Sheriff Nolan rounds up a posse.
Warning: full episode spoilers follow.
As someone who’s experienced his fair share of multimedia tie-ins to video games, I look for one quality above all else when determining how successful a tie-in is. Does the tie-in tell a story compelling enough to thrive on its own if the video game never existed at all? That’s an especially important question for me, as I have no plans on actually playing the game in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, the answer is a definite yes in this case. This show certainly has its flaws, but it doesn’t need the MMORPG companion as a crutch.
After two episodes, Defiance remains a series where the world and general premise are more compelling than the characters themselves. If a little overly reminiscent of shows like Firefly, Defiance still presents an interesting post-apocalyptic scenario with an eclectic cast of aliens. The characters themselves are archetypal to a fault at times. You’ve got the roguish but goodhearted lead character, his temperamental sidekick/daughter, star-crossed lovers hailing from two warring families, and the idealistic young leader trying to hold everything together. Most of these characters were in dire need of fleshing out after the pilot episode. Unfortunately, only a handful really received the treatment they needed.
The standout character this week was easily Rafe McCawley. The hunt for his son’s killer allowed Rafe to step into the spotlight and show some shades of gray beyond being a controlling father and important businessman. I really enjoyed the quiet scene between Rafe and Joshua in the ruins of Old St. Louis as the two reminisced about life before the Pale War. This episode both fleshed out Rafe’s character and hinted at a darker past in terms of the events that led to his wife’s death. Not to mention the fact that Sheriff Nolan rounding up a posse to hunt a murderer in a mine really played to the show’s sci-fi western elements. It’s almost like having Firefly back on the air.
Another standout character this week was ex-mayor Nicky Riordan. She was a character I barely paid attention to in the pilot until the last-minute reveal that she was embroiled in the conspiracy that nearly led to the town’s destruction. Riordan reminds me very much of Moira Queen from Arrow in that her actions are reprehensible, but her genuine remorse is sufficient enough to paint her as a sympathetic figure regardless. That said, I hope the show doesn’t fall into a pattern of Riordan and her dapper associate launching failed attempts to destroy Defiance every week.
Those were the standout characters, but the rest of the cast tend to be pretty wooden and two-dimensional at this early stage. For being such a major player in the series, it’s disappointing that Mayor Rosewater hasn’t emerged as a more interesting character. Part of the problem is that Julie Benz doesn’t give off much charisma in the role. The various members of the Tarr clan aren’t uninteresting, but they sometimes stick out like a collective sore thumb because of the bizarrely Shakesperean vibe they give off. Characters like Datak Tarr and his wife stand in stark contrast to the generally laid back tone of Defiance. This episode even introduced a pretty blatant Oedipal relationship between Stahma and her son. Eww…
On the other hand, the growing racial tension among the town as Datak and his fellow Castithans flaunt their grotesque religious practices is a welcome wrinkle to the formula. The show has barely begun to explore the relationships among the nine different races inhabiting Defiance, but so far this tension is proving to be one of the show’s strong suits.
This episode also marked a visual improvement over the pilot. The effects weren’t necessarily better, but the smaller scale played more to the show’s strengths. With the pilot, it seemed the reach of the effects team exceeded their grasp during the epic battle sequences and scenes of vehicular carnage. This time around, the focus was more on static shots of Old St. Louis. Even watching a screener disc with unfinished effects, I was impressed with the quality of those scenes, and the quality improved as the finished episode injected more detail and more signs of life into the background. In terms of sound, however, I was less than thrilled at hearing a cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” closing out the episode. Like the Beatles, Nirvana is a sacred cow I’d just as soon not hear used as fodder for film and TV soundtracks, particularly when the lyrics are so “on the nose” in the context of some of the shots.
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.
Defiance has a ways to go before it truly lives up to its potential, and characterization, not plot, needs to be the primary focus for the early part of this season at least. But there certainly is potential with this series, regardless of whether you have any interest at all in the game. This is a show that restores faith that SyFy still has an interest in actually airing science fiction.