When io9 does its "Best TV of 2014" this year, I'm going to vote Defiance for "Most Improved Show." If that category doesn't exist, I'm going to create it. Because while Defiance isn't a masterpiece, it's so much better than it used to be, and this excellent two-part finale showed all the reasons why.
There's so much happening in these two final episodes that we'd be here all day if I tried to recap everything, so I'm not going to try. But here are the broad strokes, beginning with Tommy, who the Kaziri-controlled Irisa knifed last episode, and who Nolan is now dragging by hand back to Defiance. I usually presume that if a character isn't shown dying at the end of the episode — in order to have a big emotional finale — that he/she isn't actually going to die, but Defiance bucks the trend. Nolan spends almost the entire episode hauling Tommy, for an entire night and day and into the night again, only to discover he passed away. A frantic Nolan tries to resuscitate him, but quickly realizes it's useless, and actually breaks down. I've never been impressed with Grant Bowler's acting on this show — it's usually boiled down to "imitation Han Solo" — but damned if watching Nolan allowing himself to break down, with no one else to act tough in front of, isn't genuinely powerful. It's far more touching than anything the show tried to similarly accomplish with Kenya's death.
Speaking of, Pottinger continues his wooing of Amanda by first cooking her dinner, and second capturing Datak and Stahma Tarr, tying them up, dumping them in a silo, handing Amanda a gun, and telling them they killed Kenya. The Tarrs, who have spent most of their time captured screaming at each other, come together under the threat of death and Datak even tries to convince Amanda that Stahma killed Kenya under his orders, so he should be the one to die. Amanda can't pull the trigger and storms out (mostly appalled at how close she come to murder), and finally gets a glimpse of Pottinger's dysfunction when he cannot fathom why she'd be upset at the chance to take revenge on her sister's killers.
After their brush with death, the Tarrs basically forgive each other for various beatings and cruelties and deceptions — with the understanding that Stahma will run the business, while Datak will handle collections and intimidation. Datak is cool with this. Stahma is pleased. And they celebrate by poisoning some of their more disloyal henchmen. This reconciliation is far too pat to really work, but it kind of does, if only because we all really want to see Datak and Stahma finally working with each other, instead of against each other. It'll probably pay off next season.
In lesser importance, Doc — who is still talking to the hallucination of her wife provided by the ego implant — is forced to wander the caverns and comes across the Kaziri itself. The Kaziri tries to recruit Doc, but even Doc knows the Kaziri is bad juju, and takes out her ego implant so the ship can't communicate with her. Also meanwhile, Pilar — a.k.a. Crazy Mrs. McCawley, played by Linda Hamilton — visits Rafe in jail, and promises she's not crazy. I don't think Rafe really believes her, but he tries to, given the alternative is that she's going to do something horrible to their kids again. And speaking of, Pilar visits Christie, who believed her mother was dead. In a show not necessarily known for its fine acting, Christie's reaction to discovering her mom is alive after over a decade stands out as one of the not finest.
But the big news is that Irisa has been playing with rocks. Now I know that doesn't sound particularly impressive, but the rocks are floating in the air in front of her, and the mass of pebbles represent all the Votan ships floating in orbit around the earth. And when Irisa touches them, she activates the ships they represent. And by "activate" I mean "she sends out countless tiny ships that hold tinier pods that blast terraforming purple lasers which destroy what they touch and cause alien vegetation to grow." By which I mean IRISA DESTROYS NEW YORK CITY.
Totally. Not a hoax, not an imaginary tale, in the world of Defiance, NYC is gone. I have to respect Defiance for being willing to make a world-change that massive, even if NY has hardly figured into to the show proper; I just hope that Irisa and the rest of characters don't blow off Irisa's murder (albeit unwilling) of the inhabitants of an entire city next season.
That's more or less "All Things Must Pass," the penultimate episode of season 2. In the finale "I Almost Prayed," Nolan, having returned to Defiance, grabs Mordecai, who is conveniently there and has been having enough visions from Irisa's kiss a few weeks ago that he knows something is up. Amidst the chaos of what seems to be an alien attack — although saner minds than the E-Rep point out that the Votan cities are also being attacked — Nolan grabs Mordecai. See, in a flashback to 831 BC, pre-Irisa and pre-Mordecai (her male Irathient partner) are shown ingesting the two keys (golden and silver) in order to prevent the Kaziri from terraforming the Earth and killing its native species. Pre-Irisa and pre-Mordecai launch all the weird egg things containing people (which is kind of weird, because where the hell did all these aliens go?) and separate, in order to keep the keys away from each other.
Flash-forward to the present, where the Kaziri-controlled Irisa is slowly but methodically destroying the Earth all over again. Now, Nolan has a plan that involves bringing Mordecai and Irisa together, so that he can take the gold key out of Irisa and return her to normal. Doc, who's returned to town and promised to explain how to stop the Kaziri in order to be pardoned for her war crimes, has a plan which is mostly about having a sniper shoot Irisa, which somehow Amanda is the most qualified person to do.
Nolan is not a fan of this plan, but given the fact that entire cities are dying, no one is really concerned about Irisa's safety. In fact, Amanda tells the E-Rep to lock up Nolan because she knows he'll try to stop them — and when Nolan pulls a gun on Wiliam Atherton, Amanda pulls a knife on Mordecai, promising she'll kill him, ruining Nolan's chances of saving Irisa, if he doesn't throw down his gun. Of course, Nolan and Mordecai escape from the jail mere moments later, but this is the kind of conflict between the normally chummy Amanda and Nolan that could pay major dividends in season three.
Even though the entire world is at risk, this doesn't stop Pilar from enacting some sort of crazy plan. First she tries to convince Christie that her half-Votan baby will be scorned in the Earth Republic. Then she tells them about some kind of "Harmony Collective" alien-and-human hippie commune south of the city where everybody craps equality and rainbows, and convinces her and Alak to take a trip there, even though Quentin knows she's made the place up. When the new war distracts them, Pilar knocks Alak out and pulls a gun on her own daughter, forces them in the car, and drives off.
Luckily, a Tarr maid saw the whole thing and tells the new power couple of Datak and Stahma, and after a quick trip to pick up Rafe from Camp Reverie prison, it's time for a Defiance road trip — the results of which we'll have to wait until next season to see, unfortunately. But seeing Datak, Stahma and Rafe in one truck in one purpose does imply a very satisfying storyline coming up.
But back to Irisa and the end of the world. Of course, Amanda is about to shoot Irisa, and, of course, Nolan manages to shoot the sniper rile out of her hands at the last instant. All it takes is Mordecai running over to Irisa for the gold key to jump out of her mouth and into his, and return Irisa to normal — the only problem is that the Kaziri hasn't stopped sending the death spheres to wipe out the planet. So they travel deep into the caverns of old St. Louis into the ancient Votan ship itself, and, despite some last minute mind-fuckery by the Kaziri (by promising to restore Tommy, which of course Irisa feels super-bad about) they manage to launch all the purple-laser death spheres into space where they'll never hurt anybody again, or until the Defiance writers need them again. The caverns and the Kaziri collapse, and the day is saved.
All that's left is for the citizens of Defiance to basically sing the "Yub Nub" song of celebration from the original end of Return of the Jedi, for Amanda to have sex with Pottinger (again, after he tried to give her the gift of murder — go Potts!), for Berlin to force the E-Rep soldiers to Tommy as if he had any impact on their lives, and finally for the camera to pan deep below the surface, where Sukar and all the beings Kazirisa "saved" are in their weird eggs, including Nolan and Irisa. Trapped.
Since Defiance has been building up to this conclusion since the very beginning — not to mention the complete destruction of New York City — the ending can't help but feel anti-climatic. Really, some dude we barely know kisses Irisa and then they turn off a computer and boom, the entire planet is saved. But this season finale is such a better ending than the videogame nonsense of the first season finale that I'm willing to give it quite a bit of slack.
And that's not to mention how excellent the first half of the finale was, or the entire episode before it. This is Defiance at its best — some genuine character moments, some actual surprises and even some real stakes. Defiance has not only improved significantly from last season, it improved mightily over the course of this season, and if it can all maintain this level of quality and moment when/if it returns next season, we and the show could be in good shape indeed.
• Where the hell did Doc get the golden key from in season 1? Certainly Mordecai seemed to have no knowledge of it, let alone it being removed, before these shenanigans. I wonder if that will be answered next season.
• In the first episode, Doc gets the line of the night, speaking to he Kaziri: "Did you just hack my imaginary wife?"
• Second episode line of the night, Datak to Christie after she bitches about all the harm he's caused the family. "It's not like a dropped a whore from the top of the Gateway Arch. What? I thought it was funny." (resumes eating)
• While meeting the Tarrs, Pilar ever-so-casually reminds Stahma that she used to be one of Rafe's servants, and happens to mention Stahma blew Rafe as well. I didn't realize that the Tarrs rise to fame had been so recent, but more importantly Pilar is a stone cold bitch daaaaammmmnnnn
• Doc, upon returning to Defiance in the second episode, is forced to explain to Amanda why she built a Kenya clone. While Pottinger watches in terror, Doc cunningly says she was a spy for the E-Rep in the Votanis Collective, and they wanted to make a clone to basically have leverage over Amanda for political purposes, and makes up something about Pottinger saving the day. Amanda buys it, and suddenly Pottinger owes Doc a pretty huge favor.
• SEASON 3 TARR-MCCAWLEY ROAD TRIP! WOO!