July 9, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Defiance”


DEFIANCE never really got much momentum going in its first season, and although there were quite a few major developments in tonight’s season finale, events clearly meant to be shattering and dramatic, it all felt rushed and a little desperate to set the stage for next year.  (Despite unexceptional ratings, the series has already been renewed for Season 2.)  To begin with, there was the complicated premise, which the show never dealt with in a full or satisfying way.  We entered the action in 2046, 15 years after a war between humans and various alien races ended with an uneasy peace.  Mankind was now co existing with the extremely pale Castithans, the quilted-skin Indogenes and the red-haired, broad-nosed Irathiens, none of whom particularly trust any of the others.  Meanwhile, the toll of the war has turned the United States into a set of frontier governments, some of them small and self-supporting like the city of Defiance (which was once upon a time St. Louis) but all living under the threat of the increasingly centralized, tyrannical Earth Republic taking over.  (Let’s assume there’s no allegory intended here about contemporary Big Government.)  Into all this were dropped former soldier, former outlaw Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), appointed Defiance’s Lawkeeper by Mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), and Nolan’s adopted Irathien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas).  And all of that just traces the show’s events through the pilot.

We don’t know what was going on behind the scenes at Defiance (although two of the show’s three co-creators, Rockne S. O’Bannon and Michael Taylor, won’t be back for Season 2–Kevin Murphy, who wrote the season finale, will remain), but there seemed to be quite a few false starts and changes of direction throughout these 12 episodes.  For much of the season, the show’s main villain appeared to be ex-Mayor Nicolette Riordan (Fionnula Flanagan), who seemed nasty enough, but far from formidable.  It was only toward the end of the season that she was unceremoniously killed off, but then it turned out that her killer, Indogene Doc Yewll (Trenna Keating) wasn’t the Big Bad either.  It didn’t even turn out that rotten, scheming Castithans Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) and his wife Stahma (Jaime Murray), were the ones to fear, although both were plenty ruthless as Datak took the Mayoralty from Amanda and Stahma engineered the murder of her lover, town madam (and Amanda’s sister) Kenya (Mia Kirshner, until tonight a series regular).  The Earth Republic turns out to be the real problem, but we’ve never even met any of its senior officials, so they’re just an evil bureaucracy for now.

Perhaps the show’s signature failure has been its treatment of Irisa.  Her loving, bickering relationship with Nolan was the most promising part of the pilot, and one would have expected the show’s producers to keep them together, not to mention front and center, as much as possible.  But more often than not, the two just had a couple of scenes together in any given episode.  During the last stretch of the season, it turned out that Irisa was Defiance‘s version of The Chosen One, with extremely fake-looking CG tendrils that came out of her body and some kind of unexplained bond with a secret, potentially world-destroying weapon that’s been hidden, perhaps for millennia, beneath the local mines, variously sought and hidden by all sides.  In tonight’s finale, it turned out that Irisa’s mystical powers allowed her to bring Nolan back from the dead, and we can safely assume that although she plunged into the mine at the climax, some version of her will survive.  That version, though, will apparently be some kind of goddess, far from the likable, spunky teenager she started out to be.

Despite all the confusion and general underperformance, there are promising aspects to Defiance.  If the show can ever find its way back to Nolan and Irisa, they make a strong foundation for the show.  It’s been a pleasure all season to watch Graham Greene, as local mine-owner Rafe McCawley, play a big-scaled, vital role that isn’t about being Native American.  Curran and especially Murray have been interestingly evil at times.  Although there are clear budget limitations (Michael Nankin, director of the season finale, seemed to put half his budget into the episode’s last semi-spectacular shot of the Earth Republic invading Defiance), the multitude of alien races certainly allows for plenty of narrative choices and possibilities.

Maybe that’s the problem with Defiance–with so many possible areas for focus, it hasn’t been able to settle on any.  Reportedly, Season 2 will make more use of the videogame version of the story that was developed in conjunction with the TV show (but not launched until this season was already written), and perhaps that will improve things, as will having a concrete, continuing source of villainy in the Earth Republic.  Defiance hasn’t yet found its best self, but it’ll be worth another visit when it returns in June 2014.



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."