August 29, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Defiance”


In its second season, Syfy’s DEFIANCE continued to be erratic, although sometimes in a more satisfying way than in Season 1.  Under the helm of series co-creator and new showrunner Kevin Murphy (replacing fellow co-creator Michael Taylor), Defiance was less bound by its initial efforts to be a neo-western–set in a post-apocalyptic St. Louis shared by humans and alien races–and concentrated instead on its characters and mythology.  This worked particularly well with the show’s albino-esque Castithans, Datak and Stahma Tarr (Tony Curran and Jaime Murray).  Datak, a snobbish mob boss in Season 1, was down on his luck for most of Season 2, living in a flophouse and estranged from his wife, who gloried in her new power over the family business.  The two of them schemed against each other and the rest of Defiance quite entertainingly, and although their son Alak (Jesse Rath) remained something of a drip, Alak’s pregnant human wife Christie (Nicole Munez) proved herself as murderous as a natural-born Tarr by the end of the season.  It was also a good year for the enigmatic Indogene Doc Yewil (Trenna Keating), who grew from being cynical comedy relief to an intriguingly pragmatic villain.

The season’s big swing, however, was also its major failure, as Murphy decided to disrupt the central relationship of Season 1, between human Lawkeeper Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his adopted Irathient daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas).  The goodhumored bond between those two was the most engaging part of Season 1, but they were kept apart for most of the second season, and even when they were together, they were usually at odds.  It developed, as best as some awfully muddled plotting can be reconstructed, that when Irisa had saved Nolan’s life at the end of Season 1, she had been possessed by the spirit of a sentient spaceship, which in the year 831 BC had anointed her and another Irathient as the Chosen Ones of their race, and which now wanted Irisa to make Earth uninhabitable for humans by terraforming the planet for aliens.  She spent much of the season sucking some life force or other out of various people by means of a long tube that protruded out of her mouth, strikingly like the ones used by the vampires on The Strain.

The back-to-back season finale episodes (Hour 1 written by Executive Producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer, Hour 2 by Murphy, both directed by Michael Nankin), attempted to provide a higher degree of spectacle than Defiance usually does, with an elaborate terraformed destruction of New York City.  Unfortunately, Syfy budgets don’t exactly buy a Marvel-movie level of CG, and the sequence looked large but fake.  Even worse, Irisa spent approximately three-quarters of the finale’s two-hour length poking at floating mystical pebbles in the air, which were somehow controlling the weapons destroying the city.  It was all as silly as it sounds.  The finale was also dotted with what seemed like dozens of hallucinations and visions, in the first hour through the eyes of the dying deputy Tommy LaSalle (Dewshane Williams), a sometime love interest of Irisa’s who, truth be told, was no great loss; and then in Hour 2 those appearing to Irisa.  Even the ultimate reunion between Nolan and Irisa back in her right mind didn’t have the impact it should have had.

Elsewhere, plucky former Mayor, former Madam, occasional deputy Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) was manipulated into a romance with secretly evil Earth Republic rep Niles Pottinger (James Murray), and guest star Linda Hamilton showed up as the long-vanished wife of imprisoned Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene), who had troubling but as-yet unexplained plans for her daughter and son-in-law Christie and Alak.

None of it was Defiance at its best, which was too bad, because there had been some very solid hours earlier this season.  A pair of episodes which appeared to bring back Amanda’s sister Kenya (Mia Kirshner), who turned out to be a simulation, was clever and surprisingly touching, and the hour where Amanda had to sub for the absent Nolan to solve a Defiance murder may have felt a little like a pilot for a discarded spin-off, but it was still fun.

Defiance‘s ratings haven’t been stellar, but then nothing on Syfy is these days (in weeks when it doesn’t air a Sharknado movie, the network’s highest rated show is usually its WWE telecast on Friday nights).  The Defiance numbers have at least been steady, and unless production costs (there’s also an expensive game associated with the show) make it untenable to continue, one would think a third season is likely.  On the whole, it’s a fair summer fantasy, although its world continues to be under construction.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."