bennett's, in particular, are so sparse that I was led to wonder if he had wandered off to play a few hands of poker from time to time. Entire scenes, sometimes two in a row, will pass without so much as a word from him. The positive side of his reticence is that he retains a certain mystique that complements his character, but I was disappointed that he had so little to offer. The two commentaries by Wyn Davies and Parriott contain plenty of pauses, too, but they are much livelier on the whole; the two men enjoy reminiscing and joking together, and it's fun to hear Wyn Davies fishing for compliments on his directorial choices in "Blood Money."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's impossible to look back at Forever Knight now without seeing it through the prism of the show it paved the way for: Angel, the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both feature a brooding vampire hero who fights crime while seeking redemption for his evil past; both make use of frequent historical flashbacks to fill in the protagonist's back story and echo the present-day storylines; both series even use a mournful solo cello to launch their title themes. Sadly, the inevitable comparisons only highlight how superior Angel was in production values, the level of wit in the writing, and—let's be brutally honest—all-around acting quality. Forever Knight should certainly get credit for establishing so many elements of the formula that Angel adopted, but it does suffer by comparison.
Likewise, it's impossible to discuss Forever Knight without acknowledging its cheesiness. Doubtless due in part to budget restrictions, there's a distinct whiff of fromage to many elements of the show: the vampire flying effects (kept to a minimum in Season Two, fortunately), some action sequences, and definitely some of the acting. Deborah Duchêne and Catherine Disher try hard, and I warmed to them over the course of this season, but the sad fact is that neither is a particularly good actress. Natsuko Ohama takes the deadpan nature of her character to an extreme; she seems to have only one expression. Many of the guest actors are merely adequate, although there are some pleasant exceptions. (In fact, Denise Virieux, who plays the strong-willed vampire Serena in "Baby Baby," would have been a much better casting choice for Janette, being far superior in screen presence to Duchêne.) There are also many logical flaws—especially in the inconsistent rules of vampirism and the depiction of police operating procedure—that sometimes hinder one's ability to suspend disbelief. Fans of more recent vampire television, from Buffy to the slick British miniseries Ultraviolet, may find it difficult to overlook the cheesy aspects of Forever Knight.
Forever Knight may not be as glossy and technically sophisticated as its successors, but it helped to advance modern vampire storytelling. The perceptive and often compassionate way the series examines the forces that corrupt and embitter us—that can turn us into monsters, so to speak—raises this series above the conventional good-versus-evil horror yarn. The series is also provocative in portraying the justice system from the perspective of a character who lived for centuries above the law and now must reconcile the pragmatism of his kind with legal technicalities and bureaucracy. Forever Knight has its flaws, but it does what every good vampire story should do: It helps us understand who we are, and it entertains us along the way.
Nicholas de Brabant, alias Nick Knight, has paid his debt to society through his exemplary work protecting the citizens of Toronto. He will, however, remain on probation until the release of Season Three.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentaries on Two Episodes by Series Creator James D. Parriott and Actor Geraint Wyn Davies
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