It's fairly typical for a show to demonstrate dramatic improvement around the fifth episode of the first season. As I understand it, this is the point at which the writers of new episodes will have started to see the finished versions of the initial episodes. This means they'll be able to adjust to how the actors are playing the characters, how the directors and editors are doing their job, and so on. This means more confidence and competence, particularly when it comes to issues like the pacing that's plagued Defiance across its first several episodes.
I'm not behind the scenes, so I'm not certain if that's the reason why “The Serpent's Egg” is the best-paced episode of Defiance yet. But it does make sense—and certainly, this episode was significantly better at making me feel like the story was being told in a way so that what was important wasn't rushed, and what wasn't didn't linger.
That doesn't mean it's perfect, though. The episode is divided into two different storylines, one of which works significantly better than the other. In the good half a bus—apparently the bus—arrives in Defiance, dropping off a few people and items, and picking up several others, particularly Amanda escorting a suitcase filled with money for the town to buy its own mag-rail line, and Nolan, escorting Rynn off to prison.
They're joined by an ambassador from the Earth Republic, finally putting a face on that previously nebulous part of the Defiance world. Part of what makes this episode work is that we start seeing parts of the setting previously only hinted at. Going on a road trip is a good way to show that yes, the town of Defiance is an oasis of relative sanity after the apocalypse, as raiders attack. And there's a weird bear-thing, but the raiders are a bigger problem for the bus' riders.
What follows is a straightforward, simple heist. Because most of the other characters involved are guest stars, we can't know if they'll turn out good or bad, particularly Rynn, who was motivated by righteous vengeance before. Since any of them can turn out bad, or die, what happens is unbalanced and unexpected. I was firmly expecting the inside man to be the surviving husband, figuring the E-Rep ambassador was too obvious. Probably better that I'm wrong, especially as it seems like she's going to be a recurring character.
I also got a pretty strong Firefly vibe from the heist section, but Nolan's occasional predilection for quipping went missing at the crucial point, so it wasn't perfect. I was also left a little cold by Amanda brief foray into badassery. I'll defend Julie Benz generally, because I've seen her invest a one-note character with a surprising amount of variety when it came time to do so, but I'd like to see a little bit more from her when it comes to always-level-headed-even-when-slapping-people Amanda. Still, this complaint adds up to little more than “I'd like the characters to be more fun when they're in a situation that's fun to watch” instead of a major criticism.
On the other hand, back in Defiance town, the story isn't quite as smooth. Irisa sees a man she immediately flashes back to/has a vision of seeing before. She captures and tries to torture him into confessing that he'd tried to torture her as a child. Perhaps it's an attempt to morally complicate the Defiance universe and its most impressive character, or perhaps it's just a way to introduce a prophecy for Irisa and show the origin of her relationship with Nolan. Neither one works terribly well, though. Because we see her initial vision/flashback, and because we've seen that her visions are trustworthy, there's never any real tension about whether the salesman she captures did the deed.
Perhaps I've simply grown tired of torture scenes on television (the current Game Of Thrones season has certainly acted as a form of aversion therapy on those grounds), but the relative lack of drama combined with no real mention of the thematic stakes make that side of the episode far less interesting than the heist. Yet that side of the episode did so many of the sorts of things that I want to see Defiance do—human stories, expand and explain the setting—that I can't dislike “The Serpent's Egg.” I feel like we're seeing Defiance shed its new-show issues every episode, and this one took one of the most major steps forward along those lines.
- Alak Tarr as the small-town DJ was a cute little touch both for the town and his character.
- The Cure's “Lovesong” was probably my favorite of the end-of-episode tunes they've used. Was that the original or the barely different re-release from the Greatest Hits album? It sounded a teensy bit off too me.
- “Can I trust you to be a good girl while I'm gone?” “Probably not.” Perhaps leaving an impulsive, violent teenager with PTSD and visions in charge isn't the wisest.
- “It seems practical in the world we live in.” The two husbands were a really cute little touch, but I don't think that would actually be all that practical—multiple husbands per woman would keep the birthrate down, and in a frontier planet that seems like it would be a bad thing. Of course, it's entirely possible that polygamy is common across different genders and orientations and we only saw it with one woman/multiple men.
- Defiance the video game update! I received a press release with this idea in my email today:
“Beginning with last week’s episode of Defiance the show on the Syfy channel, viewers were introduced to a new evil character named Rynn. Rynn is responsible for unleashing hordes of devilish Hellbugs upon the world, but is later arrested and we won’t see her again on the show until a few episodes later. HOWEVER, during her brief departure from the show, Rynn’s character actually enters Defiance the video game, bringing specific missions related to the show and kicking off an event called, “Hellbug Seasons” - unleashing swarms of alien monsters across the game world that players will have to defeat in order for Rynn to Defiance in order for her to appear back in the show.”
The release seems to have a few of the facts wrong, but since I like what Rynn's done for the show, I guess I'll, uh, keep playing and try to do her missions in the game? Since there aren't any moral choices in the game, it's basically more content to succeed at.