Defiance 1.11 “Past Is Prologue” REVIEW
Writer: Michael Taylor
Director: Michael Nankin
THE ONE WHERE The election is days away and the Candidates prepare for a debate. Amanda does this by studying up on her past record and issues concerning the town. Datak does this by closing a byzantine scheme that’s been in play for months and finishes with a dead Castithan, a disgraced Lawkeeper and the election all but in his hands.
Oh and we find out just what connection Irisa has to the artefact. And it’s not pleasant.
VERDICT The real shock is there isn’t another unexpected character death this week. The script plays with it, that’s for sure, but every one of the major characters leaves the episode the same way they come in: upright and breathing (well… maybe not upright in all cases).
Kupack, Alak’s little Casti-bro buddy from last week? Not so lucky.
This is another episode where Defiance plays with convention. In any other series the apparent assassination plot would be the entire story but here it’s done by the halfway mark. It’s also clear that something very horrible is on the cards from the outset, and, as is always the case with this show, it starts, and ends, with Stahma Tarr.
We get what seems to be full resolution to the, “How Stahma Manipulated Defiance Into Giving Her Her Groove Back” plot. She was sleeping with Kenya to gain her trust in order to feed her the information about the assassination attempt, knowing full well she’d blab to Amanda. Amanda would then tell Nolan, Nolan would do his job and someone would die, allowing Datak, along with his new-found E-Rep allies to discredit Nolan, discredit Amanda for supporting him and win the election in time to be home for tea, medals and gulanite.
Jaime Murray has been one of the strongest things in this cast for a while and every week just emphasises that point. She’s fantastic here, especially in the confrontation with Kenya. Look at how her posture and voice both drop and change when Kenya calls her on her scheme and, crucially, look at how she finishes the scene. Aside from the chilling, dead-voiced threat, there’s some real discomfort there. She and Datak may be on the same team, but Stahma seems to have enjoyed her time out in the world a lot more than she’s letting on. Don’t forget last week, when he interrupted her writing in her diary and she very deliberately concealed that from him. Stahma Tarr contains multitudes, and I suspect her plans are very far from over.
This episode also saw Nolan return to the spotlight, and not before time. Grant Bowler’s done great work all season as a dogged, determined, morally pliable man and here he’s given the chance to really work. He makes absolutely the right call, does exactly the same thing Irisa or Tommy would have done and it means absolutely nothing.
He killed a teenager holding a paintball gun. No-Man Nolan is back.
Or at least that’s what Datak wants everyone to think. In reality, the incident shows us how far Nolan’s come. He’s devastated not just by what he did but by how easily he was manipulated and Bowler does great work showing us how Nolan reacts. He’s calm in a way the Lawkeeper has never been before, able to see not only what’s been done to him but what he needs to do to make it right. The scene where he confronts Amanda and calls every single play Datak will use is possibly the most heroic thing we’ve seen in the show so far, and, ironically, springs from the same training that led to his past crimes. Nolan’s a soldier, he knows the unit, or the town, means more than he does so he willingly sacrifices himself to give everyone else a fighting chance. Except no one else sees it, and, as the episode closes, we realize he’s not going to be allowed to leave. Nolan’s a hard luck hero, a figure who has as much in common with Phillip Marlowe as Malcolm Reynolds. Judging by the end of the episode, his bad day is far from over too. Although he does get to beat the living shtako out of Datak in a wonderful, nasty fight scene.
He’s not the only member of his family having problems either. We got a huge reveal about Irisa this week, and with it, a complete change of character for the Doc. The sardonic, hard-bitten frontier Doctor has been replaced by a near silent scientist and Trenna Keating does great work this week as we see the Doc figure out the connection between Irisa and the artefact. What neither she, nor we, expected was that the silver artefact in the cave paintings had been surgically bonded to Irisa. The moment she releases it is alien, beautiful and deeply disturbing all at once. The silver artefact winds up from Irisa’s spine, the gold artefact winds down from the Doc’s apartment and they create... something.
Have both fused with Irisa? If so, where’s she going? And how much of her personality is left? As the episode closes, she’s seconds from death (welcome back, Ryn!) and Nolan has no idea where his daughter is. Meanwhile the election is imminent, Datak and the E-Rep are working together and Rafe is about to go to war with his in-laws, with Alak caught in the middle.
With its first season wrapping next week, Defiance is ramping up the stakes. No one major may have died this episode but the season finale is just around the corner and as this episode closes, no one is safe.
“I’d hate to see this town torn apart by alien barbarians.”
“We’re pretty good with alien barbarians. Kind of our thing.” The show’s done a great job of depicting Amanda as almost wilfully altruistic and this exchange is a neat example of it. Amanda’s a nice lady, and you either accept that or get out of her way.
“Oh do you think it bothers me that you look down on me? It DOESN’T.” Her sister also has a couple of great lines this week, this being the first. Kenya, like Amanda, automatically assumes the best of people but that basic decency doesn’t serve either Rosewater sister well this week.
“Just so we’re clear, anything happens to Amanda between now and the election, anything at all? She slips in the shower… chokes on a chicken bone… doesn’t matter. I will come to your house in the dead of night, press a pillow over your face and I’ll empty my gun into it.”
“And they say humans lack a sense of poetry.” Datak is going to fall fast and hard and when he does, I remain convinced, he’ll end up working with Nolan. Their mutual hatred is far too much fun to get rid of entirely, and this exchange, plus that great fight scene, sees the show finally putting it front and centre.
“I think Datak set you up.”
“Probably. Didn’t make me shoot to kill though. I did that.” Bowler does a great job this episode, especially with exchanges like this. Nolan’s crushed by what he had to do, finally getting that moment of clarity I’ve been waiting for since he shot Sukar. It’s too late, and the only thing that gives him any peace is knowing he can still help, even if it’s by leaving.
“You draw a gun, you aim to kill.”
“Yeah, I taught you that. Really gotta stop listening to me. I’m an idiot.” The callback to “you’re an idiot” is really smart writing. When Irisa uses it it’s a term of affection, when Nolan uses it it’s acknowledgement of just how badly he’s hurting.
“Paintball gun, huh?” Rafe is starting to corner the market in both great entrances and offhand badassery. This, coming after some miners bounce Alak off hard surfaces for a very satisfying period of time, is one of his best to date.
“If you disappoint me a second time, if you act in a manner unworthy of my baby girl, your marriage will end. And I do not believe in divorce. Capiche?” Forget Father’s Day and you’re a DEAD MAN, Alak.
“This will end very badly for you.” The most chilling line of the episode and the thing that convinced me Stahma is hiding as much from Datak as she was from Kenya. She’s rattled, angry and to get Stahma Tarr off her game like that, Kenya had to hit close to home. Either way, both Rosewater sisters are in a lot of trouble.
“And you are alone.” Stahma and Kenya once again, drawing battle lines that mirror those between Datak and Amanda.
THE DANNY McBRIDE ENTRANCE OF THE WEEK AWARD Stahma, Datak and the most portentous windstorm of the year as they arrive for Nikki’s wake.
BEST IMAGE Nolan, standing outside the home of the teenager he’s just shot and killed, listening to his own words condemn him.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMMM… Why is Datak working with the E-Rep? And why are they working with him? And what will the Votanis Collective say when they find out?
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO OH DEAR LORD, GET IT OUT OF HER SPINE! The other artefact was fused with Irisa as a child, presumably during the “trials” she went through.
BADASS MOMENT “I care about this town. I’m not going to be the thing that kills it.” J osh Nolan, a good soldier, despite everything he’s done.
SWEETEST MOMENT Draga and Alak fist-bumping as Alak arrives at the campaign tent. Votan bros!
SMARTEST MOMENT “Let the record show the Lawkeeper has the unwavering support of Mayor Rosewater.” And the trap closes. If we had any doubt that Stahma was using Kenya as an asset, it disappears this episode. This is the Tarrs at their most dangerous and that’s saying something.
MONTAGE OF THE WEEK We open on a montage! It’s a mad house! A MAD…HOUSE! The Doc tests the artefact as Irisa and Tommy have sex. The Doc’s experiments go fairly well. The sex… leads to temporary paralysis. See, this is what happens when you move the montage around, folks. There are RULES.
DEFIANT MUSIC Two standouts this week, starting with the opening montage (MAD…HOUSE!), set to “Flirting with Disaster” by Young Beautiful In A Hurry.
Then the closing scenes of the artefact waking up and Irisa going AWOL in the woods were set to “Time After Time”, a cover of the Cyndi Lauper classic by Bear McCreary and featuring Raya Yarborough.
GAME TIME Echelon, a private security firm, is mentioned by Amanda when she’s talking about the other towns. Echelon is also looking for Nolan in the Bay area and has been for a while. I suspect Echelon will be heading to Defiance shortly.
Meanwhile, Ryn, who’s a primary character in some of the best missions in the game, found out what happened to Sukar a little while back and left the game a couple of weeks back. She’s now back, seeking revenge. It’s an especially nice touch that it takes a couple of weeks for someone to leave the game, or the show, and arrive in the other. It gives a nice sense of scale to the story and also means Quentin McCawley should be arriving in Mendecino to meet his mother any day now…
• What really happened at that battle?
• 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 underground on purpose?
• Who was Niko selling the Adreno to outside the town?
• What benefit would a maglev have for the town?
• Was Mr Birch at the bottom of the mine? (Well he certainly is now!)
• What startled him away, given he left his glasses?
• How old are those cave paintings?
• What does the E-Rep want with Defiance?
• Is it the same thing Nicolette is looking for?
• Why is the bike rack at the NeedWant on the first floor? Is it a visual metaphor?
• Why did he need Tommy’s help to get Irisa out?
• Is Quentin insane?
• If so, for how long?
• If not, how is he seeing Luke?
• If the Nanites were the only thing keeping Sukar alive, how did he see Irisa in a vision? And how did she see him die?
• Is Sukar going to wake up?
• Was anyone else hit with the Nanites?
• What else are they programmed to do?
• Just how many REM albums does Amanda own?
• What other classic works of English literature will Irisa lend Tommy?
• What’s Stahma’s endgame?
• Whose side is Alak on?
• Whose side is the Doc on?
• Did Hunter Bell have an ulterior motive for getting Tommy work as a Lawkeeper?
• Why was Nikki put in place as Mayor of Defiance?
• How will Datak get the mines away from Rafe?
• Will Nolan accept that blue is pretty clearly his colour?
• Why are the E-Rep working with Datak?
• What does the Votanis Collective think about this?
• Do Kupack’s parents know that Datak, through Alak, effectively arranged their son’s murder?
• How did someone, presumably Votan, know Irisa would be the one to unite the artefacts?
• Is Irisa still herself?
• What’s the Doc’s endgame?
• What’s Rafe planning?
• Why was Nolan so infamously bloodthirsty during the war? Based on the pretty racist screed he spews in the recording in this episode, Nolan believed that the only way he could defend his squad mates would be by killing any Votan who seemed to be a threat, regardless of age. It’s interesting, and ironic, to note his war record has now put him on the opposite side to the E-Rep.
• If Nolan was one of the defiant few, why did he leave? Nolan, and the other Iron Demons, are described here as barely being in control of themselves. It’s likely then that Nolan left before he could be court martialled and imprisoned.
• What’s Stahma planning? (Everything is an acceptable answer here) To manipulate Kenya, to discredit Nolan, to discredit Amanda, to ensure Datak wins the election. Of course whether that’s ALL she’s planning is a different story.
• New episodes of Defiance air in the UK on Syfy, Tuesdays at 9pm