Defiance: This Summer’s Best Sci-Fi TV Show

defiance second season

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. Continue reading

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A Town & TV Show Called Defiance

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Syfy recently premiered its new sci-fi epic series Defiance, a complex, baffling TV show about aliens and humans trying to get along in a ruined Earth. It’s a bit too complex and not for casual viewers, but it has some potential.

Much of the background for Defiance is never explained onscreen. In fact, I had to go online to its official website to learn it, which helped explain a lot of the show’s lore. It’s a very detailed but regrettably most of it is never mentioned or shown and doing so would help immerse viewers to this intricately crafted world that the show’s creators went out of their way to assemble.

nolan and irisaA few years from now, several, huge alien ships arrive on our planet carrying refugees made up of seven different alien races. Together they’re called the Votans, but the show concentrates on two of these races: the Irathient and the Castithan. The Irathient are vaguely cat-like with their bright irises and slightly bulging eyebrows. They’re very spiritual and independent minded with little regard for traditional law. The Castithan are a race of albinos with shocking white hair and skin. They come off as arrogant and disdainful of other races, including humans and try to preserve their caste-based culture.

The Votans were seeking a new world after their solar system was destroyed. This, of course, led to conflict with the humanity. After a brutal war, both sides reached a ceasefire and chose to share the Earth. One nasty side effect of their arrival is that the world was accidently and partially terraformed, leaving most major cities and landscapes destroyed or unrecognizable. Bizarre, hybrid plant and animal life emerged and mass social and political upheaval threw the world into chaos. The survivors now struggle to make it through the day, while trying to at least tolerate each other.

Defiance takes place in what was once St. Louis, Missouri. The ruins were resettled by a mix of humans and Votan races and renamed Defiance. It’s essentially a crowded Wild West backwater town mixed with elements of Farscape, Firefly and The Road Warrior.

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Despite a crowded lineup of characters, Defiance revolves around five characters, with three of them taking center stage. Running the place is the new mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), who tries to keep things running smoothly and getting all the human and alien factions in town from killing each other. She’s insecure about her position and is trying to earn the townspeople’s respect; at the same time Rosewater has to face the harsh reality of backdoor deals and maintaining composure.

At the end of the pilot episode she hired a drifter, Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), as the sheriff or rather lawkeeper of Defiance. Nolan is your typical Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds type, who looks like Christian Slater’s older brother. He’s a cynical war veteran first seen roaming the countryside with his Irathient adopted daughter Irisa nolan and mayor(Stephanie Leonidas). After passing through Defiance, Nolan went against his bitter nature and decided to stay in town and bumble his way through many dull police cases. His daughter Irisa, who was a war orphan rescued by him, can’t understand why he wants to plant roots in the town and wants to reach Antarctica, a supposed paradise on par with Tahiti. She is exotically pretty and a hothead with a troubled past.

The other two prominent characters are Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) and Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene). Tarr is a nefarious Castithan businessman who runs the town’s underworld. His ambition for political power is surpassed by his cunning wife Stahma (Jaime Murray), who gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money. McCawley is a rival businessman that owns a nearby mine and can’t stand Castithans, namely Tarr.

defiance charactrsEpisodes deal with Nolan trying to keep the peace, while Tarr and McCawley vie with each other and Rosewater. Some of the bland drama comes straight from routine Western dramas. Tarr and McCawley feud, while their children are romantically involved with each other; Nolan has a fling with the town prostitute (Mia Kirshner), who happens to be the mayor’s sister; one episode even borrowed heavily from Stagecoach. On the whole, Defiance has a richly detailed world with an exhaustive backstory, and tries to emulate Firefly or Farscape but it cannot. While the trappings are eye catching, the show’s stock characters and predictable stories hamper it. That is surprising considering that the show’s creators are Rockne S. O’Bannon (Farscape), Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica) and Kevin Murphy (Reaper, Caprica), who all created, produced or wrote some terrific genre shows.

Still, while Defiance isn’t captivating it does have a slow burn quality to it and seems to be carefully building up its storylines. Some stories and developments did hold my attention. It should toss out the uninteresting cop procedural stuff, or go into more detail about the world of Defiance and not leave it up to viewers to track it down. ¬†Or jettison some of the trappings to make viewers want to learn more about the show.

Some TV shows take a while to get its bearings before reaching their potential. Defiance could go either way, hopefully it will find its footing because it’s one of Syfy’s better original offerings of late.

Lewis T. Grove