Defiance 1.03 "Devil In The Dark" TV REVIEW
Writer: Michael Taylor
Director: Omad Madha
THE ONE WHERE The Defiance Lawkeepers are called to two very odd murders where Hellbugs, terrifying Votanic insects, appear to be the murder weapon. As the investigation deepens, the bugs' presence in town impacts on the McCawley and Tarr families, Irisa and the overall make up of Defiance.
VERDICT There are two things happening here; a pretty serious progression of the overall season plot mixed with some nice worldbuilding and an individual character mystery. The good news is that one of them works really well. The bad news is that it isn't the individual character mystery.
Don't get me wrong, the basic idea is great, and vintage Western to boot; Rynn, a member of the Spirit Riders from the first episode, exacts revenge on the humans who murdered her parents and took their home. Stylistically it's really smart, not only folding the Spirit Riders back in, but continuing the show's ongoing demonstration that Defiance's future has no clear cut heroes or villains, just eight races struggling to make room for themselves in a crowded city.
That's all well and good. What isn't is the fact that Rynn's plan could charitably be called needlessly complex. In order for this to work, she would have had to find the Hellbug colony, successfully steal eggs and extract pheromones from it and somehow get one of her victims to ingest a Hellbug larva without noticing.
Or she could have just gone to the two men's houses and killed them there. Or assassinated one while out running and the other at the NeedWant. Or any one of a thousand other approaches that make much more sense, are much more effective and have a really small margin of error.
She's an Irathient Spirit Rider after all, not exactly lacking in combat skills and her plan seems more about focusing an episode on the Hllbugs than it does about her extracting revenge. It's a real shame, and unfortunately the logic gaps in the episode aren't confined to Rynn's Evil Revenge Plan. The Hellbugs look pretty settled in what seems to be a fully functional (and presumably worked) mine and as you'll see below, gravity seems to work a little differently around them. Nothing about this plot quite works, and as it's the A plot for the week, the episode itself ultimately falls apart.
Which isn't to say it's a complete disaster because, while there's nothing here that really hangs together, there's a bunch of individual elements that are great. The return to, and exploration of, the Spirit Riders is a ridiculously tidy piece of world building and Sukar does a great job as the top-hatted leader of the raiding party. He's intelligent and articulate and ANGRY, and the confrontation he has with Amanda not only calls back to the two previous episodes but builds on what we know about the Irathient so far. That's easily the smartest thing that happens here, and, with the episode finishing with the Irathient being given back the land that was taken from them, I'm hopeful we're going to be seeing more of him.
Everyone's favourite Defiance-based sitcom At Home With The Tarrs also turns in some good material this week. Datak and Stahma are rapidly becoming one of the best elements of the show, and the combination of social awkwardness, Datak turning the Bad Ass dial up to 11 and the genuine compassion Stahma seems to have for Christy McCawley makes for fascinating viewing. There's some really smart writing here, especially about the cultural differences between the two races and a definite change in the tone of Datak and Rafe's relationship. I have no idea whether the fragile pseudo-alliance between the two men is going to hold, and suspect it won't, but it's fascinating to see them put their differences aside for the greater good. The clash, when it comes, will be all the bloodier for that but for now, the peace is almost as interesting.
Then there's Irisa, and the show pushing pretty heavily the idea that she has “A Destiny”. This is pretty off-the-peg plotting but what makes it work are the similarities between her and Rynn, and the different ways Nolan and the Spirit Rider leader treat her. The revelation that Irisa has The Sight, and can seemingly read environments and people, is followed in quick succession by the fact that Nolan has always thought it was PTSD and downplayed it. It's a neat mirror of Datak's issues with Christy and, in turn a reflection of Rynn's experience. Both girls lost their parents to humans, the only difference being that Irisa's life was saved rather than destroyed by Nolan's actions. Even then, neither escaped their pasts unscarred and it'll be interesting to see whether Nolan's ignorance of Irisa's gift is as genuine as he claims. Let's just say that flashback episode, when it hits, should be really interesting viewing.
The interaction between Nolan and his adoptive daughter also ties in to the overall theme of the episode; fathers and daughters. In what's looking like a regular feature, the episode ends with a musical montage showing Rafe at peace with Christy spending time with Atak; Rynn forced to believe that going to prison is the best course by her adoptive father, Sukar; Sukar taking a distinct interest in Irisa which doesn't make Nolan even a little happy; and finally Nolan comforting his adoptive daughter. It's a sweet, nicely-handled montage showing how all the various plots inter-relate and bringing the episode into a landing far smoother than the journey that preceded it.
These high points aside though, “Devil In The Dark” is the weakest episode to date by a long way. The massive logic gaps in Rynn's plan, coupled with a pretty major piece of action movie logic mean there's no centre for these interesting long-term plot beats to hang off, and the end result is like a partially-baked cake; lots of great ingredients but it never comes together. Hopefully next week will be better. It certainly needs to be.
DEFIANT MUSIC This week's walk through the various broken father/daughter relationships in town is accompanied by “O-o-h Child” by Five Stairsteps, first released in 1970. It's also been used in, amongst others, The Simpsons , How I Met Your Mother and Bridge To Terabithia .
IT’S WOSSISNAME Noah Danby, who plays Sukar, is yet another member of the cast who's been in a lot of familiar shows. He's appeared in Lexx , Witchblade (as two different characters), Queer as Folk USA , Relic Hunter , Mutant X , Andromeda , The 4400 , Painkiller Jane , Warehouse 13 and Lost Girl .
“Did the little wolf think we were in danger?”
“No. He was.”
Stephanie Leonidas does uniformly great work this episode but her scenes with Sukar really fly. The dangerous, closed-fist banter the Irathient share is great fun and this is the best example of it.
“I will do as you ask, my people will assimilate. We will smile as we eat your food and buy your goods. That is, of course, until your people turn on us again. By then we will be ready, we will know where you keep your food stores, your weapons. Perhaps then I'll give you a handful of dirt for this clean glass case. A reminder that the soil of Defiance is soaked with Irathient blood.”
Sukar, clearly a graduate of the Jeb Nolan school of diplomacy
“Guess what I found on your girlfriend's bedsheets? Besides the usual?”
Doc Yewll, picture of tact
“Perhaps we should dine out.”
Datak Tarr, starting his campaign to be the first Castithan Bond with a pretty decent one-liner there.
“This property deal, you got any documentation?”
“...Birdy? We're gonna need a lot of coffee.”
I love this scene, and the fact that whilst the Votan have arrived and a lot of things are far more advanced, the loss of a universal internet means everything has a paper trail. It's a smart piece of world-building, far smarter than the episode it lands in.
“Don't imagine two dozen years ago there were many Irathient home steaders who could sign their name in ENGLISH.”
Nolan, using the precision sledgehammer of sarcasm to make deductions there
“What did you do to verify it?”
“I hired a bunch of powerful Wall Street lawyers and we all surfed the internet together to look for a chain of title. What do you THINK I did?”
Rafe, stealing the precision sledgehammer of sarcasm from Nolan and belabouring him around the head with it.
“...She threw me off the roller.”
Nolan and Tommy. I want to see the Defiance spin-off which is just Tommy and Irisa on stakeout or breaking up drunken fistfights (that, on occasion, involve Nolan). “She's a grumpy Irathient! He's her increasingly long suffering human partner! They fight crime!” See? Writes itself.
“You look after yours, I'll look after mine.”
Nolan and Rafe, long-suffering bad-asses, is rapidly becoming one of my favourite parts of the show. There's something really sweet about them, a sort of father/son relationship I hope the show explores.
“I'm not like you, I'm an alien and you made me afraid of that!”
Irisa, nailing both the point, and Nolan, to the wall. Like I said up there, I'll be fascinated to see exactly how little Nolan knew about Irisa's abilities, and whether he's been actively trying to steer her away from them.
“You and your useless gods.”
Rynn, showing Sukar that the one thing that faith can't salve is rage. She's an interesting character and I hope we see more of her.
• The magnificently horrible Hellbug Matron making her appearance.
• Irisa, tossing and turning in her sleep, her Dad watching over her.
THE WHAT THE HELL? TRIFECTA
Most Life Endangering Fitness Routine: The woods around Defiance have been established as being home to Spider/Dog/Bear hybrids (Speardogs? Oh hey that works!). So, why in the blue hell would jogging – wearing an iPhone no less – in these charming woods of death, be viewed as anything other than suicide by cardiovascular exercise?
Most...Unique Fetish/Unattentive Diet: So, Rynn's second victim has a fetish involving sadomasochistic cookery? And that's presumably why he didn't notice being fed a Hellbug larva that, judging by the egg purse Tommy finds, was about the size of his fist? Oooookay...
Most Forgiving Elevator Impact: When the lift drops the main characters into Hellbug central for the weirdly anti-climactic closing fight it drops an easy ten storeys. And yet the main characters stagger out doing the A-Team two-step, instead of being barely coherent bags of bones, smashed organs and screaming. Like I said, maybe gravity works differently around Hellbug Matrons?
BEST SOUND EFFECT EVER It's a tiny thing, but Rafe has the most doorbell-y doorbell I have ever heard.
• 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? How long is the mayoral term in Defiance? Amanda was new on the job in the pilot episode and now she's up for re-election?
• How did Rynn get her second victim to eat the Hellbug larva?
• Why did no one else notice the Hellbug infestation?
• Why are so few Irathient given the Sight?
• What does that mean for Irisa and Sukar's interest in her?
• New episodes of Defiance air in the UK on Syfy, Tuesdays at 9pm