This summer has had a larger than usual share of genre TV shows, but the best one was Syfy’s Defiance. Its second season took the show and its characters to new places and on the whole it was a vast improvement over its freshman season.
Defiance takes place about forty years into the future in the town of Defiance, which is actually built on the ruins of St. Louis, MO. In the show, several races of alien refugees came to Earth and attempted to terraform the planet and the resulting war ended in a stalemate where humans and aliens are forced to live side by side as they struggle to rebuild society and the planet.
This season saw four major storylines that were skillfully interwoven and mesmerizing to watch as they unfolded.
One had to do with Datak Tarr (Tony Curran), a Castithan mob boss who ruled Defiance’s underworld last season with a vicious fist. After being elected mayor to the town, Datak Tarr allowed the devious Earth Republic (E-Rep) into the town and effectively ceded control of it. He was also jailed for murdering an E-Rep official. This season dealt with Datak dealing with his fall from grace and his attempts to rebuild.
But first he had to deal with his scheming wife Stahma (Jamie Murray), who took over his business and turned out to be better at it than he was. This was a conundrum for Datak because women in the albino-skinned Castithan society have a low ranking and he had to accept the new reality. While he was still calculating and malicious, Datak learned a bit of humility and had to swallow his pride.
The next storyline followed Datak Tarr’s son Alak (Jesse Rath), who is a lot like Michael Corleone. He doesn’t want anything to do with his family’s criminal business and would just be fine doing his DJ job and caring for his human wife, Christie (Nicole Munoz). But as shown in the second season, the two have had marital problems. He cheated on her while Christie struggled in trying to be accepted into his family and had to adopt their alien culture. She even went so far as to secretly cross-dress as a Castithan at an underground nightclub. Her father Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene) also had to deal with having Castithan in-laws out of necessity. Once a prominent mine owner and a rival to Datak, Rafe had his mining business and home taken away by the E-Rep. This forced him to an uneasy alliance with Datak as he sought weapons for an insurrection.
Niles Pottinger (James Murray) is the town’s provisional mayor and the face of the E-Rep in Defiance. As a representative of the E-Rep, he doesn’t have the town’s best interest at mind and has a sordid past. Throughout the season he contends with keeping things running smoothly in the backwater town and with courting the town’s former mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz). Now, she is forced to take over her younger sister’s brothel (after she was killed by Stahma in the first season) and reluctantly accepts a position as Pottinger’s advisor. In this season, Amanda struggles to make peace with her fallen status, while agonizing over her sister’s disappearance and finding out she was killed.
If there was a weak element in the second season of Defiance it had to be with Pottinger. He never came off as a villainous character or had much magnetism unlike the Tarrs. His motives for courting Amanda aren’t clear, especially when it was revealed that he was involved in a plot to have Amanda’s sister recreated genetically using an Indogene alien. A more interesting E-Rep character was Viceroy Mercado (William Atherton), who like Christie, secretly cross-dresses as a Castithan and considers this to be a fetish.
Also more intriguing was following the plight of the Indogene doctor Pottinger used to carry out his scheme. Doc Yewll (Trenna Keating) is basically an alien Dr. Mengele, who tortured and experimented on human men, women and children during the war. Now she is trying to live anonymously in Defiance and keeping her secret safe. She is also haunted by the suicide of her wife, who was guilt-ridden over the experiments. Having a tough exterior, Yewll is ashamed of her past and wants to live peacefully with the humans but is aware that she won’t ever be accepted by them.
The final storyline in Defiance had to do with Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), a young Irathient woman who is the adopted daughter of the independent-minded lawkeeper Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler). He was actually killed last season, but Iriasa had him brought back to life by making a deal with an alien AI in a long-buried spaceship. As part of the bargain, Irisa’s mind and body were taken over by the AI’s nanobots. It was revealed that the AI was part of a scout ship sent to Earth in 831 B.C. to terraform the Earth. Its mission was sabotaged and the ship was buried underneath St. Louis. Now reawakened, the AI wants to complete its mission and towards the end of the second season, the AI, through Irisa, began to carry out its agenda.
This culminated with Irisa reactivating the weaponry and devices that were part of an alien spaceship debris field in near Earth orbit. With horrifying ease, the weapons soon destroyed New York City as an opening salvo. It was also an uncomfortable reminder of 9/11.
It was actually remarkable how the show amped up the stakes with this development. In a way, the rest of the characters’ arcs seemed petty and small in the face of this global event. This catastrophe hopefully will yield to more upheaval in Defiance if it returns for a third season (as of this writing, Syfy hasn’t announced if the show has been renewed or not). Defiance has indeed grown and avoided the sophomore curse thanks to its superb production values and more importantly, the examinations of its complex characters, which were all well performed. It would be a shame if this show isn’t renewed because there are so few sci-fi shows on the air that are as ambitious and multi-layered as Defiance.
Lewis T. Grove