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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Defiance: “This Woman’s Work”

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One of the tipping points between pretty good and great science fiction is how well it utilizes its setting. On television this can be an especially big issue, as the weekly nature of shows means that they have to use new plots every episode, and there’s a long history of non-science fiction shows to grab plotlines from. That’s fine, occasionally, but when you have totally normal family drama/sitcom storylines in a supposedly interesting science fiction world, you end up with Terra Nova. And you don’t wanna end up with Terra Nova.

“This Woman’s Work” isn’t a great episode of Defiance, but it is a great example of how a science fiction show can take advantage of its setting in order to produce an entirely normal episode. There are two main storylines here, both made much more interesting by Defiance’s mix of post-apocalyptic Earth and alien space opera.

The main story involves Nolan and Pottinger, who go out on an Arkfall to gather what Nolan is told is helpful technology, but actually turns out to be a lot more dangerous than that. Using science fiction just to resort to a monster story isn’t the most creative form, but it does take advantage of one of SF’s enduring features: you can stick energy-based aliens in giant suits of armor and make them shoot lightning. It helps that the CGI is really good for television; we haven’t seen a lot of computer-generated effects this season but what there is works.

It also gives Defiance the opportunity to delve into Pottinger’s character a little bit more. He tries to act friendly with Nolan about his Bioman friend, Churchill, comparing his rescue to Nolan’s rescue of the girl. Nolan doesn’t believe that Biomen are really sentient beings, calling them “stem cells and spare parts.” The show, and Pottinger, implictly end up agreeing—Pottinger barely hesitates to cast Churchill out to save his own skin, although he does feel bad about it. It’s a little hard to tell if this is supposed to represent Pottinger’s emotions, his manipulations, or if it’s just an half-assed attempt to grant a monster-hunt storyline some emotional heft. I’m leaning toward the latter and the disappointment that goes along with it.

It’s Stahma’s storyline where the real fun happens. Her attempts at women’s liberation for her own conniving personal gain don’t exactly give budding Castithan feminism a good name, but Stahma’s endless machinations are a source of consistent entertainment. Was she always planning on killing the other Castithan women at her consciousness-raising needlepoint group, or did she actually want to recruit them? Did Stahma here about women working with other women from Amanda and think “That sounds like a great way to murder people”?

That character ambiguity has consistently been a strength of the show, but this time, it’s given extra humor by another staple of science fiction storytelling: the culture clash. Televised SF especially loves to have alien races who exist as a sort of exaggerated metaphor of real Earth cultures, then creating drama by having them confronted by what it thinks are typical contemporary values. So Amanda’s description of feminism is as inoffensive as possible, and not at odds with the show’s general level of equality being roughly the same as ours. That is, she knows that women in the past fought to be treated as roughly equal, and that bra-burning is a thing that happened, ha-ha. On the bright side, it gives Stahma the opportunity to drop lines like: “Still, I come from a culture that worships dicks.”


There are a few other plot-moving devices across the episode. Rafe and Datak continue their plotting, and have acquired a MacGuffin of infinite power. Christy and Pottinger’s boss are doing drugs that turn them into Castithans, which…well, let’s see where this goes. And finally, Tommy finally reaches his breaking point with Nolan for the older man not wanting to take Berlin to the Arkfall, and good for Tommy. Then Berlin reaches her breaking point with Tommy for him wanting to help Irisa with her maybe-murder problem, which, well, Tommy really should have thought through his speech if he didn’t want a breakup. And then Berlin goes and fucks Nolan because, oh, I don’t know, she’s wasted and pissed off and he has poor impulse control? It was an odd decision that goes against most television conventions but kinda makes sense with how people behave. Plus it led to her slapping him out of nowhere with them both half-naked, and him grinning, so it can’t be all bad.

Stray observations:

  • “There’s nothing more dangerous to people like us than an honest man.” “You would see me on a shaming rack.” “I know. You’d look pretty.”
  • It took a while for the Gulanee to show up. They’re good bosses in the video game, and apparently work as such here. I suspect that, much like the Volge of the pilot, it’ll be years before they show up again.
  • My apologies for last week’s lack of review. I had food poisoning, of the sort that makes brain no work good two days. I loved seeing a Doc Yewll-centered episode, but thought that the main Amanda story bit off more than it could chew. Defiance is also leaning a little too heavily on cliffhangers or loose threads involving characters knowing things that the audience doesn’t—why the Mayor wanted Amanda’s memories last week, and what Datak and Rafe have this week.