There’s a dash of Terra Nova in Defiance. I don’t mean this as an insult; Terra Nova had some appealing aspects, most notably the premise which involved the idea of a community created to be, if not quite a utopia, an oasis of sanity in a crazy world. The town of Defiance has always felt like it had more personality and history than that of Terra Nova, and, crucially, in “The Bride Wore Black,” it demonstrates it in a way Terra Nova never bothered to do.
The premise of the episode is pure television procedural: An old corpse is found in one of the show’s sets, in this case the Need-Want. It’s quickly identified as the bar/brothel's former owner (and Kenya's previously unmentioned husband), Hunter Bell, and it turns out that almost every character on Defiance save the outsiders Nolan and Irisa had a history with Bell. The investigation into the murder brings all that up via a few flashbacks to when Defiance was a less savory and well-established place. It’s not the origin story of how the gang all got together, just a glimpse at where the characters happened to be seven years ago. Datak was trying to improve his station as a petty criminal, Kenya was attaching herself to a man to get out of her sister’s shadow, Rafe was willing to defend what was his, and so on.
I'm quite skeptical of flashback episodes of TV shows, particularly of the “how the gang got together” variety—I'm possibly the only Firefly fan who thinks “Out Of Gas” is one of the show’s weaker efforts. Yet this time, perhaps because it wasn’t an origin story, I liked all the flashbacks. The Defiance of the flashbacks seems more dangerous and more traditionally western. There’s an inner struggle that Defiance has that occasionally manifests on-screen: Part of it wants to be a contemporary serialized show filled with moral grey areas and imperfect protagonists, and part of it wants to be a 1990s science fiction show with clear heroes and straightforward stories. The ambiguous part of the premise is on display in those flashbacks—and in a way that suggests the show's current balance isn’t a bad thing at all.
But the crucial bit of information from the flashbacks is this: Mayor Nicki wasn’t actually human, and discovering that is why Hunter Bell was killed. To be quite honest, this was a twist I wasn’t expecting, but it makes sense. Nicki having worked with Doc Yewll before, and the Doctor having worked on the Indogene agent before make it entirely plausible, but Nicki actually being an Indogene herself—revealed so soon after the sleeper program was described just a couple episodes ago—was a surprise. Then Yewll surprise stabs Nicki with paralytic needles, followed quickly by poison needles. And just like that, our mythology's apparent villain is dead with the episode ending on Yewll dropping the magical artifact gizmo into a safe, theoretically forgotten.
I doubt it’s that simple, of course, that gizmo will certainly be back. But it certainly is surprising—it reminds me a little bit of The Vampire Diaries, a show whose greatest strength is burning through plotlines. “Something isn’t working? Don't worry, it’ll be over in four episodes!” could be that show’s motto. It’s more like eight here with Defiance, but the end result is fairly similar: Heading into the last few episodes of the season, I thought I knew what was going to happen, and now I don’t. That’s another indicator of the impressive confidence Defiance has had in its first season.
The other half of the story doesn't let the episode down either. It’s time for Alak and Christy’s wedding, and those two crazy kids have come so far since their initial Romeo-and-Juliet introduction. Alak now has traits! Christy has...okay. Alak being a dorky DJ is kinda cool, and Christy could conceivably develop traits as well. But what makes this section interesting is how it reveals more about their parents: Rafe realizes Datak’s up to something and pulls the rug out from under the idea that his children will inherit the mine. Stahma sticks with the idea that Alak deserves love and tries to convince Datak not to cancel the wedding. Datak does so anyway. Alak goes to the McCawleys, and Rafe supports Alak and pushes the wedding forward anyway. Stahma, then Datak support it, although she’s still manipulating events (claiming not to know why Christy is wearing a human veil) for some undetermined reason.
The wedding itself is a strong sequence and demonstrates Defiance taking advantage of one of its setting’s strengths: the combination of alien and human cultures. We’ve seen the show’s camera linger effectively on a few Irathient ceremonies, but they're treated as some of the most othered of the Votan races. The Casthithans are more Human in certain ways—they're urban, urbane, and have more expectations of how people in various roles should behave. The complications of their assimilation into the new Earth society are going to be more nuanced and perhaps difficult—they’re less likely to run off into the Badlands. So just the aesthetic depiction of the mixed Castithan-Human wedding ceremony, with its attendant characterization baggage, manages to show both how difficult, and how potentially fruitful, the meeting of cultures can be. It’s both lovely and well-constructed—and the latter term can also be used to describe the episode as a whole, which has been rare. Although “The Bride Wore Black” didn't set my world on fire, it did effectively remove many of my original complaints about Defiance. I’m getting quite excited for the final two episodes.
- “Weddings are stupid.” Light episode for Irisa, but a particularly and entertainingly curt one.
- “It's my job to keep the peace. Not run around like Sherlock Holmes chasing old ghosts.” “And what about justice?” It’s unclear whether this was part of Nolan's act to convince Tommy to flush out the killer, but I do like the idea that this Lawkeeper believes more strongly in keeping the peace than in solving the crimes.
- I wonder how much longer Stahma’s impenetrable motivations and manipulations will be compelling as opposed to annoying.
- “Wow. No knives.”
- Hard for me to believe that Mayor Nicki is actually dead, to be honest. We don't know Indogene biology all that well, but we did see the formerly dead Ben pop back up with a convenient injection. And, along these lines, does that mean that Birch was an Indogene too? I'm really surprised at how engaged I am.
- Defiance the game report: I didn’t play a whole lot, but I did start a new questline in which a concerned Rynn attempts to find out why a mercenary group is looking for Nolan so desperately. This seems like a good way to get Rynn back on the show and a premise for one of the upcoming episodes.