A murder mystery sparks a wave of precognitive visions in Irisa.
Warning: full episode spoilers follow.
Three episodes in, my overall opinion of Defiance hasn’t changed much from the pilot. The series benefits from a strong premise and interesting world, but apart from a handful of standout characters, the majority of the cast are dull and two-dimensional. And though “The Devil in the Dark” offered some solid character growth for Irisa and her fellow Irathients, the rest of Defiance’s residents suffered through a pretty quiet installment.
My favorite scene in this episode was actually the opening one. Seeing the jogger lovingly caress his carefully maintained tennis shoes and attempt something as normal and mundane as jogging in this post-apocalyptic landscape really painted a picture of the world in a way epic battles and and shots of alien technology simply don’t. Defiance is often at its best when the show allows the visuals and facial work alone to tell the story. Like this shot, for instance:
From there, the plot quickly broke out into a murder mystery as the poor jogger was sliced to ribbons by a mysterious creature. The episode took on a heavy CSI vibe for a while, to the point where I half expected a Who song to kick in when Irisa said, “He should have run faster.” For the most part, this mystery was uninspired and not very compelling. The writers didn’t take the time to build the mystery before revealing the culprit. The sex scene involving Kenya entertaining a client with a gravy fetish was also a bit weird and random.
Nor were the Hellbugs very effective as the monsters of the week. As strong as the visual effects were last week, in terms of depicting the underground ruins of Old St. Louis, they were far less effective in rendering these giant, carnivorous insects. They always seemed out of place alongside the actors, particularly during Datak’s brief, but awkward, dinnertime fight scene. As for the final underground showdown, the entire sequence seemed to go out of its way to remind viewers that they were watching a show tied to a video game. The “mission” could easily have been pulled straight from the Defiance game or any similar MMORPG. I’d much rather the series move away from material like that, as these first few episodes have suggested big action scenes really aren’t the show’s forte. It was also a bit disappointing that his was the second episode in a row to use the mines as a set piece. This world is far too diverse and unexplored for the show to be hitting the same beats so early on.
But the entire murder mystery was mostly smokescreen for the underlying conflict involving Irisa’s visions and Rynn’s motivations for her attacks. That material was more effective. I was initially confused as to why Irisa was having visions and whether she was actually present at the time of the murder of Rynn’s family. But eventually it became clear that the nature and reason for her visions will be an ongoing mystery, and it’s one I’m looking forward to see play out. The writers did a nice job of shedding some light on Irathient culture, their conflicts with the other species and groups in Defiance, and generally elevating that group into something more than just minor villains.
And it’s strong character material like that which gives me hope for the future of the series. Right now the cast is large, but only a handful are receiving the focus and attention they need. Too many recurring players, such as Mayor Rosewater and Tommy the faithful deputy, have almost no personality or quirks. Meanwhile, a lot of the material involving the Tarr and McCawley families, is quickly growing redundant. I think “The Devil in the Dark” proved that any and all of these characters have strong potential lingering beneath the surface. The question is how long we’re going to have to wait before that potential is tapped for all the major characters.
Jesse is a writer for various IGN channels. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.