Defiance is a show that’s been frustrating to watch from the get-go; the initial preview released online for season 1, which was essentially the first 5-10 minutes of the show, looked great. Nolan and Irisa, driving along in their souped-up apocalypse-mobile, singing a song, there was a real sense that these two cared for each other. Then, they get stopped by a band of aliens roaming the woods, which eventually force them into the city of Defiance. It set things up nicely.
Of course, we eventually learned that Nolan is an unnecessarily violent and cruel vet and Irisa is both crazy and rebellious in that “I’m only doing this stupid thing to further the plot” sort of way. If I only had one sentence to sum up the problems with season 1, it would be that the nominal protagonists are among the least interesting and most frustrating characters on the show.
So, needless to say, with the way season 1 ended, Irisa running off and the town being taken over, I was all ready to have a few episodes free of Irisa and Nolan’s joint antics. Unfortunately, they instead rushed through Nolan’s search and the pair are reunited in the first half after a needlessly cruel murder, some painfully cliche arm-twisting and a particularly ridiculous scene in which Irisa wears the California state flag as a poncho-cape. It was a waste, really, to resolve the search for her so easily. And yes, I did watch the web miniseries between seasons. While it was interesting, it wasn’t enough to cover over this problem. Having Nolan’s search take several episodes, while mixing it up with scenes set in E-rep occupied Defiance, could have been great, something akin to the “Meanwhile on Cylon-Occupied Caprica” segments from BSG. Instead, Nolan jump cuts from Chicago to California and reunites without much fanfare. Lame.
The far more interesting segments of the episode are, as always, the ones dealing with Defiance’s other characters, and how they’ve adjusted to the occupation after a 9 month time skip. Rafe McCawley has had the mines taken away from him. Datak is imprisoned for killing the E-rep general, leaving his son Alak to run his criminal empire–or perhaps more accurately, Stahma to run it by using Alak as a puppet. The prison scene between him and Stahma is another example of Defiance’s attempts to evoke the sexual themes of HBO shows that just flat out cannot work on a network as squeamish as Syfy; I really wish they’d just drop it, because it ends up just looking silly instead of sexy. Stahma’s scheming is the episode’s saving grace, especially in the confrontation between her and Alak regarding who’s really in charge here. Again, I feel this is something that would have been better served by taking a few episodes to build up to it, but I’m cautiously optimistic about Stahma stepping out of the shadows.
The one thing that I really dislike about the time skip, however, is missing the apparent resistance that the town had initially to the E-rep’s invasion. Why is Doc Yewll in jail? And the other Votans? It’s obviously not all of them. Why is Tommy collaborating with the occupiers? We don’t know. Hopefully it’s revealed more in flashbacks through future episodes of the season. There’s also the new main character of Pottinger to deal with, and hopefully his introduction as a new and powerful antagonist will spur the show on to better things.
All in all, the premiere was okay, but not the triumphant return I was hoping for. I’m sure some of this stuff may have been explained in the game, but really, you can’t have a TV show be successful without giving the TV audience enough information and background to enjoy it. Balancing a cross-media story like this is always going to be tricky, but it’s been done before, and better. If you can’t get the whole story by only watching the show, then they’re not up to the task of running both. Rushing through plot points to get the story going doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest. The world looks great; the background is fascinating and well developed. Put it to work.
Let’s just hope that season 2 answers some of these questions and improves as it goes on.