Defiance 1.12 “Everything Is Broken” REVIEW(opens in new tab)
Writer: Kevin Murphy
Director: Michael Nankin
THE ONE WHERE You know that quotation from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats that genre shows like to use?
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”
Pretty much that. For the entire episode.
VERDICT The big bad world kicks the door in on Defiance this week and absolutely no one bar Irisa is ready for it. The season finale wilfully doesn’t do a couple of things that everyone was expecting it to and whilst not all of what it does do works perfectly, there’s still a lot to like here.
Let’s start with Amanda, who’s given the least to do here and also handed the cruellest sort of loss; a close one. The former mayor did everything right, was there for everyone and her reward was to be out voted by a sociopathic thug. Oh, and her sister is murdered but she doesn’t know that yet. Amanda’s the first person hit with major change this episode and also the person we see the least. The reason for this is, I suspect, that she’s going to be front and centre from the get go next season. After all, with Mayor Crazypants in custody for murdering an E-Rep officer, who are people going to turn to? Amanda Rosewater, Defiance’s designated adult.(opens in new tab)
Then there’s Kenya Rosewater, Defiance ’s designated kid sister. Kenya’s relationship with Stahma could so easily have been cheap titillation but instead it – and Kenya – were a lens through which Stahma’s true colours have been revealed. We’ll be getting to the Tarrs in a moment, but Kenya’s relatively small presence in this episode belies the incredible impact she’s going to have next year. She knows, full well, that Stahma’s lying to her and she’s probably not coming back and she confronts her anyway. Kenya’s heroism, especially her not quite goodbye to her sister, is one of the episode’s most affecting moments, and her death is as gentle as it is horrific. Kenya did everything right, believed the best of everyone and, crucially, applied human values to the Tarr family. She died for that and the repercussions of that death are set to reverberate through town long after the other Tarrtality we get this episode.
The Doc is the next person whose life is turned on their head and she reacts by giving precisely zero shtako. Trenna Keating has been handed a near impossible task here; keep a character morally ambiguous but likeable for a full season and she absolutely nails it. Ironically, the E-Rep kicking the door down actually makes things much simpler for her. Her confrontation with Black Jonah confirms her beliefs and is a quiet little moment of victory for Defiance’s Indogene medic. The Doc isn’t the bad guy, not anymore. But just because she’s on the right side doesn’t mean she should behave… Again, the Doc should be front and centre next year, if nothing else because she may be one of the only people able to talk to whatever Irisa has become.
Speaking of the Nolan family, they’re, weirdly, in a good place by the end of the season. Well, good here being a function of “Nolan has just been resurrected and Irisa may be the heart of an AI now”. The script revolves around these two and, time and again, it calls back to one thing; they love one another. The repetition of both, “You’re an idiot,” and “live together, die together” brings the family dynamic to the fore and it’s genuinely sweet to see. Nolan has been a character the show, at first, struggled to define but here he’s absolutely focused on one thing; protecting his daughter. He literally dies to do that, and in doing so neatly closes the journey that began before the show did, with the racist rant from his court martial. Joshua Nolan isn’t the butcher of Yosemite anymore, or the lawkeeper of Defiance for that matter. He’s Irisa Nolan’s father, and that isn’t just touching, it may put him in a position of real power next season.
Then there’s Irisa. Irisa is a point of serenity in an episode of absolute chaos. She knows, long before it becomes apparent, what she’s going to have to do and what it will cost. She does it anyway. Just like her dad and just like Kenya, Irisa shows up for a confrontation she’s almost certain to lose and, unlike the other two, finds a way to win. Her fall into what seemed to be the spinning command keys of the Naziri is a victim of mildly ropey CGI certainly, but that’s not the point. The point is that Irisa takes control of a weapon designed to kill, and uses it to give life. She cheats to win, just like her dad would. What form we see Irisa in next year, who knows, but when we do she’s either going to have incredible power or have just lost incredible power. Either way, the changes in Irisa’s life are far from over.(opens in new tab)
And then there’s the Tarrs. Because there’s always the Tarrs. The albino lord and lady Macbeth of Defiance have a real best of times, worst of times finale. From the moment Datak recognises the new move in Stahma’s repertoire, the pair are in freefall. Datak’s threat to his wife at the voting booth is chilling but Stahma’s cold-blooded murder of Kenya is worse. Stahma had a taste of something other than endless servitude to Datak’s ambitions, liked it and destroyed it so he would love her again. Meanwhile, Datak wins, presumably by standing on enough people’s necks and, to the surprise of no one not named Datak Tarr, is immediately screwed over by the Earth Republic.
And then kills Colonel Marsh.
And then realises how incredibly stupid he’s been.
That final scene with the Tarrs – Datak spattered with the blood of his victim – does the near impossible; it makes us care about them. These people have lied and cheated and killed their way through the town for 12 episodes and Stahma has just murdered an innocent woman simply because Datak demanded she do it. They’re aliens, at the very least, monsters at the worst. And yet, watching them take one last moment together before the E-Rep arrive and arrest them, you actually find yourself caring. The Tarrs have been the black, beating heart of the show and they surely have more trouble coming. But, buried under all that, is the quietest revelation of the season; Datak did something incredibly violent and stupid and realised it for the first time. If that plays out next season, then Datak and Stahma will either be stronger than ever or a newly under control Datak may decide he doesn’t need her. Either way, like everyone else, the Tarrs end the season somewhere completely different to where they thought.
Each one of these characters gets one more turn in the spotlight and, whilst there are plenty missing (Quentin McCawley for example), the episode feels focused on the right people. We also get some welcome call backs to the rest of the season, including Kenya referencing a crashed strato-carrier in the middle of nowhere she knows about (continuity CAN be your friend) and Sukar! Everyone’s favourite rug-wearing, kilted possible religious figure makes a welcome return and seems to be back on his feet. Which both bodes very well for a presence next season and makes me, as you’ll see, go hmmm… ( It should give Julie Benz some hope too if her revelation in this interview is anything to go by – ed. )
Unfortunately, the episode does have a couple of bum notes. Nolan dying, whilst played very well by both Grant Bowler and Stephanie Leonidas, never once feels like it’s going to stick. Being cynical for a moment, whilst they’re never fully safe, the characters on the promo material for a show tend to be a lot safer than those who aren’t.(opens in new tab)
Black Jonah is the bigger problem. A character who has a lot of backstory in the Defiance universe, Jonah is a terrifying interrogator, mercenary, co-founder of Vegas Prison and almost completely non-threatening. It may be the faux-Gestapo uniform, it may be the apparent fondness for breaking glassware as the world’s least effective intimidation technique or it may be that he’s an enormous wet blanket. Regardless, the man who should be the anti-Nolan is a total misfire. Hopefully Irisa didn’t pull a Rose Tyler and resurrect him too.
It’s been a long, strange ride, for Defiance and its inhabitants but the last few episodes in particular have been really impressive. Whilst the finale doesn’t quite hit the heights of last week, it does completely break down the show’s status quo , gleefully throw a spanner in every bit of the works and open the door for a hell of a second season, a year from now. It’s going to be a long wait…
“Come on, son. Let’s go get her.” Dewshane Williams does great work in these opening scenes, seething with rage at what’s happened to Nolan and Irisa. But it’s this line, from Nolan, that marks this scene as something special. It’s gentle, and sweet, and shows Tommy’s officially part of his extended family now. That presumably means he can now call Nolan an idiot any time he wants.
“There’s only one other person who did what you just did to me. And I pay her by the hour. I know what you did to me, and I should open your guts right here. But a vote is a vote.” Datak Tarr, career politician. Tony Curran has been another of the show’s heavy hitters and he’s on great form here, especially in this scene and the closing.
“Be sure to make it look like an accident. We’re new in town. Don’t want to make a bad impression.” See, now that’s a threat. Whilst Black Jonah is busy doing awful things to the Doc’s ornaments, Marsh gets the job done.
“Stahma…what’s in the flask?” Kenya being very, very smart in her final meeting with Stahma. Her plan; hold Stahma hostage and force Datak to step down was solid too.
“The poison was ON the flask.” She would have got away with it if it wasn’t for the fact Stahma is an evil genius too.(opens in new tab)
“SO is castration!” NEVER change, Doc.
“Yeah yeah yeah I was a monster. I regret my past and I’m trying to do better. You should be taking notes.” The Doc’s been a favourite character from the get go and it was great to see her get a chance to cut loose here.
“You’re determined to get me shot, ain’t cha?” Rafe has very few lines this week but this one’s a doozy.
BEST IMAGE(opens in new tab)
Irisa, crouched over her dad’s dead body, realising how suddenly and completely alone she is.(opens in new tab)
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMMMM… The finale’s been criticised in some quarters for relying on the fact that “Irzu” is a god. I don’t think he’s that at all.
I think Irzu’s an AI.
Think about it; the Naziri was buried (parked?) on Earth 3,000 years ago. It was so terrifyingly advanced that – it’s been implied – only one person had the correct genetic structure to control it; Irisa. An Irathient.
So what if the Irathient were, 3,000 years ago, the most advanced Votan race. The others were so terrified of their power that they stole the Naziri and buried it, as well as, odds are, bombing the Irathient back into their version of the stone age.
And yes, ancestors of Datak and Stahma, I am looking right at you for that one.
Meanwhile, the Naziri was buried on Earth and its ArkCore gained sentience, coming to believe it was the Irathient god Irzu (unless the Irathient gods are all AIs, of course, and no one remembers). Enraged at being marooned, it grew and studied the planet and may even have manipulated the Votan into choosing Earth as a refuge.
Also, we’ve already seen that humans holding the control key for the Naziri suffer hallucinations, and Irisa has had full-on visions. If “Irzu” is an AI, then these make perfect sense, either as holographic projections or nanite infections similar to Sukar’s. “Irzu”’s deeply lousy attitude is also explained by this, either by being marooned in a hole on a rock for 3,000 years or as Sukar hints, being expelled because it was evil.
Also, did Sukar always have slightly weird Minbari hair? If so, that would explain the top hat.
THE TARR FAMILY MURDER OF THE WEEK “They won’t find the colonel downstairs. He’s right there.” Close run thing, but the fact we don’t even see Datak murder Colonel Marsh, and his reaction, gives him the win this week.(opens in new tab)
BADASS MOMENT “Whatever you did to me in my office. Do it again.” Doc Yewll, proving that you don’t have to carry a gun to be dangerous.(opens in new tab)
SWEETEST MOMENT Weirdly, the final moment between the Tarrs this season was really sweet. They’re still awful people of course but that final scene was genuinely sweet.
MONTAGE OF THE WEEK Irisa’s memories of Nolan looking after her, over and over again, as the theme swells, she utters his name and drops. Nicely done.
GAME TIME Rynn “heard things about Nolan” in San Francisco. Those things include the bounty on his head (hello season two arc plot!) and the fact he ripped off one of the biggest crime bosses in the country. Also, the WANTED: ZACH PRAST poster we briefly see features the winner of an in-game competition. Nicely done, sir!
Barry Flatman, aka the late Colonel Marsh, is one of those faces you’ll have seen in a lot of other places. He’s been in Haven , The Andromeda Strain , ReGenesis (Oh Candian House / Doomwatch mashup, how I miss you), The Company and Saw III amongst others.
• What really happened at that battle?
• Why did Ben kill himself?
• Why did Luke meet Ben in the woods?
• Where did Luke get the artefact?
• Was Old St Louis left underground on purpose?
• Who was Niko selling the Adreno to outside the town?
• What benefit would a maglev have for the town?
• Why is the bike rack at the NeedWant on the first floor? ( We may have an answer for this – ed. )
• Was anyone else hit with the Nanites?
• What else are the Nanites programmed to do?
• What other classic works of English literature will Irisa lend Tommy?
• Did Hunter Bell have an ulterior motive for getting Tommy work as a Lawkeeper?
• Why was Nikki put in place as Mayor of Defiance?
• Will Nolan accept that blue is pretty clearly his colour?
• How did someone, presumably Votan, know Irisa would be the one to unite the artefacts?
• Is Irisa still herself?
• What’s Rafe planning?
• Will Datak and Stahma be executed for the death of Colonel Marsh or just for being awful, awful people?
• What is Irisa going to do with the Naziri?
• How did she resurrect Nolan?
• Did she resurrect anyone else?
• Who will run Defiance now Colonel Marsh is dead?
• What effect will that murder have on the regime?
• What did Stahma do with Kenya’s body?
• What will Amanda do when she finds out her sister was murdered?
• What IS the artefact?
One of two keys to the Naziri, an immensely powerful Irathient warship.
• Who terraformed the region around St Louis?
Chances are, whoever hid the Naziri.
• Was Mr Birch at the bottom of the mine? (Well he certainly is now!)
Chances are, no. But that means that other humans found the cave paintings, meaning that people may well have known about the Votan far in advance of anything we previously thought.
• What startled him away, given he left his glasses?
Probably Irzu using its hallucinatory abilities.
• How old are those cave paintings?
Actually maybe the question should be who made those cave paintings? Because that’s either an Irathient, or Irisa herself, implying a lot of knowledge about what the Naziri actually is and where it came from.
• What does the E-Rep want with Defiance?
The Naziri, the incredibly powerful warship at the bottom of the mines. Although the gulanite is the delicious precious metal icing on that particular alien spacecraft… cup cake… of… death.
• Is it the same thing Nicolette is looking for?
• Is Quentin insane?
Chances are, no, although he is under insane amounts of stress.
• If not, how is he seeing Luke?
“Irzu” likes to mess with the people holding its command keys. Hence the hallucination of Luke.
• Why does the artefact seem to want to be with Quentin?
Quentin’s a nice guy, connected to the mine. He’s also seething with anger at perennially being the safe pair of hands in the family. That means he’s pretty easy to push into killing someone.
• 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?
Shared Irathient brain space is one option, the centuries long plans of an alien god/AI are another. Neither are especially comforting.
• Is Sukar going to wake up?
• Just how many REM albums does Amanda own?
No idea, but let’s face it if she owns Automatic For The People, “Everybody Hurts” is on repeat right now.
• What’s Stahma’s endgame?
Getting her husband elected mayor. Although that may well have changed…
• Whose side is the Doc on?
The right one! Go team Yewll!
• What will the Doc do now she has the artefact?
The right thing, because the Doc’s awesome.
• Why are the E-Rep working with Datak?
He likes power and money and Marsh is an idiot and thinks he can manipulate him. That mistake costs Marsh his life.
• Do Kupack’s parents know that Datak, through Alak, effectively arranged their son’s murder?
Chances are, yes.
And that’s season one of Defiance . I’ve loved writing about this show and hopefully my enthusiasm has been infectious. Either way, I’ll be back next season and I hope you will be too. Alasdair Stuart
• Defiance season one has finished airing in the UK on Syfy