Well. “The Devil in the Dark” summed up Defiance pretty well there, didn’t it? We have about 50% straight-up copying of basic tropes and specific scifi series, about 40% of nonsense bordering on stupidity, and then 10% of inspired weirdness that may be brilliant, but it’s so mired in everything else it’s tough to tell.
Let me put it this way: This episode is about a person whose simple, peasant-like parents were murdered right in front of her, and then comes back years later for revenge (i.e., the plot of about 25% of all westerns ever made). There’s a straight-up copy of the chestburster scene from Alien. We have a young person with mysterious visions who turns out to have a generically named power everyone puts “The” in front of. And then the episode turns into Starship Troopers, complete with a gross giant bug alien (although, thankfully, it doesn’t look as much like a disapproving sphincter than Starship Troopers’ Brain Bug did).
But think about how those scenes were used. The Irathient who comes back to avenge her parents’ death is actually the bad guy. The chestbuster scene happens while a dude is having super-weird masochistic food-bondage sex with the prostitute Kenya (regular sex would have been a decent twist, but the foodplay makes it extra weird). Sure, Irisa discovers she has “The Sight,” an elaborately goofy Irathient ritual gets performed and she smokes a Space Hookah, and then she can see into past events, but this ceremony — and it was a long goddamn ceremony — is presided over by what is for all intents and purposes a shirtless bodybuilder wearing a 1920s football helmet.
The Starship Troopers thing — well, man, the episode pretty much exactly turns into Starship Troopers without virtually no differences; they even wear close facsimiles of the soldiers’ helmets — but think about how the episode started: Two full minutes of a dude carefully taking his ludicrously clean red Adidas running shoes from a special compartment in his car, and then slowly and ritually putting them on. It’s so fucking weird. It’s like David Lynch is in disguise, on set. He has to maintain his cover, or he’ll get kicked off, and he doesn’t want to get kicked off. So he’s determined to make Defiance as insane as he dares, so each episode ends up with these few, completely bizarre instances. Hey, if you have another theory, I’d love to hear it.
As for the episode’s actual plot, it doesn’t make any damn sense, and not in the fascinating way. Several years ago, two humans killed two peaceful Irathients, but their daughter Rynn managed to slip away. The daughter becomes one of the Spirit Warriors, the motorcyclin’ Irathients from the pilot, while the two horrible murderers have become what appear to be peaceful joggers and bakers, who have completely submerged their past lives committing horrible acts of violence for real estate. They got better!
That’s until Rynn comes back with an elaborate plan to get revenge on the humans who killed her parents, Rafe McCawley (because he bought the land the humans stole, I guess, although he had no way of knowing what happened) and then the entire town all of lived in, just for kicks. This plan involves using Hellbugs, which are basically 3-feet-tall giant crabs with Sarlacc Pits for faces (pre-Special Edition), and spraying the certain items of the murderers with Hellbug pheromones. And the shirt of McCawley’s daughter, for some reason.
This is all exceedingly dumb, but I’ll get back to that in a second. The other part of the story — well, that and Christie McCawley and her dad getting back together, whoopee — is Irisa having weird seizures, complete with brief glimpses of events and people, which Nolan claims is PTSD. It’s not, of course; it’s that she has The Sight, which she unlocks fully by having the bogus ceremony with the tophatted Irathian leader of the Spirit Riders (who, in all fairness, seems like an all right dude now). She uses it to see both Rynn’s parents getting murdered by their two victims, and where Rynn is now.
She’s down yet another mineshaft (go figure) with the whole Hellbug hive, the giant
Brain Bug Matron Hellbug, prepping the destruction of Defiance by getting a lot of Hellbug juice. Nolan, Irisa, Deputy Tommy and Tophat put on their best Starship Trooper replica helmets, head down their, grab Rynn, and blow the place up. Case closed.
Now let's go back to Rynn’s scheme, because I have a few questions:
• Were there not several million easier ways to kill these two men? Ways that would be more personal, and thus infinitely more satisfying? Ways that didn’t not involve entering a cave full of giant, killer bugs on multiple occasions?
• Why get revenge on McCawley? And if you wanted revenge, why kill his obviously completely innocent daughter? And really, why destroy the town? Who has a loved one killed, and then blame his entire zip code?
• And if you’re going to kill the whole town anyways, why make multiple trips? Why not just kill the whole town at the very beginning and save a lot of time and effort?
• How did Rynn know where the bugs were? If the bugs eat marrow, why weren’t they attacking people before? If the bugs had to leave the mines to attack those specific targets, how did no one spot them as they traipsing across town to find their prey?
• Last but certainly not least, how did a bug get inside Sex-Food Guy’s stomach to burst out? How did the crabs get a baby crab into this dude’s stomach without him noticing? Did the crabs sneak into his room at night, slip a few fertilized eggs under his morning waffles, and then sneak back out?
This episode was pretty bad, no question. I still think Defiance has the capacity to be good — maybe even great, although this looks less likely each new episode — but its clearly going to take some time. Let the creators get their jitters out, stop trying to cram the scifi down our throats, stop trying to show everything about the crazy new world of Defiance, and most of all, stop having expensive CG battles for expensive CG battles’ sake. Tell a story about these characters, and let them actually develop. Let the mythology come out naturally. Stop bogarting shit from every single scifi franchise ever and make something new.
Defiance might not pan out; it’s entirely possible this is as good as the show is going to get. Honestly, if you quit watching after “The Devil in the Dark,” I wouldn’t blame you. But there’s that 10% — either creativity or insanity — that’s going to keep me coming back. Well, that and the fact that I’m paid to watch it.
• Who goes into the woods to jog in the post-apocalypse? It’s amazing that dude lived as long as he did.
• Another fun, unexpected twist — Datak Tarr being a badass. Giant bugs invade his home and attack the daughter-in-law he hates? FUCK YOU BUGS. COME GET SOME TINY LIGHTSABER. Seriously, as an upper-class twit and rich crime lord, you’d expect Datak to be used to having other people fighting for him, but the dude’s ready to throw down.
• One good thing about the futuristic world of Defiance: We can all apparently survive 30-story elevator drops with only mild discomfort. That’s a perk.
• So Irisa can literally see anything, anyone, at any time? On a show that looks like its going to present a scifi murder mystery every week, that’s going to be a problem.
• Speaking of, thanks to Nolan’s bullshit about PTSD, I was convinced Irisa was actually there with Rynn that day, and that’s how she saw the whole thing too. And I couldn’t figure out why Rynn didn’t recognize her, or why Irisa didn’t remember the event earlier. I didn’t figure out these were purely visions until after the vision itself. I don’t know if I’m dense of Defiance didn’t do a great job of explaining this. Both?
• Oddly, Rafe has the line of the night, when Nolan gives him crap about not asking where the land he bought came from, and Rafe sarcastically points out the difficulty of doing a Google search after the apocalypse.
• In the actually show, the St. Louis Arch is looking rough, but it’s completely connected, right? But in all the Defiance promo material, it’s clearly missing a chunk, making them two separate pieces. This discrepancy bugs the shit out of me.
• Wait, Julie Benz has a re-election coming up? I thought she just got elected! Didn’t she say how briefly she’d been on the job and how inexperienced she felt to Evil Ex-Mayor in the pilot? What the term for Defiance mayors? Two months?
• Again, I fail to see why Irisa is hanging out with Nolan. She appears to genuinely dislike him, and he told her to ignore her visions for years and years. At best, he’s prevented her from accepting her special gift and heritage. At worst, he’s making her feel bad about being different, as Irisa herself points out angrily. But even just on the surface, he’s telling his daughter “You clearly have PTSD. Walk it off.” Thanks, “dad”!
• Also: “They see with their smell!” Really, Defiance? Re