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Friday, July 12, 2013

DEFIANCE Not "Broken"

Article first published as DEFIANCE Not "Broken" on TheTVKing.

At the start of the season finale of SyFy's Defiance, "Everything Is Broken," one assumes that the biggest threat facing the titular town is the presumably stolen election by Datak Tarr (Tony Curran). How strange, then, that by the end of the hour, Datak is an heroic protector of the settlement, and the threat they are facing is much, much greater.

The danger of the Earth Republic is not something introduced at the last minute, but is instead a shadowy entity oft mentioned, but rarely seen. It doesn't come out of nowhere, but when it makes its play here, it is unexpected so soon, since we do not yet know the players involved in that organization. Because of this, it is painted in a very black-and-white, stereotypical way in "Everything Is Broken," which hopefully with change in season two, once we learn more about the individuals who matter in the group.

Datak is someone viewers might think they know, but may be surprised to see the noble side of him. We know his race cares about money and manipulation, but while we are told pride is also paramount, it's not something really seen in a big way 'til now. Datak is content to work with the Earth Republic to seize the mayor's office and the mines, but they think they can buy him as their puppet, and that is where they are wrong. He is too proud to bow down, and assumes he is in control of Defiance, not them. When they try to pull a fast one on Datak, he strikes back violently.

It's hard to believe the Earth Republic won't just execute Datak on the spot, but that seems unlikely from a storytelling perspective because he is a rich character whose new side has just been exposed. He is also someone who wields a lot of control of the townsfolk, and his absence would create a large power vacuum. Instead, there will likely be a revolt against the Earth Republic, and whether Datak is instrumental in the cause, or a symbol to fight for, he will be involved.

If Datak were ever to go down, it would finally give the chance for his wife, Stahma (Jaime Murray) to flourish. She says that she is content standing behind him, and seems happy with her own earned power and games. However, she is also very clearly still subservient to her husband. Murray does a fantastic job of making Stahma complex and alien, interweaving themes of love and fear within the chemistry she has with Curran, so one is never quite sure when Stahma is posturing or when she truly believes what she claims to believe. One thing is certain, though, is that she could easily handle herself in a leadership position should the opportunity arise.

Murray is not the only one doing an amazing job of creating new perspectives. The writing and acting on Defiance make the alien characters seem far more exotic and foreign than in most science fiction enterprises. It's not just the prosthetics, but how these beings see the world that sets them apart. If there's one thing Defiance is doing right (and I would argue there is far more than one thing), it is creating the true tapestry of extraterrestrial races.

Stahma is devoted to Datak. She not only poisons Kenya (Mia Kirshner) to atone for her betrayal, but she stands by Datak's side as the Earth Republic soldiers move on. At both times, Stahma has the chance to escape Datak to her own benefit, but chooses him instead. No matter what we see between them, theirs is a real marriage.

I don't think Kenya is dead either, by the way, as we don't see the body post-poison. More likely, she is tied up somewhere and will be used as a bargaining chip if Defiance is wrestled back from the Earth Republic quickly. If not, she will probably be freed to fight alongside the others.

Of course, there may be no need for the citizens to rise up because Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) is in control of a very powerful weapon. It is a shocking payoff to her arc this year, and allows the character to step up in a big, impressive way. We don't know for sure what Irisa can do with her new power, but I'm excited to find out, and surely she will use it to protect those she cares about, and by extension, Defiance.

I'm torn on the decision to make Doc Yewll (Trenna Keating) a good guy. It's a little predictable that the gruff physician is kind at heart. But I really like the story of redemption, that she is once very, very bad, and now wants to change, something you don't expect from the type of character she is painted as. And others have already been revealed to be secretly evil, so we don't need her to be as well. Also, Keating somehow manages to get past the heavy makeup and deliver the kind of break out performance that deserves recognition, and by keeping her with the heroes, it allows the character to continue on the show. So the path she is on is an interesting one.

"Everything Is Broken" stops short of permanently killing any of the main players, including Nolan (Grant Bowler), even though we think he is dead at one point, and he gets a very moving death scene. On one hand, this feels like a cheat, as most shows will strive to keep the main cast intact, lowering the stakes of danger, even with the plot calls for death. On the other, Defiance has assembled a fantastic ensemble, and it's hard to imagine the character-driven series without any one of them. To truly be great, Defiance will have to sacrifice a main player or two in the near future. But for now, this can be excused, since the show works so well as is, and a number of important recurring parts have fallen prior to this finale.

The only real complaint I have about "Everything Is Broken" is the scene in which Nolan and Irisa are running out of the tent with guns, ducking behind vehicles. It feels designed solely to match up with the video game, increasing the cross marketing between the Defiance series and interactive experience. But it goes too far while doing so, feeling staged and forced, the direction and movements of the characters not seeming natural for the scene.

Other than that, I am extremely pleased with the first season of Defiance, a show that SyFy should be proud of, and look forward to its return next year, as it has been renewed.

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