Defiance 1.02 "Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go" TV REVIEW
Writers: Kevin Murphy & Anupam Nigam
Director: Michael Nankin
THE ONE WHERE In the wake of the Second Battle of Defiance, the town gets ready to bury its dead. However, Datak and Nolan clash when the lawkeeper breaks up a ritual concerning the one Castithan to have fled. Datak, and Elah Bandik, the deserter, are adamant that it’s a ritual meant to return honour to the Castithan. Nolan and Irisa are adamant it’s torture. Mayor Rosewater is caught in the middle.
Meanwhile, Mr Birch, Nicolette’s distinctly odd assistant, breaks Ben out of the infirmary and tells him to finish the job. Not long after, there’s an explosion at the mine…
VERDICT It’s so traditional for a second episode to see a show relax into its most basic plotting, that when the synopsis for this episode was released, several other sites began describing Defiance as just a “sci fi cop show”. Based on this script, there’s a lot more going on than that description leads you to believe.
Let’s take the cop plot first. Ben, the Indogene who blew up the shield wall last episode to try and drive everyone out of the town, is broken out by Mr Birch and told to “complete the job.” He breaks into Rafe’s mine and holes up in old St Louis with some Votan explosives. Rafe and Nolan lead a party in after him.
Written down, that looks pretty coptastic but it plays out very differently. For a start, the insights we get into Rafe and Nolan on the journey down cast both men in a different light. Nolan now openly remembers that he used to live in St Louis, and the moment where he and Rafe sit in the same park Nolan used to play in (and presumably where he also witnessed the arrival of the Arks) is sweet and oddly paternal. Nolan’s complete lack of front is clearly starting to charm Rafe a little bit, as evidenced by him backing the lawkeeper up in the final confrontation. Whether or not Nolan has picked a side in the McCawley/Tarr war, it’s starting to look like one’s been picked for him.
However, it’s Rafe who really comes into his own this episode. Graham Greene is one of the best actors in the cast and here he’s given a chance to show it. The twin revelations that Rafe’s family used to run a popular dog food supplier and that he always wanted to be a photographer don’t just round him out, they make him seem much more human. The gruff, stereotypical mine boss is nothing of the sort, he’s just a survivor making the best of what he has. That, combined with the short, pivotal confrontation with his surviving son gives Rafe a lot to think about, and the closing montage shows he’s acting on that.
Secondly, the reveal on Old St Louis still being largely intact is a really interesting touch that simultaneously nods to Futurama and strengthens something only hinted at in the pilot; when terra-forming was used as a weapon during the Pale Wars, the planet sculpted with ruthless abandon by groups with wildly differing agendas. Not only does this go a long way towards explaining why the terrain around St Louis looks so different, it also hints at the conflicting agendas behind the wars and, by extension, the founding of Defiance. After all, what better place to hide something than in a city buried beneath hundreds of feet of rock? It at least seems likely that the artefact Nicolette and Mr Birch are seeking was hidden by the same people who terraformed the area.
And speaking of everyone’s favourite Lost alumni and her sidekick, their presence in the episode is small, but pivotal. Mr Birch clearly has some military experience, especially given the Doc’s comment about Ben being revived using a military drug. However, where last week Mr Birch seemed to be the Man Behind The Curtain, this week Nicolette looks to be pretty definitively in charge. She’s also deeply troubled by what they’re doing, which is no surprise given the plan she’s signed off on (detonate the gulanite explosive against one of the old St Louis reactors, use that radiation to drive everyone out of town so they can search it). Nicolette is being set up as something approximating the Ben Linus of the show, a character prepared to do horrible things for the greater good. She’s not quite a bad guy yet, and I can’t help but feel she’s working for someone else as a result. Regardless, for now, the old Mayor is troubled by what she’s doing, but not so troubled she won’t send an Indogene to his death.
Then there’s the Elah Bandik plot which does a good job of not only showing us a lot more about the Castithan, but also providing some insight into Datak Tarr, Amanda, Irisa and Tommy. For Datak, Elah is a liability, a man who not only stole the honour of every Castithan but who made him look bad. After all, none of Rafe’s men ran. For Amanda, Elah is a symbol of the town’s worst past failure, and a sign that there are some things that, she’s been told, the mayor should take no part in. What’s really interesting is how much that bothers her, and how much she’s subconsciously already trying to push away from the decisions made during Nicolette’s term as mayor. Meanwhile, for Irisa, Elah is a victim, a man being subjected to horrible torture as, it seems, was she. Finally, for Tommy, Elah is an opportunity to not only back a fellow lawkeeper’s play but also to get closer to Irisa. A single character does four separate things in the plot, whilst also being a symbol of an alien race’s laws and beliefs. That’s pretty nuanced plotting, and a thousand miles away from Law and Order: Defiance, as the show is starting to be dismissed as.
Finally, there’s evidence of what seems to be the writer’s identifying the weakest element of their arc plot and actively working to strengthen it. The scene between Stahma and Christie in the diner is sweet, and genuine and completely chilling. Datak murdered a man to ensure he and Stahma could be together and she finds that as admirable as she does romantic. Christie’s clearly shocked, but she’s a million miles from horrified, and the seed of dissent Stahma sews here very clearly takes root. Datak fights his wars on the streets, Stahama fights her wars in hearts and minds. At this stage, I honestly think she’s the more dangerous of the two.
The ending ties all of this together, as Defiance buries its dead, Elah allows Datak to kill him, Datak drops the body on the steps of the lawkeeper’s office and Rafe searches Luke’s room and finds much more than he was expecting. It feels less like a sci-fi cop show and more like a full-blown science fiction version, not of Firefly , but of Deadwood . Defiance’s inhabitants may all live in the same place but they don’t want the same things and, with Datak, the Tarr/McCawley feud and Nicolette’s ongoing plans to deal with, Nolan, Tommy and Irisa clearly have their work cut out for them. A strong second episode, all around.
KNOW YOUR PROFANITIES Shtako Looks to be fairly interchangeable between “shit” and words more often ending in “ing”.
Old St Louis, still so recognisable after everything it’s been through.
Datak leading Elah Bandik to his death.
The entire end sequence, with Rafe searching his dead son’s room and finding the artefact.
DEFIANT MUSIC After the slightly ropey town band last week we get two songs of note. The first is a lovely version of “Night And Day” which sounds like it’s in a Votan (Votanic?) language but Shazam tells me is the Comedian Harmonists, who appear to sing it in German:
The second is the slow, piano driven version of “Come As You Are” by the Civil Harmonies, which plays over the closing montage. And yes, I can already hear some people recoiling at a Nirvana cover version and yes, I can already hear others going, “Oh God, it’s a SyFy show with an ending musical montage! Run! Hide the children!” but both the montage and the song work as a capstone to the episode:
“This man? This LITTLE man has taken the honour of every Castithan in Defiance?” – Nolan, who never met a prime directive he couldn’t arrest.
“Our understanding with your predecessor predates the foundation of this town. Do you want to dismantle that understanding? Three weeks into your job?” – Datak, who never met a mayor he couldn’t intimidate. Until now…
“They had clubs, we had Votan blasters. What do you THINK happened?” – Nolan and Amanda
“It’s NECESSARY.” – Amanda. I love this whole scene because just for a second it shows you how bitter Amanda is about some of the things that happened before she took power. Combined with Nicolette’s ongoing presence as a secret bad guy, this means we’ll be seeing more of how bad the “good old days” were very soon I suspect.
“Your brother was a good man.”
“Then why was he meeting alone in the woods with Ben Deris? The guy who brought the Volge down on us?” – Quentin McCawley there, the first of two characters this episode to not so much tell Rafe the truth as hold his nose until he opens his mouth and ramming it home.
“Your life was degradation and poverty. Is the Castithan way really something you want to preserve?” – Stahma Tarr, who has all kinds of fun this episode, proving to her husband that he’s seeking approval from a system that made his life hell. Which he listens to and then does what he wants anyway.
“Rafe McCawley needs a bullet in the head.”
“He doesn’t mean it.”
“Oh I DO.” – Datak, Alak and Stahma Tarr, ladies and gentlemen, like the Macbeths, just with a much better skin care routine and precisely no guilt.
“They’ve lost their past. Blew up when their planet did. These sad little displays in the street are all they have left. You take that away? It’ll be the Irats all over again.” – Nicolette
“I’m going to miss you.” – Nicolette, and doesn’t this line have multiple meanings given what she’s planning?
“You can do the right thing by your dead child, or you can do the right thing by your two living ones but you CANNOT do both!” – Nolan, in Old St Louis, getting logical. Which is surely a sign we’re all in trouble…
“What do you suppose is going on in there?”
“Nothin’ good.” – Rafe and Nolan, on the way to breaking up the standoff. This is a fun partnership (He’s grumpy! He’s grumpier! They fight crime!). I hope we get to see more of it.
Steven McCarthy: The mysterious Mr Birch is played by Steven McCarthy, not only the lead singer of band the Elastocitizens but an actor whose previous work includes the 2000 movie The Skulls , Relic Hunte r, The Murdoch Mysteries (both versions), The Listener and, prior to those, an appearance in a one-season show called The Others in 2000 which was both huge fun, and sort of a supernatural version of Alphas . Man, I miss both those shows…
• If Nolan was one of the defiant few, why did he leave?
• What really happened at that battle?
• Why did the murder of her parents save Irisa?
• What does Nicolette want?
• Who is Mr Birch?
• Which one of them directed the Volge at Defiance?
• Why didn’t she grab it during her time as mayor?
• What does Macauley actually mine?
• What’s coming?
• Why did Ben kill himself?
• What was Luke doing?
• Why did he meet Ben in the woods?
• Where did Luke get the artefact?
• What IS the artefact?
• Who terraformed the region around St Louis?
• Did they leave Old St Louis there on purpose?
NEEDLESS GEOGRAPHICAL QUESTION I have no problem with the whole feral terraforming thing but I’m curious. Does that mean the ground just sort of flowed around the St Louis arch? In fact, let’s throw this open to anyone who’s been there, or indeed, from the show, should you be reading. I’m honestly curious; is the arch in Defiance the original St Louis arch, just a little shorter because of terraforming, or a new one that’s only partially completed?
• New episodes of Defiance air in the UK on Syfy, Mondays at 9pm