With just a handful of episodes left in its second season, Defiance is hurtling toward resolution of its season-long storylines. This is normally a good sign for a show using this sort of structure, especially if the previous episodes have felt like busy-work, which they have. Now, finally, we can get to the real core of the season. And that core is...what, exactly?
The storyline being set up as the primary focus here is the Irisa/Irzu plot, where her attempt at making what Nolan calls the “Votan Rapture” is being pushed as the season’s climax, with Irisa saying that by dawn—presumably next episode—they’ll have cleansed the world. And Irisa’s mystery has been a crucial part of the entire season, so this isn’t a surprise. But there are two major problems with placing at the center. First, the way it’s being done, with Irisa turning into a mind-controlled Votan supremacist, removes character agency. What we saw in the first half of the season, with Irisa fighting against Irzu, has been largely replaced by seeing Irisa as alien. She is no longer the subject of the piece, where we see her thoughts and her motivations, except for at points of pure climax, like the end of “Doll Parts,” when she fights Irzu to save Nolan’s life.
But apart from that, what had made this storyline work in the early parts of the season—Irisa trying to work out what was happening to her alongside the audience—has been replaced by Irisa acting, and the audience and the rest of the characters trying to keep up. It’s back to mythology/mystery as a plot, and that’s just not as interesting.
What Defiance was working toward in the first part of the season was a story based on human conflict. Irisa was fighting to understand herself, yes, but Datak in prison, Stahma trying to take his place, Rafe struggling with rebellion, Amanda negotiating her role with herself and Pottinger, Berlin and Tommy working out their relationship and place, and so and so on. Some of those remain as crucial points, but if these two episodes are any indication, human motivation has largely been replaced by mythology.
Okay, that’s not entirely fair. The human story that carries through both episodes is the story of Rafe McCauley’s kids, Quentin and Christy, both of him have turned into anti-heroes or straight-up villains thanks to their upbringing and brushes with power. These were some of the weakest characters of the first season, and while they’re improved here in the second season, they’re still an odd choice for a focus of the show.
The Christy-Alak-Treasure Doll drama has been taking place across the bulk of the season, and, while being an improvement over Christy and Alak’s story from the first season, it’s still been one of the weaker ones of the season. The resolution—Christy killing Treasure Doll—is a surprise, and Stahma’s, then Datak’s, reaction to figuring it out is superb. But in the end it resorts to cliché. The dignified, upper-class married woman defeating the upptiy psychotic prostitute? And Defiance occasionally seemed interested in treating Treasure Doll as a real person, which didn’t succeed so much as it highlighted just how one-dimensional her portrayal in deed was during the show.
Likewise, “Bottom Of The World,” the first episode of the two, hinges on another McCauley scion, Quentin. Unlike Christy, he doesn’t even have the advantage of being connected to the Stahma-Datak drama, which has clearly become the best part of the show. Instead, one of the weakest parts of the first season has returned to the second with...nothing to add to the core of the show except a few plot twists.
And yes, this is a consistent disappointment thanks to the “resistance story” setup of the second season. The resistance story is powerful primarily because it accents the essential humanity of its major characters. The resistance is forced to compromise their ideals in order to achieve victory; those in power are forced to exert their essential humanity in the face of the issues of maintaining power. This was brought up in the first few episodes of the season, and now with Rafe arrested, Irisa making her own climax, Pottinger becoming a minor character, and the weapons of the revolution confiscated, the human aspect of the resistance has been compromised. Something still might happen to knock the E-Rep out, but it’s no longer a built-up human story. And yes, I will almost always prefer a story based on human motivations to one based on mystery and mythology.
And this, I think, is the biggest problem with Defiance’s second season: after starting by indicating that it wanted to clean out the biggest problems of the first season, it’s spend its last few episodes turning back into the first season. This show has everything it needs to be really good, even great. It also has Jaime Murray, who is great. And yet, here I am, wondering why it’s doing what it’s doing, even as it heads toward a nominal climax.
- “You’re...a great person. With fantastic taste in music!” Not the world’s greatest breakup, but easily the best Alak Tarr line.
- “You think my eyebrows are pretty?” “They’re okay.” “Do I have to stand here?”
- Jaime Murray for President of TV Science Fiction. “Skinny, but enthusiastic. You should try her.” “Hehe. I would snap her like a twig.”
- “I’m a one-woman kind of guy. Except when I’m not.”
- “Let me do one decent thing with this miserable life,” says Pottinger, making his move on Amanda...and then disappearing for an episode.
- “The most we can hope for is that what we want is worth the evil we do.”
- “No love for R.E.M., I see.” “Mm, kids these days.” Basically Berlin should be the straight man for...everyone on the show.
- Julie Benz has a ridiculous amount of fun as a cop. Is she auditioning for a procedural role?
- “Mind you, your way...it gets results too.” Will Tommy every stop getting screwed over? I hope he survives. I know a few of you have complained about his acting, but I really feel like it’s been much more dismissive writing than anything.