By Damon Martin – Editor/Lead Writer
Follow on Twitter @DamonMartin
When it comes to original series on television, every network has a certain niche to fill.
With HBO, the dramas push the envelope and run away with Emmy nominations by the busload, while being produced by a family of creators spawned time over time from the backdrop of the last great show come and gone on the network.
FX is a network that targets edgy and original scripted shows, and whether they are gripping, white-knuckle thrillers or fall off the couch hilarious, and they make you cringe in that good way that only well made television can accomplish.
Then you turn to SyFy and by name alone there’s always going to be an intended audience this network strives to reach every single time they launch a show. While like any network they’ve had more than their fair share of misses (Tremors and Flash Gordon come to mind), SyFy has also managed to produce some true classics of American television filmmaking (Battlestar Galactica, which was voted one of the top 100 best written shows of all time).
During the 2012 San Diego Comic Con, SyFy had one mission while promoting at the annual convention—convince everyone that a new series called Defiance would blend a television show with a highly anticipated video game release, and somehow they’d make it all work flawlessly.
Now my first thought seeing these promos at Comic-Con gave me nightmare visions of this TV show/video game combo looking like the SyFy version of a Uwe Boll flick (that’s never a good thing). So as I was bombarded with material all throughout my trip to San Diego, I moderately ignored what I was being spoon fed, all the while still a bit curious what this show was all about.
Months later and the promotional machine picked up again and commercials for Defiance started running on TV. The show starred Grant Bowler (best known to me as Coot from True Blood), along side Julie Benz (Dexter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Stephanie Leonidas. The selling point for me to tune in the first time, however, were the addition of names like Kevin Murphy and Michael Taylor, who had both worked on Battlestar Galactica as well as its offshoot series Caprica.
With writers like these at the helm, I decided to give Defiance a shot and see what this series was all about.
Right away I felt like the show was already on cruise control with a predictable storyline as lead characters Nolan and Irisa just happened to crash into a town called Defiance after being scavengers on the outside world. Nolan was the bad boy with a heart of gold raising an alien daughter on this foreign version of Earth that was ravaged by an intergalactic war that was never quite explained.
Still I stuck around for future episodes and as the show started to unfold, I became more and more invested in the characters and the development of the storylines. Nolan was a little too cliché in terms of his portrayal as a war time savage that reformed his ways, but his interactions with his adopted daughter Irisa kept him interesting despite not much substance on the surface.
The supporting cast really began to steal the show, however, as the season moved forward. The mayor of the town Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) was a do-gooder who kind of had political aspirations thrust upon her before she even really knew how to do her job, while her sister Kenya (played by the criminally underused Mia Kirshner) just so happened to run the local bar/brothel.
Another layer was added when big bad Datak Tarr (played by Tony Curran) and his wife Stahma (Jaime Murray) popped on the scene, with both clutching for power that they sought for so desperately after being considered lesser citizens on their former world. A few more characters were added in to fill the cast and the stew the resulted was a science fiction show that dabbled in real emotion, an interweaving complexity and human frailty.
As the season wore on it was clear that the real focus on this show was landing in the lap of the character Irisa, who had been tortured in her young life before Nolan rescued her from her captors. She was a damaged girl who didn’t know how to accept love and affection, but also had deeper secrets that were revealed as each episode unfolded.
She was some sort of conduit for a great weapon that could potentially be unleashed on earth and it was clear that everybody left on this big blue marble wanted to harness that for their own good. It was a great picture painted by the writers and producers about that eternal struggle for those in power who just want to be more powerful.
Suddenly as the season moved forward and Datak Tarr started to unleash his own political ambitions to take over the town of Defiance, you realized that he was just as brutally flawed as Irisa, but not nearly the dark force that he was made out to be in the early part of the show. He wanted power because he wanted respect, not because he wanted to see the world burn just to show off what he was capable of doing.
In many ways, Datak was the perfect symbol of the lower class in America, who constantly struggle to find their piece of the pie. Datak was once considered the gum on the bottom of the shoe of the rich and powerful, but as he killed, maimed and brutalized his way into power he realized that not only did he like it, but now he demanded the respect that came along with it. He’s like Occupy Wallstreet for this new world accept he’s not afraid to challenge authority with a big sword of his own.
While Datak was grabbing for everything he could hold, the one piece of his empire he could never control was his wife Stahma, who was also making a power play of her own. She was the dutiful wife one minute, but quietly made moves around the chess board just setting up the time when she could strike and call checkmate. During one episode, Nolan took notice of Stahma quietly playing puppetmaster from behind the scenes and noted that she really was the one he needed to keep an eye on and not so much her husband.
The beautiful part about this show was the way it paralleled another great drama that never got the chance to receive the support it should have had—former CBS show Jericho.
In many ways, Defiance was set up with much of the same premise. A town cut off from the world forced to work together to survive in a very new dynamic. Even those that were fighting for their own good, ultimately still wanted the town to survive and flourish.
It was much the same for Defiance during season one as the early part of the series set up characters like Datak to be the bad guy, but as the show developed he was actually fighting for the greater good (even if that wasn’t what was actually good for the town), and he was not some mega-maniacal demigod hell bent on ruling the world.
If there was one complaint to be made about Defiance during season one it was the lack of backstory revealed about this new world that humanity and a slew of new alien races were living in together. All of the information can be found (as I discovered) when looking at the SyFy website set up about the show. To my shock it was almost like an entire season’s worth of material to read over about how everything got to this point, but I realized that part of the show’s charm was the slow burn of revelation and not heaping out super sized portions of information every, single episode.
What happened to Earth during a great alien war wasn’t as important as where everyone was going from here on out. The war happened, but what’s next?
All told, Defiance season one was a great adventure that created interesting characters and a told a riveting story. It’s not Battlestar Galactica just yet, but it’s a solid effort that will keep me coming back when the returns in 2014.
Oh and as for the videogame element—it seems there were plenty of crossovers as noted on the website for the show, but the best part was I never skipped a beat not playing the game. The showrunners were smart enough to create a new element by having the game launch alongside the show, but never interweaving things so much to leave the viewing only audience behind or depending on a built-in game players to watch the show.
Defiance season two returns to SyFy in June 2014