When Defiance isn't copying other scifi series, it's enjoyably insane

Illustration for article titled When emDefiance/em isnt copying other scifi series, its enjoyably insane

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).

Illustration for article titled When emDefiance/em isnt copying other scifi series, its enjoyably insane
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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.

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Illustration for article titled When emDefiance/em isnt copying other scifi series, its enjoyably insane

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.

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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?

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• 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?

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• 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?

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Illustration for article titled When emDefiance/em isnt copying other scifi series, its enjoyably insane

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.

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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.

Illustration for article titled When emDefiance/em isnt copying other scifi series, its enjoyably insane
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Assorted Musings:

• Who goes into the woods to jog in the post-apocalypse? It’s amazing that dude lived as long as he did.

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• 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.

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• 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?

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• 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.

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• 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”!

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• Also: “They see with their smell!” Really, Defiance? Re

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DISCUSSION

I'm sorry, but, the amount of condescension and "flaw hunting" for this show is ridiculous. Aside from some special effects that could afford to be a bit better given what modern television CG is capable of, this series is just a solid Science Fiction excursion. This consistent argument that it's "using old tropes" is nonsensical and more than a bit pedantic considering that every Science Fiction series before, current, and likely after has, is, or will use "old tropes" in order to help flesh out said universe in it's early life cycle.

At this point I think people are trying so hard to find something to hate about Defiance that their going to see shadows where there are none, or their going to take something that would otherwise be considered par for the course for drama or character building in any genre and pick it apart. Is Defiance perfect? No, certainly not. But it's a *good* series, one that deserves far more credit than is being given here. Also, to take a quick moment to make some counter points to Rob's article (considering it's clear shortsighted uppity "nerd rage" hindered actually paying attention to the show...)

- The manner in which Rynn chose to kill the men who murdered her family for their land was meant to be poetic justice given that her father was an Irathient botanist and entomologist.

-Rafe McCawley was the one who purchased the land stolen from Rynn's family. While he attests to Nolan that he thought the deal was on the up and up, Nolan points out that the deal could have been dirty. Rafe points out that, in the post-apocalypse, it's kind of hard to jump on Google and do a background check. Rynn assumed McCawley was in on the murder.

-Rynn *intended* to kill the whole town. However the Hellbugs have a gestation cycle and she had to wait till the Matriarch was fully matured and the brood was large enough to overrun Defiance. However her lust for murder drove up her timetable and she wanted to make sure the ones *most* responsible died first.

-Again, Rynn's father was a Botanist and the Spirit Riders have done a lot of traveling around the area. Nolan ascertains that Rynn likely brought the bugs to the deep shaft in order to keep them concealed from the town proper until endgame. As for how the Hellbugs she dispatched weren't seen? Did you notice the whole burrowing thing? It was pretty obviously shown.

-The bug was underneath the bed and came through the guy from below. The Spirit Riders had been in town for awhile and Rynn had almost certainly been following her quarry, learning their habits, waiting for the right moment to set her plan in motion. Tagging the guy's running shoes with the pheromones, tagging Christie's clothing as they hung out to dry, and slipping into the brothel to leave the egg (which Nolan and company find later) under the bed during baldy's regular sexy cooking time appointment. If you notice how Kenya looks at the clock during the "session" she knows just how much time it usually takes for him to "Yippee!" meaning he's almost certainly a regular. Bit of juxtaposition, true. But the show makes it easy to figure out if you're paying attention.

As for your musings?

-The area directly surrounding Defiance is usually safe. It's patrolled by the Lawkeepers and is almost certainly frequented by travellers, Ark Hunters, and traders. If you notice, even the Spirit Riders are out and about for a joyride (ironically) when he goes for his run. Now, if he had been running out miles and miles and miles away out where the Arks tend to come down, than that might be reason to question his judgement.

-The drop wasn't that far, likely only a floor or two and you can tell by the sparks that the emergency brakes were mostly working. The CG shot was just sped up a bit more than it should have been.

-No, Irisa can't see anything at any time. She has what's typically known in Science Fiction has Psychometry, i.e. the ability to see memories or through the eyes of someone via contact with an object or place of significance. The Irathient believe it's a shamanistic gift from their God. Given what she had to go through just to see what Rynn was up to, not to mention the negative effect it appears to have on Irisa, I don't see them using it as a MacGuffin of the week.

-No, respectfully, you're a bit dense. Or, to more precise, you're too busy going "Ugh, wtf?" to actually pay attention to what the show often explains almost laymenly.

-Strange that you noticed the Google comment but couldn't figure out why Rynn was trying to kill Christie...

-In the show you can clearly see scaffolding along the Arch, and there is a gap towards the top that is often in the wide shots. So I don't see the discrepancy. It could very well boil down to a sizing issue in the effects shot, but if that's enough to get your panties in a twist I don't think Sci-Fi is the genre for you given how often CG is used.

-Amanda indicates that it's been some months since the battle against the Volge, and Mayors typically run for roughly a year (May-May) though it may be different in Defiance; given that Amanda stepped in after her predecessor Nikki Riordan retired her position might be shorter in it's first term than usual. Hence re-election.

-That you think Irisa hates Nolan just, honestly, makes me think you're trolling your own article or being overly dramatic, especially given how much love has been shown between them. In the pilot, in her own words, she talks about how much she loves Nolan, but that's she's often frustrated by how easily his own convictions and hers clash.

At the end of the day she is an alien (as she points out in this episode) and, because of that, there will always be a small divide between them. Nolan spent years after rescuing Irisa traveling back and forth hunting Arks Falls in order to make a living. In that time he raised her as well as any nomadic single father could.

There's also the fact that we don't know, specifically, what happened to Irisa. We know her real parents died under...less than savory circumstances as she tells Tommy, so perhaps she had trust issues with her own race, putting her at a distance. Because of that she wouldn't understand her "gift" and Nolan, from the outside, having no understanding of Irathient culture wouldn't see it as more than just PTSD, something he'd likely seen in others. There's also the fact that, as a father, he could have been afraid of what it might mean, i.e. something that could take her away.

-Really Rob? Really? You do realize that there are quite a number of creatures on this planet, right now, that see with smell? It's not even a Science Fiction thing. What's so disturbing about a burrowing species that sees through scent? The line wasn't even that bad.

So, to summarize, no Rob, the episode wasn't "pretty bad, no question." If anything it offered a deeper glimpse into a core character, an alien culture, a tragic revenge story and how sins and the past always come back to haunt us in one capacity or another. Honestly that you're unable to see this, and watching this shows boils down to a paycheck for you, really does the series a disservice. That you see "10% brilliance" in Defiance doesn't mean anything if you're too busy throwing tantrums over every little flaw you seek to find. I think the show deserves better than that just on the merits of how hard it's trying to be something both unique and familiar.