Defiance "Brothers In Arms" TV REVIEW
Writers: Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer
Director: Andy Wolk
THE ONE WHERE Nolan’s old army buddy Eddie Braddock arrives in town chasing a bounty. The bounty turns out to be a Castithan war criminal who everyone wants a piece of. Amanda negotiates with the new E-Rep representative who’s also an old friend. Doc Yewll finds out she has a big fan. And Quentin DOES WHAT NOW?!
VERDICT Defiance takes a break next week, presumably to get its breath back. This may start out as a familiar-seeming episode but the chain of surprises it closes with moves the show into new, very different territory.
Pol Madis is the first surprise. Or, indeed, series of surprises. A scruffy, slightly shambling Castithan, Madis initially looks like a nobody. Until he’s identified and blooms, becoming a preening, arrogant rock star of a maniac who lifts every scene he’s in. His confrontation with the Doc is especially chilling and I hope this is laying the ground work for a Doc Yewll-centric episode, given how much of a “fan” of hers Madis is.
His most fun scenes are the ones he shares with Datak, though, showing exactly how far the Defiance mob boss has come. He wants Pol out of town because he’s making the Castithans all look bad and most importantly, threatening Datak’s position on the council. The feral knife fighter who boarded the ark has turned into a statesman and is clearly enjoying it. Datak’s won, or is at least winning, and that’s making him happy and in turn, sloppy. The Datak we met in the first episode would never have been surprised when Madis broke into his home and it’ll be interesting to see if this experience changes him at all.
Where Madis really shines, though, is in his final minutes. The first surprise hits as we find out E-Rep and the Votanis Collective both want to employ rather than arrest him, both are bracing for another war and Defiance, as usual, is squarely in the middle. Suddenly everything we’ve seen before this is small potatoes, even the Volge attack. The world, still reeling from the last war, may be about to have a new one. Not even Nolan can arrest that.
But he can delay it. Nolan’s execution of Pol Madis comes out of nowhere, but makes perfect sense. He may not be able to stop the coming war but he can keep it a clean fight and protect his town along the way. It’s the same kind of brutal pragmatism Mal shows over and over again in Firefly but here it’s couched a little differently here. Mal’s actions are, mostly, designed to protect as many of his people as possible. Here, Nolan knows he can’t protect everyone and goes for the option that’ll hurt the least people. He’s going to prison, or he’s going to die and he pulls that trigger knowing full well it’s the best outcome.
Or perhaps, because it’s what he’s always done. Eddie’s real reason for Nolan’s nickname – “No Man’ – gives the character a harder edge than we’ve seen before, and raises some interesting questions about him. “No Man” Nolan’s blood lust could be the reason why he keeps screwing up, as Irisa said way back in the pilot. He’s a fighter and he doesn’t, or didn’t, know how to be anything else. The reluctant lawkeeper of the pilot has become a pillar of the community and more importantly, he likes it. The moment where Nolan offers Eddie a deputy’s position is equal parts sweet and complacent and it really marks how much he’s changed. Nolan’s settled, just like Datak and, just like Datak, he can’t see what the town looks like from the outside anymore. It’s a neat piece of parity and it either marks the two men out for an inevitable confrontation or that “He’s a Castithan mob boss! He’s an emotionally distressed former soldier! They’re COPS!” spin-off I’ve been rooting for since the get go.
Then the third and fourth surprises hit, as Eddie doesn’t just take the fall, he takes the fall again. The reveal that he helped Nolan and Irisa escape is really smartly, organically done and it suddenly puts everything Eddie’s done up to this point in a different light. He’s a good guy, a man who fell on a metaphorical grenade for a friend and a child he barely knew and did it without hesitating. His reward for that was years in prison and no money. In those circumstances, who wouldn’t put their own gains ahead of the greater good? It’s a great performance by Rob Stewart, especially in these final scenes and I hope we get to see Eddie again.
The central plot, wrapped around Madis and Eddie, does such a great job of taking an old trope and doing about four new things with it that the episode would be in great shape if it ended there. Instead, we get another new character as Connor Lang, the new E-Rep representative, arrives. He and Amanda have a nice, easy chemistry to them and the episode makes interesting use of Amanda’s romantic life being on the rise just as Kenya’s starts to falls away. The scenes with her, Eddie and Nolan crackle with a barely good-natured tension and her eventual decision to dump Nolan – while not permanent I suspect – makes a lot of sense. Kenya’s a professional, successful businesswoman, just like her sister. Neither of them can let emotion intrude on their work, because when Amanda does it people can die and when Kenya does it she can’t work properly. It’s an interesting dichotomy and the show’s continuing, clear-eyed look at the NeedWant and the Night Porters who work there is quietly some of its best writing.
Meanwhile, on the kiddy table version of this plot, Irisa pushing Tommy away feels more like a pause than a stop, especially as the two characters are entirely too much to keep apart. Besides, if they both get back together that could lead to the Most Awkward Double Date In The Universe.
And then there’s Quentin. Quentin McCawley has been pootling along quite happily in the background of a couple of plotlines. He’s the dutiful son and he’s been brought in by his Dad on the on-going mystery surrounding Luke’s death. He’s stolid, dependable and he’s started to turn up some really interesting stuff. The 1811 earthquake in the same place as the cave paintings seems to suggest the Votan were planning the exodus to Earth for a lot longer than thought. Even more disturbing, they may have sent advanced parties ahead. Quentin’s discovery is really smartly handled, as is the incredibly tense scene between him and Nicky. Fionnula Flanagan’s return to the show puts her in full-on charming grandmother mode and no one buys it, let alone Quentin. Absolute top marks to Justin Rain for selling the limb-freezing terror he feels as Nicky, subtle as a house brick to the temple, drills him for information. He’s a deer in headlights and the only reason he lives is they meet in public. Regardless, Nicky knows that he knows and she sends Mr Birch to retrieve the artefact.
And Quentin kills him. Encouraged by his dead brother.
Can open, worms everywhere.
The scene not only raises the stakes but also opens a bucket load of questions about Defiance’s quietest resident. Is Quentin insane? Is Luke a projection of the artefact? If so, why does it want Quentin to hold onto it and not Nicky? It’s a complete left turn that comes at the end of an episode crammed with smart character work, great dialogue and a tangible sense of the stakes being raised.
Defiance has impressed me up to now (even the original Rynn episode which I liked better on a second viewing) but “Brothers in Arms” operates on a new level. If the show can keep this kind of complexity, pace and character going then the second half of the season is going to be amazing. Thank God we only have an extra week to wait.
BEST IMAGES Datak whistling a jaunty tune as he comes home may be the most adorable thing the show has done so far.
The Quentin and Nicky scene, for the sheer-wide eyed terror on Quentin’s face.
Quentin killing Mr Birch, egged on by his dead brother.
“What kind of town would give a knuckle dragging grunt like you a badge?”
“They were desperate, I guess.” – Eddie and Nolan’s dialogue is great, running the line between banter and full-on hostility. When Eddie does blow up at Nolan, it feels completely natural because of this constant, simmering resentment.
“I kind of like it, though. Fresh air… keep my own hours… shoot interesting people.“ – Eddie Braddock, Bounty Hunter About Town
“It’s what I got.” – Simultaneously the smartest and stupidest thing he could have done, Nolan effectively bribing Eddie to leave town is the first real indication of how much he’s changed.
“Luke was pretty on the eyes, but you were always the smart one.” – Nicky, epically failing her Lovable Grandma roll there.
“Wanna come back to my place later?”
“What’s at your place?”
“Me. I’m at my place. In my bed. With a couple of drinks.” – Tommy gets almost nothing to do this episode, which is a real shame, but this piece of charmingly pragmatic flirting is a real standout.
“This is completely unacceptable. I’ve never been able to not do my job before.”
“Well the good news is Nolan doesn’t have many friends, so the odds of this happening again are pretty low.” – It’s a nice line but it also shows that even now, Amanda’s very ready to not trust her lawkeeper. This comes to the fore later when she accuses Nolan of working with Eddie and it’s an interesting line to take. I suspect it’s because if anyone is likely to screw up the Maglev negotiations, it’s Nolan. And, to be fair, he does.
“No need to be agitated, not with your heart condition.”
“I don’t have a heart condition.”
“That’s not what the coroner will say.” – Pol Madis, working from the Hannibal Lecter school of serial killer banter there.
“And the E-Rep gets the leftovers, is that what you were about to say?”
“No… Okay, maybe.” – Connor doesn’t get much to do here but he’s a lot of fun and he brings out a relaxed side to Amanda we’ve not previously seen. Let’s hope he’s not too mad about the whole “Your lawkeeper murdered my weaponsmith,” thing, huh?
“The man’s a war criminal. I can’t imagine you were talking about the weather.”
“No we were talking about how funny humans look when they’re ENRAGED.” – The Indogene Sarcasm Machine is BACK, ladies and gentlemen! Oh Doc, we’ve missed you.
“I just like killing people.” – Pol Madis’s justification is simple, mundane and shows just how broken he is.
“How did you know he was with me?”
“Back at the house? You were NICE.” – Nolan still has a reputation as a pitbull, but this, and the theory about how Madis breaks out, show some really smart thinking. He’s a better lawkeeper than most of the town seems to think he is.
• The moment when Nolan asks Eddie to hand his weapons in and he does. Then Nolan asks him for the rest, and Eddie hands them over.
• Then Nolan asks him for the rest of the rest and Eddie realises he’s serious.
• Quentin clearly realising something is very, very wrong with Nicolette. Good boy.
• Nolan working out that the explosive Pol Madis used to escape was a favourite of Eddie’s. He’s wrong, certainly, but the reasoning’s solid.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMMMMM… So the Doc was a major scientist during the Pale Wars huh? And given the fact Pol Madis is a big fan of her work I suspect she wasn’t in charge of anything particularly nice…
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO WHAT THE ACTUAL BLUE HELL?! Quentin sees Luke now?! And he killed Mr Birch?!
MONTAGE OF THE WEEK Set to “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” by Sass Jordan (No YouTube link I could find, sorry folks), we see Nolan and Kenya break up; Eddie begin the cunning escape plan we all suspected he had; Datak Tarr undergoing sci-fi TV’s first ever colonic irrigation scene (probably); and Nolan sitting down with his daughter to tell her about her Uncle. Not as happy as last week’s “Love Song” montage but arguably as sweet.
GAME TIME Varus, being a Bay area mob boss, is, of course, the focus of this week’s episode mission. Being a Bay Area mob boss I also suspect he recycles and does yoga daily…
Rob Stewart: Crossover actor! Rob Stewart is best known to my esteemed colleague Steven Ellis as Mr Chandler in Beauty And The Beast . However, he’s also played Lanny Barick in Heartland , Roan in La Femme Nikita , and will be familiar to my other esteemed colleague Jayne Nelson as Lyle Harrison in Lost Girl . He also played Andre McBride in Painkiller Jane .
Gale Harold: Harold brings both charm and a really great hat to Defiance , but he’s also been busy elsewhere. Most recently he played Charles Meade in The Secret Circle and Julian Parrish in Hellcats . He also had a run in Desperate Housewives as Jackson Braddock and in Queer As Folk as Brian Kinney. He’s got some western cred too, having played Wyatt Earp in the excellent and much-missed Deadwood .
• If Nolan was one of the defiant few, why did he leave?
• What really happened at that battle?
• What does Nicolette want?
• Which one of them directed the Volge at Defiance?
• What does McCawley actually mine?
• 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 monorail 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 was Nolan so infamously bloodthirsty during the war?
• Why did he need Tommy’s help to get Irisa out?
• Is Quentin insane?
• If so, for how long has he been?
• If not, how is he seeing Luke?
• Why does the artefact seem to want to be with Quentin?
• Where’s Olfin Tennety?
• New episodes of Defiance air in the UK on Syfy, Tuesdays at 9pm