ANALYSIS: What “Putting the Damage On” Revealed
As a character-focused episode, the events of Defiance‘s Season 2 Episode 5, “Putting the Damage On,” give us an interesting glimpse into the psyches of three of the main characters. Since this is likely to have big ramifications moving forward, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at just what these revelations mean for each of them.
Spoilers for episode 5, if that’s not already obvious.
Since the episode mostly revolves around hallucinations, we’re given quite a bit more insight than usual into how Amanda, Pottinger, and Doc Yewll are thinking and feeling at this point in the story. I’m going to lay out what I think the subjects of their hallucinations might represent, one at a time. Given the subject matter of the episode, I’ll remind anyone who might be sensitive to it that this is going to involve some discussion of rape and the trauma associated with that, as it affects Amanda and Pottinger.
I think that it’s pretty clear that Amanda’s memories of her rape have been on her mind as of late, stirred to the surface by Pottinger directly, but also by running the Needwant and having to be around all these sexually aggressive men that make up her clientele. One of the hard realities that people who fantasize about post-apocalyptic life often forget is the vicious animal cruelty that comes out in some people when the rules of society are stripped away. Raping, murdering, and pillaging would all be a part of daily life for someone wandering the post-apocalyptic wastelands, and yet while the latter two are often depicted on screen, the former is only ever vaguely alluded to as a threat against the inevitably male protagonist’s love interest. It’s incredibly rare, especially on TV, to have a character who has actually experienced such a thing–although it’s occasionally tossed into backstory and never explored, usually done in poor taste. But now on Defiance we have two, both of whom, it appears, will be dealing with it on screen. So I think it’s a bold choice to try to tackle this, and this episode took it a step further by going into their heads and showing us exactly how much it can affect someone, even if it’s not usually clear from the outside.
It’s telling that, aside from reliving the original experience almost directly, the next hallucination Amanda has to deal with is one of Nolan. From what I’ve gathered, it’s common for survivors of rape to re-experience the crime in their nightmares, but it’s even more insidious than just that. Often times, otherwise innocent dreams can morph into bad dreams, and that means that other people who appear in the dream, people likely close to the dreamer, will become perpetrators of violence in the dream. It’s not really clear why this happens; I’ve seen it said that reliving the experience through nightmares is one way that your mind tries to get a handle on a traumatic experience. Keeping it fresh and intense, keeping you in fear, decreases the odds of having such an experience again. Of course, this is also incredibly debilitating, and being huddled in a ball of fear removes all quality of life that a person needs.
So while this is a hallucination and not a dream, the same principles can be applied, I think–as someone that Amanda knows and trusts, someone that has protected her in the past, Nolan is likely to show up in her dreams to do the same there. But when that dream starts to go bad, he’s also the most likely to be morphed into the perpetrator of violence in the nightmare. Amanda’s fears and insecurities regarding her relationship with Nolan are the way in: does he really care for her, or is he just using her? As a wanderer who just showed up in town one day unannounced, and then disappeared again just as quickly, will he ever be reliable? Could she wake up one day and just find him gone without explanation? Then the fact that he had a relationship with her sister, who has since disappeared… it’s not hard to see how there might be some unconscious connections there which made him an easy choice for her mind to manifest as the aggressor in her hallucinations.
And then we have her final scene of the episode, where she pulls away from Nolan as he asks whether she can separate the reality from the hallucinations. It hardly matters, from her brain’s perspective, whether it didn’t really happen. It felt real, it looked real, and while she might intellectually know that the real Nolan wasn’t responsible, it’s going to be hard to convince herself of that. The bridge of trust is broken, and it’s going to take a lot of time to fix. The worst part is that it’s no one’s fault, really, and that’s what makes it so tragic.
Pottinger’s situation is superficially similar, but there are several key differences. The first is his age at the time. If we assume that Pottinger’s character is roughly the same age as his actor, then that would mean he was about 15 at the start of the Pale Wars. One of the big unanswered questions is exactly how the gay rights movement progressed in the world of Defiance, given that the timeline starts to diverge in the year 2000, well before the movement gained much traction in real life. I think, based on Pottinger’s reactions and his discussion with Lang, that it probably didn’t advance quite as fast as it did in real life; with the arrival of the Votans, other big issues of the day were put on hold as everyone dealt with the huge impact that discovering aliens on our doorstep had. So, whereas in our universe, being gay or just displaying homosexual tendencies isn’t seen as a big deal in 2014, and probably will be even less so by 2023, it likely still wasn’t fully accepted by that point in Defiance‘s world. Hence why Pottinger would be so fearful of his obsessive crush on Connor Lang getting out, why one of his fears during his hallucinations was of learning that Connor and the other boys laughed at him behind his back. Insecurities regarding his bisexuality and being forced to keep it a secret indirectly led to some seriously stalker-like behavior, first with Connor and now Amanda.
Then factor in his experiences with the Votanis Collective raid in which he underwent this trauma, the exact nature of which has yet to be revealed. Based on his confessions and reactions in episode 4, it’s clear there was some repeated sexual abuse involved, but we also see flashes of Indogene scientists/doctors operating on him, in much the same way we had seen for others in earlier episodes. Rendered helpless and captive by this alien raiding party, all he could do was huddle down and let Connor try to comfort him. I think his assessment of himself is right, to some extent; he is the man he is today because of that experience. Pottinger will never be comfortable unless he is in full control of the situation, be that through spy cameras or acting as an enforcer for the Earth Republic.
Where this gets complicated is how it affects his conscience. There’s clearly a level of guilt present in him, as seen during the Lang hallucination; he’s taken a position of power as a way to make himself feel safe and in control, but that’s forced him to do many things that weigh on him every day. We don’t necessarily know what, yet, but he has had to dole out some harsh, strict punishments, such as with Josef and his brother in the first episode of the season. The way that they were set up, resulting in the younger brother’s death, seems like a rather convoluted way of allowing Pottinger to keep his hands clean, while still following the letter of what he must do as the E-Rep’s representative in Defiance. I think this is actually a really interesting dynamic, a great way to have a sympathetic character on the enemy’s side without falling into the “just following orders” trap that is so often seen. Pottinger’s situation is a complex one for sure.
And while the experiences that Amanda and Pottinger went through were downright awful, Doc Yewll’s make for a stark contrast, especially since we didn’t really know it was a hallucination until almost the end of the episode. This also comes out of a character that, until now, has had very little backstory shown. We know she was friends with the former mayor, who was secretly an Indogene and also totally crazy. Yewll seemed to possess some level of guilt about participating in the kind of things that Indogenes did during the Pale Wars, but we don’t have much in the way of explicit examples about what she did, other than using humans to create fake humans that are actually Indogene in disguise. And we knew even less about her personal life.
So Yewll sees her former lover Lev, a fellow female Indogene who worked with her and eventually commit suicide out of a guilty conscience. It’s interesting that Yewll’s projection of Lev is one that’s seeking her forgiveness for leaving, even without being able to remember exactly how that happened. There’s an implication that Yewll thinks she’s wrong for killing herself, and yet finds the idea almost alluring enough to go through with it herself later in the episode. And despite this guilt she held last season, she was willing to agree to Pottinger’s as-of-yet unclear demands, which this Ego Implant situation was just the first step of, to get out of jail. I think that Lev reappearing and seeking forgiveness as part of her hallucination is likely supposed to be an embodiment of her own guilt. Using the image of this lover whose regret and remorse eventually led to her taking her own life, and Doc having done all that and more since, was clearly the most effective way for the implant to hurt her. If Lev had less to be guilty about, and still killed herself, then what right would the Doc have to go on living? These devices are damn insidious.
It’s also interesting that her reason for continuing to live is as a penance, to help the people of Defiance, and yet she’s still being drawn into these awful situations, like implanting Amanda without her knowledge. There’s a dichotomy of actions that hasn’t reconciled, and I think that when it finally does, we might see the good doctor’s walls quite thoroughly compromised.
It remains to be seen as of this writing whether things will continue to unfold in the direction that I see it going, but with eight episodes to go, there’s plenty of time for it to happen.